What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Special Education Program?

In an online master’s in special education program, students can expect to receive the same level of expert instruction and attention to detail as they would while taking on-campus classes. Also, by eliminating the need to commute to campus, online master’s programs make it easier for working special education teachers to find time for their job responsibilities and earning an advanced degree. When choosing an online master’s in special education program, it’s important to carefully consider your options to find the best match for your needs and career goals.

Available concentrations

If you’re interested in a particular aspect of special education, you should look for a program that allows you to focus on this area of concentration. Some of the most common concentration options for a master’s in special education include:

  • Mild-Moderate Disabilities: This concentration qualifies you to teach students with disabilities such as ADHD and dyslexia.
  • Applied Behavior Analysis: Learn the advanced skills needed to develop behavior intervention plans and reduce problem behaviors in children.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: This concentration qualifies special education teachers to work with students diagnosed with autism.

Common degree curriculum

Some online master’s degree programs in special education are delivered entirely online, while others may combine online courses and in-person classes. If you’re considering any schools outside your local area, make sure they’re 100% online before applying. Many online master’s in special education programs usually have a practicum requirement, meaning you’ll need to complete a certain number of hours teaching special education in a public or private school.

While the exact curriculum is going to depend on the school you choose and your area of concentration, there are some foundation topics covered in just about every program, such as:

  • 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

Certification and license preparation

The teaching licensure and certification regulations depend on where you want to work, so you’ll need to research your state’s requirements for special education professionals. Ensure you’ve completed the required coursework and internship hours, supplied appropriate transcripts, and taken any required exams.

Program accreditation

Only apply to schools approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. If your school doesn’t have regional accreditation, you may have trouble accessing financial aid or transferring credits to another institution if needed. Your special education program should also be approved by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

Program completion timeframe

The amount of time it takes to complete an online master’s in special education program will depend on your area of concentration, individual school, and lifestyle. Full-time students can earn their degree in one to three years, while part-time students may need up to five years.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Special Education Graduates

While only a bachelor’s degree is typically required to work as a special education teacher, it should be noted that this occupation isn’t expected to see any growth over the next decade. That means there will likely be a lot of competition for each open position — earning a master’s will help you stand out from other candidates and get hired more quickly.

Also, a master’s degree usually is required to become an instructional coordinator. This occupation offers a slightly higher average salary and projected job growth rate than special education teachers.

Your salary expectations should be adjusted according to where you plan to work. Areas with a higher cost of living tend to offer higher pay. For example, special education teachers in secondary schools make an average income of $97,690 in California but just $49,820 in South Dakota.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate (2022 – 2032)
Special Education Teacher Special education teachers are employed in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, middle, and high school settings. They adapt general education lessons for special education needs and typically teach various subjects, such as reading, writing, and math. $62,950 0%
Instructional Coordinator In this role, you would help design, implement, and assess the effectiveness of teaching materials and standards for special education students. $66,490 2%

Professional organizations

Building connections with your peers and learning about different instructional approaches are essential for your success as a special education teacher. Professional organizations provide these networking opportunities and allow you to earn continuing education credits. Along with the national organizations for special education professionals listed below, check out local organizations specific to your state or school district.

  • National Association of Special Education Teachers: This organization provides discounts on continuing education courses, an online journal subscription for members, free webinars, and a list of conferences for special education professionals.
  • Council for Exceptional Children: The CEC sets the standard for high-quality education for children with special needs or exceptional characteristics, such as gifted children. It provides information, resources, and professional development opportunities for educators.
  • Autism Society: This Maryland-based organization offers a wealth of academic and scientific resources related to autism spectrum disorders, and many of its 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

Even though online programs are generally more affordable than on-campus programs, you still may need help paying for your degree. Your first step in seeking assistance should be filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to take advantage of federally funded grants and loans. Many state-level agencies and private organizations also offer scholarships for online students.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

With all the options available, it may take some research to make sense of your financial aid situation. The resources listed below will help you figure out how to significantly reduce the cost of your master’s in special education degree.

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Interested in a degree?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.