Why This Matters

  • 80% OF STATES NEED NEW SPECIAL ED TEACHERS

    From 1998-2018, multiple states throughout the U.S., including California, Florida, New York and Texas, experienced chronic shortages of special education teachers, more than any other type of educator.

  • AUTISM DIAGNOSES INCREASED BY 15% IN 2018

    Working with students with Autism Spectrum Disorder is one of the many in-demand specialization areas within special education, along with blindness/visual impairments, emotional/behavioral disorders, and early childhood education.

  • DEMAND WILL GROW 8% IN THE NEXT DECADE

    Special education teachers are needed for all age groups. However, the need is highest – up 11% by 2026 – for teachers in preschool settings, thanks to earlier detection and diagnosis of learning and developmental disabilities.

Our Research

The most common master’s degrees for special education are a Master of Arts in Teaching or a Master of Education. Our list includes both types of programs. The two degree types are different in their approaches to advanced teaching skills, but both will prepare you for working with special needs students.

In addition to regional accreditation, education programs may also be accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. This accreditation ensures that the education program meets high standards of quality, and that your state’s licensure board will accept your coursework when you apply for a teaching license.

Our list includes programs that are offered online, in-person, and in hybrid formats.

Once we selected our top special education programs, we evaluated their reputation, course strength, flexibility and cost, and calculated their Intelligent Score on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best master’s in special education programs are respected, affordable, and customizable. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 72 hours to write this article
  • 143 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 394 education programs we compared

The Top 50 Master’s Degrees in Special Education

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What You Should Know About This Degree

Despite the urgent need for more special education teachers, there are a few important points to consider before pursuing this degree.

You will likely need daytime availability at some point during the program. Although each state sets its own requirements, some type of fieldwork, such as student teaching, is common in special education programs. Individuals who are already teachers may be able to use their regular work hours to fulfill these requirements. However, if you have no prior teaching experience, you will likely need to spend at least one semester in a classroom during daytime hours, so it’s important to consider how this time commitment will fit into your schedule and lifestyle.

Working with and advocating for special needs students can be very rewarding, but special education teachers should also be prepared for responsibilities that go beyond common classroom duties. Special education teachers develop and implement Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for each student in their classroom, and meet regularly with students, parents and other staff to discuss progress and make adjustments. Additionally, working with students with physical disabilities or emotional/behavioral disorders can be physically, mentally and emotionally taxing. Compassion, calmness, organization and the ability to juggle multiple tasks are key qualities for special education teachers.

What’s Next?

Here are some questions to ask when researching Masters Special Education programs:

  • Am I eligible for this program? Some master’s programs in special education require students to have an undergraduate degree in education, and/or professional teaching experience. When researching programs, be sure to look at their eligibility requirements to confirm that you have the necessary educational and professional background.
  • Will I be eligible for licensure after completing this program? As mentioned above, the requirements and procedures for teaching licensure vary by state. If you are planning to obtain a teaching license after completing your master’s program, it’s important to select a program that will make you eligible for licensure in the state in which you plan to teach.

You should also research the application requirements and deadlines for the programs to which you plan to apply. This can make your admissions process easier and less stressful. This information is typically available on the school’s website, or you can contact the admissions department directly.

Financing your graduate education is another important consideration. Some employers provide tuition assistance for employees who are going back to school. You should also look into loans, scholarships, and assistantships.