America depends on its special education teachers. According to The National Education Association, 14% of public school schools across the country offer special education services to more than 7 million students. Earning your master’s degree in Special Education online can prepare you to serve students in as few as two years. The skills learned in these degree programs also qualify graduates to work in several professions. This comprehensive guide is designed to cover the kinds of degrees you can earn. There are rankings of the best programs and the most affordable ones. And we’ll show you the financial aid assistance to help you complete the degree.

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Best Online Masters in Special Education

What goes into the academic quality of an online Master’s degree in Special Education? In evaluating the best special education schools, we used a formula that ranks things like tuition, faculty expertise, graduation rates, and employment outcomes. Here are the rankings of the best available programs.

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
University of Florida
Tigert Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611
James Madison University
800 South Main Street, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807
Texas A&M University
JKW Administration Building, Suite 200, College Station, Texas 77843
North Carolina State University, Raleigh
2101 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695
Purdue University
Hovde Hall of Administration, West Lafayette, Indiana 47907
University of Washington
1400 NE Campus Parkway, Seattle, Washington 98195
Saint Joseph’s University
5600 City Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19131
Michigan State University
East Lansing, Michigan 48824
George Washington University
1918 F Street, NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20052
Loyola Marymount University
One Lmu Drive, Los Angeles, California 90045
University of Alabama
739 University Blvd, Tuscaloosa, Alabama 35487
George Mason University
4400 University Dr, Fairfax, Virginia 22030
Ball State University
2000 University Ave, Muncie, Indiana 47306
University of Arkansas
Administration Bldg 425, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
Florida International University
11200 S. W. 8 Street, Miami, Florida 33199
Texas Tech University
Broadway and University Avenue, Lubbock, Texas 79409
Brandman University
16355 Laguna Canyon Road, Irvine, California 92618
Drexel University
3141 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104
Mississippi College
200 South Capitol Street, Clinton, Mississippi 39058
Western Governors University
4001 South 700 East Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84107

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Most Affordable Online Masters in Special Education

Affordability is among students’ major concerns in choosing a program. To help you decide on the affordable online master’s degree in Special Education, we evaluated universities based on total tuition costs. Then we ranked the most-affordable programs.

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
Fitchburg State University
160 Pearl St, Fitchburg, Massachusetts 01420
Albany State University
504 College Drive, Albany, Georgia 31705
University of the Cumberlands
6191 College Station Drive, Williamsburg, Kentucky 40769
Valdosta State University
1500 N Patterson St, Valdosta, Georgia 31698
Texas Woman’s University
304 Administration Dr, Denton, Texas 76204
Eastern New Mexico University
ENMU Station 2, 1500 S Ave K, Portales, New Mexico 88130
Wichita State University
1845 N. Fairmount, Wichita, Kansas 67260
Northwestern College, IA
101 Seventh St SW, Orange City, Iowa 51041
Columbus State University
4225 University Ave, Columbus, Georgia 31907
University of North Texas
1501 W.Chestnut Ave., Denton, Texas 76203
Lamar University
4400 MLK Blvd, Beaumont, Texas 77705
Western Governors University
4001 South 700 East Suite 700, Salt Lake City, Utah 84107
Eastern Illinois University
600 Lincoln Avenue, Charleston, Illinois 61920
University of Arkansas
Administration Bldg 425, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
Campbellsville University
1 University Dr, Campbellsville, Kentucky 42718
Minot State University
500 University Ave W, Minot, North Dakota 58707
Wilmington University
320 Dupont Hwy, New Castle, Delaware 19720
Buena Vista University
610 W 4th St, Storm Lake, Iowa 50588
University of Florida
Tigert Hall, Gainesville, Florida 32611
Brandman University
16355 Laguna Canyon Road, Irvine, California 92618

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Understanding Masters in Special Education Programs

Students need to understand that many universities offer masters in special education online programs. But not all programs are the same. In this section, let us dig deep into these programs, understand the full details.

Masters in Special Education Online Degree Types

There are three types of online master’s degrees in Special Education. The one that’s best for you depends on whether you plan to move on to a doctorate program or if you prefer to remain as a special education teacher/administrator. Let’s examine the distinctions between the three:

MA Special Education

The online MA in Special Education prepares teachers for certifications to work with students. This degree may require a final project since the MA focus is on the humanities curriculum. It is designed for teachers who do not plan to enter a doctoral program as a terminal degree.

M Ed Special Education

The Masters in Special Education online is designed for licensed teachers, early childhood teachers, and school administrators who want to focus on the Special Ed field.  Licensed teachers can advance to roles as special education administrators, assessment specialists, and case managers. There are also MEd. in Special Education K-12 programs that enable students to earn their teacher license with an endorsement in special education.

MS in Special Education Online

The online MS in Special Education prepares students as special education teachers. Programs may be offered as master’s degrees with certification, without certification, or degree only. Students may choose programs requiring a thesis or those that do not.  The MS is not a terminal degree and is a suitable choice for students who plan to earn a doctorate.

Specializations in Masters in Special Education Online Programs

Special education is a sub-concentration of Education Masters Degrees. Within the Masters in Special Education online curriculum, some concentrations prepare students to work in specialized niches in the field.

Applied Behavior SpecialistThis concentration is for those who plan to perform therapeutic interventions related to autism disabilities. Students with autism require help with reading, completing classwork, practicing good hygiene, and more.
DiagnosticianThe online master’s degree in Special Education is for those planning to be a certified diagnostician. Diagnosticians employ a curriculum-based assessment using standardized tests. Grad students learn how to administer and interpret tests such as the Stanford Binet V, WIAT, WISC-IV, and WJ-COg.
Early Childhood Specialist  The online Masters in Special Education in Early childhood is for you if you plan to work with infants and preschoolers. The concentration focuses on early childhood assessment,  developmental psychology, and classroom strategies.
Autistic Spectrum Disorders  The ASD concentration is for teachers who plan to work with students with autism. Coursework emphasizes assessments, behavioral interventions, birth to age 21 coverage from mild to severe disorders.

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Curriculum and Skills Gained in Masters in Special Education Online Programs

Special education courses build the foundation of skills necessary to work in a therapeutic relationship with disabled K-12 students. Some children may be difficult to work with. Some may reject your help entirely.  But rest assured, you’ll be trained to handle these and other concerns. Here are examples of the skill set required for success and the special education courses that build your abilities:

CommunicationPublic Speaking, Introduction to Interpersonal Communication, Voice and Diction.
Behavior AnalysisBehavioral Assessment, Regulation of Behavior, Research Design, Behavioral Intervention
Critical ThinkingCritical Thinking Skills for the Professional, Fundamentals of Critical Thinking & the Art of Instruction, Critical Thinking and Assessment  
PsychologyEducational Psychology, Female Studies in Psychology, Suicide Prevention, Risk Assessment, and Intervention, Psychology, and Sociology of Diverse Populations  
Leadership Skills  Facilitating Improvements in Instruction and Student Learning, Calming Nature, Organization.  

Accreditation for Masters in Special Education Online Programs

Employers and licensing organizations require students to graduate from accredited online master’s programs in special education. Voluntary accreditation assures that your university meets academic quality and standards for the profession. Graduate students are only eligible for federal financial aid programs if they’re attending an accredited university.

National accreditations come from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).  Students should look for accreditation from one of the below six regional commissions:

For detailed information, visit our Accreditation Page.

Timeline for graduation from Masters in Special Education Online Programs

The time you take your first class to when you graduate from a Masters of Special Education online typically takes from one to two years. But many factors influence the timeline. The number of total credits required for the degree affects the length of the program. So does the amount of classes you’re allowed to take each semester. But mainly, it’s up to you. If you attend on a full-time basis, the time to graduate is quicker than for part-time students. The program’s length also depends on whether you hold a bachelor’s degree in an education field. If not, you may have to take prerequisites, further extending the timeline.  There are accelerated programs too that can be completed sooner.

Masters in Special Education Online Programs Admission Requirements

Requirements for admission to a Masters in Special Education program are established by each university grad school and their education department. Typically, you’ll need to have completed a bachelor’s or masters in education. Before applying to any program, you’re encouraged to study the university admission requirements and all requirements set by the Masters in Special Education program. And start rounding up your support documents and educational records well ahead of the application deadline. Here is a list of the most-common admissions requirements for an Online Masters in Special Education:

Baccalaureate degree from an accredited institutionApplicants must have completed the degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Official transcriptsEach school that you attended must provide official transcripts that show your undergrad GPA and relevant courses.
Letters of recommendationThe number of required letters varies by program but are typically two or three. Applicants should gather letters from former professors or administrators where they currently teach.
Evidence of experienceYou may be required to demonstrate your teaching experience. This may be covered in your letters of recommendation.
GRE scoresThe graduate school may require GRE for admissions. Some universities do not require the test. Be sure to read admissions requirements for your prospective universities. Click for more information about GRE.

How to Pay for Masters in Special Education Online Programs

According to Franklin University’s research, master’s degree tuition totals from  $30,000 – $40,000 for a public college. Read more about the cost of master’s degrees. Prestigious private universities may charge $100,000 or more. Grad school borrowing is an option, provided you have a means for repaying your loans. n Microsoft Money found the average master’s degree school debt is $66,000 per graduate. To apply for assistance, you must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) online. Here are financial resources to look into for financial aid:

Federal Loans

Graduate subsidized loans are available from the Department of Education. The William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program provides unsubsidized grad school loans up to $20,500 per year.  Direct PLUS Loans are for students with tuition greater than Ford Loans permit.


The Federal Pell Grant is for students enrolled in a post-baccalaureate teacher certification program. Amounts vary, but grants do not require repayment. There are grants from each state for teachers. To find out the details,contact your state department of education. TEACH Grants to offer up to $3,772 per year to students enrolled in graduate teaching programs.

Federal Work-Study

Your university may offer student teaching assistantships. There is also a federal program for students to undertake a part-time job related to their education.

Find detailed information on how to pay for your degree on the Best Financial Guide.

Scholarships for Online Special Education Students

Scholarships are available for students in a Masters in Special Education online programand do not require repayment. They are awarded based on academic merit or potential and come from universities, special education associations, foundations, and your university education department. Here’s a sample of scholarships for grad students pursuing their Masters in Special Education online:

Bishop Charles P. Greco Graduate Fellowships

Sponsored by The Knights of Columbus, the $500 per semester scholarships are granted to full-time special education master’s students. Special consideration is given to students enrolled in Catholic graduate school. Check for submission deadlines at the fellowship website.

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program

The Gates scholarships are for African American, American Indian/Alaska Natives, and Asian Pacific Islander Americans enrolled in a graduate education degree program. Up to 1,000 scholars are selected annually. The average annual award is 12,785.

Click here

to contact the foundation for application deadlines and other information.

Save a Life Scholarship

Offered twice a year, the $1,500 scholarship is granted by the American Academy of CPR And First Aid to assist school teachers. Applicants must submit essays on their career goals and their plans to advance their education. Application deadlines are accepted in May of each year.’s “Inspire Our Future” $500 Scholarship

This scholarship is open to experienced teachers pursuing their education or a teacher candidate. You can apply for the scholarship by writing an essay in response to a question. Applications must be completed by April 1 each year.

FAQs about Masters in Special Education Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What can you do with a Master’s in Special Education?

Once you have earned your license, you can work with the mentally or physically disabled in the classroom. With experience, you can advance to a role as special education coordinator or behavioral and career counselor.

How long does it take to get an online Master’s degree in Special Education?

How many credits for a master’s degree in special education?

Why complete a Master’s degree in Special Education?

What can you do with a Special Education Masters degree?

Why choose an online Master’s in Special Education?

Careers and Salary Outlook for Masters in Special Education Online Graduates

Online Masters in Special Education programs are designed to give the students the broadest career options in the field.  With experience, you’ll earn more. For example, wages at the low end of the scale for special education teachers are $40,730. At the pinnacle of the profession, special education teachers earn as much as $98,530.  The choice of related careers is extensive. We’ve examined a few options to give you an idea of what’s available.

OccupationMedian Annual SalariesGrowth Rate (2019 to 2029)Job Description
Special Education Teachers  $61,0308%Special education teachers address mental or physical learning disabilities in the classroom. They develop and personalize treatments for each student.
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals  $96,4004%K-12 principals help plan, coordinate and manage teacher standards, oversee student discipline, and work with the public.
Instructional Coordinators$66,2906%Instructional Coordinators plan, develop and oversee curriculum in concert with teachers and administrators.
School and Career Counselors  $57,0408%These counselors work with disabled students to improve their academic habits and develop effective social skills. They also help students make informed career choices.
Occupational Therapists$84,95016%Occupational therapists assess student disabilities and develop daily activities that help students with developmental and/or physical issues function in their school environment.

Certifications and Licensing for Master in Special Education Online Graduates

In many states, certifications and licensing are interchangeable credentials for teaching special education. Since each state sets its standards for licensing, be sure to examine the requirements in your state. As an option, universities are offering an online Masters in Education with Licensure. Here’s what you need to be approved for working with disabled students:

Earn an initial teachers’ license

The first step in getting licensed as a special education teacher is to hold a mandatory regular teaching license.  K-12 teachers are expected to be licensed in the subject that they teach.

Earn your Special Education license

The special education license is designed for current teachers who want to move into special education to work with children. Special education teachers may advance to the elementary, middle, and high school principals and instructional coordinators with experience. You can complete university programs that offer that lead to special education licensure online. Vanderbilt University has a guide to special ed licensing requirements for each state.

Additional Resources for Masters in Special Education Online Professionals

Governmental and special education associations are indispensable resources for online Masters in Special Education students and teachers who are already in the profession. Some organizations require memberships; many offer free resources. Joining an organization opens doors to news and research findings, along with invaluable networking opportunities with experts and fellow educators. You’ll find teaching guides, curriculum samples, and materials for use in the classroom. Here are some resources to consider:

  • The National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET): The National Association of Special Education Teachers is a national membership organization serving special education teachers and those enrolled in a Masters in Special Education online degree program. Members receive a monthly journal and access to professional development courses.
  • The National Education Association (NEA): The NEA serves more than 3 million educators in 14,000 American communities. Implementing the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the NEA is committed to providing resources to students pursuing a Masters in Special Education online.
  • LD Online: OnLine provides learning disability educators and students with active forums, articles, multimedia, columns by LD experts, a resource guide, LD books, and a research database. You can research federal and state resources.
  • The Education Commission of the States: You’ll find information about special education news, state laws, and research results. Members network with special education teachers locally and across the country.
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