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Most schools have rolling admissions and financial help so you can start your degree in a few weeks!

Students who graduate with a bachelor’s degree in special education are qualified to pursue careers as K-12 special education teachers, ESE teachers, case workers, social workers, autism center managers, and other related fields. A bachelor’s degree also paves the way for a master’s degree in special education, with possible careers in speech and language pathology.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the median pay for special education teachers in 2021 was $61,820, while social workers made an average annual salary of $50,390. In the 2021-22 academic year, the average tuition was $7,869 for undergraduate students at public universities and $37,095 at private institutions, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. It typically takes four years of full-time study to complete this degree.

How to Choose an Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Program

Choose your area of study

Special education is a broad field, so those pursuing this degree should have some idea of what they’d like to do after graduation. This will allow them to choose a particular area of study. For example, various programs offer concentrations in autism, assistive technology, early childhood, K-5, severe disabilities, visual impairment, communication disorder, and deaf education. Knowing what type of concentration you’re seeking will help you narrow your search to schools and programs that offer it.

Research schools and programs

Once you’ve determined your general career path and chosen an area of study, thoroughly research various schools and programs. Look for those that offer concentrations that align with your future goals.

Some university websites contain detailed information about their degree programs, including admissions requirements, learning format, schedule, curriculum, faculty, etc. Others have few details but provide an electronic form you can fill out to receive more information via email or telephone. Some schools offer or require an internship or field experience, so you should find out what opportunities are available in your area. Furthermore, if you plan to study part-time, you’ll want to find a school that offers this option.

As you do your research, take note of the following factors as well:

  • Is the school accredited? Make sure the institution is accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the Council for the Accreditation of Education Preparation (CAEP). This has a direct effect on the quality of education you’ll receive. It also plays a significant role in your eligibility for both financial aid and other postsecondary programs you apply to in the future; most graduate programs require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. Aside from these considerations, a degree from an accredited school will make it easier to find employment after graduation.
  • What is the cost of the program? Before spending a lot of time researching a program, check the tuition cost. If it’s more than you want to spend, you needn’t read any further. Remember, though, that cost is only one factor, and it should be weighed against other factors in order to find the program that is the best fit for you. The least expensive program isn’t always the right choice.
  • Where is the school located? Although you’ll be doing your coursework online, you may want to take advantage of certain on-campus services, activities, and events. These can include libraries, gyms and fitness centers, job fairs, sporting events and facilities, student clubs and organizations, and more. Plus, if the program is offered only in a hybrid format — requiring you to take some in-person classes — you will need to choose a school that isn’t far from where you live.
  • What is the learning format? Online programs are delivered in three different formats — asynchronous, synchronous, and a combination of both. Asynchronous is best for those who have family or work responsibilities or otherwise can’t adhere to a traditional class schedule. This format allows them to study at times convenient for them. Synchronous learning, on the other hand, requires students to be online at specific times. This format facilitates class discussions and better communication between students and instructors. Some programs are mostly asynchronous but require students to be online for certain live classes or lectures. Choose the format that makes the most sense with your learning preferences and responsibilities.

Prepare for tests and applications

Applicants to bachelor’s programs should have a high school diploma or GED equivalency, and all transcripts should be submitted. Each school has its own minimum GPA requirement; for this degree, 2.0 is fairly common. In addition, some schools require SAT or ACT scores, and the range of acceptable scores varies depending on the institution. One or more letters of recommendation may also be required, which can be obtained from high school teachers and counselors.

Some schools offer rolling admissions, but applications and supporting documents should be submitted by the deadline mentioned on the school’s website. Students whose native language isn’t English will be required to submit test scores showing proficiency in English. Since each university has its own admissions policies and requirements, check each website for details or contact the admissions department.

Select your program

Review your research, carefully considering the pros and cons of each program. This will help you narrow down your choices. Determine which programs you will apply to, list them in order of preference, and apply to them all. When all have responded and you have your acceptance letters, select the program that’s highest on your list.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

During the research process, contact the school’s financial aid office to find out about any institutional aid they offer, such as scholarships and grants. They can also provide assistance with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which schools use to determine student’s eligibility for financial aid, including student loans.

Financing may also be available through the university, and some schools allow students to pay per credit hour as they work through the program. Lower tuition is often available to members of the military or their immediate family members. If you’re employed while enrolled in your degree program, find out if your employer offers tuition assistance benefits, which can help offset the cost of tuition and fees.

Best 50 Accredited Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Programs

Best Online Bachelor's in Special Education Programs Badge

East Carolina University

University of Georgia

Old Dominion University

University of Southern Mississippi

Liberty University

Mayville State University

University of Wisconsin at Stout

Western Governors University

University of West Alabama

St. Petersburg College

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College

Notre Dame College

University of Alaska Southeast

Fontbonne University

Central Methodist University

USC Aiken

Dakota State University

University of Cincinnati

Nova Southeastern University

University of West Georgia

Chadron State College

Colorado Christian University

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How We Rank Schools

The following list features high-ranking schools with programs for obtaining a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Special Education. In a handful of cases, a school gives you the option of obtaining a degree in elementary education with a concentration in special education. Alternatively, a school’s special education program may be offered within its undergraduate psychology program.

Many schools on our list are accredited through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, a governing body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This organization sets a high standard of ethical and academic excellence. In some cases, schools are accredited through smaller organizations such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and the Washington State Professional Educator Standards Board.

What Can You Expect from an Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Program?

Students who earn a bachelor’s degree program in special education learn such skills as curriculum adaptation and development for special needs students, teaching basic literacy and life skills, implementing various disciplinary methods and techniques, and how to advocate for students.

They also receive education regarding the many developmental disabilities they may encounter once they are working in the field. Students will likely participate in a practicum that will give them first-hand experience working with students in a classroom as well.

Colleges and universities use online learning management systems (LMS) such as Canvas, Blackboard, Moodle, and D2L Brightspace to deliver coursework to online students. These systems offer online portals where students can access all course materials, including the syllabus, schedules, assignments, reading and audio/video material, tests, grades, and more. The LMS may also have a message board for posts and announcements and a chat feature that allows students to collaborate and communicate with one another as well as with instructors.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online bachelor’s in special education degree program

  • Special education law and characteristics. This course teaches students about legal and ethical issues related to special education as well as how to document procedures properly. Students learn how to develop individualized programs and effective methods of teaching.
  • Teaching students with language and communication disorders. Students gain a deeper understanding of speech and language development along with a range of problems children encounter in their developmental years. They also learn various intervention and management techniques in this area.
  • Behavior management. In this course, students examine how to manage behavior and promote target behaviors in both an individual and classroom setting. They learn how to create a safe, inclusive environment, emphasizing individual well-being and positive social interactions.
  • Teaching students with exceptionalities. This course examines specialized curricula and practices for teaching students with such exceptionalities as learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and intellectual disabilities. Those in this course learn to analyze and evaluate resources and adapt them for individual instruction, tailoring material to learners with special needs.

Online Bachelor’s in Special Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online bachelor’s in special education degree program?

Applications can be submitted online through the school’s website. Supporting documents can be uploaded as well. Many schools accept the Common Application, which allows those applying to bachelor’s programs to apply to multiple schools at once; this eliminates the time-consuming task of filling out a separate application for each school. Be sure to check for submission deadlines. If you’re considering applying to a program, it’s always good to speak with an admissions counselor first.

How much does an online bachelor’s in special education degree program cost?

An online bachelor’s in special education can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $82,000, plus additional expenses for technology and software, supplies, and books. Tuition will vary based on whether students attend a public or private institution and whether the school charges different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Online degrees can save students money, as they don’t have to pay for transportation, parking, and on-campus activities fees.

How long does it take to earn an online bachelor’s in special education degree?

A bachelor’s in special education requires a minimum of 120 credit hours, which full-time students typically complete in four years. Part-time students need an additional year or two.

Some institutions offer accelerated programs where students can finish in less time. Those who already have associate’s degrees may be able to transfer credits and complete their bachelor’s degrees in two years. Some universities allow as many as 90 credits to be transferred, with students only needing to take upper-division courses to complete the program.

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