Best Masters in Special Education Programs 

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Updated on November 26, 2022

A Masters in Special Education is a top-notch qualification pursued by special education teachers to further their skill sets and improve the lives of learners with varying forms of disabilities. However, this barely begins to scratch the surface of what is obtainable with such a notable degree. Graduates enrolled in Hybrid or Online Masters in Special Education programs become part of a growing field of educational diagnosticians, advocates, and behavior intervention specialists. Likewise, an MA degree in special education is a stepping stone to other careers as a principal, instructional coordinator, or school counselor. Whatever you choose to accomplish with your master’s degree in this field, you will be contributing significantly to an in-demand academic field.

Regardless of whether you want to start a career in the field or improve in your existing position, a graduate degree in special education will help you reach your objectives. As we review some of the top Masters in Special Education programs, remember how the knowledge you acquire will assist you and your pupils. In addition, we shall explore career paths, educational requirements, professional organizations, and FAQs related to this specialty.

What is Special Education?

Special Education is a practice or concept of educating pupils in a way that considers their unique differences, impairments, and special needs. This entails a uniquely planned and consistently reviewed arrangement of instructional practices, adaptive (inclusive) settings, specialized tools, and resources. 

What are the four goals of special education?

According to “IDEA,” i.e., Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Amendments, the four main goals of Special Education include economic self-sufficiency, full participation, equality of opportunity, and independent living.

What is the main objective of learning special education?

Via initiatives to promote inclusive education, the Institution of Special Education works towards the utmost aim of integrating students with communication difficulties into the general education curriculum. The core objectives are;

  • Offering children with communication impairments with top-notch special education programs;
  • Encouraging special education-related research and development;
  • Enhancing human resources in the area of special education for kids with communication difficulties;
  • To inform diverse target groups around the nation on topics related to special education services through seminars, short-term training courses, sensitization, and orientation programs.

What are the six principles of special education?

The six central tenets of the IDEA are listed below, with an emphasis on pupils’ rights and public schools’ obligations to learners with disabilities;

  • Appropriate Evaluation
  • Procedural Safeguards
  • Parent Participation
  • Individualized Education Plan
  • Least Restrictive Environment
  • Appropriate Public Education

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What does Special Education Teachers Do?

Special Education Instructors work with pupils with emotional, physical, mental,  or learning difficulties. They modify general education teachings/lessons and instruct individuals with moderate to severe disabilities in various disciplines. Also, they instill fundamental skills in learners with cognitive disabilities.

Other Duties and Responsibilities of Special Education Instructors are to:

  • Create individualized education plans (IEPs) for each learner
  • Customize general lessons to the needs of the pupils
  • Evaluate students’ abilities and their educational requirements
  • Instruct and guide pupils in small groups, as a class, and via one-on-one session
  • Create exercises tailored to the ability of each pupil.
  • Assisting youngsters in making the transition from college to life beyond it
  • Discuss or talk to parents, administrators, counselors, and instructors about the progress of the pupils
  • Mentor and watch over teaching assistants that assist pupils with impairments

General Overview: Hybrid and Online Masters in Special Education 

In this section, we will discuss some of the core skills, admission requirements, coursework, and method of funding available to candidates enrolled in Masters in Special Education Programs.

What can I expect from an Online Special Education Masters?

In this course, candidates will learn to leverage technology to assist students in solving real-world problems by including it in the curriculum’s planning. You will also gain competencies in areas of creating tests that both measure and guide students while making use of the data required for wise learning and teaching choices

Via this program, graduates will support the needs of students with varied backgrounds, talents, and experiences with a course curriculum that includes the concepts of Instructional Methods and other applicable standards to create contents that apply meaningful theory to challenging learning conditions faced by students today.

What courses will I take in an Online Masters in Special Education?

Are you anxious about knowing what you will learn In a Special Education Master’s Program? If yes, think no further.

The online master’s in special education courses will assist educators in becoming ready to support different student populations in all educational environments, including charter, elementary, home, private, and public schools. The coursework in this program will span the following;

  • Introduction to Research in Special Education 
  • Study Skills and Executive Function 
  • Expressive Writing and Language-Skill
  • Assessment of Learner/Student Performance

Introduction to Research in Special Education 

The topic assists instructors in finding solutions in the literature to common classroom issues. Through this, educators will discover how to (a) locate information (data) in the literature, (b) assess the technical sufficiency of the material, and (c) use the information in their environment following this goal.

Study Skills and Executive Function

Through this topic, participants will understand how to assist kids who struggle with cognitive and self-regulating skills related to language-centered learning difficulties and executive function. Graduates will help with activities, including scheduling time and resources, coping with annoyance, accessing memory, and tracking their development.

While reviewing pertinent studies on executive function and language-based learning impairments, the focus of this course will be on feasible teaching techniques derived from Landmark’s Six Instructional Principles. These principles will motivate instructors (educators) to give students formalized opportunities to succeed while using a variety of instructional modalities to develop skill-based microtasks.

Expressive Writing and Language-Skill

This topic places emphasis on practices that can enable children with dyslexia and various language-related learning difficulties to develop their expressive language skills in areas of writing. Furthermore, it exposes practitioners to concepts of sequencing the writing process for kids with language-based learning challenges.

Assessment of Learner/Student Performance

Learn about the various real-world performance evaluations used to gauge student development in a general education context. Investigate a selection of reliable assessments and techniques for tracking progress, such as rubrics, criteria checklists, performance tasks, summative and formative assessments, and the use of different data sources in gauging student performance.

What are the admission requirements for a Hybrid and Online Special Education Masters?

For candidates to gain admission into any of the Master’s in Special Education programs, prospective applicants must meet the following core requirements;

  • Possess a Bachelor of Science degree in Special Education or a related field
  • Have a Grade Point Average (GPA) not lower than 2.5 on a 4.0 scale
  • Submission of an Official College/University Transcript from an accredited institution 
  • Two references or letters of recommendations 

Note: The requirements above can vary across various learning institutions.

What skills will I acquire in an Online Masters in Special Education?

During the Master’s in Special Education course, candidates will develop the traits/skills necessary to become good instructors in this specialty. The acquired skills will also contribute towards their underlying career goals of helping learners with disabilities. Some of the competencies developed are;

  • Organization

Via this curriculum, educators will acquire the organizational skills necessary to coordinate and set up a well-organized classroom since a structured learning environment inspires pupils and gives them the confidence to study more.

  • Creativity

Students will develop creative abilities vital to devising innovative teaching methods to meet the demands of their various students, each of whom has a unique learning style.

  • Good sense of humor

Graduates will learn how to develop a strong sense of humor to foster communication among students, enabling them to enjoy classes while looking forward to returning to the classroom.

  • Adaptability

You will gain adaptability competencies expected of all educators in this specialty. In this course, candidates will learn to be more flexible enough to change their teaching methods in response to students’ shifting behaviors.

  • Temperamental Skills

During this course, instructors (teachers, educators, and trainers) gain vital skills necessary to treat all students equally. By so doing, learners will feel more at ease and be more willing to approach the teacher directly.

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How long does it take to earn Master’s in Special Education?

Depending on the institution, it typically takes between 14 to 24 months of full-time enrollment to obtain a Master’s qualification in Special Education.

Paying for Your Special Education Master’s

Aspiring educators (instructors) can fund their Master in Special Education program by leveraging government grants, Graduate assistantships, teaching grants, state/federal scholarships, student loans, or employer funding. However, students that can easily foot the tuition cost can offset this cost via their savings.

How Do I Choose a Master’s in Special Education program?

For most prospective students, deciding on the institution to pursue their Special Education degree can be just as tricky as choosing the degree program. In this segment, we will briefly go over the key things to think about before enrolling in a hybrid or online master’s program in Special Education.

  • Cost

While the cost of a college education is comparable between on-campus and online programs, virtual learning allows students to reduce spending on other expenses. With this method, you can continue working while you study, and for those candidates who already have children, you won’t have to pay for child care or transportation.

  • Admission Requirements

For most colleges offering hybrid, on-campus & online master’s programs in special education, a Bachelor’s degree in Special Education or a related discipline and an overall GPA “not less than” 2.5 on a 4.0 scale is the primary enrollment requirements. Additionally, learners must present an official transcript from their prior institutions.

Also, applicants might be required to submit a minimum of two recommendation letters, depending on the requirements of their chosen colleges. Furthermore, certain institutions could request that graduates provide their GRE academic results.

  • Program Format

Many universities and colleges enable students to complete their studies at their own pace by providing a master’s in special education program via hybrid, on-campus, or online learning formats.

  • Certification Opportunities

Enrollees must find out if the university (college) they want to attend offers certification opportunities for learners enrolled in their special education program. Unquestionably, it is advantageous for a school to offer such possibilities as graduates won’t need to search for them after receiving their degrees.

  • Location

Enrolling in masters of special education online programs is a perfect choice for individuals who are currently working or have family commitments that make commuting to campus difficult; since proximity will work to their benefit. Likewise, an on-campus or hybrid program may be the best choice for individuals with no work responsibilities or other family obligations.

  • Accreditation

Aspiring students must ensure their selected institution has earned either national or regional accreditation before enrolling. Also, keep in mind that to be 100% eligible to apply for federal financial aid and other government incentives, applicants must be enrolled full-time in an approved university or college. Meanwhile, earning a master’s in special education from an unaccredited college; is a total waste of resources.

5 Top Masters in Special Education Programs in the United States 

Here is a list of Universities offering Top Master’s in Special Education programs;

American University 

Graduation Rate: 80%

Acceptance Rate: 39%

Institution Type: Private 

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education 

Degree Offered: Master of Arts in Special Education 

American University provides an MA in Special Education as a part- and full-time track to fit the schedules of family & gainfully employed individuals. The curriculum equips instructors (teachers) to meet the vital needs of high school, elementary, preschool, and adult learners at risk or battling with learning disabilities. In this course, students will be taught practical training in diagnostic-prescriptive pedagogy within a robust theoretical framework of the “Sally L. Smith” Methodology.

Western Illinois University 

Graduation Rate: 46%

Acceptance Rate: 67%

Institution Type: Public 

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission 

Program Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)

Degree Offered: Master’s Degree in Special Education 

Western Illinois University offers a Master’s Degree in Special Education to prospective students. The program provides opportunities for two distinctive groups of learners; Track I: learners with general education qualifications that also seek special education qualifications. Track II: for candidates with special education credentials who aim to enhance their skills via advanced study. 

Bowie State University 

Graduation Rate: 41%

Acceptance Rate: 81%

Institution Type: Public 

Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)

Program Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)

Degree Offered: Master of Education in Special Education 

Bowie State University provides an M.Ed. in Special Education, designed to model educators aware of the developmental and academic goals of education. The curriculum is grounded in the idea that students can succeed. Grad students study the role of assessment in shaping education and the significance of data-based decisions. Likewise, this program prepares teachers to carry out competent and ongoing student learning monitoring.

In this course, graduates become competent in the use of modern computer technology & application of behavior management methodologies. They also demonstrate an in-depth understanding of learners with disabilities relative to their academic, cultural, cognitive, emotional, and social needs, as well as their transition from college to an adult environment.

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University of Alaska Fairbanks 

Graduation Rate: 34.2%

Acceptance Rate: 67%

Institution Type: Public 

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Program Accreditation: National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)

Degree Offered: Master’s in Special Education 

Current Tuition Cost: $24,605

The University of Alaska Fairbanks offers a Master’s in Special Education program that integrates practicum experiences and knowledge relevant to the Alaska context. In this course, candidates will be equipped to instruct or educate special education within the United States & internationally. Furthermore, graduates will learn from skilled educators while receiving practical training via fieldwork experiences in K-12 special education settings.

University of Louisville 

Graduation Rate: 56%

Acceptance Rate: 65%

Institution Type: Public 

Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)

Degree Offered: Master of Education in Special Education 

Course Credits: 36

The University of Louisville provides an M.Ed. in Special Education with an emphasis on Behavior and Learning Disorders or Severe and Moderate Disabilities. The program is designed for certified Kentucky instructors (teachers) and qualified learners in this specialty.

Via the M.Ed. in Special Education course that centers on Learning and Behavior, educators (teachers) advance their expertise and knowledge in teaching pupils with Learning Disabilities, Mild Mental Disabilities, Behavior Disorders, and Orthopedic Impairments from grade levels, kindergarten to high schools.

Licensing and Certification for Special Education Practitioners 

To serve in public/private schools, special education instructors (teachers) must possess a state license or certification. Although most states have different requirements, most call for a bachelor’s degree from an undergraduate teacher preparation program. For certification, some states need a special education major or a set of required courses.

For instance, enrollees for American Board’s special education teacher certification are to pass an advanced teaching knowledge examination, a special education exam, and an elementary education exam. Also, Certified teachers/educators must maintain their qualifications by meeting the continuing education prerequisites.

Furthermore, candidates can apply for NASET/AASEP Board Certification in Special Education (B.C.S.E). The NASET/AASEP Board Certification in Special Education is a form of professional qualification in a special education field. The credential proves a practitioner’s excellence while boosting visibility and establishing credibility with people outside the area.

What can you do with a master’s in special education degree?

A Master’s in Special Education with a combination of teaching licenses will help candidates stand out in various administrative or instructional roles (positions) that address the timely needs of the fast-growing special education communities (populations). Some of the careers available for practitioners in this field include;

  • Childcare Workers

Childcare Workers cater to the children’s demands while encouraging or fostering early development. They might assist older kids with their homework or prepare younger kids for kindergarten. Aside from monitoring and supervising the welfare/safety of children, they organize & prepare snacks and mealtimes for youngsters.

Other Duties and Responsibilities of Childcare Workers are to:

  • Assist in changing diapers for young children (infants)
  • Aid kids in maintaining good hygiene
  • Create routines and plans to guarantee that kids get enough exercise, sleep, and playtime
  • Create programs or activities that enable kids to discover their interests while gaining new knowledge

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the Median wage of Childcare Workers as of May 2021 is $13.22. The employment of specialists in this field will grow by 6% over the next ten years.

  • Special Education Teachers 

Special education teachers cater to the needs of pupils who have mental, learning, physical, or emotional disabilities. After assessing and identifying kids/students who may have some form of special needs or disabilities, they craft practical lessons to suit the demands of every child.

According to the BLS report, the average yearly salary of Special Education Teachers as of May 2021 is $61,820.

  • Instructional Coordinators

Instructional Coordinators help to oversee teaching and curriculum standards in various higher learning Institutions. They are in charge of the overall creation of the teaching materials, along with implementation and evaluation. In addition, they conduct, plan, and organize teacher conferences, training, or workshops. Furthermore, they often recommend teaching strategies and various instructional technologies in the classroom.

BLS reports that the median yearly wage for instructional coordinators as of May 2021 was $63,740. Meanwhile, the recruitment of instructional coordinators will grow by 7% over the next ten years, which is faster than the average for all other occupations.

  • Occupational Therapists 

Occupational therapists employ rehabilitative usage daily activities to treat patients who are ill, incapacitated, or wounded. With their assistance, patients can recover, improve, develop, and regain the necessary competencies to carry out their daily activities. Also, they help individuals with various disabilities carry out multiple chores, such as instructing a stroke patient to put on clothes.

The average annual salary for occupational therapists as of May 2021 was $85,570. Likewise, the employment of practitioners in this field will rise by 14% over the next decade, which is much higher than the average for all occupations.

  • Recreational Therapists 

Recreational therapists coordinate, plan, and direct recreation-based rehabilitation treatment programs that help to improve or maintain the patient’s overall social, physical, and emotional well-being. These therapists employ various techniques, such as art concepts, sports, drama, games, dance, music, community outings, and aquatics-based activities.

Other Duties and Responsibilities of Recreational Therapists are to;

  • Participate in therapeutic activities with patients, such as games, and community outings
  • Educate patients on the social skills necessary to attain or maintain independence
  • Create and carry out treatment programs that address the specific goals and preferences of patients
  • Assisting people to cope and minimize depression, anxiety, or stress.

According to PayScale, the average hourly wage for a Recreational Therapist as of October 2022 is $19.48. 

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Career Outlook for Special Education Practitioners 

Employment of Special Education professionals will increase by 4% between 2021 and 2031, which is about average for all occupations. Over the next ten years, it’s likely that, on average, there will be 37,600 opportunities for special education teachers (instructors). A large portion of those openings is due to the necessity to replace workers that change careers or leave the workforce due to retirement.

Professional Organizations for Special Education Teachers & Educators 

Professional organizations & associations help to aid the careers of Special Education practitioners. Most of these organizations; provide advantages like networking, possibilities for professional growth, and continuous education. Various professional associations (organizations) for special education professionals are listed below:

International Association of Special Education

The CEC connects professionals who work with special needs children. The organization creates professional standards for special education and hosts events, webinars, and tools for professional development. The association also publishes studies in the area and runs a job board for employment openings.

National Education Association

The NEA supports teachers’ professional development while promoting public education. The association also provides special education instructors with publications and resources.

Council for Learning Disabilities

CLD is a global organization that promotes excellent education for people with learning difficulties. The association organizes conferences & researches special education trends supported by evidence and provides resources for professionals in this specialty. CLD also advertises the latest jobs in special education field.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

IASE is home to associates from 50 nations, including professors, researchers, and teachers. To advance the interests of people with special needs, the association sponsors worldwide conferences and collaborates with other special education organizations.

National Association of Special Education Teachers

The national association of special educators (NASET) supports and campaigns for special education practitioners. Via these organizations, members can access professional development programs and continuing education courses.

Frequently Asked Questions: Masters in Special Education programs 

How much schooling does a special education teacher need?

In most U.S states, special education instructors (teachers) require at least an undergraduate or bachelor’s degree with a major or emphasis in special education.

What does a special education teacher teach?

Special education instructors work with K-12 learners on foundational skills, such as math, physical education, and reading.

What is the qualification of a special education teacher?

Special education teacher prerequisites often include an undergraduate degree and licensure. Also, Special educationists might require an endorsement in special education.

Are special education teachers in high demand?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for special educators is expected to increase by 4% between 2021 and 2031, which is about average for all occupations. Over the next decade, there will be, on average, 37,600 opportunities for special education instructors.

Which specialization is best in special education?

A few of the available concentrations you could focus on include:

  • Occupational therapy
  • Early childhood special education
  • Education for learners with learning disabilities
  • Education for learners with visual impairments
  • Education for learners on the Autism spectrum
  • Education for learners with hearing impairments

How do I get a master’s degree in special education?

Academic requirements for obtaining a master’s in special education vary across learning institutions. In most universities, it takes between 15 to 24 months for candidates to earn their M.Ed. in Special Education. To enroll, applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have at least; a minimum of 6 months of curriculum development or K-12 instructional experience. 

How much does a master’s in special education cost?

The tuition cost of a master’s in special education largely depends on location, school, total course credits, and several other criteria. For a rate computed based on cost per credit hour, an MS in Special Education costs between $500 to $800 per credit hr. Therefore, for an institution that charges $600 per credit hour and whose total course credit is 30, estimated tuition costs will be $18,000.

Note: candidates that belong to families of military veterans can apply for GI Bill benefits to offset their schooling cost. Meanwhile, other forms of financial aid and grants exist for eligible applicants.

Should I get my master’s in special education?

For fact, your professional and personal aspirations will decide all that. If you are concerned about educating students with disabilities, a master’s in special education can assist you in gaining the understanding you might need to best support populations of children with differing emotional, physical, and cognitive issues.

Can you get a special education degree online?

Yes, you can. Many colleges and universities offer an online M.Ed. in Special Education to prospective students globally. Via the distance learning path, students will have access to their respective coursework 24hrs daily, further giving them the flexibility to manage their schedule in unique ways that suit their needs.


In Summary!

A master’s in special education has benefits that go beyond the educator. Special education teachers are in great demand all around the nation since the majority of teachers with backgrounds in other fields typically have half-baked training in special education. By acquiring a master’s degree in special education and applying the knowledge into practice, you can play a significant role in the academic development and improvement of kids/learners with disabilities.

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