Online Master’s Programs in Special Education

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Teacher Careers & Salaries with a Graduate Degree in Special Education

Special education teachers are in high demand, as student enrollment in programs that provide special education teaching has increased during the past few years. Part of the reason for this is that disabilities in children are being identified and addressed more quickly than ever before. A convenient way for you to increase your skill level and make yourself more competitive in this field is to earn an online master’s degree in special education. Find out what you’ll learn in this degree program and search the best online master’s degree in special education programs to find the one that works for you.

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Featured Online Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Check out our rankings list below to see which one of the top-rated special education master’s degree programs would be the greatest fit for you. For these rankings, we obtained our data from the United States Department of Education, the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and the universities’ own published materials. All of the schools in our list are accredited.

See Our Rankings Methodology

Top 10 Online Master’s in Special Education

Best Online Master’s in Special Education

  1. Mount Vernon Nazarene University

    Mount Vernon, OH



    Depending on your professional experience, students at the Christian-based Mount Vernon Nazarene University can enroll in 2 pathways to earn a Master of Arts in Education with an emphasis in special education. Both programs, which are accredited by the National Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and Ohio Department of Education, are intended for individuals who plan to work in Ohio. The first option is available to prospective teachers working to receive an initial teaching license as an intervention specialist for mild or moderate disabilities. Students will satisfy 53 semester hours, which include 9 credits of student teaching. Curriculum covers foundational education courses, such as Technology for Educators and Classroom Management and Behavior Analysis, as well as concentration-specific courses exploring professional practices in intervention services and progress monitoring. Students finish coursework in an average of 34 months. An alternative opportunity exists for teachers who are currently licensed in Ohio. The advanced licensure program, which takes around 22 months to complete, requires 30 semester hours and entails 2 credits of practicum experience. In order to be eligible for both options, you must have maintained a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, pass an interview and mail in transcripts. A copy of your Ohio teaching license must also be submitted for the advanced pathway. Students can utilize a number of resources to assist in their studies. The Center for Student Success provides free tutoring, an academic peer mentor program and writing center services. The Career Development Center assists in networking, job exploration, resume writing and interview preparation.

  2. Liberty University

    Lynchburg, VA



    Liberty University is a Christian-based learning institution aiming to balance academics with spirituality. The School of Education, which is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, offers a 100% online format to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching Special Education. For added convenience, 8-week classes begin at 8 different times each year. Although there are deadlines for assignments and exams, students decide where and when to access their coursework via the web platform Blackboard Learn. Graduation and initial licensure entails the fulfillment of 36 credit hours, which must be passed with a letter grade of B or above. However, students may receive a C in 2 of their classes. Core curriculum classes include Tests and Measurements, Learning Theory, and Historical and Philosophical Foundations of Education. Concentration-specific courses include Collaborating for Successful Inclusive Classrooms, Educational Assessment and Intervention, and Principles of Behavior Management. Online learners will also participate in a student teaching internship within their location of residency, which requires a background check. The Office of Online Student Life is committed to creating a supportive online community by linking students to helpful videos, campus blogs, counseling services and a spot to submit prayer requests. You will also have access to academic advising, a writing center and technical assistance. In-state and out-of-state enrollees pay the same tuition rates. Veterans pay $140 less per credit hour, and emergency responders are given a 25% discount. In order to be eligible for the program, you must have maintained a 3.0 GPA in undergraduate work.

  3. Concordia University-Saint Paul

    Saint Paul, MN



    Students enrolled in an online program to earn a Master of Arts in Special Education at Concordia University, St. Paul choose from 3 areas of licensure. The first option, which focuses on specific learning disabilities, requires 33 credit hours, and classes include Teaching Students With Math or Language Difficulties and Collaborative Consultation in Special Education. A second concentration prepares graduates to work with students who have autism spectrum disorders. There are 39 credit hours needed to finish this program, and classes cover Communication and Social Skills Training as well as Interventions: Autism Spectrum Disorders. As a third choice, students can work toward 36 credit hours to specialize in emotional and behavioral disorders. Classes from this curriculum include Behavior Management and Adolescents With Emotional or Behavioral Disorders. All degree options entail an applied field experience as well as a capstone research project. Students will participate in their programs as a cohort, thereby following a structured plan of study with the same group of peers. Courses last for 7 weeks, and students will work through 1 class at a time. Although classes are mostly self-paced, online learners are expected to engage in a real-time web discussion once every week. Tutorial videos are available upon request to acquaint students with online studies. Students also have access to on-campus resources, such as writing center services, free tutoring through Brainfuse, career guidance and academic advising. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 GPA in undergraduate coursework, transcripts, the submission of a FAFSA and an essay showcasing your professional experience and future goals.

  4. Fontbonne University

    Saint Louis, MO



    Fontbonne University is a private, Catholic-based higher learning institution providing students with the opportunity to earn a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in special education. This degree can be completed through a combination of evening and online classes. The program entails 32 total credit hours with classes such as The Teacher as Leader, Contemporary Issues in Education and Research Methods in Education. All students must take the 2-credit course Action Research, in which they utilize their classroom experiences to compile data and execute an idea or solution. The special education concentration explores the topic through classes like Enhancing Student Achievement Through Positive Behavioral Supports, Differentiated Instruction, Assessment of Ability and Achievement and Counseling Techniques. Courses are delivered in a 16-week format, and online studies are implemented via the learning platform Schoology. Technical assistance is available to help navigate this system. Online students also have access to the Kinkel Center for Academic Resources, which provides free tutoring services for business, math, science and writing subjects. Additional supports include the library, career center and proctoring services. In-state and out-of-state enrollees pay the same tuition rates for on-campus and distance education credits. The school also offers a 15% discount to educators who work a minimum of part-time hours at any pre-K-12 educational establishment. If eligible, students can connect with an admissions representative in order to fill out a registration form, which must be turned in every semester. In order to be admitted to the program, students will submit the graduate school application, transcripts indicating a minimum 3.0 GPA, 3 professional references and a 300-500 word personal statement.

  5. Nyack College

    Nyack, NY



    Nyack College was founded in the late 1800s with the mission to instill a sense of diversity and community vibrancy through, what the founder A. B. Simpson, a pastor, described as taking "the Good News of God's love" to everyone. From there, Nyack has grown into an institution of over 2,500 students with a robust online education program that takes this founding vision to heart. This is especially true within the Master of Science in Childhood Special Education program that is designed to prepare educators to work with exceptional children in first through 6th grade. The program has 3 tracks depending on a student's experience and certification: initial certification, additional certification and non-certification. The initial certification is only for New York State residents. The 42-credit curriculum is designed for students wishing to become special education teachers without prior experience. There are significant prerequisites for the program, such as a sufficient liberal arts/sciences background (including 30 credits with a C grade or better in a liberal arts or sciences subject), 6 language course credits other than English, an intro psychology course and evidence of computer literacy. The additional certification is a 30-36-credit program for students already possessing a New York State teaching license but who want to specialize in special education. While there are similar prerequisites to the initial certification track, they aren't as rigorous. The non-certification is a 30-credit program ideal for students who don't need certification or who may teach within an independent school setting. The foundational courses for all the programs are the same, including Inclusive Classroom, Exceptional Child, Field for Autism and Literacy. Each certification track, however, includes additional coursework necessary for certification.

  6. New England College

    Henniker, NH



    New England College is an established liberal arts college that is committed to instilling values of imagination, respect, caring, appreciation of truth, inquiry, ethics, ecological sustainability and lifelong learning into its curriculum. As a small institution, there is a large commitment to online learning with 900 graduate students completing their degrees online. Students interested in special education can find an excellent program in New England College's Master of Education, Special Education. The Master of Education program is designed for currently certified teachers or prospective students who wish to become certified in a specific concentration, including special education. The curriculum is built to satisfy the New Hampshire State Certification Standards and the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) Standards. Because of this design, graduates will be prepared to complete certification in the concentration. To graduate from the program, students must complete 37 credit hours. All Master of Education students, no matter the concentration, are required to take the program's core courses (a total of 28 credit hours). Examples of those courses include the Psychology of Learning Communities, Dynamics of Education Reform and Systems Change, Research Practicum and Fundamentals of Educational Inquiry. Of the 9 electives, students will choose courses that are consistent with their special education concentration. All students will complete a final portfolio as well. Because students from all concentrations are required to complete the same core courses, students of special education are exposed to a wide array of backgrounds and interests.

  7. Saint Leo University

    St. Leo, FL



    Saint Leo University has established itself as a leader in online education through its Saint Leo WorldWide programming. The Master of Education - Exceptional Student Education program is an excellent program for prospective students interested in a special education degree with the flexibility and strong online education track record of Saint Leo. The program is designed for general educators who are interested in expanding their areas of certification. Students in the program come from a diverse set of K-12 environments. All of the courses are offered completely online, but there is a fieldwork requirement, which can be completed in the students' own school settings. The program offers 3 tracks for students. Track A is a program that requires 36-39 credit hours of coursework for any student interested in achieving certification eligibility in the State of Florida in Exceptional Student Education (K12). Track B, requiring the completion of 36 credit hours, is for students who already hold a teaching certificate in Florida but wish to gain eligibility for Florida's Exceptional Student Education certification. Track C, also 36 credit hours, isn't a state-approved program, but it's ideal for current teachers who want to expand their knowledge in special education without the goal of certification. While some of the coursework is dependent on the specific track, example courses include Literacy Assessment and Intervention, an Introduction to Law, Ethics, Placement and Diversity in Special Education, Theories and Methods for Mild to Moderate Populations and Collaborating in Inclusive Settings. The program stands out with a faculty who are current practitioners in school administration and well recognized in the field.

  8. University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus

    Norman, OK



    The University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus has a unique "One University Digital Initiative" with a goal to create innovative educational strategies while also helping students save money through free online textbooks. This commitment to expanding the digital availability of learning materials also extends to the university's online degree programs. For students who need that extra flexibility to complete a degree, OU's Master of Education in Special Education program can be completed either completely online or in a hybrid model, which combines some face-to-face courses on the Norman, Oklahoma, campus and some online coursework. There are 3 concentration options available for master's degree-seeking students: general degree for non-certification, secondary transition and applied behavior analysis. The general degree has the most flexibility and is ideal for current educators (special or general education), family members of students with disabilities, or caregivers or community agency staff who are interested in delving into current theory and practices of special education. The general concentration doesn't lead to certification. The secondary transition education concentration prepares transition coordinators and is a degree typically pursued by students with prior certification in special education or experience in a related field. The applied behavior analysis (ABA) concentration is geared toward students who are interested in learning about the behavior analysis intervention practice that is widely accepted as one of the most effective methods to improve skills of children in special education programs. The Behavior Analyst Certification Board has approved the courses and sequence within UO's program. All of the programs require the completion of 33 credit hours, a number of which are special education core courses such as Applied Behavior Analysis in School, Advanced Assessment, and Contemporary Issues and Research. Both the ABA concentration and the secondary transition program require additional concentration-specific courses to complete.

  9. University of the Cumberlands

    Williamsburg, KY



    The University of the Cumberlands was founded over a century ago with the mission of preparing servant leaders. This servant leadership model extends over to the university's education program, which was established in 1888 with the understanding that teachers have the opportunity to help young people thrive. Now with completely online offerings, students may earn a teaching degree in a completely flexible format. The University of the Cumberlands offers the online Master of Arts in Teaching program where students can specialize in a variety of education areas, including special education-learning and behavior disorders. This program with a concentration in special education is designed for students who already possess teaching certificates to advance their practice and achieve special education certification. Students complete 42 credit hours of coursework in courses such as Teaching Math to Learners With Disabilities, Classroom and Behavior Management, Special Education Evaluation, Working With Parents and Trends in Special Education. Students will also be required to complete 3 clinical experiences including a professional experience. The MAT program sees critical thinking and reflection as pivotal to teacher education, and it is infused in all of the degrees' programming. The average completion time for students is 18 months; however, this often depends on the pace in which the student moves through the coursework. In addition, the University of the Cumberlands has a unique program for veterans wishing to pursue a teaching degree called "Troop to Teachers". Provided there are available funds, eligible students may receive stipends of up to $5,000 to help pay for teacher certification costs or $10,000 in the form of bonuses to teach in schools that serve a high percentage of low-income students.

  10. The University of Alabama

    Tuscaloosa, AL



    The University of Alabama's online education program, Bama By Distance, offers a wide range of distance and hybrid-learning opportunities for students. Prospective students with a bachelor's-level teaching certificate and an interest in pursuing special education have 2 program options through the Master of Arts in Special Education program: collaborative 6-12 certification and gifted and talented certification. Both of these programs are "blended," or hybrid, programs that combine online coursework with in-person weekend and web-assisted courses on the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, campus. This hybrid model allows full-time educators to pursue the degree toward certification. The special education collaborative program leads students to Alabama Class A certification in Grades 6-12, and the coursework is designed to prepare special education teachers of secondary school students with the skills needed to teach students with exceptionalities. Students complete 36 credit hours of coursework in courses such as Diagnosis and Assessment of Exceptional Children and Youth, Creative Problem Solving, Intro to Mild Disabilities and a practicum in secondary student special education. Students in the Gifted and Talented Certification track are prepared to understand the special nature of gifted and talented students in order to adapt and structure educational strategies appropriately. To graduate, students will complete 30 credit hours in coursework such as Psychology of Gifted and Talented Children and Youth, Creative Problem Solving, Teaching Thinking Skills, and Diagnosis and Assessment of Exceptional Children and youth. Students will also complete summer enrichment workshop internships in addition to the regular internship. Additional special education electives are available students.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Special Education Program?

A special education online master’s degree program teaches students how to work with children who have physical handicaps, emotional issues or learning disabilities. Students learn how to assess children for special education services, create an individual education plan for each child who needs one and work with the children and their parents on helping the children to achieve their unique goals.

Specific skills that students will learn during their time as a master’s student include:

  • Strategies for understanding children with special needs
  • Tools and resources that teachers and schools can use to support students with special needs
  • The legal issues and laws at the state and federal level governing the education of children with special needs
  • Effective teaching methods for a variety of learning differences

What common courses are offered in a master’s in Special Education program?

Check out these five sample courses that you might encounter in an online master’s degree program in special education.

Advanced Strategies for Individuals with Disabilities

This course provides students with a glimpse at advanced strategies for teaching youth with disabilities. Students also go over how to appropriately plan curricula for this population of students.

Addressing Emotional and Social Needs

This course offers students an opportunity to look at children’s social, psychological, emotional and behavioral needs and the ways in which these needs impact the children’s ability to do traditional coursework. Students learn how to encourage appropriate behaviors and reduce inappropriate actions in children.

Educational Research for Master’s Students

In this course, students examine the role that educational research plays in informing educators’ practices, as well as educational research’s limitations. Students are given the opportunity to select topics of interest and to conduct related literature reviews to produce final papers that demonstrate their understanding of the research studies they have discovered.

Foundations, Trends & Issues in Special Education Leadership

The aim of this course is to teach students how leadership in special education has changed over time. Students also have the opportunity to explore special education federal law as well as ethical practices among special education leaders.

Transition Strategies for Individuals with Disabilities

In this course, students learn the contemporary and historical legislation, service delivery, policies and methods for transitional and educational programming for children with disabilities. The goal of the course is to help students to plan effective transitional life experiences for young people with disabilities.

What exams or projects should I expect?

In an online master’s degree in special education, students are typically required to complete a master’s thesis or a capstone project. Some programs also require students to pass several cumulative examinations or a single comprehensive examination at the end of the program. Certain programs also require students to gain hands-on field experience through practicum experiences, which can take the form of student teaching hours or internships. All of this allows students to demonstrate the skills they have attained over the course of the master’s degree program.

What specializations are available in a master’s in special education program?

Online master’s degree programs in special education oftentimes offer students the opportunity to choose specializations in this broad career field. For instance, they may choose to specialize in applied behavior analysis, autism spectrum disorder and special education technology. Still other specializations include severe disabilities, mild to moderate disabilities, early childhood education, secondary education and elementary education.

Take a look at these common online special education master’s degree specializations below.

Applied Behavior Analysis

This specialization offers students an in-depth peek at behavior analysis principles and concepts. This information will help students to better understand the behavior and academic problems of students with special needs and thus more effectively develop and implement behavioral assessments as well as intervention procedures.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

With this specialization, students examine the behavioral characteristics and psychological models of autism spectrum disorders. This specialization offers the perfect opportunity for students to learn how autism influences an autistic student’s daily functioning in the home, community and school settings.

Special Education Technology

Students who choose this specialization explore the delivery of content and the process of incorporating assistive and adaptable technologies into their learning plans. A graduate with this specialization is prepared to implement the latest technologies and tools into the special needs classroom.

What Can I do with a Master’s in Special Education Degree?

An online master’s degree in special education program will give you the necessary skills for excelling in a wide range of positions in this dynamic field. Take a look at a few of them below.

Special Education Teacher

These professionals help children who have physical, mental, learning, emotional or cognitive disabilities to reach their potential academically. These individuals strive to help these children to succeed in traditional academic subjects as well as master basic skills. Special education teachers may also be given the responsibility of overseeing other instructors or serving as the chairs of their departments.

Instructional Coordinator

These individuals aim to make sure that curricula and the methods used to deliver instruction reflect the needs of students with disabilities. These professionals also work in tandem with other administrators and teachers to make sure that their well-thought-out action plans are executed daily, and they monitor for necessary changes.

Learning Disabilities Teacher Consultant

Some school districts have learning disabilities teacher consultants, known as LDT-Cs. Individuals in this career complete educational testing for students with disabilities or learning differences and create Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) for students. This job also requires direct work with teachers as an advocate for students with special needs to ensure their educational requirements are met.

Special Education Advocate

Similar to a learning disabilities teacher consultant, a special education advocate works closely with parents of children with special needs to ensure their legal, physical and educational needs are met at a school campus. An advocate helps parents navigate challenging legal rules and red tape surrounding the school system.

Educational Consultant

An educational consultant no longer teaches directly in a classroom, but rather advises school districts and school staff on the best implementation methods and training programs for students with special needs. An educational consultant will work with school staff to teach them about the latest research and teaching methods that work for students with varying special needs.

In addition to completing an online master’s degree program in special education, students may benefit from joining professional organizations for the purpose of networking with other professionals in the field. Here are a few that they may wish to consider.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

This membership association is the only one focused just on special education teachers. Through this association, special education teachers can take advantage of professional development and continuing education opportunities as well as career support, national conferences, events, publications and handouts.

Learning Disabilities Association of America

This organization offers convenient resources to its members, such as a section dedicated specifically to educators. Special education teachers can use this association to find research, information and publications on various learning disabilities.

Council for Exceptional Children

Through this council, special education teachers can gain access to professional development–related opportunities. The council also features local chapters that have regular events, along with research access, publications and national conferences for its members.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Special Education?

Depending on the academic level and experience, those working in special education may fall within the range of salaries listed in the chart below. Students pursuing a career in special education should keep in mind that they may need additional licensure, certification and experience in addition to a master’s degree in special education to be eligible for certain careers.

Special Education Teacher, PreschoolLess than $33,160$53,640More than $92,250+8%
*for all special education teachers
Special Education Teacher, Secondary SchoolLess than $39,680$60,180More than $97,670+8%
*for all special education teachers
Special Education Teachers, K & Elementary SchoolLess than $37,150$57,040More than $90,260+8%
*for all special education teachers
Special Education Teacher, Middle SchoolLess than $39,190$58,560More than $93,260+8%
*for all special education teachers
Special Education Teachers, All OtherLess than $34,970$54,800More than $96,100+8%
*for all special education teachers

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the special education field—and the education field in general—will be in high demand over the next 10 years. When it comes to special education in particular, federal law mandates that all students who have disabilities receive free education. In addition, all states are required to maintain the same financial support level for their special education services each year. Funding increases may drive employment growth even more than what’s listed in the chart above during the next decade.

Note that there is a difference in salary depending on your degree. The median annual salary for a graduate degree in special education is $61,000, whereas the median salary for a bachelor’s degree in this area is $45,000. Therefore, those who decide to earn an online master’s degree in special education may earn nearly $16,000 more per year.

Online Master’s in Special Education Program Accreditation

Students who want to increase their job opportunities in the special education teaching field should choose an online master’s degree in special education that is regionally accredited—not just nationally accredited. This will help to ensure that you have no problems with securing financial aid, transferring to another institution if needed, claiming a job and receiving licensure.

In addition, look for a program that is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. This is the gold standard for the accreditation of online master’s degrees in special education, as CAEP has garnered high levels of respect from licensing boards, schools and employers. Students can also look for a program that is accredited by the National Commission for the Accreditation of Special Education Services.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Special Education Degree

In many situations, those studying special education at the graduate level may need a little help to cover the cost of their schooling. Financial aid may be available in the form of loans from the federal government for students who fill out the FAFSA. However, additional scholarship and funding opportunities may be available to those pursuing master’s degrees in special education online.

Employer Funding
Some schools may help cover the cost of obtaining a master’s degree in education. Ask your school administration if they help cover the cost of earning a master’s degree in special education.

Special Education Scholarships
Many schools and foundations offer special scholarships for graduate students studying for a special education degree. The Arkansas Association of Special Education Administrators Memorial Scholarships offers scholarships are for $2,000 each. Any student completing a master’s degree in special education online can qualify for one of the five scholarships as long as he or she attends an accredited institution in Arkansas full-time.

The Florence Harvey Memorial Scholarship offers $1,000 scholarship is available each year through the American Foundation for the Blind. Graduate students who are completing their studies in the field of special education are eligible to apply as long as they attended accredited colleges in the United States and have a minimum 3.0 grade point average (GPA).

Kansas Teacher Service Scholarships are Kansas Board of Regents annual scholarships, valued at $5,500 or less every year, available to graduate students who are pursuing degrees in difficult-to-fill disciplines, such as special education. To qualify for one of these scholarships, a student must live in Kansas, attend an accredited institution in the state and have a 3.9 minimum GPA.

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