Online Degree in Special Education

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Shattering
Learning Barriers

Education can be a fulfilling yet demanding profession, especially for individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of students with learning disabilities. Special education is not confined to the walls of public and private classrooms. People with specialized training have opportunities to develop public policy, conduct research and act as educational consultants. Read on to learn more about online special education degrees, including learning outcomes, licensing requirements and avenues for employment.

National Median Annual Salary & Job Growth For Special Education

The bureau of labor statistics provides the following data about job growth in the Special Education industry. As well as the following national median salary data for several different careers in the field of Special Education.

Career National Median Salary (May 2014) Projected Job Growth (2014 – 2024)
Special Education Teachers (All) $55,980 6%
Preschool Special Education Teachers $54,000 9%
Kindergarten and Elementary School Special Education Teachers $54,570 6%
Middle School Special Education Teachers $56,760 6%
Secondary School Special Education Teachers $57,810 6%
EXPLORE ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS TO BECOME A TEACHER search programs

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook

Special Education Teachers: Career Milestone Route

Special education teachers work with students who have a variety of learning disabilities that span the spectrum from mild to severe, be they physical, mental, emotional or behavioral. While individuals working in special education can pursue opportunities in public and private schools, nonprofit below is just one potential path for someone with a special education teaching credential.

Bachelor’s Degree

Completes education degree and certification to work with K-12 students with mild to moderate disabilities

Teaching Experience

Begins teaching career in a public elementary school working with children who have autism

Graduate Degree

After three years in the classroom, completes Master of Education with an emphasis in special education

Additional Certification

Completes requirements to become a Certified Autism Specialist

Promotion to Instructional Coordinator

Organizes services for autistic students at a private school

Career
Advancement

After five years, moves into specialist role at public school district, implementing programs for students with autism

Top Online Special Education Schools and Programs: 2017

An online degree in special education will provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve a fulfilling career as a special education instructor. The curriculum for these programs outlines methods of classroom management, communication, and student development, all in an online format that benefits students with busy daily schedules. To make the school search process easier on students, we’ve looked into specific data points for each school offering these programs and developed a ranked list of the best schools around the country. Check out below to find the top online special education programs offered in 2017.

RankUniversity Name Score Net Price Financial aid percent Online Programs Aavailable Student-Teacher RatioGrad RateUniversity Information Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services
1Niagara University Score99.81
Net Price
Financial aid %98%
#Online programs6
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate67%

Students that choose to study special education at Niagara University have multiple options to choose from. There are different levels of schooling available for those that earn a bachelor’s degree in special education as Niagara University also offers a master’s degree in the program. Students can choose one of the bachelor’s degree programs depending on what they want to focus on as a professional. Because there are multiple degrees offered, Niagara University gives their students the opportunity to focus on what interests them most while also preparing them to become certified teachers after earning their degree.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
2Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College Score99.66
Net Price
Financial aid %98%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate62%

When studying toward a bachelor’s degree in special education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, students will also be preparing themselves to become licensed after graduation. The program is meant to prepare students to step into a professional role after graduating, allowing students to begin the process of becoming a teacher in special education. Students can also focus their studies in certain areas of special education through elective courses. The bachelor’s degree in special education offered by Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College is also available entirely online, giving those that have busy schedules the chance to complete their degree when it is convenient to them.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
3Converse College Score97.88
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate54%

Converse College offers multiple different bachelor’s degrees in special education, each of which can help a student earn whichever role they want in the field of special education. Courses are taught by teachers with plenty of experience in special education. Students at Converse College have the chance to gain experience outside of the classroom as well through real-world practice at local schools. The elementary, middle and high school levels are all offered for classroom experience, so students can get the practice and experience that is most closely related to the field they want to end up in.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
4University of North Dakota Score97.81
Net Price
Financial aid %30%
#Online programs6
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate52%

While there isn't a bachelor’s degree offered in special education at the University of North Dakota, there is a minor program available as well as multiple master’s degree options. Students can spend their undergraduate years at the University of North Dakota focusing on a specific level of education while also pursuing a minor in special education. After, they can earn a master’s degree in special education, depending on what way they want to take their career. Those that pursue a master’s degree can also earn certificates to ensure that their education will go on to help their career.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
5University of Southern Mississippi Score97.29
Net Price
Financial aid %74%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate50%

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi, students will have all the knowledge, experience and licensure they need to begin their career as a professional teacher. While studying toward a bachelor’s degree in special education, students will be required to spend time in real-world classrooms to learn more about the practice. Also, students will get to spend one semester as a student teacher to help them earn their licensing as a special education teacher after graduation. This degree program is meant to instruct teachers that will teach at all school levels, particularly in the state of Mississippi.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
6Minot State University Score96.79
Net Price
Financial aid %70%
#Online programs4
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate33%

Minot State University doesn’t want to just teach students that are going to become special education teachers – they want to make sure that their graduates are leaders in their field. Students will spend time making sure they not only know how to teach in a special education setting, but also how to communicate with other teachers both in and outside the special education field. While studying toward their bachelor’s degree in special education, students can choose to concentrate their studies in specific areas to give them more skills for when they eventually become professional teachers.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
7Morningside College Score96.71
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate59%

When studying toward a bachelor’s degree in special education at Morningside College, students will actually be receiving two degrees. One of the degrees will prepare students to teach in a special education class while the other degree will give students the knowledge and experience to teach a specific grade level. Those that end up earning a bachelor’s degree in special education at Morningside College will get endorsed to become professional teachers in the state of Iowa, but they shouldn’t have a problem finding a career as a special education teacher in a different state.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
8Ball State University Score96.21
Net Price
Financial aid %47%
#Online programs4
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate57%

There are multiple bachelor’s degrees in special education offered by Ball State University. Each degree will give students the resources they need to become a professional special education teacher, but the different degrees will set them apart when it comes time to apply for a career. Students also have the option to pick a dual degree track which gives them special education experience while also combining it with elementary education. Whichever special education setting students want to focus on, they should be able to find a bachelor’s degree fit for them at Ball State University.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
9Carlow University Score96.04
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate56%

Carlow University has a few options when it comes to picking a major in the special education field. All bachelor’s degrees in special education at Carlow University come with certification, so students will be prepared to begin their career after graduation. To make sure that students can get certified, they are required to spend time in real-world experiences, meaning spending time in classroom settings to deepen their knowledge of special education. Students can also choose what grade levels they prefer to teach at, and they can use their degree and certification to prepare for that type of setting.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
10The University of Alabama Score95.79
Net Price
Financial aid %53%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate67%

Students that want to earn their master’s degree in special education while also pursuing certification can find everything they need at the University of Alabama. There are multiple master’s degrees offered by the institution, and students can focus on the part of special education that interests them most. The degrees are offered online, so students aren't required to commute to campus. However, some degree programs might require in-person practice, so students that want to earn their master’s degree in special education entirely online will have to pick a program at the University of Alabama that is best suited for them.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
11Eastern Kentucky University Score95.56
Net Price
Financial aid %41%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate37%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
12Arkansas State University-Main Campus Score95.45
Net Price
Financial aid %65%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate39%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
13Fontbonne University Score95.37
Net Price
Financial aid %94%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate34%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
14The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Score95.33
Net Price
Financial aid %86%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate37%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
15Buena Vista University Score95.28
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate51%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
16Indiana Wesleyan University Score95.22
Net Price
Financial aid %50%
#Online programs4
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate70%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
17Notre Dame College Score95.18
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate36%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
18Northwest Missouri State University Score95.16
Net Price
Financial aid %93%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate52%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
19Graceland University-Lamoni Score95.14
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate50%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
20Southwestern College Score95.13
Net Price
Financial aid %95%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate51%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesNo Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
21University of South Florida-Main Campus Score95.09
Net Price
Financial aid %73%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate57%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
22University of Idaho Score95.07
Net Price
Financial aid %78%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate56%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
23Cardinal Stritch University Score95.02
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate43%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
24University of Central Arkansas Score94.95
Net Price
Financial aid %85%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate41%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
25Chaminade University of Honolulu Score94.91
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate36%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
26University of Nebraska-Lincoln Score94.86
Net Price
Financial aid %69%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate65%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
27Campbellsville University Score94.78
Net Price
Financial aid %90%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate44%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
28Brenau University Score94.76
Net Price
Financial aid %98%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate45%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
29Concordia University-Nebraska Score94.75
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate63%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
30University of Toledo Score94.73
Net Price
Financial aid %85%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate46%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
31University of Northern Colorado Score94.71
Net Price
Financial aid %79%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate45%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
32Bowling Green State University-Main Campus Score94.69
Net Price
Financial aid %70%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate58%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
33University of Arizona Score94.62
Net Price
Financial aid %77%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate61%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
34Emporia State University Score94.56
Net Price
Financial aid %76%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate42%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
35Prescott College Score94.51
Net Price
Financial aid %90%
#Online programs3
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate45%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesNo Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
36Arcadia University Score94.49
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate65%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
37University of Maine Score94.47
Net Price
Financial aid %78%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate59%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
38Concordia University-Wisconsin Score94.45
Net Price
Financial aid %98%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate59%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
39Upper Iowa University Score94.42
Net Price
Financial aid %90%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate41%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
40Georgetown College Score94.40
Net Price
Financial aid %100%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate60%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
41Kentucky State University Score94.39
Net Price
Financial aid %61%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate14%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
42Saint Leo University Score94.35
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate43%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
43Indiana University-Bloomington Score94.33
Net Price
Financial aid %46%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate75%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
44Greenville College Score94.31
Net Price
Financial aid %94%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate54%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
45East Carolina University Score94.29
Net Price
Financial aid %50%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate58%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
46Auburn University Score94.28
Net Price
Financial aid %65%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate68%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
47University of the Southwest Score94.19
Net Price
Financial aid %98%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate22%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesNo Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
48Harding University Score94.15
Net Price
Financial aid %91%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate61%
Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
49Northwestern State University of Louisiana Score94.13
Net Price
Financial aid %48%
#Online programs2
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate36%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
50Dominican College of Blauvelt Score94.12
Net Price
Financial aid %99%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio
Grad Rate33%
Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
University Name Score Net Price Financial aid percent Online Programs Aavailable Student-Teacher RatioUniversity Information Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services
East Mississippi Community College Score99.75
Net Price
Financial aid %78%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio

Special education is an important field to be prepared for, and East Mississippi Community College has designed their two-year associate degree to make sure students are ready. The degree program is structured to be transferrable so students can go on to earn a four-year degree at a different institution, helping them along their way to becoming teachers in special education. Most lower division courses will be covered at East Mississippi Community College, so students will be able to transfer to other institutions knowing that they are prepared to complete their degree.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
College of Southern Idaho Score94.94
Net Price
Financial aid %46%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio

The College of Southern Idaho has created most of their degree programs to help students that aren't entirely sure of what field they want to enter. So students studying toward an associate degree in special education will receive experience in the field while also finding out if it is something that they want to pursue professionally. If they do decide to continue their education and transfer to earn a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, the College of Southern Idaho has designed their courses to be easily transferrable to other colleges and universities.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
Henry Ford Community College Score90.98
Net Price
Financial aid %1%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio

The two-year associate degree in special education at Henry Ford Community College is perfect for those that want to get exposed to special education before committing to the major. The program is a pre-special education path, giving students early exposure to the field of special education. While studying at Henry Ford Community College, students will spend a lot of time learning about the philosophy of teaching as well as teaching techniques. After earning their associate degree, students are encouraged to transfer to a four-year institution to complete their studies and earn a bachelor’s degree.

Credit for ExperienceNo Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less
Lehigh Carbon Community College Score86.73
Net Price
Financial aid %2%
#Online programs1
Student-Teacher Ratio

Lehigh Carbon Community College’s associate degree in special education prepares students to eventually become special education teachers after continuing their education. The degree program is meant to give students lower division level knowledge of special education to make their credits easily transferrable to other institutions after earning their associate degree. Students also have the option to study special education on campus or entirely online, depending on which option fits the needs of the individual student best. There are also many electives offered to give students further studies in their desired field.

Credit for ExperienceYes Placement ServicesYes Counseling ServicesYes Read More Read Less

Special Education Degree Programs: Studying Online

University-based teacher preparation programs combine academic instruction with clinical experiences that align with state-based standards and guidelines. More and more programs are being offered online, providing students with flexible options for completing a degree. Below is an overview of the learning experience for online special education degree seekers.

Local Student-Teaching Practicums

Just like their campus-based counterparts, online teaching programs require students to complete an in-person student teaching practicum. These practicums may be completed in another state and are monitored virtually by supervisors in the program.

Immersive Digital Learning

Online learning is delivered via a learning management system (LMS) such as Blackboard. Most special education teaching programs are delivered in an asynchronous (self-paced) format that offers students freedom regarding when and where they complete their assignments. Through the LMS, students can access their reading materials, submit assignments and communicate with instructors and peers.

Online Communication

Students use video, online chat, discussion boards, email, bulletin boards and phone calls to communicate and interact with both their students and instructors.

Technology Requirements

Technology requirements vary from program to program. However, all programs require students to have a reliable computer with a high-speed Internet connection. Updated Web browsers are required to work within learning management systems. Headphones, microphones and a webcam are also typically recommended for student communication and online test proctoring.

Online Degree Programs in Special Education

Online special education degrees are offered from the bachelor’s to the doctoral level, with plenty of variations sprinkled in to allow students to meet their individual professional goals.

  • Bachelor’s
    (4 to 5 Years)
  • Master’s
    (2 to 3 Years)
  • Doctorate
    (4 to 6+ Years)
  • Education Specialist
    (2 to 3 Years)
  • Graduate Certificates
    (1 Year or Less)

The Bachelor of Science in special education prepares future educators to work with students who have a variety of learning, emotional, behavioral and cognitive disabilities. Typically, these programs require between 120 and 128 credit hours to complete and are arranged around a sequence of study that leads to special education teacher certification in the student’s state of residence. Curriculum is specialized, preparing students to work with learners with mild to moderate or severe to profound disabilities. In turn, coursework provides students with a thorough understanding of the conceptual foundations of child and youth development, assessment and diagnosis, and instructional techniques. Although some programs can be completed in four years, others require a fifth year of study that culminates in a supervised clinical practicum in a preschool, elementary school, middle school, or high school.

The master’s degree in special education is unique because it serves experienced educators licensed in special education as well as students new to education who wish to pursue a career in teaching. To that end, there are two divergent paths of study at the graduate level: Master of Education (MEd) and Master of Arts (MA)/Master of Science (MS).

  • MEd: The Master of Education is a professionally oriented program of study, with coursework that focuses not on research but on developing the core skills and knowledge of special education teachers.
  • MA/MS: A Master of Arts or Master of Science is more heavily concentrated around research and typically requires students to complete a thesis as part of their coursework.

The MEd and MA are traditionally further divided into three types:

  • Master’s degree: Some programs are stand-alone, allowing students to complete a special education program of study without a practicum/field experience requirement.
  • Master’s degree with education licensure: These programs, which include a student-teaching experience, are designed for educators who wish to complete a master’s degree and requirements for their initial special education teaching license.
  • Master’s degree with advanced instruction: These programs, which also include a student-teaching component, are for experienced educators seeking advanced instruction in working with special needs students.

Most master’s programs are between 30 and 36 credit hours and can take anywhere from two to three years of full-time study to complete. For more information, see our guide to the online master’s in special education.

Doctoral programs are the highest academic degrees available in education. They are for individuals who wish to perform original research and prepare for either research or educational leadership positions in special education. Like the master’s degree, two doctoral tracks are available: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education (EdD). Both programs require a dissertation and generally require between 60 and 72 credits.

  • Doctor of Education: The Doctor of Education degree is specially designed to prepare graduates for leadership positions in research, practice or policy. The curriculum is generally divided into core coursework, electives, classes in research methods, and a dissertation. Example course topics include curriculum and instruction leadership, public policy and education, developmental psychopathology, and causes of behavioral disabilities.
  • Doctor of Philosophy: The Doctor of Philosophy degree is for individuals wishing to pursue research activities in an area of interest, such as severe disabilities, early childhood development or visual impairments. Curriculum is tailored to students’ research areas, preparing them for advanced roles as university researchers and faculty members, research leaders at human service agencies, or researchers at private institutes. Example topics of study include autism spectrum disorders, behavior disorders and applied behavior analysis.

Secondary education master’s degrees generally require 60 credit hours of full-time study to complete and may include a student-teaching component or thesis.

The Education Specialist degree (EdS) is a distinctive program of study for individuals interested in graduate studies in special education who do not wish to complete a doctoral degree. Students, who typically must have a master’s degree in special education (or related field) to apply, undertake a curriculum that blends public policy, leadership, program development and student assessment. Graduates with an EdS may leverage their knowledge to pursue careers as school administrators or special education program directors. Although program requirements vary by program, most require between 30 and 45 credit hours of full-time study to complete.

Graduate certificates in special education serve two populations: individuals who want to work in special education but do not have a teaching license and licensed teachers who want to earn a special education endorsement. Students traditionally complete between 15 and 27 credit hours of study in a curriculum focused entirely around special education topics such as special education leadership, diagnosis assessment, classroom management and reading strategies.

Academic Concentrations in Special Education

Special education graduate students may pursue specialized academic concentrations such as those listed below:

  • Applied behavioral analysis
  • Assistive technologies
  • Autism
  • Blindness and visual impairments
  • Deaf and hard of hearing
  • Disabilities services
  • Learning disabilities
  • Moderate and severe disabilities
  • Multisensory reading

Standard Courses in Special Education Degrees

The curriculum of online special education degree programs is based on evidence-based practices that support students with special needs. Instruction is divided between pedagogical knowledge and mentoring in the form of a yearlong classroom-based experience. In addition to completing core requirements for their level of teaching (e.g., elementary, high school), prospective students also complete specialized coursework to earn their special education endorsement. Classes vary by institution, but the table below offers a look at some common classes offered in these programs.

Course Description
Introduction to Educational Research

In this course, students learn how to formulate hypotheses, conduct research and prepare reports.

Students with Emotional / Social / Behavioral Disorders

This class discusses social and emotional disorders within the context of an educational setting, teaching students to identify and assess disorders, create a classroom environment conducive to learning, and manage student issues.

Students with Multiple Disabilities

Students study the underlying nature of learning, social and emotional disorders; explore the latest research findings; and review current trends for adapting instructional models to teach students with multiple disabilities.

Diagnostic Assessment

This course covers assessment, from evaluation to student placement, based on response to intervention (RTI). Topics of study include assessment models, parent communication and involvement, and progress reporting.

Introduction to Communication

Students learn about parent-teacher and home-school collaboration and discuss methods to foster communication and partnerships among parents, teachers and students.

Finding a Quality Special Education Degree Program

To begin the process of selecting a program, students can compile a list of schools that offer online special education degrees. To review their options, students should consider a variety of different factors, from the quality of the curriculum to the expertise of faculty members. Below is a list of five questions students should ask when choosing a program.

  • Is the program approved? Teacher preparation programs, including out-of-state programs, must be approved by the state’s department of education to be of any value to the student.
  • Is the program accredited? Students should attend special education programs that are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
  • Does the curriculum follow CEC standards? Students should check if the program’s curriculum follows curriculum standards set by the Council for Exceptional Children.
  • Are there prerequisite requirements? Some graduate programs in special education may require students to complete coursework before applying to enter.
  • Is there field experience support? Clinical experience is a standard component of special education training. Does the program help students locate local student-teacher site placements, or are students required to act independently?

Accreditation for Special Ed Degree Programs

Accreditation is a voluntary process of review that is conducted at both the institutional and programmatic level. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) is the primary accrediting organization for teacher preparation programs. CAEP works alongside the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) to establish and align curriculum and accreditation standards with CEC teacher preparation guidelines.

Attending an accredited program is important because state departments of education require it for licensure. For more information, visit our page on the overall accreditation process.

Steps to an Online EdS in Special Education

Designed for educators who possess a master’s degree in special education, the EdS in special education prepares students for K-12 leadership opportunities. An EdS is a professionally oriented program of study, so potential students must not only hold a graduate degree but also have years of professional experience prior to applying. Below is a checklist of steps prospective students can take before enrolling in an online EdS graduate program.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1

Complete Master of Science in special education degree program

3 to 4 years
Step 2

Gain at least two years of professional experience

2 to 4 years
Step 3

Take Graduate Record Examination (GRE)

2 to 4 years
Step 4

Prepare personal statement and request official transcripts and letters of reference

9 to 12 months

Step 5

Apply to online EdS in special education program

8 to 10 months

Admission to online EdS programs is competitive, with most programs receiving more applications than the number of open positions available. Getting accepted to a program requires more than a solid GPA, and candidates should present themselves as academically prepared, well-rounded educators. Below is a list of three ways prospective online EdS students can make their applications more competitive.

  • Earn certifications Postgraduate certifications show the application committee that a candidate is committed to professional development.
  • Play a broader role in school activities Candidates should show a progression of responsibilities and roles in their K-12 careers. Serving on school committees is one way to round out an application.
  • Attend conferences EdS candidates can make their applications stand out by attending conferences, especially as presenters or panelists.

Career Outlook in Special Education Teaching

Nationally, job growth for special education teachers is projected to reach six percent between 2014 and 2024, according to employment figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This increase is estimated to create nearly 60,000 openings for educators, with the largest gains expected at the preschool level. Salaries for special education teachers are in line with other K-12 educators — the median annual salary for the profession falls between $54,000 and $58,000. Below is a snapshot of salary and job growth information for specific special education careers.

Teaching Credentials and Professional Certifications


Like other instructors, special education teachers must complete a teacher preparation program as well as a bachelor’s degree to qualify for a teaching license. However, special education teachers may have to take extra steps to earn a special education endorsement and qualify for a state license. Below is a general overview of the special education licensure process.

Special Education Teaching Credential

A state license both permits teachers to work in special education and establishes the scope of their practice. Licensure requirements vary by state but share common traits. Below is a checklist of common licensing steps for special education teachers.

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university
  • Complete a state-approved teacher preparation program
  • Do a student teaching practicum
  • Earn passing scores on state-based knowledge examinations or Praxis test (if required)
  • Clear a background check

Beyond the core requirements, some states require teachers to take additional steps to earn an endorsement that qualifies them to work with special needs students. Examples of these steps include the following:

  • Complete an education specialist credentialing program
  • Complete a special education induction program
  • Pass examinations to qualify as a learning behavioral specialist
  • Pass additional special education examinations as determined by the state

Prior to enrolling in a special education program, students are advised to contact their state’s Department of Education to get information about specific licensing requirements.

Special Education Teaching Certifications

Special education teachers can earn additional credentials and certifications that enhance their understanding of industry trends and skills for working with students who have special needs. These credentialing programs also help educators demonstrate their commitment to the field and add their name to the list of leaders on the topic. Below is a snapshot of some of the certifications available.

  • AASEP Board Certification in Special Education

    To qualify for board certification, candidates must hold a master’s degree in a field relevant to working with students with special needs, complete five certificates of advanced professional development (see below) and pass certification examinations. Upon successful completion, candidates can use the academy credentials in their title: B.C.S.E. (Board Certified in Special Education).

  • AASEP Certificate of Advanced Professional Development

    To qualify for a Certificate of Advanced Professional Development from the American Academy of Special Education Professionals, candidates must have an accredited bachelor’s degree in a relevant field and complete one or more certificate courses. These courses include Principles of IEP Development, Review of the Major Principles of Special Education, Understanding Assessment in Special Education, Understanding Response to Intervention (RTI), and Special Education Eligibility.

  • Board Certified Educational Advocate

    Sponsored by the National Special Education Advocacy Institute, the Board Certified Educational Advocate is earned once teachers complete 198 hours of NSEAI-approved curriculum, take 30 hours of continuing education units, do 100 hours of graded practicum experience, pass their examinations, and pay certification fees.

  • ABCTE Certification in Special Education

    The American Board for the Certification of Teacher Excellence sponsors a certification in special education for candidates who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, complete a background check, and pass examinations on teaching knowledge and special education.

  • National Board Certification

    The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a certificate for Exceptional Needs Specialist. To qualify, candidates must have a valid teaching license, a bachelor’s degree or higher, and three years of teaching experience. They must also pass a multicomponent certificate program and examination.

More Online Programs in Education

Education is a broad yet dynamic field. Below is a list of related online programs prospective students may want to consider.

Online Secondary Education Degrees

Designed for educators who wish to teach grades seven to 12, online secondary education degree programs prepare teachers to work in the classroom and specialize in a specific subject area, such as mathematics, science, English, social studies or a foreign language.

Online Elementary Education Degrees

Designed for educators who want to teach grades K-6, online elementary education programs prepare individuals to be effective educators by offering a curriculum that satisfies licensure requirements.

Online Child Development Degrees

Varied in nature, online child development degree programs may be offered at the certificate, bachelor’s and graduate levels. These programs teach students about the stages of youth development from infancy to adolescence.

Useful Sites for Special Education Teachers