Master’s in Special Education Career Guide
What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s Special Education Program?
Special education (sometimes called SPED for short) is a field that’s
dedicated to teaching and providing a variety of supportive services
for students with physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral
With an online master’s in special education, students can expect to
receive the same type of professional education and attention to detail
as they would while taking on-campus classes. Working special education
teachers can complete courses during the summer or after school to
enhance their careers. When choosing an online master’s in special
education program, it’s important to consider options to find the
program that’s right for you and your career goals.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Special Education
|CONCENTRATION||DESCRIPTION||CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR|
|Mild-Moderate Disabilities||An online master’s in special education with a concentration in mild-moderate disabilities qualifies you to teach students with a wide range of disabilities considered to be mild-moderate. These might include students with ADHD, dyslexia or communicable diseases.||Special education teacher in public or private K-12 schools|
|Applied Behavior Analysis||A concentration in applied behavior analysis provides special education teachers with the advanced skills needed to develop behavior intervention plans to reduce problem behaviors in children.||Special education teacher, ABA therapist|
|Autism Spectrum Disorder||This concentration qualifies special education teachers to work with students who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders.||Special education teacher, classroom teacher, autism specialist in public or private schools|
Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Special Education
Remember that each school you investigate for an online master’s
degree in special education offers something unique for you. When
selecting a school or program, you should always keep in mind what your
personal career goals are and how those goals coincide with what the
school is offering.
Also consider how the curriculum is delivered. Many online master’s
degree programs in special education are delivered entirely online,
while others may have a combination of online courses and face-to-face
classes. Finally, most online master’s degree in special education
programs have some sort of practicum requirement, which lets you
complete a certain number of hours teaching special education in a
public or private school.
While individual coursework is going to vary by program, the school
you choose and your area of concentration, you can generally expect to
take any of the following courses:
- Foundations in Special Education
- Curriculum/Instructional Design
- Behavior Management
- Educational Research
- Understanding the Law and Special Education
- Oral Language Development
- Assessment and Evaluation in Special Education
- Transition Planning and Programming
- Special Education Internship
- Research Capstone Course
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Special Education?
The length of your online master’s degree in special education
program will depend on your area of concentration, individual school and
lifestyle, which dictate the pacing. In general, full-time students can
expect to complete an online master’s degree in special education in
about 2 to 3 years, while part-time students can do the same in about
Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Special Education Prepares For
After obtaining a master’s in special education, the type of license
and certification you receive will depend on the state you live in, so
be sure to research your state’s requirements for special education
teacher certification. In general, you’ll want to make sure you’ve
completed the required coursework and internship hours, supplied
appropriate transcripts and taken any required exams.
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees
Finding the right online master’s in special education program can be
difficult because of the wide variety of choices available. Remember
that only you can properly evaluate whether a particular school’s
degree, coursework and learning objectives align with your educational
One of your major considerations when choosing an online master’s in
special education program should be whether the program is accredited.
Accreditation is important because it determines whether or not that
program meets minimum national, state or local standards of quality and
whether it delivers appropriate coursework to lead to licensure in
Accreditation is also important for employment after graduation —
many public and private schools require completion of an accredited
When searching for an accredited program for a master’s in special
education, students should focus their search on programs accredited by
bodies such as the Distance Education Accrediting Commission or an education-specific accreditation agency, such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.
Also pay attention to programs certified by national organizations, such as the Department of Education (DOE), the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the National Commission for the Accreditation of Special Education Services (NCASES).
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Special Education Graduates
Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s
Master’s degrees in special education
are conferred to students at double the rate that bachelor’s degrees
are awarded in the same subject, according to the National Center for
Education Statistics. However, a relatively low number of individuals
with master’s degrees in special education go on to complete a Ph.D. or
doctoral degree in special education; master’s degree holders are much
more common in special education teaching positions compared to
employees with other college degrees.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 51 percent of special education teachers hold a master’s degree, while only 33 percent have a bachelor’s.
With a master’s in special education, you’ll likely enjoy favorable
employment rates. According to a report from Georgetown University,
entitled “From Hard Times to Better Times,” special education teachers
with a bachelor’s degree and some professional experience have a 4.9 percent unemployment rate
— this figure drops significantly to just 1.8 percent for experienced
special education teachers with a master’s degree in the same field.
In addition to more job opportunities, a master’s degree in special
education can also boost your salary significantly. Of course, salaries
for teachers in general education and special education alike are
dependent on experience. In general, the more experience in the
classroom you have, the higher you can expect your salary to be, and
this is increased even more with an advanced degree. In the salary
ranges below, the low end is for special education teachers who are at
the entry-level stage, with 0-5 years of experience, while the upper end
is special education teachers with 20+ years of experience.
|Job Title||Salary Range|
|Special Education Teacher (Preschool, Kindergarten and Elementary School)||$39,973–$54,788|
|Special Education Teacher (Middle School)||$41,000–$62,000|
|Special Education Teacher (Secondary School)||$41,173–$63,699|
In addition to job security and lower unemployment rates, special education teacher’s with a master’s degree are more likely to earn higher salaries than their bachelor’s degree-holding counterparts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education teachers with a master’s degree earn a median annual salary of $52,000, which is roughly 24 percent more than special education teachers with a bachelor’s degree.
Based on your career interests, there are many careers you can pursue
with a master’s in special education — many general classroom teachers,
for instance, have a master’s in special education that helps them work
with students in their classrooms who have physical, cognitive or
behavioral disabilities. This is especially useful in many districts and
states that practice models of inclusion.
|JOB TITLE||JOB DESCRIPTION||MEDIAN SALARY||PROJECTED GROWTH RATE|
|Special Education Teacher||Many factors, including salary, will depend on what age group of students you choose to work with — preschool, kindergarten and elementary, middle school or secondary school. In general, special education teachers work with students who have a wide range of learning, mental, emotional and/or behavioral disabilities. They adapt general education lessons for smaller groups and teach various subjects, such as reading, writing and math, to special education students in a smaller setting.||$58,980 per year||8%|
|Kindergarten and Elementary School Teacher||Special education teachers who work as general classroom teachers at the elementary level can evaluate their students based on core reading, writing and math skills and devise strategies to help them progress in areas where improvement is needed.||$56,900 per year||7%|
|Middle School Teacher||Middle school teachers typically instruct students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Depending on the state and district, ninth grade may be included as well. Middle school teachers with a master’s in special education can help evaluate students to measure their placement level and support needs when they reach high school.||$57,720 per year||8%|
|High School Teacher||High school teachers prepare students for life after graduation through teaching academic skills and other lessons, whether students plan to continue their education in college or enter the workforce. High school special education teachers provide additional support for students who struggle with certain subjects and teach students with severe disabilities who may want to consider noncollege alternatives.||$59,170 per year||8%|
Fostering professional connections and learning about different
educational approaches are important to your success as a special
education teacher. Professional organizations offer a great opportunity
for special education teachers to learn more about their chosen career.
Participating in activities these organizations offer can also help you
earn professional development credits. Along with the national
organizations for education listed below, be sure to research local
organizations specific to your state or school district as well.
National Association of Special Education Teachers:
This organization strives to “render all possible support and
assistance to professionals who teach children with special needs.”
NASET provides discounts on continuing education courses, an online
journal subscription for members, free webinars and a list of
conferences targeted towards special education professionals that take
place at the local and national levels.
Council for Exceptional Children:
The CEC sets the standard for high-quality education for children and
youth with special needs or exceptional characteristics, such as gifted
children. It provides information, resources and professional
development opportunities for special educators.
Autism Society of America:
This Maryland-based organization features a wealth of academic and
scientific resources related to autism spectrum disorders, and many of
the 120,000 members are special education teachers. They also provide
information about upcoming events related to autism awareness and
current advocacy projects.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Special Education Degree
One appealing factor of obtaining your MSN degree online is the
financial savings online programs often provide. However, even with a
lower cost to complete your degree, some students may still find
themselves in need of financial aid. Just as with a traditional
brick-and-mortar program, your first step in seeking financial
assistance should be filling out the Free Application for Federal
Student Aid (FAFSA) to take advantage of federally funded grants and
loans. Private options are also available through various organizations,
in the form of scholarships. Find out more about potential financial
aid options below.
|Financial Aid for Graduate Students|
|Knowing Your Options|
|Federal Financial Aid for Teachers|
Eligibility: TEACH Grant recipients are eligible for up to $4,000 each year in exchange for making a commitment to teach in a school located in a low-income area in a high-need field.
Eligibility: Individuals pursuing a junior college, undergraduate or graduate degree.
Award: $3,000 ($1,500/semester)
Eligibility: For students enrolled in a New York State degree program that leads to a special education certification.
Eligibility: Teachers or students pursuing a career in special education in Illinois. This scholarship program exempts students from paying tuition and mandatory fees at eligible institutions for up to four years.