Earning a Master's in Special Education Online

Special education is a rewarding, growing field: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this career currently boasts a job growth of 8%. However, while job growth expands, employers do not lack qualified candidates. Many graduates with a general bachelor's in education choose to apply for special education jobs. In addition, education remains one of the country's most common undergrad majors. To make yourself more competitive, consider earning a master's in special education online. Experienced special education teachers and recent undergraduates alike can benefit from earning an online master's in special education. Learn about the potential salary, job outlook, tips for funding your degree, program requirements, and helpful professional organizations and resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Special Education?

Almost anyone with a bachelor's degree and passion for helping students with special needs can earn an online master's degree in special education. Bachelor's-level students without any job experience, students who want to pursue a specialization in special education, teachers who want to extend their career prospects and earning potential, and individuals trying to decide between a professional certification or master's degree should look into earning an online master's degree in this field.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Special Education?

Pursuing Specialization

If you earned a general degree in education rather than a special education degree, you can still become a special education teacher. Earning a specialization in special education is the best way to prepare for working with students with high needs. If you desire to branch out from the special education field, earning this type of specialization shows that you possess the patience to work as a school counselor or the expertise to develop special education curriculum.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Even if you enjoy your current job, seeking a master's in special education online opens up future opportunities. Earning an online degree can set you apart from other candidates because it shows that you possess the skills to manage your own time without an instructor's supervision. This hard skill remains crucial for jobs with higher responsibility and higher pay.

Online Learning Technology

Seeking an online master's of secondary education online helps you grow even more comfortable using computers and online resources. In the special education field, it remains vital to possess a strong understanding of technology because many students with special needs require additional technology in their Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Prerequisites for Online Special Education Master's Programs

Before you apply for online master's in special education programs, confirm you meet the prerequisite qualifications.

  • Work Experience: You typically do not need any prior work experience to begin your online special education master's degree. You can attend online classes straight out of your undergraduate program. However, by gathering work experience prior to starting your master's degree, you can better apply your knowledge.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Just like with any education-related master's degree, most master's in special education online programs require you to complete the GRE or the Praxis exam. Once you receive your results, focus on your percentile ranking rather than your overall score. Most colleges and universities review your percentile ranking. When applying for online master's in special education programs, check whether or not they require the GRE or Praxis exam. Keep in mind that GRE scores remain valid for five years, while Praxis scores remain valid for 10 years.
  • Coursework: Most online master's in special education programs do not maintain a list of specific required prerequisite courses. Usually a bachelor's degree remains sufficient. However, you must hold a minimum 2.8 GPA for most online master's programs in special education.
  • Recommendations: Recommendation letters stand out as a common requirement for most master's degrees. Colleges and universities sometimes maintain specific requirements about who can write your recommendation letter, but typically a letter by a former employer or professor meets the requirements.
  • Essays: Essays remain another common application requirement. Often, these essays do not require research. Instead, they typically ask you to write about personal experiences and teaching philosophies. Sometimes applications include 2-4 essay questions or one long essay prompt.
  • Interviews: Some online master's require interviews. Before your interview, conduct brief research about the master's in special education online program requirements. Use the interview to ask any questions you may have.
  • International Students: If you want to study at a school outside your native country, you may have to apply for a visa. Many schools also require prospective international students to submit language proficiency test scores, as English is the primary language for many online master's in special education programs.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Special Education?

A degree in special education can land you a salary between $50,000 and $76,000 on average. Although nothing can replace job experience, pursuing higher education equips you with a broad set of hard skills that future employers view favorably. These skills remain especially beneficial if you veer away from traditional special education fields. You might be surprised at how many doors an online master's degree in special education can open for you.

Traditional Careers for Master's in Special Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Special Education Teacher

Median Pay: $58,980

Job Growth: 8%

Special education teachers work one-on-one with small groups of students with disabilities. These teachers help students succeed and overcome barriers by implementing IEPs. Students in special education programs possess mild to severe physical, mental, or learning disabilities.

Ideal for: Individuals with patience and a passion for helping students with extra challenges succeed.

Adult Education Teacher

Median Pay: $52,100

Job Growth: -5%

Adult literacy and high school equivalency diploma teachers primarily work with adults rather than children. These professionals assist adults who need help with reading and writing skills. Adults trying to learn English also receive help from adult literacy and high school diploma equivalency teachers.

Ideal for: Individuals who enjoy educating their peers in a one-on-one setting.

Curriculum Director

Median Pay: $73,344

Job Growth: N/A

Curriculum directors typically oversee a team of curriculum developers. These professionals also work with teachers to enhance the implementation of the curriculum and evaluate its effectiveness. Unlike teachers, curriculum directors work year round.

Ideal for: Strategic thinkers who possess experience managing teams and writing curriculum.

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

While curriculum directors manage the implementation of curriculum, instructional coordinators work on the front lines to develop curriculum and coordinate with teachers to ensure proper implementation. Some instructional coordinators focus on one specific topic. These individuals also work year-round.

Ideal for: Subject experts who can think critically and adapt to changes in the education field.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in Special Education Graduates

Career Stats Description

Education Consultant

Median Pay: $62,487

Job Growth: N/A

Education consultants possess similar responsibilities as instructional coordinators and directors. The BLS includes these three professions in the same category. However, education consultants typically help students arrange their postsecondary education plans rather than write curriculum.

Ideal for: Individuals who possess teaching or administrative experience who enjoy guiding students in choosing career paths.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors help students hone the necessary social and academic skills they need to thrive in a school setting. Sometimes, school counselors aid students with hard home lives or emotional situations. Secondary education school counselors help students explore career paths.

Ideal for: Individuals who like helping students work through problems and succeed in life

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, Projections Central, 2017-2018

Paying for a Master's in Special Education Online

The cost of graduate school might seem intimidating, but online programs remain affordable. If cost rises as an issue, completing your degree in a timely manner can save you money. In fact, many online master's in secondary education programs offer accelerated programs, which can help you avoid paying the rising cost of tuition. In addition, foundations and organizations offer scholarships specifically for graduate students studying special education.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

When paying for the best online special education master's programs, apply for scholarships reserved for students like you.

What to Expect from Online Special Education Master's Programs

After you finish your master's in special education online, you are ready to succeed in your career. Courses cover topics ranging from education theories to special education classroom management, and you can expect to complete your degree in 1-3 years.

Major Milestones

  1. Form a Program of Study Committee (POSC)

    As one of your first tasks as a graduate student, gather a committee of trusted advisers and professors to help you during your studies. This committee will also offer suggestions for your final thesis or capstone project.

  2. Create a Thesis or Dissertation Proposal

    A thesis or dissertation remains a major component of most online master's in special education programs. Start working on your proposal early in your graduate school career, although keep in mind you will not submit these projects until the end of your program.

  3. Start Your Practicum

    Some online master's in special education require around 240 practicum hours. You must complete this supervised teaching in the classroom. If you must work full time during your studies, consider choosing a program that doesn't require a practicum.

  4. Enroll in a Capstone Class

    A capstone class remains another common requirement for online master's degrees in secondary education. Most capstones involve a group project centered around community service. Since your group project partners also attend school online, you must put extra effort into maintaining open communication.

  5. Take an Oral Exam

    After you complete your coursework and the framework for your thesis, you must meet with your POSC to discuss what you learned. This exam typically exists as pass or fail and often occurs in the form of a conference call or video interview.

  6. Submit Dissertation or Thesis

    Before you can earn your master's degree in special education through an online program, you must submit your dissertation or thesis to your POSC. Because these projects can be so extensive in length and research required, plan ahead and work on this dissertation or thesis for a few semesters, rather than the final one.


Although every online master's special education program maintains unique requirements, five courses are relatively common.

Introductory Course

Students learn about laws, legal issues, policies, and procedures surrounding special education. This course offers a preview of the rest of the program and allows learners to decide if they want to continue.

Behavioral Management and Intervention Course

Since special education teachers often work with children with behavioral disabilities, most programs include a class that offers tips and strategies for working with these children.

Research Course

Midway through the program, students complete a research course. Each student typically tests his or her program thesis in this course. Some students submit their research paper to scholarly journals at the end of the course.

Diversity Course

Special education teachers work with a variety of students with unique challenges and backgrounds. Diversity courses teach future special education teachers how to best help students with unique needs.

Licensure Course

In order to teach special education, students must earn a state license. Students who earn a master's in special education online typically take a preparation course for the license exam.

Licenses and Certifications

Consider taking steps that further demonstrate your competencies for future employers by pursuing various licenses and certifications in special education.

  • State License: Each state maintains its own licensing requirements. If you move to a new state, you must apply for a new license. Most online master's in special education programs allow you to work on your license during your studies.
  • Special Education Certification: Many states also require special education teachers to hold a separate certification for special education, so investigate and pursue such certification if necessary.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Join professional organizations, which allow you to stay connected with your peers and attend conferences. Investigate resources for information about the field, strategies to teach, and materials to use in the classroom.

  • Adapting for Autism: This blog offers education resources for teachers who work with children with autism. Use the site to explore art visuals games, schedule boards, and tips for community field trips and playground management.
  • Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps: TASH advocates for people with severe disabilities. The organization aims to empower educators and provides information about effective teaching practices.
  • Council for Exceptional Children: As a special education teacher, you can take advantage of CEC's learning opportunities and resources. This organization also provides classroom curriculum and online courses for teachers.
  • Glenda's Assistive Technology Information: Assistive technology remains an important component of most IEPs. Access this site to overcome the learning curve so you can empower your students with tools that enhance their educational experience.
  • LD Online: This website provides helpful guides, articles, and other resources for educators who work with special needs students, particularly those with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Meeting the Challenge: Special Education Tools That Work for All Kids: The National Education Association recommends this book by Patti Ralabate. Open the pages to receive time-saving strategies, rubrics, and conference planning sheets.
  • National Association of Special Education Teachers: This organization remains a major player in the education field. NASET provides its members with training opportunities, a reference library, and conferences. This organization also helps special education teachers stay current with the field's latest research and policies. You can also network with other special education instructors through the organization.
  • National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education: NCIP provides resources for special education teachers, including a series of videos of children using assistive technology. The website also provides background on the history of special education.
  • National Organization on Disability: This organization remains an excellent resource for educators who want to provide special education students with employment resources. NOD also lobbies Congress for better policies. If you want to help spark political change, consider joining this organization.
  • Transition Toolkit for Teachers: This website is helpful for special education teachers who work in the secondary school setting. It aims to educate teachers on how to prepare students with special needs on how to succeed in life after school.