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A master’s in special education equips students with the knowledge and skills necessary to support the diverse needs of students with disabilities. Graduates are prepared for roles such as special education teacher, educational diagnostician, behavior analyst, or special education coordinator.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education teachers earn an average salary of $65,910 per year, with the potential for higher earnings when considering experience and location. The program typically takes one to two years to complete, depending on factors such as full-time or part-time enrollment and previously completed coursework. Cost varies, although the National Center for Education Statistics reports an average expense for tuition and fees of $12,000 to $30,000 for master’s degree programs, based on factors such as type of institution, residency status, and program features.

How to Choose a Master’s in Special Education Degree Program

Choose your area of study

When choosing your area of study, consider your passion, strengths, and career goals. Research specializations such as autism spectrum disorders, learning disabilities, or emotional and behavioral disorders. Evaluate each specialization’s job market demand, salary prospects, and alignment with your interests. Reflect on your experiences working with individuals with disabilities and consider which population you are most passionate about serving. Explore each specialization’s course offerings and faculty expertise to ensure it aligns with your educational and professional aspirations.

Research schools and programs

Begin by identifying accredited institutions offering the program. Evaluate factors such as program reputation, faculty expertise, and specialization options. Explore each school’s website to gather information on curriculum, available resources, and program outcomes. Utilize online forums and alumni networks to gain insights from current and former students. Consider logistical factors like location, program format, and cost. Reach out to admissions officers or program coordinators to ask specific questions and request additional information. By conducting thorough research, you can make an informed decision that aligns with your academic and career goals in special education.

Prepare for tests and applications

Preparing for tests and applications is essential for successful admission. Begin by familiarizing yourself with the specific admission requirements of each program, including standardized tests like the GRE or MAT. Dedicate time to study for these exams using study guides, practice tests, and online resources. Gather all necessary documents, such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a compelling personal statement outlining your passion for special education. Pay attention to application deadlines and submit your materials as early as possible. Consider seeking feedback on your application materials from mentors or advisors to ensure they effectively showcase your qualifications.

Select your program

Choosing the right program involves careful consideration of factors such as program accreditation, faculty expertise, curriculum structure, and specialization options. Evaluate each program based on its alignment with your career goals, preferred teaching approach, and the population of students you wish to serve. Consider logistical factors like location, program format (online or on-campus), and cost. Research program outcomes, including job placement rates and alumni satisfaction. Reach out to current students or alumni for insights into their experiences. Ultimately, select a program that offers the resources, support, and opportunities necessary to thrive in the field of special education.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine eligibility for federal student loans, grants, and work-study programs. Research scholarships, fellowships, and assistantships offered by the school or external organizations. Explore tuition reimbursement programs through employers or government agencies. Consider part-time work or internships in the field to gain experience and offset costs. Create a budget to manage expenses and prioritize financial aid options that minimize student debt. By leveraging available resources and planning ahead, you can make earning your degree more financially manageable.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs

Best Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs_2024 badge
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Vanderbilt Peabody College
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JHU School of Education
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The College of New Jersey
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Bank Street Graduate School of Education
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California State University, Los Angeles
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University of St. Thomas
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University of Washington
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CUNY Hunter College
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Gonzaga University
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George Mason University
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CUNY Brooklyn College
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California Lutheran University
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Rhode Island College
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Syracuse University
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Fordham University
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University of Scranton
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Northeastern Illinois University
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Touro College
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CUNY College of Staten Island
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CUNY City College
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Boston University
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Lehman College
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CUNY Queens College
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University of Minnesota
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Concordia University Chicago
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National University
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University of Wisconsin - Madison
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PennState College of Education
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California State University, Long Beach
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University of Texas at Austin
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University at Albany
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California State University Northridge
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University of Georgia
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Binghamton University
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Wisconsin Lutheran College
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Towson University
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Notre Dame de Namur University
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Minot State University
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University of Missouri
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Winona State University
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St. Thomas Aquinas College
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University of Colorado Denver

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How we rank schools

We reviewed master’s in special education programs offered on campus, online, and in hybrid formats. While ranking schools on many factors, we particularly looked for programs that provided a well-rounded education and opportunities for specialized concentrations, internships, and student teaching experiences in the field.

Another main focus was on master’s degree programs recognized by well-known accrediting agencies such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). All programs listed meet rigorous standards for curriculum quality and success in turning out well-prepared professionals. For prospective special education teachers, choosing an accredited degree program is crucial when applying for financial aid, transfer credits, certification exams, and employment.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Special Education Degree Program?

A master’s in special education offers prospective students a comprehensive education in understanding and addressing the unique needs of students with cognitive and physical challenges. Students can expect to learn about disabilities, assessment techniques, Individualized Education Program (IEP) development, behavior management strategies, and inclusive teaching practices.

The program typically takes one to two years to complete, depending on factors such as full-time or part-time enrollment and prior coursework. Some programs may require students to complete in-person practicum experiences, student teaching placements, or residencies to gain hands-on experience working with students with disabilities. Students may have the opportunity to specialize in areas such as autism spectrum disorders or learning disabilities. Prospective students should review program requirements carefully to ensure they align with their career goals and preferences for experiential learning opportunities.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in special education degree program

  • Foundations of Special Education. Provides an overview of the historical, legal, and theoretical foundations of special education, examining key legislation, policies, and ethical considerations. Students learn about the diverse needs of students with disabilities and explore strategies for promoting inclusion and equity in educational settings.
  • Assessment and Evaluation in Special Education. Focuses on principles and practices of assessing students with disabilities, including formal and informal assessment methods, data collection techniques, and interpretation of assessment results. Students learn to use assessment data to develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and make informed instructional decisions to support student learning and progress.
  • Behavior Management and Positive Behavior Support. Explores theories and strategies for managing challenging behaviors and promoting positive behavior support in students with disabilities. Students learn about functional behavior assessment, behavior intervention planning, and evidence-based practices for addressing behavioral challenges in educational settings.
  • Differentiated Instruction and Universal Design for Learning. Examines instructional strategies and accommodations to meet the diverse learning needs of students with disabilities. Students learn about universal design for learning (UDL) principles, differentiated instruction techniques, and assistive technology tools to create inclusive and accessible learning environments for all students.
  • Collaboration and Consultation in Special Education. Focuses on building effective partnerships between special education professionals, general education teachers, families, and community stakeholders. Students learn communication skills, conflict resolution strategies, and collaborative problem-solving techniques to promote successful collaboration and support student outcomes.

Master’s in Special Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in special education degree program?

To apply to a master’s program, gather required documents such as transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement outlining your passion for special education. Some programs may require GRE scores or proof of teaching experience. Complete the online application form and submit all materials by the specified deadline. If possible, discuss program-specific requirements with an admissions counselor before applying to ensure you meet all criteria. Admissions counselors can provide valuable guidance and support throughout the application process, helping you present your qualifications effectively and increase your chances of admission.

How much does a master's in special education degree cost?

The cost of a master’s in special education varies widely depending on factors like institution, program format, and location. On average, tuition ranges from $12,000 to $30,000, as reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. Students should also budget for additional expenses such as textbooks, technology fees, and living expenses. Online programs may offer flexibility, but they can have similar tuition costs along with potential technology or online learning platform fees.

How long does it take to earn a master's in special education degree?

Generally, full-time students can complete a master’s program in one to two years, while part-time students may take longer. Online programs may offer flexibility but can have similar completion times as on-campus programs. However, some online programs may offer accelerated options, while others offer asynchronous classes that allow students to take courses as their time permits. The total number of required credits also impacts program length, with some programs requiring more credits for completion. Prospective students should consider their schedule, career goals, and program requirements when choosing between full-time or part-time enrollment.