15 Best Master's Degrees in Special Education of 2021



A master's degree in special education prepares students to provide support and instruction to learners with disabilities and behavioral disorders.

A demanding but rewarding field, special education gives children the tools to succeed both in and out of school.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 3% job growth rate for special education teachers from 2019-2029. Due to federal law restricting states from cutting financial support for special education, these educators enjoy solid job security, as they are less likely to experience layoffs from budget cuts.

This page lists the best special education degree programs and explores reasons to earn a special education degree, what to expect from a typical master's program, and potential jobs for graduates.

2021's 10 Best Special Education Grad Schools

Rank School Location
1 Brigham Young University Provo, UT
2 Gonzaga University Spokane, WA
3 California State University, Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
4 The College of New Jersey Ewing, NJ
5 University of Connecticut Storrs, CT
6 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
7 California State University, Long Beach Long Beach, CA
8 Southern Methodist University Dallas, TX
9 Bethel University St. Paul, MN
10 Drury University Springfield, MO
See Detailed Rankings

Why Get a Special Education Degree?

Special education master's programs prepare graduates to help students with a variety of learning, emotional, physical, and mental disabilities. A demanding but rewarding field, special education gives children the tools to succeed both in and out of school.

Master's graduates find most special education degree jobs in public and private preK-12 schools. Others take positions as preK-12 generalists, instructional coordinators, or intervention specialists. Some community colleges hire those with a master's in special education to teach postsecondary students. Master's in special education programs also provide a foundation for those who plan to pursue their Ph.D. in special education.

Most master's in special education grads work as teachers in preK-12 schools, though graduates can also pursue generalized preK-12 teaching positions or professorships at community colleges.

Many people drawn to this field already work in education. These professionals pursue a special education master's degree to develop new expertise and skills so they can better serve their students, qualify for more specialized positions, and earn more money.

Public and private schools commonly offer higher salaries to educators with master's degrees. Many states face shortages of special education teachers, which makes a special education master's degree a good option for those seeking to stand out from other job applicants.

Other reasons to pursue a master's in special education include:

Advanced Skills

Special education master's programs build advanced knowledge and skills for working with children with disabilities. Master's students learn to develop individualized education programs (IEPs), assess educational needs, and implement and update IEPs.

Higher Salaries

Teachers with their master's initially earn only slightly higher salaries than those with just a bachelor's — an average difference of $2,760 in their first year of teaching. However, at the maximum point on the pay scale, teachers with master's degrees make $7,360 more than those with only bachelor's degrees, on average.

Job Stability

The education field as a whole offers a reliable career path, but special education may be even more stable because of federal laws regarding special education-specific funding.

2021's Top Master's in Special Education Programs

Our ranking of 2021's best special education master's programs details accredited, reputable degrees that prepare students for career advancement. Visit the link below to learn more about our ranking methodology.

Our Ranking Methodology

What the Best Special Education Master's Programs Have in Common

Special education degree programs vary among schools. However, many of the top master's programs in special education hold similar characteristics that set them apart from others.

  • They are accredited. Accredited educational institutions meet academic quality standards set by regional and national accrediting bodies. Regional accreditation typically maintains more rigorous assessment criteria than national accreditation. All of the schools on our ranking list hold regional accreditation from one of these organizations:

    • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
    • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
    • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
    • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
    • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
    • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

    Individual programs or departments may also receive programmatic accreditation. Many special education degree programs hold accreditation from one of these bodies:

    • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
    • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (NCATE)
  • Their programs are reputable. High retention and graduation rates help colleges and universities build positive reputations. Reputable schools also offer a variety of educational and career support resources. For example, advisors for the University of Connecticut's special education master's program help students design personalized study plans tailored to students' career goals and interests.
  • They foster academic excellence. The best special education degree programs prioritize curricular and educational quality. Top programs promote academic excellence by maintaining high GPA standards. Brigham Young University and many other master's in special education programs require applicants to hold a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.
  • They are affordable. Many special education master's programs offer flexible payment options and financial aid. Graduate students may qualify for graduate assistantships and on-campus employment in addition to state and federal grants and loans.

The Best Master's in Special Education Programs

1. Brigham Young University

Private university in Provo, Utah, accredited by NWCCU


Affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), BYU delivers faith-based instruction designed to build character and promote academic excellence.

MS Special Education

BYU's two-year special education master's curriculum encompasses 36 credits, including five elective credits. Fall, winter, and spring evening classes allow degree-seekers to continue working while completing their education. Enrollees explore multiple curricula and support systems designed to meet learners' varying needs.

Degree candidates learn to craft customized learning approaches for students with special needs. They complete their degree with a research-based, six-credit master's thesis.

Applying to BYU

BYU requires applicants to hold a related bachelor's degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and a teaching license or similar credential. Prospective students must submit transcripts, three recommendation letters, a letter of intent, GRE scores, and an ecclesiastical endorsement.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $3,755/semester (LDS); $7,510/semester (non-LDS)
  • Required Credits: 36 semester hours
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

2. Gonzaga University

Private university in Spokane, Washington, accredited by NWCCU and NCATE


Gonzaga University's Spokane campus features a student center, Catholic church, and athletic center. The university's 24 master's degree programs enroll over 1,700 students.

M.Ed. Special Education

Gonzaga's master of education program caters to certified teachers pursuing special education training. Degree-seekers learn approaches to educating students of differing ages and needs. The core curriculum covers topics such as advanced classroom management, advanced applied behavior analysis, and special education policies and procedures.

Three tracks allow students to specialize in functional analysis, early childhood special education, or general special education. The functional analysis emphasis fulfills educational requirements for board certified behavior analyst certification.

Applying to Gonzaga

Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree, complete an online application, and pay a $50 application fee. They must also submit official transcripts, resumes, a statement of purpose, and two recommendation letters.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $1,030/credit
  • Required Credits: 32 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

3. California State University, Los Angeles

Public university in Los Angeles, California, accredited by WSCUC


Founded in 1947, Cal State LA now serves about 26,000 enrollees annually. The university's bustling campus hosts over 150 student organizations dedicated to service, careers, culture, special interests, and more.

MA Degree in Special Education (Mild/Moderate Disabilities)

Cal State LA's Charter College of Education oversees the school's master of arts degree in special education. The program prepares degree-seekers to teach students with mild to moderate disabilities. Graduates may pursue careers as K-12 intervention specialists or teachers, professional development specialists, and special education curriculum developers.

MA candidates complete nine credits of fieldwork. Fieldwork courses build hands-on classroom experience and provide experience with diverse curricula and student populations. As a culminating experience, students complete either a comprehensive examination or a thesis project.

Applying to Cal State LA

Master's in special education applicants must submit an online application and official transcripts. Students also need a minimum 2.75 GPA. With the exception of specific professions, most applicants must hold California special education credentials.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $8,216/year (in state); $8,216/year plus $396/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 30 credits
  • Delivery Format: Hybrid

4. The College of New Jersey

Public college in Ewing, New Jersey, accredited by MSCHE and CAEP


TCNJ boasts a 75.9% four-year graduation rate. Its low 13-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio benefits students across more than 50 academic programs.

Master of Education in Special Education

TCNJ's special education master's program admits degree-seekers with special education certification. Building upon their knowledge of special education and inclusive classrooms, enrollees explore field-specific best practices.

Coursework covers subjects such as remedial instruction, assistive technology, social problems in education, and special education research trends. A 15-week graduate practicum provides three field experience credits. Practicum participants complete 20 hours per week of in-classroom observation and instruction. A final-semester comprehensive exam completes the program.

Applying to TCNJ

M.Ed. applicants must hold special education certification, take the GRE exam, and pay a $75 application fee. In addition to the online application, required materials include essays, official transcripts, recommendation letters, and resumes.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $882/credit
  • Required Credits: 33 semester hours
  • Delivery Format: On campus

5. University of Connecticut

Public university in Storrs, Connecticut, accredited by NECHE and NCATE


With 17 graduate degrees and more than 6,900 graduate students, UConn affords numerous continuing education opportunities. UConn's job-readiness focus helps students achieve career advancement.

Master's in Educational Psychology with A Concentration in Special Education

UConn's special education master's program emphasizes teaching experience and special education research. Enrollees learn to create individualized education plans. They explore student support strategies for inclusive classrooms. Students select a specialty area in literacy support, behavioral support, or postsecondary support for diverse learners.

Required core courses address topics such as policy, laws, and ethics in special education; educational research; and developmental foundations of exceptionality. Neag School of Education advisors help degree-seekers customize their learning programs to meet their academic and professional goals.

Applying to UConn

Special education master's applicants typically need an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Enrollees must submit three recommendation letters and a personal statement.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $940/semester (in state); $2,157/semester (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 30 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

6. University of Florida

Public university in Gainesville, Florida, accredited by SACSCOC and CAEP


The University of Florida (UF) maintains over 200 research centers and institutes. UF learners can participate in more than 1,000 organizations and an array of sports and activities.

Master's Degree in Special Education

Master's candidates can complete their degree entirely online through the Teach Well Online Academy. The program features a flexible, part-time schedule of two classes per semester. Learners complete a four-course core curriculum and one of five specialized tracks focused on areas such as autism, dyslexia, and early childhood studies.

Students earn 9-12 credits from other specialization tracks to round out their degree. Autism focus track participants may apply their course credits toward a Florida autism endorsement. Other tracks guide learners toward specialization certificates in their chosen focus areas.

Applying to UF

Prospective UF students must submit an online application, a resume, official transcripts, and three recommendation letters. UF also requires enrollees to pay a $30 application fee.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $449/credit
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: 100% online

7. California State University, Long Beach

Public University in Long Beach, California, accredited by WSCUC


CSULB serves a diverse student body of over 39,000 learners. The school's 32-acre campus includes an art museum, a music conservatory, and a Japanese garden.

Master of Science in Special Education

CSULB offers two pathways to earning a master's degree in special education. The first pathway admits credentialed teachers pursuing continued professional development. Enrollees can accelerate their progress by transferring up to four post-baccalaureate courses.

The second pathway targets bachelor's degree-holders without teaching credentials. The 30-credit curriculum includes courses in advanced instructional methods, advocacy, and research methods. CSULB provides evening hours for many courses to accommodate working professionals' schedules.

Applying to CSULB

Applicants must submit an online application, a $70 application fee, official transcripts, recommendation letters, and a statement of purpose. Prospective students must hold a minimum 2.85 GPA, a bachelor's degree, and a special education teaching credential or equivalent experience.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $3,588/semester (in state); $3,588/semester plus $396/credit (out of state)
  • Required Credits: 30 credits
  • Program Length: 3-4 semesters
  • Delivery Format: Hybrid or on campus

8. Southern Methodist University

Private university in Dallas, Texas, accredited by SACSCOC


With an 81% employment rate for graduate students in 2019, Southern Methodist University (SMU) demonstrates its dedication to student career development. SMU's strategic plan aims to strengthen research, innovation, and academic quality.

Master of Education in Special Education

Designed to maximize students' understanding of classroom inclusivity, SMU's M.Ed. program in special education accepts certified teachers. The program integrates real-life applications with coursework addressing classroom instruction and assessment. Enrollees can tailor their course selection to prepare for Texas special education certification.

SMU's special education program requires three field experiences in school settings. Learners gain hands-on experience as they apply learned principles to real-world classrooms. A required capstone course builds students' proficiency in conducting individualized, data-driven intervention.

Applying to SMU

Practicing teachers with a minimum 3.0 GPA may apply to SMU's master of education in special education program with an online application and a $75 application fee. Applicants must submit transcripts, an essay, and two recommendation letters.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $725/credit
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Delivery Format: On campus

9. Bethel University

Private university in St. Paul, Minnesota, accredited by HLC


A Baptist-affiliated institution founded in 1871, Bethel University embraces a mission to foster academic and character excellence. The university's 247-acre campus hosts almost 4,500 students annually from close to 50 Christian denominations.

MA in Special Education

Bethel's master of arts in special education program offers four concentrations in areas such as emotional and behavioral disorders and developmental disabilities. Degree-seekers take classes either mostly online or through a blend of online and face-to-face instruction. All four concentrations require 41 credits and may lead to K-12 licensure in the chosen focus area.

Students without current Minnesota teaching licensure must enroll in the standards of effective practice concentration in addition to another concentration. This track totals 57 credits and fulfills educational requirements for Minnesota Tier 3 or 4 teaching licensure.

Applying to Bethel

Prospective students must hold a 3.0 GPA and a baccalaureate degree. Applicants must submit an online application, transcripts, two professional references, a resume, and a statement of purpose. Bethel may contact applicants for an interview.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $535/credit
  • Required Credits: 41-57 credits
  • Program Length: 17-30 months
  • Delivery Format: Hybrid

10. Drury University

Private university in Springfield, Missouri, accredited by HLC and CAEP


DU blends career-focused academics with personal development to produce well-rounded graduates. Multiple learning formats provide flexibility, allowing enrollees to study at their own pace and convenience.

M.Ed. in Special Education

Students can complete DU's master of education in special education program entirely online. Designed for licensed education professionals, the program incorporates core coursework in subjects such as educational research and educational technology. Elective course topics include gifted education and correction of math difficulties.

Two required clinical experience courses allow M.Ed. candidates to assess instructional outcomes and apply research-backed teaching methods to real classroom situations. During a final-semester capstone seminar, learners synthesize knowledge gained throughout the program in a paper or project.

Applying to DU

Applicants must complete an online application and pay a $25 application fee. Additional required materials include official transcripts, two professional or academic recommendation letters, and a 500-word personal statement outlining applicants' goals.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $395/credit
  • Required Credits: 33 credits
  • Delivery Format: 100% online or hybrid

11. Texas Christian University

Private university in Fort Worth, Texas, accredited by SACSCOC


Located on a 302-acre campus in Fort Worth, TCU offers 94 graduate programs. The university enrolls students from numerous faith backgrounds. Affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, TCU promotes personal achievement through values-driven academics.

Master of Education in Special Education

TCU master of education in special education students enjoy integrated opportunities to gain hands-on experience. Graduate program enrollees apply concepts learned through coursework and lectures as they work with diverse learners at the College of Education's two laboratory schools.

Learners may choose one of two degree pathways designed for certified teachers and related professionals. The traditional pathway focuses on evidence-based instructional techniques for K-12 classrooms. The second pathway incorporates preparation for Texas educational diagnostician certification. This pathway emphasizes cognitive, behavioral, and language assessment practices.

Applying to TCU

Prospective graduate students with a "B" average in their bachelor's degree program may apply to TCU. Applicants must submit an online application, an application fee, transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, three recommendation letters, and an online background check.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $1,790/credit
  • Required Credits: 36 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

12. Arcadia University

Private University in Glenside, Pennsylvania, accredited by MSCHE


Founded in 1853, Arcadia University ranks as one of the top colleges in its region. Arcadia students enjoy access to the university's theater, art gallery, and numerous student organizations.

M.Ed. in Special Education

Housed in Arcadia's School of Education, the master of education in special education program prepares enrollees to implement teaching and assessment practices for diverse learners. Curricular content focuses on four key concepts: consultation and collaboration, inclusion and diversity, authenticity, and reflection.

Core courses cover instructional and assistive technologies, interpreting educational research, disability studies, and education law. A capstone course allows students to apply learned material to their own instructional methods. The capstone also requires field teaching experience and an online background check.

Applying to Arcadia

M.Ed. applicants should hold a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA or submit standardized test scores. Prospective students must submit transcripts, a personal statement, and two recommendation letters along with an online application.

Program at a Glance

  • Required Credits: 30 credits
  • Program Length: 18-24 months
  • Delivery Format: On campus

13. Miami University

Public university in Oxford, Ohio, accredited by HLC and CAEP


MU maintains five Ohio locations. The university's main campus in Oxford offers more than 70 graduate programs. MU students can engage with over 600 clubs and organizations tailored to varying careers and interests.

Special Education Online Hybrid Program

MU's special education program offers three pathways to a master of education degree. Additionally, licensed teachers may opt for a non-degree intervention specialist licensure track. M.Ed. tracks include special education with initial teaching certification, special education with licensure, and special education without licensure.

The hybrid program features mostly online, asynchronous course delivery. Live weekend classes provide opportunities for students to connect with their cohort. All three tracks prepare K-12 teachers to work with students with mild to moderate disabilities. The two licensure pathways maintain field experience requirements, allowing students to apply their knowledge of instructional methods to real-world classrooms.

Applying to MU

Prospective students must complete an online application and pay a $50 application fee. Required materials include official transcripts, a resume, a personal statement, and two professional recommendation letters.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $625/credit
  • Required Credits: 30-49 credits
  • Delivery Format: Hybrid

14. Vanderbilt University

Private University in Nashville, Tennessee, accredited by SACSCOC and CAEP


A $1 million donation from Cornelius Vanderbilt sparked Vanderbilt University's founding in 1873. Today, Vanderbilt educates more than 13,000 students annually across its 10 schools, with nearly half its student body enrolled in graduate-level programs.

Master of Education in Special Education

Vanderbilt M.Ed. students can choose among multiple specialization pathways. Focus areas include early childhood special education, high incidence disabilities, and low incidence disabilities. Additionally, enrollees in some tracks can add a second specialization in applied behavior analysis (ABA). Currently certified special education teachers can complete the ABA program as a stand-alone degree.

Depending on the chosen concentration, students must complete 30-60 credits of coursework. Each track incorporates instructional research into a field experience component. Learners must also pass a comprehensive exam and complete a specialization-specific project or thesis prior to graduation.

Applying to Vanderbilt

Applicants must submit an online application, transcripts, and GRE scores. The program also requires 2-3 recommendation letters and a statement of purpose.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $2,025/credit
  • Required Credits: 30-60 credits
  • Delivery Format: On campus

15. Johns Hopkins University

Private University in Baltimore, Maryland, accredited by MSCHE


Known as "America's first research university," Johns Hopkins University has promoted the pursuit of knowledge and discovery since its 1876 founding. The university's impact extends globally with students from 111 countries and numerous international research facilities.

Master of Science in Special Education: Mild-to-Moderate Disabilities

The Johns Hopkins School of Education's MS in special education program trains degree-seekers interested in teaching students with mild-to-moderate disabilities. Enrollees can choose an elementary/middle school focus or a secondary/adult focus. Both concentrations prepare students for Maryland state certification in special education.

Program participants complete two internships to meet field experience requirements for state certification. Other required courses explore topics such as access to technology, classroom management, and educational assessment. Students can take some courses online. The university also offers an additional special education master's program focused on autism and severe disabilities.

Applying to Johns Hopkins

Prospective students with a bachelor's degree and minimum 3.0 GPA may apply online and pay an $80 application fee. Applicants must also submit essays, resumes, official transcripts, and two recommendation letters.

Program at a Glance

  • Tuition: $833/credit (on-campus courses); $882/credit (online courses)
  • Required Credits: 39 credits
  • Program Length: 1-5 years
  • Delivery Format: Hybrid

What To Expect From Special Education Master's Degree Programs

Special education degrees develop the skills to create, implement, and evaluate programs that support learners with disabilities. Most master's in special education degrees take 1-2 years of full-time study and require 30-60 credits.

Cost expectations vary considerably by school, with the most affordable options typically at public institutions with in-state tuition. Different degree types include the MA, MS, and master of education (M.Ed.) in special education. Master's candidates choose from concentrations in applied behavior analysis, early childhood education, and assessment.

Special education master's programs usually require courses like assessment in special education, methods in early childhood special education, and language development with mild to moderate disabilities and disorders. Below, we explain typical admission requirements, degree and specialization types, popular courses, and cost expectations for special education master's programs.

Admission Requirements

The top master's programs in special education require applicants to hold bachelor's degrees from regionally accredited universities. Those with undergraduate degrees in fields other than education must usually complete foundational prerequisite education courses.

Many master's in special education programs also require a minimum 3.0 GPA and satisfactory GRE or GMAT scores. Some programs require teaching licensure, but others include an option to pursue licensure while earning a master's degree.

The admissions process for most special education degree programs requires applicants to fill out an online application, pay a fee, and submit college transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and resumes documenting relevant professional experience. Applicants may also need to submit statements of interest or complete admissions committee interviews.

Degree and Specialization Options

Most schools with special education master's programs offer an M.Ed., but some offer MS and MA degrees. Below, we explain the differences between these types of special education degrees.

M.Ed. in Special Education

An M.Ed. in special education focuses on practical skills for classroom teaching. M.Ed. programs emphasize applied research and educational theory, generally requiring a culminating capstone project. Potential careers include special education teacher, interventionist, and high school teacher.

MA in Special Education

An MA in special education focuses on theory, research, and mastery of special education knowledge and skills. Students may complete a thesis and pursue a Ph.D. after graduation. Potential careers include special education teacher, instructional coordinator, and postsecondary teacher.

MS in Special Education

An MS in special education typically includes the same focus and goals as an MA.

Many schools allow special education grad students to choose a concentration, homing in on subdisciplines in the field so students can customize their education to fit their career goals. For example, someone interested in working with elementary school children with disabilities may choose a specialized early childhood special education degree. Other potential concentrations include assessment, leadership, and applied behavior analysis.

Comparing Special Education to Other Education Degrees

Education master's students must choose between several degree types. A master's degree in special education prepares educators to work with learners with disabilities. A general master's in education gives a broader overview of educational theories, strategies, and research. Choose your special education master's program after considering your career goals.

Below, we compare characteristics of a typical master's in special education and master's in education.

Master's in Special Education Master's in Education
Program Length 1-2 years 1-2 years
Classes Assessment in special education, methods in special education, foundations in special education Instructional leadership, technology in the classroom, childhood development
Program Focus History, theory, legal foundations, and best practices for supporting students with disabilities Educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, assessment, and practical skills in classroom teaching
Goal To prepare educators for careers supporting students with disabilities as special education teachers and intervention specialists To prepare students for a variety of roles in education, including preK-12 teachers, curriculum developer, principal, and educational policy developer
Admission Requirements A bachelor's degree, minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA, GRE scores A bachelor's degree, minimum 2.5-3.0 GPA, GRE scores
Thesis/Capstone Requirements Varies Varies
Explore Master's in Education Programs

Popular Special Education Courses

Special education master's degree curricula vary by school but emphasize assessment, instructional methods, and best practices for special education services. Programs require core, elective/specialization, and capstone project/thesis credits.

Some special education master's degrees also include student-teaching or internship components. Special education master's students who are also earning a teaching credential must complete additional credits and a teaching internship. Below, we describe what to expect from typical special education master's classes.

Popular Courses

Assessment in Special Education

This course prepares educators to score, administer, and interpret educational instruments; make eligibility decisions; and develop adaptive behavioral assessments for students with disabilities. The class focuses on data-based instructional decisions. Participants learn to create assessment reports using assessment results.

Methods in Early Childhood Special Education

Students learn about instructional methods, program models, and curricula for special education in early childhood. Topics include methods for collaboration, developmentally appropriate practice, and developing effective learning progressions. Enrollees learn to implement interventions and coach families.

Introduction to Early Childhood Supports and Services

This class covers the legal requirements and best practices for offering special education support and services in early childhood contexts. Learners explore issues like ethical and professional guidelines, state and federal regulations, and service delivery practices and components.

Foundations in Special Education

Students survey the historical, philosophical, and legal origins of special education practices and theories. The class also explores opportunities, trends, and common problems that special educators face in the profession.

Language Development with Mild to Moderate Disabilities and Disorders

This class examines typical and atypical language development and explores associated language development disorders and disabilities. Class topics include instructional modification and alternative assistive and augmentative technology for students with mild to moderate disabilities related to language development.

The Master's Practicum or Thesis

Most special education master's programs require a master's capstone, practicum, or thesis to graduate. These culminating experiences let students synthesize and apply knowledge acquired throughout the program into a final paper or project. A thesis is a long academic paper based on original research. M.Ed. programs rarely require a thesis, instead focusing on more applied projects that develop practical knowledge.

Capstones ask students to create projects based on their own field research. Practicums are similar to internships, allowing learners to observe, document, and apply practical skills in professional settings. Culminating projects may explore topics like intervention strategies, classroom management, and technology in special education. Capstones and practicums usually last one semester, while a thesis typically takes a full year to complete.

How Much Will a Master's in Special Education Cost?

The cost of a master's degree in special education varies by school. Factors impacting price include institution type, program format, and financial aid availability. Generally speaking, in-state public universities offer the lowest tuition rates, and out-of-state and private schools are more expensive. Students who earn their degrees online can save money through special tuition prices, also avoiding certain fees and expenses for commuting and relocating.

Special education master's programs usually offer a variety of financing options, including loans, scholarships, and grants. Education majors may also qualify for special state, federal, or employer tuition reimbursement or loan forgiveness programs. See below for more information about paying for your special education master's degree.

Jobs for Master's in Special Education Graduates

Earning a special education teacher degree prepares individuals for a variety of careers in teaching and education. Most master's in special education grads work as teachers in preK-12 schools, though graduates can also pursue generalized preK-12 teaching positions or professorships at community colleges. Below, we describe potential careers for special education graduates.

Jobs for Master's in Special Education Graduates

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers support students with a variety of learning, physical, emotional, and mental disabilities. They work primarily in preK-12 public and private schools. All states require a bachelor's degree and certification to teach special education in public schools, but a master's opens the door to higher salaries and positions with greater responsibility.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,030

Intervention Specialists

Intervention specialists help students with disabilities in preK-12 classrooms. Typical job duties include developing individualized education programs using data from evaluation team reports and multi-factored evaluation, designing and tracking interventions, and creating special lesson plans. Intervention specialists usually must meet state licensing requirements.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree; master's preferred
  • Average Annual Salary: $41,020

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers provide instruction at the college and university level. Graduates with a master's degree in special education may find employment at community colleges, though most four-year universities require applicants to hold a Ph.D. Job duties include creating lesson plans, delivering lectures, grading assignments, and advising students.

  • Required Education: Master's degree; Ph.D. preferred
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +9%
  • Median Annual Salary: $79,540

Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators create, implement, and assess instructional materials and plans. Many start their careers as teachers or school administrators. They usually work in K-12 schools and colleges or for state and local government agencies. Instructional coordinators organize workshops, evaluate curriculum standards, recommend new technologies, and provide mentorship to teachers.

  • Required Education: Master's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +6%
  • Median Annual Salary: $66,290

High School Teachers

High school teachers help prepare students for life after high school. Many public and private schools offer higher salaries to teachers with a master's degree. Typical job duties include teaching classes, grading tests and assignments, and supervising students in extracurricular activities.

  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
  • Median Annual Salary: $61,660

Explore Education Careers

Choosing the Right Special Education Graduate Program

Our rankings list of the best special education degree programs is a great place to begin your search for the right school, but most students need to consider a variety of other factors. Below, we describe other key criteria to help you choose the right special education master's degree.

  • Cost

    Factors impacting cost include type of school (public or private), tuition rate (in-state or out-of-state), and format (online or on-campus). Consider how much debt you are willing to take on to earn your degree.

  • Location

    Many students pursuing a master's in special education teach full time while earning their degree. Because of this, many prefer to find a program close to home or online.

  • Accreditation

    Attending a regionally accredited university enables you to receive federal financial aid and can be required for professional certification. Master's in special education programs may also hold separate programmatic accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

  • Program Length

    How long does it usually take to earn the degree? You may want to look for accelerated options or year-round programs.

  • Career Services

    Does the program offer a career development office with services like resume help, mock interviews, and networking events?

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Many experienced teachers continue working full time while in school by earning their degree in special education online. Distance education programs offer flexibility and convenience, allowing enrollees to log on and complete coursework as their schedules permit. Many online students value the option to continue working while earning a new credential.

Online special education master's programs particularly suit the online learning experience due to recent emphasis on using technology to adapt curricula and teaching strategies for students with disabilities.

Students must weigh the factors that matter to them personally when deciding whether to earn a degree online or in person. Some prefer more traditional on-campus learning experiences. Learners should note that if they need to earn their teaching license as part of an online special education master's program, they must still complete their student-teaching hours in person.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is special education a good major?

Yes, earning a special education degree opens the door to a variety of education careers supporting students with disabilities. Many states face shortages of qualified special education teachers, potentially making the degree more relevant and in demand than more generalized education majors.

What kind of degree do you need to be a special education teacher?

Special education teachers typically need a bachelor's degree and state teaching license with an endorsement in special education. Some schools prefer applicants with master's degrees; these candidates may also earn higher salaries.

What can I do with a special education degree?

A special education teacher degree prepares graduates to work as preK-12 special education teachers, intervention specialists, and instructional coordinators. Special education master's degree-holders can also pursue generalist preK-12 positions or teach in community colleges.

Should I get a master's degree in special education?

You should get a master's degree in special education if you seek a rewarding, stable, and well-paying career working with students with disabilities.

Directory of Accredited Master's Degrees in Special Education Programs

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