Best Online Master's Programs in Special Education

Updated November 14, 2022

The Best Online Master's Degrees in Special Education. Collapse All; Expand All. University of California. Location. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Discover Degree Options & Potential Careers in Special Education

Schools need experienced and dedicated educators to work with students who have learning, mental, emotional or physical disabilities. Completing an online master's degree in special education provides the advanced skills and knowledge needed to excel as a special education teacher, counselor or curriculum developer. This guide provides information on enrolling and succeeding in an online master's degree in special education. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Best Online Master's in Special Education Degrees


To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:
  • Accredited at the institutional level
  • Private nonprofit or public school
  • Minimum of 1 online master's degree in subject area
Schools were then scored on factors such as:
  • Cost & Financial Aid
  • Number and variety of online program offerings
  • Student-teacher ratios
  • Graduation rates
  • Placement and support services offered
  • Academic/Career counseling services
  • Employment services
  • Loan default rates
These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or "bang for your buck" of a college or degree program.

Finding the right special education degree program at the master's level can take time since some schools offer licensure training in addition to the core program, while others only have the standard master's program. Some factors to consider when comparing schools are student-to-faculty ratios, graduate placement rates and financial aid availability. Here are our top-ranked online master's degree in special education programs:

  1. University of South Florida

    Tampa, FL

    Students who complete the master of arts in special education degree program at the University of South Florida-Main Campus will be ESE certified after they graduate. The program prepares teachers to develop the pedagogical and clinical skills needed to serve children with exceptionalities as well as their families. Web-based learning, non-traditional scheduling and accelerated instruction make it possible for students to complete the program while working full time. The College of Education maintains several centers and institutes for graduate students to use during their time at the school, including the Institute for School Reform and the Center for Migrant Education.

  2. University of North Dakota

    Grand Forks, ND

    The master of education degree at the University of North Dakota can be completed 100 percent online by distance learners. The program begins three times a year, and takes at least one-and-a-half years to complete. All classes are offered in the asynchronous format, which provides extra flexibility by not requiring students to be online at a specific time. Students will receive assignments on a weekly basis, and they will also complete several projects. All examinations are non proctored. The program prepares teachers to diagnose exceptionalities in children and plan curriculum accordingly. Graduates will be prepared to work in hospitals, schools, and human service agencies.

  3. St John's University-New York

    Queens, NY

    St. John's University-New York offers graduate students a master of science in education degree with a special focus on childhood and childhood special education. Graduates will be prepared to identify variations in human development while diagnosing and intervening on a case-by-case basis. Students will also learn how socioeconomics, personal health, culture and environment affect learning and development variations, especially where abuse is present. Upon completion, graduates will be prepared to create healthy, nurturing environments for students with disabilities ranging from mild to profound. Coursework and instruction combines both qualitative and quantitative methodologies.

  4. Niagara University

    Niagara County, NY

    The master of science in education degree, which can be completed completely online, concentrates on special education for either grades 1-6 or 7-12. Both tracks are 40-hour programs that lead to either an initial or professional certificate. All applicants must hold an approved teaching certificate, and can use the degree to achieve professional certification in the state of New York. The program instills teachers with the skills required to work with special education students from a variety of ethnic, racial, social and cultural backgrounds. Distance learners can complete the course of study in two years.

  5. Carlow University

    Pittsburgh, PA

    Graduate students who complete the MEd in special education at Carlow University will have the option of pursuing a PA certification. The certification can either be K-8, 7-12 or both. In order to be accepted into the program, prospective students must be certified as teachers in another area. The 33-credit program takes five semesters to complete. Students can complete the flexible degree either on campus, online or through a hybrid combination of traditional instruction and distance learning. Students are not required to submit GRE or GMAT results, and classes begin in the fall, spring and summer.

  6. Morningside College

    Sioux City, IA

    Special educators can pursue a graduate program in special education that culminates in a master's degree. The entire program can be completed 100 percent online. Candidates for the program must hold a bachelor's degree, and admission is open only to current teachers with valid licenses. Aside from the regular coursework, students are required to complete an instructional strategist endorsement program. The program, which is designed for elementary and secondary education teachers, allows students to transfer as many as nine credits. Students will be guided by academic advisors to make sure they enroll in the right courses and satisfy all graduation requirements.

  7. National University

    La Jolla, CA

    Current teachers who are already licensed, or who have a preliminary credential in special education can pursue a master of arts in special education through National University. The program is also open to professionals seeking to expand their knowledge of PK-22 special education. Students will learn how to create effective teaching and learning environments school-wide and analyze and assess the validity of methodologies that pertain to special education. They will also examine special education law, and develop an understanding of how it applies to them as educators, while learning how to implement Free And Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

  8. Ball State University

    Muncie, IN

    Distance learners can add special education to their existing licenses through the master of arts in special education program at Ball State University. The program, which can be completed 100 percent online, focuses on autism, severe interventions, applied behavior analysis, response to interventions and directing special education and exceptional needs. Blended programs include instruction in deaf education, mild interventions and early childhood special education. Students have the unique opportunity to build their own master's degrees by adding individual licenses and certificates. The program is nationally recognized by the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

  9. Eastern Kentucky University

    Richmond, KY

    Eastern Kentucky University offers a variety of master's degrees in special education for graduate students. Some programs require students to hold provisional certification or other professional certificates, while others are specifically designed for students who do not currently hold credentials. Students will have the opportunity to supplement their education with participation in a wide range of organizations and groups affiliated with the University, including the Kentucky Speech-Language-Hearing-Association (KSHA), Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology (CAA), and the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). The university also provides many web-based student resources.

  10. Cardinal Stritch University

    Milwaukee, WI

    The master of arts in urban special education is designed specifically for teachers seeking placement in high-need districts at the middle- and high-school levels. Graduates will be prepared to work with linguistically and culturally diverse students from a variety of backgrounds. The program stands out for its unique mentor framework, which pairs program candidates with a supporting mentor who advises the student in the classroom and helps the student understand and learn to fulfill his or her role as a special educator. The program supports students who were recruited by Teach for America.

The Online Special Education Master's Degree Timeline

As undergraduates, students should focus on excelling in all of their teacher education courses and obtaining work experience, either as a teacher's assistant or through a formal training or mentoring program at an area school. As graduate students, educators will build from their experience working with students, receiving advanced training to work intensively with students with specific disabilities or collaborate on special education research. The following section outlines the steps a student needs to take before applying to an online special education master's degree program: Admission Process

Admission requirements vary from school to school, but most online schools require applicants to submit an application form, official college transcripts and a resume. Students must have a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university before they can pursue graduate level studies. Students who completed a teaching degree or earned any type of teaching certificate may want to include professional letters of recommendation from professors, colleagues and employers. Major or minor in education or special education

Many graduate programs prefer to enroll students who majored or minored in education or special education during their undergraduate career, so students who have obtained their teaching license and served as an educator in any setting may be admitted over students who have no work or educational experience in the field. However, majors and minors in psychology, social work or similar subjects may be acceptable. Gather letters of recommendation

Collecting letters of recommendation from instructors and employers can be especially valuable when applying to a master's program. Obtaining a letter of recommendation or references from educational institutions the student has worked at, professors from other schools, and colleagues will support a prospective graduate student's application. Most programs require at least two or three letters of recommendation upon submitting the application for admission. Take standardized tests

Not all online special education programs require applicants to take a standardized test, but those that do may ask for scores from the GRE, Test of Academic Proficiency (TAP), Miller Analogies Test (MAT) or Praxis Core Test for Educators. Such tests demonstrate a student's verbal and quantitative reasoning. Year 1 Milestones Complete core special education courses

In their first year, master's students take a series of foundational courses centered on issues and trends in special education, the educational assessment process for individuals with disabilities, and curriculum theory. Obtain education specialist credentials

Some schools offer several different credentials for educators who want to work with specific student populations. For example, a student may specialize in working with pupils with mild or moderate disabilities versus pupils with severe disabilities. The first year of the program will consist of taking courses specifically to earn these credentials. Pursue student teaching and internship opportunities

Graduate students must obtain real-life experience working under the supervision of an instructor or teacher in a classroom. They will work directly with special needs students and may develop curricula, handle special cases, and conduct teaching sessions under supervision. Year 2 Milestones Take master's in education courses

The second year of an online master's degree in special education typically involves a series of advanced courses in education, psychology and learning models to fulfill the master's-level educational requirements. Students may also take elective courses to supplement their educational track, such as subjects related to Asperger's syndrome, at-risk youth or autism spectrum disorder. Submit analytical report

Some schools require students to submit an analytical report once they have completed all coursework. This report summarizes key trends, models and processes the student has learned, and may also provide a recommended course of action to solve a particular problem in the field of special education. Obtain special education certification

Many schools offer the option to complete courses toward certification during the program. Certifications can improve career prospects and give students a chance to delve deeper into topics that interest them. For example, a graduate student may choose to obtain Wilson Reading Certification to aid special needs students struggling with reading comprehension. Graduation Requirements

Before graduating from a special education master's program, online students must obtain the credentials and skills to not only work one-on-one with special needs students but also develop curricula or conduct research. This includes completing the minimum number of core courses and courses toward any specializations or credentials. Requirements vary by university but are typically around 36 credits. Earn passing grades in all core and elective courses

Students must earn an acceptable grade for all core and elective courses they take during their online master's degree program in special education. Core courses may include topics such as applied behavior analysis, social and legal issues in special education, and assistive technology for communicating with special needs individuals. Elective courses may cover the study of severe characteristics and disorders, the nature of certain disorders and conditions, and reviews of recent research findings. Finish student teaching experience

Some schools require students to demonstrate their ability to teach special needs students in a classroom, develop lesson plans and establish discipline. This requirement may be limited to those pursuing licensure since graduate students exploring research studies do not need to acquire extensive classroom experience to graduate.

What Can You Do After Earning Your Online Master's in Special Education?

Completing an online master's in special education can open up doors to a lifelong career as an educator or counselor. Working in many counseling positions, such as rehabilitation counselor, requires having at least a master's degree. Some schools prefer to hire teachers who have completed an advanced degree program and taken specialized courses.

Master's degree programs in special education ensure educators are up-to-date on the latest learning models, and many include field experiences so students can apply their skills to real-life situations and positively affect learners. Graduates learn how to work with all types of special needs students and prepare lesson plans on different subjects. Here is an overview of career paths to explore with an online master's in special education degreeBrowse Master's in Special Education Careers Special Education Teachers - Preschool

Work with young children who have learning, mental emotional and physical disabilities in a preschool classroom or child care facility. Must have at least a bachelor's degree and a state certification or license.Mean Annual Wage

$53,990Growth Potential

9% Special Education Teachers - Kindergarten & Elementary

Typically work in public or private schools to prepare young students for their educational future. Kindergarten and elementary school teachers use fun formats to cover basic subjects such as math, reading, English and art.Mean Annual Wage

$55,810Growth Potential

6% Special Education Teachers - Middle School

Work in public or private schools to teach middle school students literacy skills, prepare lesson plans, and help students work through reading, writing and math subjects. Some also help students learn basic socialization skills so they can get along with their peers and transition into life as a high school student and community member.Mean Annual Wage

$57,280Growth Potential

6% Special Education Teachers - High School

Typically work one-on-one with high school students who are physically handicapped or mentally impaired. May create specialized programs to help these students learn and develop basic life skills and prepare them for high school and/or college.Mean Annual Wage

$58,500Growth Potential

6% Speech-Language Pathologists

Assess and treat speech problems in students with special needs in addition to the entire student body. Speech therapists work to improve an individual's communication skills and may recommend alternative communication systems if needed.Mean Annual Wage

$73,410Growth Potential

21% Rehabilitation Counselors

Help students with physical, mental and emotional disabilities overcome personal challenges and participate in school activities. Requires at least a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or related field, as well as certification and licensure in some cases.Mean Annual Wage

$34,390Growth Potential


Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook (2015)

Key Principles Learned in an Online Master's in Special Education

Master's in Special Education

  • Assessment of exceptional individuals Special needs educators often must perform individual student assessments to determine the learner's level of impairment and cognitive intelligence. Master's degree students learn advanced techniques and skills to perform accurate assessments so they can better prepare learning activities and curriculum options for each student.
  • Collaboration and transition practices Educators work with families and caregivers to ensure students' needs are being met. They acquire in-depth knowledge and skills to perform consultations and work closely with other educators and families to ensure students receive a well-rounded educational experience regardless of learning ability and physical or mental limitations.
  • Advanced research skills for education Many research projects at the master's degree level require students to develop strong critical thinking, advanced problem-solving, analytical and writing skills. These help students formulate their own theories and draft reports or research papers for future projects. Students learn how to use educational research methods and evaluation methodologies to seek out relevant data and materials for research purposes.

Additional Resources

Below are some organizations that focus on special education. Their websites include information on training programs, networking events and grant funds.

Council for Exceptional Children (CEC)

CEC is the largest international professional organization dedicated to improving the educational success of children and teens with disabilities. It sets professional standards for special needs students as well as gifted and talented students.

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

This division of the U.S. Department of Education works to provide leadership and financial support to states and local school districts to help children and youth with disabilities.

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET)

NASET is a national membership organization designed for special education teachers. It provides membership benefits and resources for educators who wish to further their professional career and connect with fellow educators.

National Education Association - IDEA/Special Education

This organization supports special education programs in the United States by providing useful guides for educators, including a downloadable guide on teaching students with autism.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.

See All Posts is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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