Earning an Online Special
Education Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring educators considering an online special education degree can look forward to entering an expanding field. Schools need professionals who understand differentiated instructional techniques and special needs policies. While special education teachers manage individual students and co-teach courses, professionals can also specialize in subjects and teach general coursework. Additionally, many special education techniques can be used to help general education students. Collectively, these factors may provide a competitive advantage in the teaching job market.

Good candidates for special education programs include individuals with an affinity for helping students who need additional support. Many universities offer online special education degrees, which provide increased flexibility and let degree seekers maintain other responsibilities.

Overview of Special Education Degrees

The term special education applies to students who require nontraditional support due to physical or mental issues, including auditory impairment, autism, learning disabilities, and intellectual disabilities. Individuals who earn a special education degree online learn about many of the disabilities educators encounter in schools and explore instructional techniques that allow for successful integration of special needs students into general classrooms.

The curricula of online special education programs also cover standard methods and principles of education associated with the learning process at different stages of life. Students examine ways to construct an effective curriculum and practice developing their own plans. Programs may also require participants to choose specific content areas to specialize in. Successful completion of coursework through accredited online special education programs qualifies graduates for licensure.

Many programs offer coursework entirely online. However, this degree requires students to complete field experiences, including practica and/or student teaching. Online programs typically allow students to work in districts near their home, although learners may need to secure their own placement. As an entry-level degree for this career, ideal candidates include committed and highly motivated individuals who can make time for field experiences. The career outlook for special education providers is positive due to the increasing number of children who require special education services.

Application Process

Applying to online schools for special education requires ample preparation. Students should begin by identifying important deadlines. For instance, individuals considering competitive schools may want to take advantage of early decision deadlines. In contrast, some schools offer rolling admissions or multiple start dates.

Many schools also request a writing sample to assess a student's character and gauge their abilities. The essays do not usually exceed 1,000 words. Programs may provide an open-ended writing prompt or ask for a personal statement about a student's career goals. Learners can check if any of their prospective schools use the Common Application, which may reduce the amount of essays they need to write. Online schools for special education may also require letters of recommendation, which further help a program assess a student's character. Applicants should request recommendation letters from former teachers, coaches, and/or supervisors who can describe their work ethic and speak to their character.

Applications also require high school transcripts, and many schools ask for SAT or ACT scores. Students with college credit should also submit postsecondary transcripts; schools may accept transfer credits, which can reduce the total amount of time and money student needs to graduate. Applicants may need to pay a nominal fee to have their transcripts forwarded, and the the typical college application fee is $40-$50.

What Will I Learn?

Aspiring educators who choose to earn an online special education degree gain the skills needed to effectively advocate for students who might face difficulties succeeding in traditional classroom environments. Special education majors may specialize in mild, moderate, or severe disabilities. Participants examine instructional strategies that best serve their target student population. Online special education degrees emphasize developmental coursework, preparing graduates to collaborate with parents and general education teachers to modify student assignments.

While curricula vary by university, accredited programs often contain many similarities. Additionally, this degree sometimes leads to state licensure, which demands specific coursework and field experiences. Learners who earn a special education degree online often take 50-60 credits of general education classes and another 60-70 major-related and elective credits. Participants also complete student teaching requirements.

Effective Classroom Management, Behavioral Intervention, and Support

This course examines effective practices for classroom management and intervention, emphasizing proactive learning environments. Students practice analyzing and developing behavioral intervention plans through case studies. This course also explores the role of discipline, ways to develop social skills, and effective communication strategies.

Psychology of Learning and Instruction

This course examines both applied and theoretical components of learning, personality, motivation, human development, and assessment in educational settings. Students explore learning theories that underlie human development and learning, including socialization and affective processes. Coursework helps educators better consider student behavior and receptiveness to information.

Assessment in Special Education

This class teaches emerging educators how to ethically interpret and score the exams/assignments of students with special needs. Coursework examines how to use data to monitor student progress. Degree seekers also review relevant legal topics related to assessment in special education.

Data-Driven Classroom Instruction

Through data analysis, instructors can identify learning needs to make meaningful instructional decisions. This course covers fundamental data analysis procedures, data management, and application. Statistical methods allow participants to determine basic components of value-added systems. The content of this course can help future educators establish school-wide social justice initiatives and quality programming.

Classroom Management and Discipline

While classroom management techniques vary based on the students' age level, emerging educators need to understand the relationship between classroom environment and behavior. Participants explore disciplinary models and how they relate to student governance. Coursework emphasizes effective decision making, including proactive, interactive, and reflective discipline.

Oral Language Development

In this course, undergrads learn what normal language development looks like and how to identify symptoms that may reveal disorders or other underlying conditions. Participants conduct research on literacy and language acquisition in both native English-speaking students and bilingual children. By the end of this course, learners should understand components of language and determine pertinent milestones.

What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education?

Earning a special education degree online provides future educators with vital knowledge, skills, and experiences needed to pass state licensure exams and meaningfully impact children's lives. Most teachers work in local K-12 districts. Depending on their grade level, special education instructors may need to specialize in a core content area. Additionally, some special education teachers pursue opportunities outside of school buildings. The section below discusses core skills developed in special education programs as well as popular roles graduates qualify for.

Core Skills

Future educators pursuing an accredited special education degree online gain pertinent knowledge and skills that lead to positive student outcomes. Programs emphasize teaching principles and methods to ensure emerging teachers can identify the best instructional strategies for student success. Participants also explore aspects of psychology that deal with learning and motivation, research methods, and managing behavioral disorders within a classroom environment.

Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 86% of special education providers work in public school districts. Therefore, the best programs teach graduates how to develop individual educational plans to maintain compliance with state laws and district policies.

Pertinent skills include deconstructing an overall objective into smaller lessons, effectively communicating information, and actively learning to develop solutions for issues as they emerge. Special education teachers also develop keen active listening skills to address concerns from all stakeholders who influence students.

Potential Careers & Salaries

Special education providers can work in public elementary, middle, and high schools. Online special education programs offer specializations in mild, moderate, and severe disabilities at primary and secondary levels. While opportunities to work with students of any age level exist, the majority of professionals work at the elementary level because schools try and uncover disabilities as early as possible. However, high schools often rely on special education providers to show students how to cope with their disabilities and achieve greater independence after graduation.

Special education instructors also gain employment at private schools, residential facilities, and hospitals. Many nonprofit or private learning centers seek special education experts to direct programs for exceptional children or assist adolescents in juvenile facilities. Common job titles include special education advocate, early intervention specialist, educational audiologist, and speech and language pathologist. The table below describes a few popular jobs pursued by graduates of special education programs.

Career Profiles

Special Education Teacher (Kindergarten and Elementary School)

Annual Median Salary: $58,510

Primary special education teachers work with students facing learning disabilities. Teachers also strive to identify students who may possess undiagnosed disabilities to ensure students get the help they need. These educators may work with students individually or in small groups.

Special Education Teacher (Middle School)

Annual Median Salary: $59,510

Middle school special education teachers work with students who are 10-14 years old. Most students possess mild to moderate disabilities and participate in inclusive classrooms. Learners with severe disabilities engage in self-contained classrooms. Special education teachers often collaborate with general education teachers to design curriculum.

Special Education Teacher (Secondary School)

Annual Median Salary: $60,180

Special education providers in high schools typically work with students with mild to moderate disabilities. Teachers modify and reinforce content taught in general classroom settings. These educators may also work with students to develop organizational systems to encourage independence.

Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Special Education?

An online special education degree provides students with pertinent foundational knowledge to begin teaching, and some states only require a bachelor's degree to earn a permanent teaching license. Educators must complete periodic continuing education coursework to keep their licenses current. Fortunately, districts often pay for professional development workshops to ensure teachers remain aware of current practices; these workshops may count toward continuing education requirements. However, as standards continue to rise, many states now expect educators to obtain a graduate degree within the first five years of teaching.

Earning an advanced degree in teaching can lead to leadership opportunities, including curriculum management, assistant principal, principal, or superintendent roles. Alternatively, some educators pursue a graduate degree to become subject matter experts, studying their content area in greater detail. Advanced degrees with a special education focus also create leadership opportunities in private and nonprofit organizations that support special education efforts.

Accreditation for Special Education Bachelor’s Programs

When looking at online education programs, students should only consider accredited schools and programs. Accrediting agencies set academic standards, ensuring students their schools offer quality programming and will adequately prepare them for future jobs.

At the institutional level, colleges and universities can earn national or regional accreditation. Regional accreditation serves as the gold standard and is awarded by one of several accrediting agencies based on a school's location. Learners who attend a regionally accredited institution can transfer credit more easily than students who attend other types of schools. Learners can find information about an institution's accreditation status through state department of education websites or on their school's website.

The best online education programs also maintain programmatic accreditation. This specialized recognition is bestowed by an agency that sets standards for a particular content area, such as education. Special education majors should search for schools that hold accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Teacher Education Accreditation Council, or Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Special Education Professional Organizations

Joining a professional organization remains one of the best ways for professionals to grow their careers. These organizations typically offer membership at the student and professional levels. Special education organizations provide members with access to the latest research through online journals, workshops, networking events, annual conferences, and continuing education coursework. Professional membership can also lead to mentorship and collaborative opportunities with experienced educators. The list below describes a few organizations special education teachers may want to consider joining.

International Association of Special Education
IASE provides academic journals, professional development opportunities, conferences, and mentoring to special education teachers around the world. The association also spreads awareness regarding students with disabilities and encourages ethical practices by collaborating with other special education organizations.

American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
AAIDD helps keep professionals who work with special needs populations abreast of the latest research and practices. As the largest organization in this field, members gain access to a vast professional network. Other benefits include access to conferences, workshops, and online resources.

National Association of Special Education Teachers
NASET supports special education teachers across the nation. The association works to ensure students with disabilities receive a fair education that prepares them for academic success. Members gain access to the latest instructional practices, policies, and standards, as well as a vast network with multiple professional development opportunities.