Why This Matters


    Approximately one in six children aged 3 to 17 is diagnosed with a disability, such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, cerebral palsy, hearing loss, or vision impairment.


    Because disabilities in children are being identified earlier, the demand for preschool special education teachers is projected to grow much faster than average over the next decade.


    In 2019, the median annual salary for special education teachers was $61,710. The highest 10% of instructors in the field earn more than $98,530 per year, with many working a traditional ten-month school year.

Our Research

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) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). 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.

  • 68 hours to write this article
  • 206 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 245 education programs we compared

The Top 38 Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs

Best Master's in Special Education Degree Programs
loader Image

What You Should Know About This Degree

Master’s in special education degree programs are designed for both current teachers and aspiring ones. Candidates who already have experience in the classroom may wish to advance to a leadership position, jump to a higher pay grade, or expand their knowledge and skills. Other candidates might be seeking a career change and entering the teaching profession for the first time.

Whichever path you choose, a master’s in special education provides highly specialized training to help you support students with a wide range of learning, emotional, or physical disabilities. Compared with a master’s of arts in teaching (MAT), a master’s in special education focuses more intently on inclusive teaching strategies and special education classroom management. Some schools also offer tracks and certifications in specific areas of special education, such as autism spectrum disorder, social, emotional, and behavioral wellness, or reading.

The job outlook for graduates with a master’s degree in special education is positive. With many states reporting a shortage of highly qualified special education teachers, you can help fill a critical need. Career options in this field include but aren’t limited to primary classroom instructor, special education specialist, educational diagnostician, and rehabilitation counselor.

What’s Next?

Here are a couple of questions to ask when researching master’s in special education degree programs:

  • What licensing or certifications are required? A master’s in special education degree prepares you for licensure (or certification), which is required in all states. Though requirements vary, most states ask for a minimum GPA, completion of a student teaching program, passing a certification exam, and a background check. Teachers at private schools typically don’t need to be licensed.
  • Am I eligible for this program? Specific prerequisites may vary by school, but a standard requirement is that you already possess a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Certain programs are ideal for current teachers who wish to advance their knowledge, while others might be better suited for career changers who have a bachelor’s degree in a completely different discipline.

You can usually find more detailed information about specific requirements for new applicants by researching each school’s website. As you narrow down your top choices, keep track of application deadlines and consider contacting the admissions office to express your interest. For the highest chance of acceptance, apply as early as possible and make sure you have submitted all required materials, including transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation.

For more information about financing your master’s in special education, reach out to the school’s office of financial aid. They can help you navigate the process of applying for flexible, low-interest federal loans and regional grants and scholarships for students pursuing a degree in education.