Online Master’s in Special Education
Over 650 public and private non-profit colleges and universities offer master’s in special education programs, and many offer online options for pursuing this degree.1 While the minimum educational requirement to become a special education teacher is a bachelor’s degree, there are many reasons why you may want to pursue a master’s degree. A master’s in special education is popular for people who are already certified teachers and wish to add an endorsement in special education. It is also a common degree for people who wish to become first-time certified special education teachers and already have a bachelor’s degree in another subject. Special education is also known as special needs education, special ed., exceptional education, or SPED. For more on special education degrees in general, see our special education degree resource. For more information on the various types of master’s degrees offered in education, see our master’s degree in education page. On this page, you will find information about online master’s in special education programs and a list of best value programs to help you research your options and evaluate the online program that is best for you.
Table of Contents
- Master’s in Special Education: Online vs. On-Campus
- Best Value Online Master’s in Special Education Programs
- Profiles of Online Master’s in Special Education Programs
- Frequently Asked Questions
Earning a Master’s in Special Education Online vs. On-Campus
Once you have decided to pursue a master’s degree in special education, you need to decide whether a traditional or online program is best for you. There are many benefits, as well as some disadvantages, to online study. One benefit is the flexibility afforded to online learners. Most online students can continue working while they attend a master’s program online since learning is self-managed. Another benefit to online education is the ability to choose an out-of-state school without having to relocate. If you are seeking a master’s degree in special education to prepare you for a non-classroom career path, such as one in school administration, research, outreach, or policy, you might be able to choose a program from a college or university that is based in another state. However, if you wish to become a classroom teacher, you will need to attend a teacher preparation program that is specifically approved by your state directly or via reciprocity. Check with your state board of education to ensure that your online special education program is approved.
The main drawback to online learning is the potential lack of interaction with other students, faculty, and department administrators. If you are a person who thrives on and is motivated by face-to-face interaction, an online master’s in special education may not be the right choice for you. However, many online master’s programs can be just as engaging and effective as their traditional counterparts. For more information about online master’s in education programs, see our online master’s in education resource.
Best Value Online Master’s in Special Education Programs
An increasing number of schools are offering graduate programs in an online format in order to meet the needs of their students. To help you find the best program for you, we researched over 650 schools that offer special education programs at the graduate level, then filtered those that have online programs. Then, we narrowed down that list to schools with a high undergraduate graduation rate (80% or above) since high undergraduate graduation rates are typically associated with student success. We further narrowed down our list to schools with an annual undergraduate net price of less than $20,000, since affordability is an important consideration for the overall investment of your education. In the table below, we have included data points of these schools for your comparison, including the student loan default rate, percentage of faculty with tenure, US News & World Report rankings, and the in-state cost per credit hour for master’s in special education programs offered online. The schools that made our list are affordable, have a proven record of student success, and offer online master’s degrees in special education. Abbreviations used in the table include the following:
- ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorders
- MA: Master of Arts
- MAT: Master of Arts in Teaching
- M.Ed.: Master of Education
- MT: Master of Teaching
- MS: Master of Science
- MSEd: Master of Science in Education
- SPED: Special Education
|School||Online Master’s in Special Education Degree(s)||Grad Rate1||Student Loan Default Rate|
|% Tenured Faculty|
|US News Special Ed. Rank3||US News Online Master’s Ed. Rank|
|Online Cost/ Credit Hour1||Net Price1|
|University of Virginia-Main Campus||M.Ed.-Curriculum and Instruction: SPED;|
|University of Florida||M.Ed.-SPED (Live Well);|
M.Ed.-SPED (Teach Well)
|University of Maryland-College Park||M.Ed.-SPED: ASD;|
M.Ed.-SPED: Early Childhood Ages Birth-Age 5
|North Carolina State University||MAT-SPED||84%||2.0%||50%||—||#46 tie||$505*||$14,600|
|Texas A&M University-College Station||M.Ed./MS-SPED||83%||2.2%||47%||—||#5 tie||$1,071*||$19,906|
|James Madison University||M.Ed.SPED: Autism (hybrid);|
M.Ed.-SPED: K-12 Gifted Education
|Binghamton University||MSEd-SPED: Early Childhood (Birth-Grade 2);|
MSEd-SPED: Early Childhood (Birth-Grade 6);
MSEd-SPED: Childhood (Grades 1-6);
MSEd-SPED: Adolescence (Grades 7-12)
|University of Delaware||M.Ed.-Exceptional Children and Youth||82%||2.1%||53%||—||#28 tie||$750||$19,747|
|Michigan State University||MA-SPED||81%||2.6%||51%||—||#24 tie||$906||$16,655|
|Indiana University-Bloomington||MSEd-SPED||80%||3.4%||42%||—||#28 tie||$474*||$13,191|
- * indicates in-state cost due to difference in out-of-state tuition.
Profiles of the Top 5 Best Value Online Master’s in Special Education Programs
Through the University of Virginia’s (UVA) School of Education and Human Development, students with an undergraduate degree can pursue the Master of Teaching (MT) in Special Education-General Curriculum K-12 online degree. Students who complete this 30-credit-hour course of study will be eligible for teacher licensure with an endorsement in special education. The part-time program can be completed in three years and is ideal for paraprofessionals, teachers with a provisional license who wish to convert to a professional license, and other recent college graduates who want to make a career move. UVA also offers a non-licensure Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Special Education in a 100% online and asynchronous format. This degree is designed for students who wish to develop and improve curricula and instructional practices in educational settings. Core courses include The Exceptional Learner; IEP Development and Implementation; Reading and Writing Instructional for Special Education; and Math Instruction for Special and Elementary Education. Full-time students can finish the degree in just one year, while part-time students can finish in two to three years, depending on their course load. In addition to these programs, UVA offers online graduate certificate programs in Special Education-General Curriculum and Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) as well as a non-degree Special Education-General Curriculum add-on endorsement course series.
The University of Florida (UF) offers an advanced program in Special Education culminating in either a Master of Education (M.Ed.) or an Education Specialist (EdS) degree through its Teach Well Online Academy. Both degrees are offered fully online, intended to be taken part-time, and designed for practicing teachers–both teachers already in special education and teachers in other subjects or levels–who want to increase their effectiveness in the classroom. Applicants to the EdS should already have a master’s degree in a related area. Comprising 36 credit hours, the program has four Track options and can be completed in two years if students take two courses per semester (including summers). UF also offers a Live Well fully-online M.Ed. designed for students in academic or professional fields who want to enhance their practice with knowledge about disability. Embedded in the 30-hour Live Well master’s program is a 12-credit hour Disabilities in Society Graduate Certificate. Another 12 credit hours of the program are devoted to field knowledge related to each student’s specific field of interest or practice. Core courses include Social Perspectives on Disability; Disability Related Policy & Legislation; and Community & Work Access for Individuals with Disabilities. In addition to these degrees, several online graduate certificates are available in special education.
An online Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in Special Education (EDSP) with teacher certification is offered at the University of Maryland (UMD)-College Park through its Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education (CHSE). Two areas of emphasis are offered: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Related Developmental Delays and Disabilities; and Early Childhood Ages Birth-Age 5. While the programs are usually a blend of face-to-face, blended, and online courses, they are currently being offered fully online due to COVID-19. The M.Ed. program comprises 30 credit hours and is designed for working professionals, with part-time classes taken over a three-year period. Those interested in the ASD specialty should be certified special educators; certified early childhood, elementary, or secondary general educators; or in allied professions such as occupational therapy, psychology, or social work. Those interested in the Early Childhood specialty program should be already employed in early childhood education or professionals who wish to work in the field, but outside of the classroom. Core courses in both programs include Issues & Trends in Special Education; Single Subject Design in Special Education; Qualitative Methodologies in Special Education; Evaluating Evidence-Based Practices in Special Education. ASD students will take additional courses such as Education of Students with Autism and Instruction of Students w/Severe Disabilities, while Early Childhood students will take courses such as Early Intervention and Positive Behavior Support.
At North Carolina State University (NC State), students who are interested in becoming licensed to teach special education can enroll in the online, accelerated Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program in Special Education. In as little as a year and a half of full-time study, students will be prepared to teach in North Carolina in K-12 schools. The program is designed for students who hold a bachelor’s degree but not a teaching license. Applicants should have at least six college-level credit hours each in English, social studies, math, and science, with a grade of “B” or better. The 30-credit hour program comprises 10 courses, including Organization and Behavioral Management of Inclusive Classrooms/Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers; Methods & Materials in Learning Disabilities; and Intervention for Behavior Problems of Students with Disabilities. Students will be prepared to teach in any type of learning environment, including in-person, remote, or hybrid.
Students at Texas A&M University-College Station can pursue the Master of Education (M.Ed.)/Master of Science (MS) in Special Education that is offered online through its Department of Educational Psychology (EPSY). The online master’s degree is designed for students who have a background in education, behavior, disability, or a related field. While students are not required to have a teaching certificate, experience working with people with disabilities–teaching or clinical–is desirable. The degree is comprised of 36 credit hours and can be completed in two years of study. Coursework includes Ethical and Professional Conduct in Special Education and Applied Behavior Analysis; Adolescent Literacy for Students with Diverse Instructional Needs; Transition Education and Services for Individuals with Disabilities; and Prevention, Support, and Intervention for Students with Emotional and Behavior Problems. Some coursework can be applied towards certification as a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA). The strongest applicants will have significant experience working with individuals with disabilities; significant experience working with culturally and linguistically diverse people; and/or interest in behavior analysis.
Frequently Asked Questions
What can you do with a master’s in special education?
There are many job possibilities for individuals with a master’s degree in special education. The most obvious one is to become certified to teach a special education population in public or private schools. Individuals wishing to become first-time teachers may be looking for a career change. For those who already have a bachelor’s degree in something else, some master’s degrees in special education can lead to teacher certification. For teachers who are already certified but wish to add an endorsement in special education, a master’s degree in special education can fulfill the state requirements and offer coursework to help a teacher be successful working with differently-abled students.
Not all students in online master’s in special education programs wish to become certified teachers. Individuals seeking to work in school administration; curriculum and instruction; policy; or nonprofit with an emphasis on special education learners can also benefit from a master’s in special education program. Since most of these positions do not require teacher certification, these students may have more flexibility to consider schools outside of their state.
Can I become a teacher with an online master’s in special education degree?
Yes. If your goal is to become a teacher, the most important step in choosing a special education program is ensuring that it is state-approved by the board of education in the state in which you wish to teach. If the program is state-approved for teacher certification, then whether the courses are delivered in-person or online does not matter.
Are online master’s programs popular?
Yes! According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in Fall 2019, 37% of postbaccalaureate students at public institutions and 40% of postbaccalaureate students at private nonprofit schools were enrolled in at least one distance education course; 27% of those at public schools and 30% of those at private nonprofits were enrolled in exclusively distance education courses.5
How much can I make with a master’s degree in special education?
The amount you can make with a master’s in special education degree totally depends on the job, school district, and experience level of the teacher. In May 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the mean annual wage of a special education teacher varies by level. Special education teachers at the preschool level earned $71,970; at the kindergarten and elementary school level earned $67,090; at the secondary school level earned $70,100; and those in the “all other” category earned $71,330.6-9 However, since the typical entry-level requirement for the job is a bachelor’s degree, those with master’s degrees in special education may earn more than average.
For non-teachers with master’s degrees in special education, the average salary also varies. Instructional coordinators earn an average of $70,560 per year; social and community service managers earn $76,790; and education administrators earn $94,730.10-12
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
2. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
3. US News & World Report, Best Special Education Programs 2022: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/special-needs-education-rankings
4. US News & World Report, Best Online Master’s in Education Programs 2022: https://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/education/rankings
5. National Center for Education Statistics, Postbaccalaureate Enrollment: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/indicator/chb
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Special Education Teachers, Preschool: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252051.htm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Special Education Teachers, Kindergarten and Elementary School: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252052.htm
8. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Special Education Teachers, Secondary School: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes25205.htm
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Special Education Teachers, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes252059.htm
10. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Instructional Coordinators: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes259031.htm
11. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Social and Community Service Managers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119151.htm
12. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2021 Education Admnistrators, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119039.htm