Special education teachers play a vital role in serving the unique learning needs of special-needs students. They perform work that is often more challenging and demanding than conventional teaching, adapting general education methods for students with mild to moderate disabilities. A variety of students benefit from special education practices, including those with mental, physical, emotional, and learning disabilities. These educators may also teach students with severe disabilities, helping them develop basic skills such as communication and literacy.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for special education teachers are projected to grow about 8% between 2016-2026, which is at pace with the national average.
If you're interested in entering the field, a bachelor's in special education is the first step on the path to a teaching career. This degree provides the essential skills needed to teach special-needs students, and most programs lead to state certification, which is required for most special education jobs. Many schools also offer special education programs completely online, making it possible to complete a degree while you work full-time. Earning your special education bachelor's degree online provides a unique opportunity to help students, but it's also a career investment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for special education teachers are projected to grow about 8% between 2016-2026, which is at pace with the national average.
Choosing an Online Bachelor's in Special Education Program
Before selecting an online special education degree, students should consider several factors. It is key to choose a program that matches your personal and professional interests. While many schools offer a generalized curriculum that focuses on serving all types of students, others may provide concentrations in disability areas or grade levels, such as literacy training or early childhood education.
It is also important to consider the program length and whether the school offers courses online. Many schools offer hybrid degree options, which combine campus and online courses. Outside of campus requirements, many programs include a practicum or student teaching component. Many programs require a comprehensive final project. Degree seekers should also note if the program is accredited by a reputable accreditation agency, which indicates academic quality and professional relevance.
Most online special education bachelor's degrees have similar general admission requirements. A high school diploma or equivalent is the minimum requirement, and many schools feature GPA requirements. Recent high school graduates may have to provide SAT or ACT scores, although colleges typically waive these requirements for older students. Most programs don't require students to possess teaching experience, but some may allow learners to forgo certain credit requirements if they have classroom training.
Those with an associate degree may be able to transfer credits toward an online bachelor's degree in special education, although credit equivalencies and curriculum requirements vary widely between schools. Students can often transfer some of the credits from their associate program, particularly if it is in a general subject such as liberal arts. Some community colleges also offer associate degrees specifically for teachers.
Directory of Accredited Bachelor's in Special Education Programs
Special Education Licensure and Certifications
In general, you must hold special education teacher certification if you wish to pursue a career in the field. Professional licensure or certification indicates that you have met state requirements for the knowledge, competencies, and skills expected of special education teachers. Certification requirements vary between states, but regardless of where you teach, you will likely be required to take a certification exam that tests your knowledge of special education practices. Most online special education degrees explicitly train you for these certification exams, with a curriculum geared toward meeting professional licensure requirements.
Many states hold reciprocity or equivalency agreements with other states. Students interested in transferring their license should check with the state education board to determine local licensing requirements.
Along with standard special education teacher certification, many schools also offer certificates in specific special education areas, such as speech or language impairments, hearing impairments, or autism. These specialized certification pathways provide education and training opportunities that go beyond general special education topics, preparing educators to meet the unique needs of specific student populations.
While the exact process varies between states, earning a bachelor's in special education prepares educators for a variety of careers in the field, helping students of all ages. A bachelor's program can also serve as the first step toward advanced education. Master's and doctoral programs in special education offer deeper knowledge and high-level skills in education and leadership, preparing educators for more advanced, higher-paying positions. The following chart details some of the most common special education careers.
Special Education Teacher (Preschool)
These teachers serve the youngest children, concentrating more on general social skills and foundational knowledge rather than specific academic subjects. They may work in public or private schools, or at specialized education centers for students with disabilities. Working alongside the youngest students, these teachers need patience and strong classroom management skills.
Median Salary: $53,640
Special Education Teacher (Kindergarten and Elementary School)
Working with elementary age students, these special education teachers move into more advanced subject matters, although they focus mostly on comprehensive general knowledge rather than a specific subject area. Like preschool teachers, these educators are also responsible for cultivating basic social skills in their students.
Median Salary: $58,600
Special Education Teacher (Middle School)
At the middle school level, educators may take on greater responsibility for specific subject areas. These teachers are also responsible for assessing individual students needs and developing personalized learning plans that address unique disabilities. Middle school teachers continue to build students' social skills and prepare them for the transition to high school.
Median Salary: $59,510
Special Education Teacher (Secondary School)
Secondary school educators work with older learners, but their duties are still essentially the same, helping students develop academic and social skills. At this level, teachers may also be responsible for preparing their students for life after high school, helping them transition into the adult world.
Median Salary: $60,180
Counselors work with students of all levels to help them achieve academic, personal, and professional goals. Working with special education students, counselors must assist with typical school issues, along with the unique challenges presented by student disabilities. Counselors may also help connect students to other resources and support services.
Median Salary: $48,728
Funding is typically one of the biggest concerns when pursuing a bachelor's program, but plenty of options exist to help you finance your degree. Teachers have access to a variety of funding sources, many of which do not have to be paid back.
Financial aid is a term that refers to an assortment of funding options that vary in their disbursement and requirements. To gain access, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines your eligibility for student aid. The FAFSA calculates your income against the cost of your education expenses, awarding funding based on your level of financial need. The FAFSA will likely unlock an assortment of public grants, loans, and other funding opportunities for degree seekers.
Loans typically disburse at the beginning of each academic term, paying your tuition and allowing you to keep any extra funds to meet other needs. If your loans are public, they will be classified as either subsidized or unsubsidized. The government pays interest on subsidized loans only. If you can't cover your education expenses with public loans, private loans could help. Most student loans must be repaid six months after you graduate, although public loans offer a variety of income-based repayment or forbearance options.
Also provided through the federal government, work-study programs offer part-time employment to help learners cover education and living expenses. Schools may offer work-study jobs on and off campus, and many try to pair students with a position that matches their academic interests. Regulations and pay rates vary between states, but undergraduate students are typically permitted to work up to 20 hours per week. This money disburses as a paycheck, which you can spend how you wish.
Tuition Reimbursement Programs
Most tuition reimbursement programs offer to forgive some of your student debt if you agree to participate in certain education programs in underserved areas. For special education teachers, this often means working in a low-income public school for a set period of time (usually five years), at the end of which, the federal government repays a certain portion of your debt. These reimbursement programs have stringent requirements, and you must typically demonstrate competence in teaching and a strong GPA to apply. Failing to complete the outlined teaching requirements may also cause the tuition reimbursement to revert to a student loan.
Grants, Fellowships, and Scholarships
These awards provide funds that do not need to be repaid. However, distinctions exist between the three forms of aid. Federal grants typically award funding based on financial need, providing financial support if you fall below a certain financial threshold. Scholarships, on the other hand, are typically merit-based, awarding funding based on academic achievement or community involvement. Fellowships function similarly to scholarships, although they are often more prestigious, more competitive, and usually include a research or teaching component that you must complete to earn funding. Hundreds of public and private organizations offer scholarships and fellowships, some of which you can find below.
Scholarships for Online Bachelor's in Special Education Degrees
AAHD Frederick J. Krause Scholarship on Health and Disability $1,000
Alexis Kate Special Education Teacher Scholarship $1,000
ASL Scholarship Program $1,750-$2,500
Janice Jones Critical Need Scholarship $800
CCLD Scholarship Program $1,500
- National Center for Learning Disabilities The NCLD advocates for disabilities and offers resources for disability educators and professionals, including research and studies, teaching tools, and internship opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.
- National Association of Special Education Teachers A respected professional organization for special educators, NASET offers teaching resources, academic publications, and career services that can help members find internships and jobs.
- LD Online One of the leaders in special education and learning disability information, LD Online offers resources and news to more than 200,000 special education professionals, covering all types of disabilities.
- National Ability Center The NAC supports differently abled individuals and their families through recreation and education programs. The organization offers innovative ideas for educators and internship opportunities for students.
- Learning Disabilities Association of America The country's largest nonprofit dedicated to learning disabilities, LDA advocates for disabilities and provides resources for educators, including events, teaching tools, and research.