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An online master's in special education offers graduates rewarding employment opportunities helping learners with autism, individuals with behavior disorders, and other students with unique needs. K-12 schools need professionals who cater to the needs of special education students by applying differentiated instructional techniques and adhering to special needs policies.

This page can help aspiring special education instructors understand program requirements, common coursework, concentrations, and admission requirements. This page also highlights the top 10 universities and the best accredited programs for special education, as well as potential career paths and frequently asked questions.

What Are the Best Special Education Programs of 2020? Here Are Our Top 10:

Rank School Location
1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
2 University of Washington Seattle, WA
3 North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh, NC
4 Florida International University Miami, FL
5 George Washington University Washington, DC
6 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
7 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
8 George Mason University Fairfax, VA
9 Purdue University West Lafayette, IN
10 Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia, PA

Some master's in special education programs prepare professionals without teaching experience to earn an initial teaching license, while others help practicing general educators learn how to teach students of all learning abilities. Furthermore, special educators who possess an advanced degree often receive higher salaries.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 3% increase in employment of special education teachers between 2018 and 2028. While schools often hire educators with a bachelor's degree, states may require candidates to hold a graduate degree to earn advanced certification.

How We Rank Schools

At BestColleges, we believe a college education is one of the most important investments you will make. We want to help you navigate the college selection process by offering school rankings that are transparent, inclusive, and relevant for online students. Our rankings are grounded in a few guiding principles and use the latest statistical data available from trusted sources. Read more about our ranking methodology. We hope our approach helps you find the school that's best for you.

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Special Education Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1

University of Florida

Gainesville, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 90%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: General; autism focus; disabilities in society; dyslexia; early childhood studies
Tuition: $528/credit in-state; $631/credit out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact

Phone: (352) 392-0726
Email: contact-tw@coe.ufl.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

2

University of Washington

Seattle, WA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 84%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education: Applied Behavior Analysis
School Status: Public
Tuition: $18,501/year in-state; $33,363/year out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 45 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact

Phone: (206) 543-1847
Email: abainfo@uw.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

3

North Carolina State University at Raleigh

Raleigh, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 81%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Tuition: $11,672/year in-state; $28,998/year out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 1.5 years

Delivery

Format: Hybrid
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (919) 515-5514
Email: jhunt5@ncsu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

4

Florida International University

Miami, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Program Overview

Program Name: Online Master of Science in Special Education: Autism Endorsement
School Status: Public
Tuition: $18,300/total
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 1 year

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (305) 348-2158
Email: Jdipp@fiu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

5

George Washington University

Washington, DC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 82%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Learners
School Status: Private
Tuition: $875/credit
Credit Requirements: 33 credits
Program Length: 1.5 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact

Phone: (202) 994-9283
Email: dgresham@gwu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

6

Texas Tech University

Lubbock, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 60%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Autism; applied behavior analysis; deafblindness; deaf/hard of hearing; educational diagnostician; generic special education; orientation and mobility; visual impairment
Tuition: $8,606/year in-state; $15,693/year out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 36 credits

Delivery

Format: 100% online; hybrid option for applied behavior analysis concentration
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (806) 742-7227
Email: elearning@ttu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

7

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: General track; autism spectrum disorders; learning disabilities; graduate certificate in applied behavior analysis
Tuition: $898/credit
Credit Requirements: 30-36 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact

Phone: (517) 432-0418
Email: erinhami@msu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

8

George Mason University

Fairfax, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 70%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Autism spectrum disorders; applied behavior analysis
Tuition: $790/credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (703) 348-5006
Email: online2@gmu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

9

Purdue University

West Lafayette, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 81%

Program Overview

Program Name: Online Master of Science in Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Non-licensure; initial mild only licensure; initial mild and intense licensure; additional mild only licensure; additional mild and intense licensure; additional intense only licensure
Tuition: $379/credit in-state; $700/credit out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 31-45 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Contact

Phone: (877) 497-5851
Email: admissions@purdue.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

10

Saint Joseph's University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Science in Education - Special Education
School Status: Private
Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; autism spectrum disorders; Wilson Reading System certification; special education
Tuition: $480/credit
Credit Requirements: 36-39 credits
Program Length: 3 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (215) 473-2695
Email: online@sju.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

11

Mississippi College

Clinton, MS Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Private
Tuition: $365/credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 10 months

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

Standardized Tests: GRE or GMAT

Contact

Phone: (844) 351-6654
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

12

Holy Family University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 60%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education - Certified Teacher Additional Certifications
School Status: Private
Available Concentrations: Special education (PK-8 or 7-12); principal certification; reading specialist; ESL program specialist; autism endorsement
Tuition: $505/credit
Credit Requirements: 31 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online or hybrid (online/on campus)
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (267) 341-3327
Email: rapiddegree@holyfamily.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

13

University of Houston

Houston, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Populations
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Special education; educational diagnostician; gifted and talented; special education leadership
Tuition: $386/credit in-state; $908/credit out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online and hybrid (online/on campus)
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact

Phone: (713) 743-2255
Email: khassett@uh.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

14

Georgia College and State University

Milledgeville, GA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 64%

Program Overview

Program Name: Special Education Master of Arts in Teaching
School Status: Public
Tuition: $288/credit
Credit Requirements: 45 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum
Standardized Tests: GACE Basic Assessment

Contact

Phone: (478) 445-7368
Email: admissions@gcsu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

15

Indiana University - Bloomington

Bloomington, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 78%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Science in Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Autism; behavior disorders; early childhood education; instructional strategies
Tuition: $10,080/year in-state; $30,652/year out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online and hybrid (online/on campus)
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum

Contact

Phone: (812) 856-8153
Email: spedfist@indiana.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

16

University of Missouri

Columbia, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 69%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education with an Emphasis in Special Education
School Status: Public
Tuition: $14,950/total
Credit Requirements: 33 credits
Program Length: 2-3 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact

Phone: (573) 882-2491
Email: MizzouOnline@missouri.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

17

The University of Alabama

Tuscaloosa, AL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education (Collaborative 6-12 Certification)
School Status: Public
Tuition: $420/credit
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: Hybrid (on campus/online)
Instruction Style: Asynchronous and synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE or MAT

Contact

Phone: (800) 467-0227
Email: SPEMA@ua.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

18

Webster University

Saint Louis, MO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 59%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Arts in Special Education
School Status: Private
Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; dyslexia; mild/moderate disabilities; positive behavioral interventions and supports; severe developmental disabilities; trauma-informed education and interventions
Tuition: $780/credit
Credit Requirements: 33 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum

Contact

Phone: (314) 246-8007
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

19

University of North Dakota

Grand Forks, ND Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 55%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Science in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Applied behavior analysis; autism spectrum disorder; early childhood special education; general special education; emotional behavioral disorders; intellectual disabilities; learning disabilities; special education strategist; visual impairment
Tuition: $464/credit
Credit Requirements: 32 credits
Program Length: 1.5 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (701) 777-6206
Email: allyssa.baumbach@UND.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

20

Ball State University

Muncie, IN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master's Degree in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Licensed teachers can select from the following: applied behavior analysis; autism; disabilities for postsecondary settings with an emphasis in autism; emotional and behavioral disorders; multitier system of supports/response to intervention. Students earning an initial teaching license can select from the following: director of exceptional needs; early childhood special education; deaf and hard-of-hearing; intense interventions; mild interventions.
Tuition: $449/credit in-state; $661/credit out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 27-30 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 2.75 minimum

Contact

Phone: (800) 872-0369
Email: online@bsu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

21

Bethel University

Saint Paul, MN Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 77%

Program Overview

Program Name: Special Education Master of Arts
School Status: Private
Available Concentrations: Emotional and behavioral disorders; autism spectrum disorders; academic behavioral strategist; developmental disabilities
Tuition: $535/credit
Credit Requirements: 41 credits
Program Length: 15-18 months

Delivery

Format: Hybrid (on campus/online)
Instruction Style: Synchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (651) 638-6400
Email: gs@bethel.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

22

Touro College

New York, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 47%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Science Degree in Special Education
School Status: Private
Available Concentrations: Early childhood and special education (birth-2); childhood and special education (1-6); teaching students with disabilities (7-12)
Tuition: $590/credit
Credit Requirements: 36-42 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE or MAT

Contact

Phone: (212) 463-0400
Email: info.gse@touro.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

23

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Edinburg, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 46%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Inclusion
Tuition: $458/credit
Credit Requirements: 30 credits
Program Length: 10 months

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum
Standardized Tests: GRE

Contact

Phone: (956) 665-3465
Email: john.lowdermilk@utrgv.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

24

Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania

Slippery Rock, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 67%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Education in Special Education
School Status: Public
Available Concentrations: Birth-grade 8; grades 7-12; supervisor; autism
Tuition: $516/credit in-state; $526/credit out-of-state
Credit Requirements: 36 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Admission Requirements

GPA: 3.0 minimum

Contact

Phone: (724) 738-2085
Email: robert.isherwood@sru.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

25

Western Governors University

Salt Lake City, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 29%

Program Overview

Program Name: Master of Science in Special Education (K-12)
School Status: Private
Tuition: $3,240/six-month term
Credit Requirements: 31 credits
Program Length: 2 years

Delivery

Format: 100% online
Instruction Style: Asynchronous

Contact

Phone: (866) 225-5948
Email: admissions@wgu.edu
Social Media Accounts: Facebook; Twitter

Online Master's in Special Education Program Overview

A master's in special education prepares graduates to work with students who need additional instruction beyond general education classrooms. Coursework covers topics such as special education policy, assessment and evaluation strategies for students with mild to advanced disabilities, intervention, and behavior analysis.

Depending on the program, students may need to complete practicum and student teaching experiences. By contrast, some schools develop programs for experienced teachers who already possess a teaching license. Special education programs may also offer endorsements, which provide additional knowledge about niche areas in the field. Endorsements can also provide graduates with a competitive advantage in the job market.

While requirements vary by state, earning an advanced degree in education typically qualifies graduates for a master teaching license and may lead to increased salaries. Professionals interested in academic or administrative roles may consider earning their Ph.D. However, schools usually do not require a doctorate.

Common Master's in Special Education Degree Courses

Dyslexia and Reading Disabilities

This course offers an overview of reading disabilities and dyslexia, and students explore common indicators of dyslexia. Students also learn appropriate teaching strategies, tools, and resources for struggling readers. Throughout the course, learners come to understand federal and state laws regarding reading disabilities, elements of multisensory structured language teaching, and ethical teaching standards.

Applied Behavior Analysis

This course outlines basic learning principles, research methods and techniques, and common behavioral procedures. Students also consider diverse populations and settings. Additionally, the course introduces positive behavior intervention; key concepts, techniques, and vocabulary; professional ethics related to special education; and schoolwide systems of support.

Research Methods in Special Education

Learners explore common methodological concerns, internal and external validity, and relevant variables that influence modern approaches. Students also evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of special education research, learn to design innovative research methodologies, and examine basic procedures for single subject or group-experimental research methodologies.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

This course introduces current research on neurodevelopmental problems associated with autism and discusses the diagnostic criteria used to identify children on the spectrum. Students learn methods of assessment, evaluation, and appropriate evidence-based screening strategies, as well as application of culturally competent and family-centered intervention.

Educational Statistics

Educational statistics focuses on quantitative methods for inquiry in behavioral and social sciences. Students explore fundamental concepts and procedures for inferential and descriptive statistics. This course also emphasizes the interpretation and use of SPSS. Course objectives include understanding the role of inferential and descriptive statistics, describing quantitative results, and designing research hypotheses for testing.

Related Master's in Special Education Degree Concentrations

Applied Behavior Analysis

A concentration in applied behavior analysis introduces learners to diverse behavioral health needs. Coursework focuses on data-driven methodologies used to effectively guide human behavior. Students learn to create, implement, and assess quality techniques that lead to positive behavioral change for special needs students.

Mild/Moderate Disabilities

This concentration focuses on K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities who participate in general education classrooms. Topics emphasize specially designed intervention, social and emotional functioning, and non-cognitive skills. Other topics include contemporary issues and roles of scientific research in theory development.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Universities may offer positive behavioral interventions and supports as a concentration and a certificate program. Students learn causes and characteristics of emotional and behavioral disorders. Courses emphasize evidence-based practices in social, academic, and behavioral interventions. Topics include research design, intervention methods, behavioral analysis, and data methods.

Severe Developmental Disabilities

A concentration in severe developmental disabilities examines federal requirements and legal issues within the field. Students use data to make evidence-based decisions and assess development interventions. Students also learn to create ability-appropriate individualized lessons. This concentration teaches students to effectively collaborate with students' families, specialists, and general education teams.

Trauma-Informed Education and Intervention

A trauma-informed education and intervention concentration prepares graduates to manage crisis intervention and trauma. This concentration emphasizes informed care and community resources. Courses focus on indicators of trauma, risk of secondary trauma, and the impact of trauma. Other topics include social-emotional learning strategies and developing trauma-conscious classrooms.

Online Master's in Special EducationAdmission Requirements

  • Official Transcripts From Bachelor's Degree

    Students considering a master's in special education must submit official transcripts from an accredited bachelor's program. Students without sufficient prerequisite undergraduate credits may need to complete additional coursework before gaining admission.

  • Prerequisite Coursework

    Students with a bachelor's degree in a field other than special education, K-12 education, or psychology may need to complete additional coursework prior to applying to a master's in special education program. Learners who hold a degree in a relevant field may automatically satisfy prerequisite coursework.

  • Graduate Record Examination

    Admissions departments often require GRE scores to determine each student's potential for success. However, an increasing number of online programs do not require the GRE, while other universities allow students to choose if they want to submit their scores. Students with a low undergraduate GPA may want to consider submitting GRE scores.

  • Letters of Recommendation

    Colleges and universities typically require up to three letters of recommendation. These provide detailed information about an applicant's work ethic, ability to perform, or adaptability in diverse situations. Students should consider asking former professors or academic counselors to write letters. However, students applying to graduate programs often possess professional experience and may also ask their employers to write recommendations.

  • Test of English as a Foriegn Language

    International students can usually expect to complete the TOFEL exam, which evaluates their mastery of the English language and their ability to study at a college level. The four-hour exam contains four sections: speaking, listening, reading, and writing.


Online Master's in Special Education Career Paths

Regardless of their career path, all special education professionals must hold a valid, unencumbered state license. Once licensed, educators with a master's in special education can pursue careers such as a behavior intervention specialist. This role requires professionals to collaborate with administrators, general education teachers, and students' families. Additionally, graduates may serve as the head of a special education department.

Other career paths include special education instructional coordinators, special education diagnosticians, and K-12 special education generalists. Professionals interested in academia or senior-level administrator roles may need a Ph.D. in the field. However, K-12 schools typically only require candidates to hold a master's degree.

Related Careers

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you do with a master's degree in special education?

Graduates with a master's in special education are prepared for rewarding careers helping students with diverse needs. Professionals can work alongside general education teachers to assist students in the classroom or become full-time special education classroom teachers. An advanced degree and experience also create opportunities for leadership positions.

How much can you make with a master's degree in special education?

BLS data indicates that special educators earn an average salary of $61,030. However, professionals who hold a master's degree generally receive higher wages than professionals who only hold a bachelor's degree. Professionals should also consider geographic location as they review average salaries. Private schools may also offer higher or lower pay.

How long does it take to get a master's in special education?

Students can earn a master's in special education in approximately two years. However, students who do not hold a bachelor's degree in a related field may need to complete prerequisite coursework, which can lengthen time to completion. Conversely, online programs may offer year-round coursework or accelerated options, which can shorten time to completion.

How do you abbreviate master's in special education?

Typically, professionals who hold a master's in special education write their title as M.Ed., special education.

Why would you need a master's degree in special education?

Professionals who already hold a bachelor's in another field — but who wish to become special educators — need to earn a master's degree that leads to an initial licensure. By contrast, professionals already working in the field may earn a master's in special education to gain additional skills, improve salary prospects, or obtain more advanced and specialized roles.

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Additional Reading and Resources

Want more? We have additional resources to help you in every stage of your educational journey.