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.
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Best Online Master's in Special Education Degrees
- Accredited at the institutional level
- Private nonprofit or public school
- Minimum of 1 online master's degree in subject area
- 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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Below are some organizations that focus on special education. Their websites include information on training programs, networking events and grant funds.
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.
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.
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.
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.