Online Master’s in Special Education Your Complete Guide

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While all special education professionals are committed to helping students who have learning, behavioral or emotional challenges succeed, not all take the same path or use the same tools. Online master’s in special education programs provide these professionals with an advanced understanding of the latest educational theories, technologies and other trends impacting their fields. They can also open doors to new roles or leadership positions – positions that allow them to help even more students, and in new ways.

Online programs are by nature convenient, but they can be especially attractive to educators who want to invest in their careers without sacrificing time in the field. Still, even the most flexible programs require a great deal of commitment. How do these programs work? Which is right for you? Are they worth it? This guide can help you fill in the gaps, and offers an introductory analysis of what these programs entail, how much they cost and what they might mean for your career.

Top Online Master's in Special Education

Some believe the master's is the new bachelor's. Top companies and organizations continue to target candidates with advanced degrees in relevant fields. This increased demand has spurred a spike in supply, with colleges and universities adding campus and online master's to their program collections. The following schools have made online master's programs a priority, offering more volume, higher quality and support services to help students get ahead. See which colleges offer 2015's Best Online Master's Programs.

SCORE:  97.98 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: North Dakota

Minot State University’s online master’s degree in special education is available in five distinct areas of emphasis, including deaf/hard of hearing and autism spectrum disorders. Classes are delivered using Blackboard, an online course delivery platform, in both asynchronous and synchronous formats, giving students a variety of learning options to meet their needs. Core classes include an introduction to graduate study, special education assessment, applied statistics, introduction to disability services and both a thesis and thesis writing seminar. Students must attend a summer residency to fulfill the assessment and clinical training requirement.

  • MS in Special Education (Developmental Disabilities/Autism Spectrum Disorders)
  • MS in Special Education (Deaf or Hard of Hearing)
  • MS in Special Education (Specific Learning Disabilities)
SCORE:  96.97 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Alabama

The University of West Alabama in Livingston offers web-based master’s of education degrees in several disciplines, including two online master’s in special education degrees: collaborative teacher grades K-6 and collaborative teacher grades 6-12. Students can choose between teacher certification and noncertification Programs.

All UWA online courses are delivered using the Blackboard Learning Management System in conjunction with other technologies, such as turnitin® and Securexam Remote Proctor®, to ensure credibility. Courses are offered in five 8-week sessions each year.

  • MED in Special Education (Collaborative Teacher K-6 with certification)
  • MED in Special Education (Collaborative Teacher K-6 non-certification)
  • MED in Special Education (Collaborative Teacher 6-12 with certification)
SCORE:  96.48 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

The University of Texas of the Permian Basin’s online master’s in special education is an accelerated program designed to be completed in as little as 24 months. Coursework explores behavior theories, human ontological development, classroom best practices and other key skills educators need to enrich the lives of students with learning and developmental disabilities.

This online program was designed with flexibility and the student work-life balance in mind: all courses and materials are delivered completely online and reviewed at students’ convenience. Students enrolled in any of UTPB’s online classes also have access to live tutoring, online library materials and other support services.

  • MAE in Special Education
  • MAE in Special Education (Autism and Developmental Disabilities in Early Childhood)
SCORE:  95.83 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Teachers and researchers can complete their Master Degree in Special Education through several distinct online graduate degree paths at Stephen F. Austin Perkins College of Education. Master degree options include a MEd for candidates seeking initial special-education teacher certification, those seeking certifications as Educational Diagnosticians and candidates seeking non-teacher special education certifications.

The online MEd in Special Education requires completion of 36 hours of graduate work, including 12 hours of electives. The Perkins College of Education’s Special Education Program is nationally recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children. Application requirements include submission of undergraduate transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores from the GRE and demonstrated bilingual/multilingual proficiency.

  • MED in Early Childhood
  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  95.81 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Missouri

Missouri State University – Springfield offers a unique online master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in blindness and low vision. The program is fully accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and is approved by the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind. Graduates complete their degrees in two to three years and are qualified to work as residential, itinerant or resource teachers for the visually impaired. Courses include Braille reading and writing, principles of orientation and mobility, anatomy and physiology of the eye and a practicum in visual impairment. The school also offers a more broadly based special education master’s degree as well.

  • MS in Early Childhood and Family Development
  • MS in Education (Special Education: Blindness and Low Vision Emphasis)
SCORE:  95.56 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Kansas

Licensed teachers are eligible for Pittsburg State University’s fully online Master of Science degree in special education teaching and may earn an endorsement in one of two emphases: adaptive special education PreK-12 and functional and adaptive special education K-6 and 6-12. Students can also choose a thesis option, which prepares students for a doctoral program or advanced career, or a research problem option, which allows students to prepare a creative program or participate in an internship. Classes include characteristics of students with learning needs, assessment in special education, teaching students with adaptive needs and special education law.

  • MAT in Special Education
  • MS in Teaching (Special Education)
SCORE:  95.3 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

Two online special education master’s programs at Arkansas State University provide the coursework necessary for teachers to work with special education students, while one is also available for those who wish to work with gifted and talented students. The 30- or 36-credit degree programs have been developed based on recommendations from organizations such as the Council for Exceptional Children and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. Coursework varies depending on the area of concentration, and ASU encourages students to explore their own state’s licensure requirements prior to enrolling in a program.

  • MSE in Special Education (Instructional Specialist P-4)
  • MSE in Special Education (Instructional Specialist 4-12)
SCORE:  94.91 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: North Dakota

The University of North Dakota’s Master of Science in Special Education program is a fully-online degree that can be completed in 1.5 years. All students accepted into the 32-credit graduate program pay in-state tuition regardless of their place of residence. Classes are asynchronous and self-paced and students can enroll in the program in the fall, spring or summer semesters.

Graduate students in the program can opt for a general special education degree or select from one of eight areas for their specialization: autistic spectrum disorders, early childhood special education, emotional disturbance, gifted and talented, intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, special education strategist or visual impairment.

  • MS in Special Education
  • MS in Early Childhood Education
SCORE:  94.86 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: North Carolina

Western Carolina University offers online master’s programs in special education divided into three areas of study: a professional component, a special education core, and a concentration in a desired area of study. The Master of Arts in Education (M.A. Ed.) consists of 30-33 credits, while the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program requires completion of 39-45 credit hours. Students can choose to concentrate in behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, severe/profound disabilities, gifted students, or mild to moderate disabilities. Some of the programs require students to have an undergraduate-level licensure in special education. Prospective students should consult with an academic advisor to determine which program best fits their background and professional goals.

  • MED in Special Education
  • MAT in Special Education
SCORE:  94.86 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Texas A&M University has two online master’s degrees in special education, as well as an applied behavior analysis option for those who want to work with individuals who have challenging behaviors or autism. Classes meet in both asynchronous and synchronous formats and allow for a variety of collaborations between peers and professors. The 36-credit degree is a cohort, with only 40 students admitted each year. Students learn from internationally-recognized faculty members and study topics such as academic and behavioral interventions, positive behavior supports, teacher efficacy, case research and prevention programming.

  • MED in Special Education
  • MS in Special Education
SCORE:  94.57 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

The online Master of Education in Special Education from Texas Tech allows graduate students to choose from either a generalist degree or from areas of emphasis that match career goals. Options include Autism, Applied Behavior Analysis, Deaf Education, Educational Diagnostician, Orientation and Mobility, Transition and Visual Impairment.

Degree programs begin with six hours of studies in research tools and methodology and a 6-hour special-education core. Students can select from a master’s thesis pathway requiring 30 hours for completion or a 36-hour non-thesis option with a comprehensive evaluation paper. The Orientation and Mobility specialization requires 42 hours for graduation.

  • MED in Special Education
  • MS in Human Development and Family Studies (Gerontology emphasis)
SCORE:  94.45 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

The focus of the online Master of Education in Special Education (MEd) from the University of Arkansas, Pine Bluff is a 36-hour program that may be completed in two years. Students pursuing licensure or certificates are required to take additional courses beyond the major. There is no thesis requirement, however students must complete a portfolio and pass a comprehensive exam to graduate.

Courses are concentrated in the categories of research tools and methods, learning and development, and historic/philosophic issues in special education. All learning and coursework is conducted online but students must complete a practicum at an education institution located in their communities.

  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  94.35 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Alaska

Graduate students seeking advanced training and scholarship in special education will find two online master’s degree pathways at the University of Alaska Southeast. The online MEd in Special Education is a 33-hour degree program administered through online and teleconferencing tools. Ten required graduate courses in special education are complemented by electives in literacy, instructional design technology, classroom and educational research. An approved graduate research project is required for graduation.

For students who do not have a teaching certificate, the university offers an online Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree with a special education focus. The program requires 39 hours for completion along with successful passage of the Praxis exams approved for credentialing.

  • MAT in Special Education
  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  93.85 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Louisiana

University of Louisiana at Monroe’s online Master of Arts in Teaching degree program offers several focused special education tracks: elementary education (grades 1-5), secondary education (grades 6-12) and inclusive or non-inclusive SPED programs. All tracks are designed for educators serving children with mild to moderate disabilities in inclusive or non-inclusive programs.

ULM’s web-based degrees allow students to access coursework online and connect with students and instructors using message boards, video conferencing and other collaborative tools. Note that online MAT students may be required to complete 1-year teaching internships within their home states. ULM reciprocity agreements mean its online MAT degrees satisfy teacher certification education requirements in several states.

  • MAT in Elementary Education and Special Education Mild-Moderate Grades 1-5
  • MAT in Secondary Education and Special Education Mild-Moderate Grades 6-12
SCORE:  93.71 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: South Carolina

The Master of Education in Special Education: Visual Impairment (VI) program at USC Upstate is offered to full-time educators wanting to specialize in VI. To meet K-12 schedules, the 2-year program combines online classes in fall and spring with summer classes at the South Carolina School for the Deaf and the Blind in Spartanburg, SC.

Graduation requirements in the 39-credit degree program include successful completion of supervised practicum in special education and the completion of a VI case study to be used as a professional portfolio. The program may be extended over a 4-year sequence to suit the needs of students who require additional time.

  • MED in Early Childhood Education
  • MED in Special Education (Visual Impairment)
SCORE:  93.53 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Wyoming

The University of Wyoming’s online master’s degree in special education can be completed through video conferencing and web-based courses, as well as some intensive day/weekend sessions and student teaching work. Prospective and current teachers will learn to work with students who have learning or behavioral problems through a variety of instructional and behavioral strategies. Courses are centered on evidence-based instructional and curricular practices, taking a positive behavioral approach to meet learning outcomes for all students. Online courses are interactive and collaborative, allowing students to interact with one another and with instructors through email, threaded discussions, document sharing and live chat sessions.

  • MAE in Special Education
SCORE:  93.18 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

The University of Central Arkansas’s online Master of Special Education (MSE) program helps classroom teachers build the skills, knowledge and strategies needed to support children with a range of disabilities. Students can choose between two targeted tracks: ages 0-8 and grades 4-12. Both concentrations are designed specifically for collaborative instructional specialists and with state licensure requirements in mind.

Courses cover both general and targeted SPED topics and, with the exception of a practicum, are delivered entirely online using the Blackboard learning management platform. Online students also have access to a number of support services, like tutorials, live technical support and library resources.

  • MS in Special Education
SCORE:  93.13 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Ohio

The University of Cincinnati’s online master’s in special education caters specifically to intervention specialists working with K-12 children in schools, social service agencies and other educational facilities. Students complete a series of core courses in areas like behavior analysis and assistive technology, and go on to specialized training with adviser-approved electives.

All lectures and materials are delivered 100% online in an asynchronous format, meaning students can access them when convenient as opposed to specific class times. Note that online MSE students living in Ohio have the option of pursuing initial or secondary Ohio K-12 Intervention Specialist licensure, a process that may require completion of student teaching internships within their local communities.

  • MA in Speech-Language Pathology
  • MED in Special Education (must have existing valid Ohio teaching license)
SCORE:  92.96 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Arkansas

Henderson State University’s special education program offers an online Master of Science in Education (MSE). The 24-credit degree is aligned with and recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children standards and allows students to gain the knowledge necessary to work with special populations. Coursework includes behavior management, special education law, autism spectrum disorders, and practicum hours. Throughout the program, candidates assemble a portfolio for assessment as they develop reflective thinking and inquiry. Prior to graduation, students must pass the Special Education: Core Knowledge and Applications assessment in order to receive their license to teach special education.

  • MSE in Special Education K-12
SCORE:  92.21 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Indiana

Purdue University’s Master of Science in Education – Special Education program can be completed in 20 months. Degree options include a master’s-only path (30 credit-hours), master’s plus initial licensure in special education (36 hours) and master’s with advanced special education licensure (30 hours).

The master’s-only pathway does not require a practicum, though options leading to licensure do require a practicum for graduation. Students seeking their initial license must also complete student teaching, to be arranged off-line at a convenient school location.

  • MSE in Special Education
SCORE:  92 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Mississippi

Southern Miss’s online Master of Education in Special Education is a fully web-based program that allows students to specialize in one of three areas: mild and moderate disabilities, emotional and behavior disorders and severe/low-incidence disabilities. Students willing to report to campus for some courses can pursue a hybrid MEd in SPED with a gifted-education concentration.

All students, regardless of specialty, must complete a series of core courses and electives, one research courses and practicum. Southern Miss’s Learning Enhancement Center supports online students in a number of ways, like providing access to online learning management and collaboration tools and coordinating proctored exams with approved testing centers nationwide.

  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  92 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Minnesota

Martin Luther College’s Master of Science in Education with a special education emphasis is a fully-online program. Students can choose between a capstone project, a thesis requirement or a comprehensive exam to complete the required course of study once required credits are earned. Classes include planning and collaboration in special education, diagnosis and remediation, teaching students with disabilities and communication disabilities. While this 36-credit degree is not designed to fulfill state licensing requirements, it is designed to assist the regular education teacher in working with special education students in the traditional classroom.

  • MSE in Special Education
SCORE:  91.57 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Nebraska

The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s online master’s in special education with a concentration in behavioral disorders is a 100% web-based program. Students have two 36 credit-hour MS programs from which to choose: one with teaching endorsements, and one without.

Both tracks can prepare students to design, implement and evaluate programs specifically for children with behavioral challenges. All lectures and materials are delivered via UNO’s online learning management system, online discussion boards, video conferencing technologies and email boost collaboration.

  • MS in Special Education (Behavior Disorders)
SCORE:  91.11 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: West Virginia

West Virginia University’s College of Education and Human Services offers several online graduate-level special education credentials, including an online master’s in special education, with or without teacher certification. Students can enroll in one of six specializations, including autism spectrum disorders, multi-categorical special education, gifted education and low vision/blindness.

All courses and materials are accessible online, and though lectures are live-streamed, they are archived for convenience. WVU notes that all US students enrolled in its online MA in special education programs are entitled to in-state tuition regardless of residency.

  • MA in Special Education
SCORE:  90.84 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: California

California students may earn an online Master of Science in special education through National University’s School of Education. In addition to a master’s degree, graduates of the program may earn a California teaching credential in special education while completing their degrees. Students must complete 72-76.5 quarter units of classes and earn a 3.0 grade point average in order to qualify for credentialing. Learning outcomes include competence in positive behavioral support, actively and creatively engaging all learners, becoming a change agent and advocate for exceptional students, and applying research methods to instruction. Students may choose from three specializations when earning their degree.

  • MS in Special Education (CA only)
SCORE:  90.43 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

Through its Teach Well Online Academy, the University of Florida prepares current and aspiring teachers to work with students who have special needs through its master’s degree in special education. The program is designed specifically for part-time students who can complete the 36-hour degree in two years (taking two courses per semester, including summers). While the master’s is completely online, students will need access to a classroom for the program’s fieldwork requirement. Most students in Teach Well are practicing teachers; however, that is not a requirement for admission. The degree does not lead to certification.

  • MED in Special Education (Teach Well)
SCORE:  90.4 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Pennsylvania

Slippery Rock University offers four online master’s degrees in special education in varying specialization areas. The degrees are available to students who hold a valid teaching certificate or those who already have an undergraduate degree in special education. The programs give teachers further expertise in working with students with special needs, enabling them to become master teachers or team leaders in their field. Curriculum is aligned with the standards from the Council of Exceptional Children and is approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. As a fifth-year of study, students who qualify can complete their degree in one year.

  • MED in Special Education (Autism Spectrum Disorders)
SCORE:  89.88 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Hawaii

The University of Hawaii at Manoa designed its online master’s degree in special education for practicing teachers who want to pursue a master’s to advance their career or those who wish to provide special services in a non-classroom setting. Classes for this 30-credit degree are delivered online through interactive, Web-based hybrid course delivery. Students take courses in special education laws and compliance and applied research and also complete a research practicum and master’s project. The interdisciplinary program does not lead to a teaching license. The program follows the traditional school calendar, beginning twice each year.

  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  89.38 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Kentucky

The online Master of Education in Special Education program at the University of Louisville provides students with a choice among three concentration specialties: autism, assistive technology and moderate and severe intellectual disabilities. The degree may be completed in as little as two years, with options to extend online completion up to a total of six years.

Graduation requirements include completion of at least 36 graduate-hours, a portfolio or master’s thesis and successful completion of related PRAXIS Exams. Students in the autism specialty must also complete an intervention proposal. The university’s online programs are delivered through the Blackbird course management system.

  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  89.2 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Texas

Students can choose from a 100% online or a hybrid (combining online and on-campus visits) Master of Education degree program at the University of St. Thomas. The degree is comprised of 36 credit-hours plus two years of field experience. The field component is arranged at locations convenient to the online student.

MEd students can choose a generalist path to the degree or select specializations in educational leadership, special education, dual-language instruction or curriculum and instruction. School of Education programs are accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Teacher Education Accreditation Council.

  • MED in Special Education
SCORE:  88.66 CAREER COUNSELING: Yes JOB PLACEMENT: Yes STATE: Florida

The University of North Florida’s online Master of Education in Special Education degree is concentrated on the study of autism. The 36-hour degree program can be completed in 18 months or less, with all coursework completed online. The program is designed for students interested in K-12 special education or for those planning careers in social agencies or with disability services.

To meet the practicum requirement, graduate students choose preapproved related job settings convenient to their homes. Courses include foundation studies in special education, research skills and trends, assessment and development of students who have autism. Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree and provide transcripts, GRE test scores and a personal goals statement.

  • MED in Special Education (Autism)

How Online Master’s in Special Education Programs Work

Online master’s in special education programs provide teachers and administrators with the advanced skills and knowledge they need to effect change in the lives of students with special needs, and on a programmatic or district-wide level. Online programs try to convey this material with a mind for convenience, but no two programs are ever truly alike; learning formats, courses, specialties and even learning goals can vary wildly. Some programs are asynchronous, meaning students can access lectures and materials when convenient. Synchronous programs, by contrast, require students to log on during set course times. Both types of programs rely on collaborative technologies like email, forums and video-conferencing to keep students and instructors connected, but not all use the same learning platforms and tools.

All prospective students should keep these factors – and their own goals and learning styles – in mind when evaluating online programs, regardless of degree type. Students researching online master’s in special education programs specifically must also consider other, more discipline-specific variables. Let’s review a few of these important components.

Certification

Special education teachers, reading specialists, intervention specialists; master’s of special education programs cater to a diversity of SPED professionals, many of who must hold teaching or specialty licenses to enter the field. Some programs are designed with these credentials in mind, and can include practicums and other licensed-focused requirements. This might mean that online master’s in special education students still need to participate in internships within their local communities, or report to campus for evaluation.

What’s more, these experiences may not even count in the course of licensure, especially for online students who hope to teach in states that do not have reciprocal licensing agreements with host schools’ home states. Not all programs offer a certification track, and even those that do usually make it optional for online students. It pays to do your research to verify what requirements, if any, will impact your career prior to entering into a program.

Capstone projects, exams and practicums

As noted in the previous point, some schools offering a master’s in special education online require students to complete internships, or practicums, within their local communities, usually with licensure in mind. But because master’s degrees are advanced, schools that do not require practicums may require students to pass comprehensive exams, complete and present theses, or both. Many schools now allow online students to fulfill these requirements using video conferencing tools or at approved local testing facilities that offer proctored exams. Schools that do not make these accommodations may require students to report to campus once or twice during the run of the program. Prospective students should always contact programs in advance in order to clarify expectations prior to registration.

Concentrations

Most master’s in special education programs, online or otherwise, offer one or more targeted specialties from which students must choose, like autism specialist, mild and moderate disorders and inclusive or non-inclusive programs. Each specific focus will drive the courses and curricula required for completion, and students should take the time to determine which specialties suit their current (or desired) positions best, as to not waste valuable time. More information on these concentrations can be found in detail below.

Career, internship and exam support

Online schools usually try to provide students with all the convenience and flexibility they have come to expect from web-based learning, without sacrificing the more traditional services and support systems expected of higher education. That means many online master’s in special education programs offer career, internship, and licensing exam coordination services. It is important to keep in mind, however, that online students living outside of host programs’ states may be required to adhere to different licensing and certification requirements, and may therefore not be entitled to these services. Students should contact prospective schools and clarify services with admissions or student services advisers in the case that they may be required to coordinate their own practicums

Each of these factors can shape student expectations and successes on a programmatic level, but what of day-to-day learning experiences? Students who research prospective programs’ specialty tracks and coursework can glean not just whether a particular school suits their needs, but also what skills they can expect to walk away with, aiding them in choosing the correct online specialty program.

Popular Concentrations & Coursework

A student’s chosen track will determine not only which courses they must take, but the eventual skill sets that they will hone while enrolled. Those who undertake programs that do not cater specifically to their professional goals and interests will not receive the most out of their education. On the other hand, narrowing the field of study down to specific track isn’t always the easiest task, especially when the sheer number of specialty programs available are taken into consideration. There are dozens of specialty tracks, and even those are sometimes broken down into sub-specialties. How do you know which is right for you? Here is a brief summary of some of the most common concentrations online master’s in special education programs offer.

Autism Spectrum Disorders

The diagnostic classifications and criteria for diagnosing autism spectrum disorders may change over time, but students’ needs do not. The ASD specialty track allows special education professionals to develop the expertise they need to help these students succeed academically and socially, both in and out of the classroom environment. Topics vary, but often include effective teaching methods, intervention strategies, assistive technologies and other supports for students with ASD. Special education teachers, directors, administrators, reading specialists, occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists and school psychologists can each benefit from this type of training.

Special Education Teacher

Teaches students with various learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities, usually in a K-12 school setting. Some specialize in helping children with certain types of challenges, like autism spectrum disorders, moderate to severe disabilities, blindness, deafness, and, in some cases, even talented or exceptional children.

Special Education Director

Assesses, implements and modifies educational standards, instructional practices, assistive technologies and curricula for special education programs to ensure they are both effective and comply with federal, state and local laws.

Assistive Technology Coordinator

Evaluates students with disabilities to determine if and how adaptive technologies might be used to help them be more independent, productive and successful.

Occupational Therapist

Helps students with cognitive, physical, developmental or emotional disabilities perform basic living and learning functions independently and more safely in educational settings. Occupational therapists may, for instance, teach students how to get dressed, eat or hold a pencil correctly.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents disorders that impact speech, language, swallowing, fluency and cognitive communication. School districts often employ speech therapists to help students in special education settings, including nonverbal students.

Instructional Coordinator

Oversees curricula and teaching standards, develops materials and assess their effectiveness. Some, but not all, instructional coordinators perform these tasks in special education settings.

School psychologist

Applies psychological principles and techniques to diagnose and treat students with learning and behavioral problems in educational settings. School psychologists are often key members of Individual Education Plan (IEP) assessment teams and make recommendations regarding what services students need, and how often.

Moderate to Severe Disabilities

Special education professionals recognize that students’ learning, emotional and behavioral challenges run the gamut from mild to debilitating. Moderate to Severe Disabilities concentrations keep educators and administrators up to date on theories, methods and technologies proven most effective for meeting the needs of students with more severe disabilities. Courses often cover topics like behavior management, social skill instruction and differentiated instruction. This concentration is appropriate for any special education professional working with or diagnosing children with these types of challenges, including special education teachers, special education directors, reading specialists, instructional coordinators, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and school psychologists.

Special Education Teacher

Teaches students with various learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities, usually in a K-12 school setting. Some specialize in helping children with certain types of challenges, like autism spectrum disorders, moderate to severe disabilities, blindness, deafness, and, in some cases, even talented or exceptional children.

Special Education Director

Assesses, implements and modifies educational standards, instructional practices, assistive technologies and curricula for special education programs to ensure they are both effective and comply with federal, state and local laws.

Assistive Technology Coordinator

Evaluates students with disabilities to determine if and how adaptive technologies might be used to help them be more independent, productive and successful.

Occupational Therapist

Helps students with cognitive, physical, developmental or emotional disabilities perform basic living and learning functions independently and more safely in educational settings. Occupational therapists may, for instance, teach students how to get dressed, eat or hold a pencil correctly.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents disorders that impact speech, language, swallowing, fluency and cognitive communication. School districts often employ speech therapists to help students in special education settings, including nonverbal students.

School psychologist

Applies psychological principles and techniques to diagnose and treat students with learning and behavioral problems in educational settings. School psychologists are often key members of Individual Education Plan (IEP) assessment teams and make recommendations regarding what services students need, and how often.

Special Education Leadership

Occasionally, special education professionals want to take a more active role in designing and assessing programs in schools, districts and beyond. Special Education Leadership tracks offer students the skills they need to advance to director, program coordinator, department chair and other administrative roles. Courses typically cover a myriad of topics, like education law, leadership administration and instructional assessment.

Special Education Director

Assesses, implements and modifies educational standards, instructional practices, assistive technologies and curricula for special education programs to ensure they are both effective and comply with federal, state and local laws.

Assistive Technology

Special education programs rely on a number of different tools to serve students with various learning, emotional, behavioral or physical disabilities, including assistive technologies. Those enrolled in Assistive Technology tracks learn more about how – and when – to use various adaptive tools to remove barriers and make learning more accessible for students in special education classrooms. This concentration is ideal for anyone who uses or coordinates assistive technology in special education settings, including special education teachers, technology coordinators, occupational therapists and aides and program directors.

Special Education Teacher

Teaches students with various learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities, usually in a K-12 school setting. Some specialize in helping children with certain types of challenges, like autism spectrum disorders, moderate to severe disabilities, blindness, deafness, and, in some cases, even talented or exceptional children.

Special Education Director

Assesses, implements and modifies educational standards, instructional practices, assistive technologies and curricula for special education programs to ensure they are both effective and comply with federal, state and local laws.

Assistive Technology Coordinator

Evaluates students with disabilities to determine if and how adaptive technologies might be used to help them be more independent, productive and successful.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents disorders that impact speech, language, swallowing, fluency and cognitive communication. School districts often employ speech therapists to help students in special education settings, including nonverbal students.

Special Education Teacher

Teaches students with various learning, emotional, behavioral and physical disabilities, usually in a K-12 school setting. Some specialize in helping children with certain types of challenges, like autism spectrum disorders, moderate to severe disabilities, blindness, deafness, and, in some cases, even talented or exceptional children.

Special Education Director

Assesses, implements and modifies educational standards, instructional practices, assistive technologies and curricula for special education programs to ensure they are both effective and comply with federal, state and local laws.

Assistive Technology Coordinator

Evaluates students with disabilities to determine if and how adaptive technologies might be used to help them be more independent, productive and successful.

Occupational Therapist

Helps students with cognitive, physical, developmental or emotional disabilities perform basic living and learning functions independently and more safely in educational settings. Occupational therapists may, for instance, teach students how to get dressed, eat or hold a pencil correctly.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Assesses, diagnoses, treats and prevents disorders that impact speech, language, swallowing, fluency and cognitive communication. School districts often employ speech therapists to help students in special education settings, including nonverbal students.

Instructional Coordinator

Oversees curricula and teaching standards, develops materials and assess their effectiveness. Some, but not all, instructional coordinators perform these tasks in special education settings.

School psychologist

Applies psychological principles and techniques to diagnose and treat students with learning and behavioral problems in educational settings. School psychologists are often key members of Individual Education Plan (IEP) assessment teams and make recommendations regarding what services students need, and how often.

Choosing a specialty track is an excellent way to make a master’s in special education more relevant to various career paths, but it’s really the sum of the courses that will define the learning experience (and the skills gained). Most programs require students to take a mix of core (general) and specialized courses. Core courses build the foundation for a solid MES education, but are so general (and fundamental) that they can be found on program catalogs across many different tracks and schools. Specialized courses can be targeted electives or any courses related to very specific concentrations. These classes focus on skills that will actually be put to use as a special education teacher in an elementary school, high school or any other educational setting. Here are just a few examples of real courses offered by various online master’s in special education programs.

Assessment in Early Educational Intervention

Students explore the models, methods and materials used for assessing infants and preschoolers with developmental delays and disabilities. Ideal for special education teachers, directors and other professionals that work in Early Intervention and other programs dealing specifically with young students.

Law and Legal Issues, Policies and Procedures in Special Education

Students review the history of special education along with specific legal acts and concepts governing it, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and No Child Left Behind. Coursework also includes ethical considerations in situations involving the management of special education programs in both public and private settings.

Behavioral Management and Intervention

Special education specialists work with students with a wide range of emotional and behavioral disabilities, and this course explores some of the strategies, interventions, practices and assessments used to initiate and maintain positive behavior in the classroom.

Problems and Issues in the Education of the Emotionally Disturbed

Review of the issues, methods and barriers that occur in the education of emotionally and behaviorally disturbed children, particularly in the K-12 special education setting.

IEP Development and Implementation

Individual Education Plans, or IEPs, form the backbone of individual students’ accommodations, services and learning goals. Students in this course learn how IEPs are created and implemented across 13 disability categories, and in culturally diverse and high-inclusion classroom settings.

Language Acquisition & the Communicative Arts

This course teaches current and future special education professionals how to support students with disabilities in several modes of language, including listening, speaking and writing. Participants will learn about language development, language theories and best practices for teaching and assessing language.

Collaboration & Consultation

Helping learners with disabilities succeed in the classroom – and in life – is a team effort. This course helps participants develop the skills and knowledge they need to consult and collaborate with fellow special education professionals, teachers, students and parents.

Instructional Design

Special education directors and instructional coordinators must rely on research-based learning theory and instructional strategies when establishing teaching and curricular standards and practices within the realm of special education. Students can learn how to identify, implement and assess these theories and strategies, and modify them as needed.

Reading Assessment and Instruction

Many students with learning, behavioral and emotional disabilities also have reading-specific challenges and delays. This course teaches special education professionals how to assess student reading across a variety of subjects and grave levels, and how to implement support strategies as well.

Field Practicum or Internship

Students embark on a supervised internship in schools and other educational centers that serve children with learning, emotional, behavioral or physical disabilities. Written and oral critique of a student’s performance may be required, as may practicums and internships on the course to licensure.

Your Online Master’s in Special Education Timeline

Graduate-level special education programs serve a wide range of professionals, from teachers and administrators to school psychologists who desire more training. Just as each student’s career goals and needs are unique, so too are their learning styles and preferences. This is what makes earning a master’s in special education online so powerful: the ability to choose the right program despite geographic considerations.

But while programs vary, their basic structure is fairly universal. Let’s examine how online master’s in special education programs are typically organized, and what students can expect, from admissions to graduation (and beyond). Keep in mind that this timeline is general and will not apply to students enrolled in accelerated programs, or for those whose course loads do not support a more traditional 2-year course of study.

Year 0

Beginning Preparations

The very first step toward earning your master’s in special education, online or otherwise, is to actually choose and apply to a program – or several. The admissions process can be stressful, particularly at the graduate level, where requirements tend to be more rigorous than those for undergraduate programs. Many programs have a minimum number of years of professional, relevant experience students must have prior to acceptance; some also require applicants to be already licensed in the field. Be prepared to write essays; solicit letters of recommendation; track down academic, employment and standardized test records; and even participate in an interview (either online or on-campus). Here are some tips on how to get through the often exhaustive application process, sanity intact.

Investigate how online master’s in special education programs work from a technical perspective. Note that, although online learning is convenient, it can be every bit as rigorous as any campus-based program. Some might argue that online programs are in fact more difficult since they require students to be more organized and self-motivated than those enrolled in traditional classrooms, under a professor’s careful watch.

Explore several programs and concentrations before selecting a handful at which to apply. Diversifying of options is always helpful, but only careful research ensures the programs chosen are actually the correct fit.

Review every prospective school’s admissions requirements and timelines, keeping careful track of key deadlines. Make an outline of these steps and mark key dates on a calendar.

Contact prior schools’ registrars to request official transcripts as needed. Confirm that grade point averages meet any program requirements.

Confirm that any and all required standardized tests have been completed, and that scores are within the necessary range. Contact test providers as necessary to request official scores and documentation.

Make a list of former professors, colleagues, employers and other professionals in the field who might be willing to provide letters of recommendation. If any of these acquaintances have experience with any of the specific schools and programs on the short-list, see if they would be willing to chat regarding expectations.

Write any required essays, making careful note of topic requirements and deadlines. Endeavor to finish essays early enough that colleagues, consultants and other qualified helpers can review them and offer feedback.

Year 1

Laying the Foundation

The first year of most online master’s in special education programs are dedicated to core classes, which are more general classes that focus on skills and topics of interest to all special education professionals, regardless of specialty. Popular topics include behavior management techniques, IEP evaluation and implementation and legal considerations in the field of special education. Because these classes are more universal, some programs do not require students to declare a specialty until near the end of the first year. Programs that do require an early selection may allow students to change their concentrations at a later date if necessary. Contact prospective schools to clarify requirements and allowances.

Year 2

Bringing it Home

By their second year of study, most master’s in special education students have chosen to specialize in a certain area of the field, like autism spectrum disorders or special education leadership. Courses throughout this final year tend to be more specialized in nature. Recall that some programs require internships and/or capstone projects or exams, and contact the program’s career services unit to inquire about internship coordination services and proctored exam options, if relevant. Also, verify how and when students must present any required research projects or theses; some colleges allow students to present and defend their work via online video-conferencing tools like Skype, while others require students to report to campus.

From the Source: Grads Talk Online MSE

Daniella Andrews, Education Support Supervisor at a local Head Start program, earned her Master in Special Education from an online course, and currently supervises 21 teachers and approximately 80 students. Andrews provides this advice to students seeking a master’s degree in special education online:

Be passionate about teaching

Students should know “with no uncertainty that they have a true passion for all children, regardless of what their special need might be, and to want all children to be successful.”

Keep an open mind

Students should not enter the special education field with the thought or intention of “fixing” every student, but instead learn as much as possible about the different spectrum of each disability. This will, as Daniels says, “enable a master’s in special education student to know the appropriate methods to use that will benefit each particular student.”

Avoid incurring student loan debt

Master’s in special education students should take classes on a schedule that allows them to work and pay tuition out-of-pocket, or they should take advantage of available tuition assistance programs.

Crunching Numbers: A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Online MSEs

The decision to go back to school can be as scary as it is exciting. Students may second-guess their program choice, or worry that they can’t realistically fit their online classes into their busy schedules. And then there’s the cost: it’s no secret that master’s degrees can be expensive. How will costs be covered? Will the investment pay off down the line? This trepidation is normal, and shows that the undertaking of earning an advanced degree is being taken seriously. A little research – and a lot of planning – can help put minds at ease.

Mind the Math: Costs

The first step toward evaluating what an online master’s in special education means when it comes to the bottom line is figuring out how much the program will actually cost. While tuition and fees are not the only figures that matter, they will make up the bulk of expenses. Many online schools offering a master’s in special education degree offer all US students in-state tuition, regardless of residency. Keep this in mind when reviewing fee schedules. If a preferred school charges $330 per credit-hour, and the program requires 48 credit-hours, the total cost of tuition would be $15,840. This is a good start, but the cost of books, materials and any fees not included in the schedule must also be factored in. Break these figures down on a monthly or yearly basis and see how they work on a broader scale, and with a budget that includes earnings, living costs and other ongoing expenses.

Do not let sticker shock immediately derail plans, either; there are ways to manage costs and make undertaking a master’s degree possible. Investigate financial aid and other programs that can help, like employer tuition reimbursement or special funds from teachers unions and professional organizations. Online master’s in special education degrees are more flexible than most traditional programs, which makes maintaining full-time work or side-jobs much more feasible.

Weigh the Benefits

Although the biggest benefit of earning your online master’s in special education might be learning new ways to help more students succeed, bigger paychecks and better employment prospects certainly help. No degree ever guarantees higher earnings, but a 2011 study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education in the Workforce suggests that higher education generally pays off. We’ll delve into the statistics below, but first, let’s look at what special education teachers typically earn.

The following table highlights how much special education teachers earned in 2013, regardless of educational attainment, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data includes earnings for instructional coordinators and K-12 education administrators for the benefit of those who might use their MSEs to segue into other careers.

Special Education Job Title TOP 10% Median (50%) Bottom 10%
Elementary SPED Teacher $84,020 $53,910 $35,920
Middle School SPED Teacher $88,550 $53,300 $38,390
Secondary School SPED Teacher $90,460 $56,920 $38,550
Instructional Coordinator $93,840 $60,610 $35,000
Education Administrator, K-12 $128,110 $88,380 $59,010

Clearly, there is a huge gap between top and bottom (or even median) earners. Why is this? Experience, job performance and even geography impact wages – and so too does education. According to a 2011 study conducted by Georgetown University, teachers with master’s degrees in special education earned an average of 26 percent more than those with bachelor’s degrees alone. These gains can be even higher if one becomes a special education director, school administrator or other SPED leader.

Getting a sense for the big-picture benefits of earning an online master’s in special education can put program costs in perspective. Consideration must also be given to how long it will take to recover from educational costs. These factors, when combined, can help to make an informed decision on the return-on-investment a master’s degree in special education will provide.

High-Growth Areas in Special Education

Higher earnings are not the only potential benefit of earning an advanced degree. According to ongoing research by the BLS, employment rates tend to improve with education. This might be because employers prefer to hire more educated workers, both for the additional skills they bring to the table and because these credentials show they are committed to their careers (and their students). Also consider the fact that many administrative roles require master’s degrees, which means that an online MSE can have the potential to generate new career options.

Another way to leverage this master’s in special education career advantage is to look for jobs in higher-demand settings. Here is a breakdown of BLS-projected employment growth for certain types of special education teachers between 2012 and 2022.

Job
Projected Hiring Growth
Preschool special education teachers
16%
Elementary school special education teachers
6%
Middle school special education teachers
5%
High school special education teachers
5%

Notice that while the BLS projects a 6 percent increase in hiring for all special educations, jobs for preschool special education teachers are expected to grow by a much more impressive 16 percent. While setting does matter, holding a master’s in special education does not necessarily mean one will be tied to a classroom setting for the entirety of their career. Let’s investigate career options off the beaten path.

Find Special Education Jobs in Unexpected Places

Some special education teachers love what they do, but could use a change in scenery. Public and private school programs are not the only places online master’s in special education graduates can exercise their newfound skills. Here are just a few examples of these less traditional jobs.

  • Social Services Programs

    Most social services offer early intervention programs and other programs that screen children (or even adults) for learning, behavioral and emotional disorders, and then match them with any special services that might help them. Special education teachers could work within the initial assessment process, provide services, or both.

  • SPECIALTY SCHOOLS AND PROGRAMS

    Many communities have recreational, life skills and other programs for citizens with special needs. Special schools are also common, and can serve as a complete alternative to a public special education program, or offer students additional support through after school and summer programs. All of these programs hire special education

  • Private tutoring

    Some families hire special education teachers to teach or tutor children with learning, behavioral and emotional challenges who did not thrive in a traditional classroom setting, or even who just need a little extra help academically, socially or in life-skills development.

  • Consulting

    Home education is on the rise, particularly among families who worry about class sizes and standardized testing requirements. Some of these families include children with dyslexia or other learning challenges, which has created a larger demand for special-needs-focused home curricula, like Orton-Gillingham and other such reading programs. Special education teachers help companies design this curricula.

  • WEB-BASED SUPPORT SERVICES

    Clearly, online learning has changed the way students can earn their degrees, but it has also revolutionized the way special education professionals can work with their students. There are already a number of online programs that connect special needs students with educators on a virtual basis. These professionals can offer academic tutoring to home-educated and remote students, as well as offering social or life-skills mentorship.