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 disabilities.

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

  • Psychology

  • 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 3-4 years.

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 needs.

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 special education.

Accreditation is also important for employment after graduation — many public and private schools require completion of an accredited master’s program.

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.

Expected Salary

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.

Source: PayScale.com

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.

Comparing Median Annual Salary of a Special Education Teacher with a Master's and a Bachelor's Degree

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

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%

Professional Organizations

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.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

TEACH Grant

Award: $4,000

Deadline: October

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.

UPS for DownS Katie MacDonald Memorial Scholarship

Award: $2,500

Deadline: April

Eligibility: Individuals pursuing a junior college, undergraduate or graduate degree.

Joseph T. Weingold Scholarship for Special Education Students

Award: $3,000 ($1,500/semester)

Deadline: January

Eligibility: For students enrolled in a New York State degree program that leads to a special education certification.

Illinois Special Education Teacher Tuition Waiver Program

Award: Varies

Deadline: March

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.