The field of education is broad and challenging, with teachers facing new challenges in the classroom – as well as outside of it – every single day. Special education teachers must be some of the most talented, dedicated professionals, as they are required to help young people at all levels of abilities. To be a special education teacher, you must be passionate, committed, and most of all, compassionate.
While a graduate degree in Special Education can’t necessarily instill these critical skills in you, it can teach the strategies necessary to offer quality instruction. If you’re already working in the field, you likely already know that you need an advanced degree to hone your skills and to make you a more competent educator. That being said, it can be challenging – if not impossible – to leave your current job to obtain further education.
That’s why an online Master’s in Special Education could be the opportunity you’ve been hoping for. An online degree will help lead you toward potential state certification, as well as toward being a better overall teacher. Best yet, you won’t need to leave your current job to advance your training in special education – you can earn a degree right from the comfort of your own home, long after the school day has ended.
If you’re a licensed teacher working with children with special needs, we know how busy you are. Your occupation is not just a job – it’s a rewarding career to which you should be devoting your utmost attention. You don’t have time to search through the many schools that offer online degrees in Special Education.
You’re in luck – we’ve done it for you. We evaluated the most important features a college degree should have, and then compiled a list of the Best Online Master’s in Special Education. To make the final cut, a school could be either private or public but did need to be offering an online degree that was currently enrolling and graduating teachers.
Once we made a list of the top online Master’s in Special Education, we then narrowed our list to schools that were the best of the best. We closely examined the following attributes when creating our final cut:
Accolades and Program Recognitions
Affordability and Overall Cost
While these weren’t the only factors we examined, these were the most important in our final decision-making process. If you want to learn more about how we made our final selection, take a look at our methodology page.
Texas A&M offers both a Master of Education and a Master of Science in Special Education, with pathways available for individuals with or without backgrounds in Special Education. Teaching certificates are not required for admission. The program allows self-motivated students to complete their studies in less than two years before moving on to rewarding careers as educators, coaches, administrators, therapists, counselors, and more. Thirty-six total credit hours are required, with core coursework required in topics like Single Case Research, Assessment in School Settings, Bilingual Special Education, and Adolescent Literacy for Students with Diverse Instructional Needs.
The Master of Science in Education in Special Education includes a number of practical experiences, allowing students to hone their skills in assessment, instructional development, and evidence-based assessments. Students can graduate in as few as 20 months after acquiring the skills necessary to plan, administer, and evaluate special education curricula. The degree is offered in several formats, including those with initial special education licensure, additional special education licensures, and licensures in intensive intervention only. The program is one of the few that is aligned with edTPA, allowing students to meet state and national standards through completing these online-only courses.
The Master of Science in Education in Special Education is available for licensed elementary and secondary educators as an additional certification. Students are placed into a collaborative cohort of students who work together as they innovate and explore trends in classroom education. A number of specialty tracks are available, including those in Autism, Early Childhood, Instructional Strategies, Intense Interventions, and Behavior Specialists. Students receive highly individualized instruction during field-based learning experiences, giving them the opportunity to hone their skills in a real-world setting. A number of financial aid opportunities are available, including tuition reimbursement, tuition assistance, military discounts, fellowships, and travel awards.
All classes in the Master of Education in Special Education at the University of Arkansas are delivered asynchronously through Blackboard Learn, allowing most students to earn a degree in less than two years. It is designed for individuals with active teaching licenses and prepares them for higher-level leadership roles. Sample classes include those in Life-Span Human Development, Psychological Concepts of Teaching and Learning, and more. The school also offers additional certificates in topics like Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dyslexia Therapy, Educational Examiner, and Applied Behavior Analysis. The online program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and the Council for Exceptional Children.
The Master of Arts in Special Education at Michigan State University prepares practicing K-12 teachers for leadership roles in and out of the classroom. The curriculum incorporates research-based strategies and is delivered asynchronously over the course of two years. Roughly 33 credit hours are required, with core coursework in topics such as Collaboration and Consultation in Special Education and Behavior Management in the Inclusive Classroom. Students can pursue concentrations in one of two emphasis areas, including Autism Spectrum Disorders or Learning Disabilities. An additional certificate is available in Applied Behavior Analysis. Guided practice experiences are also required, and can be carried out at an organization in the student's local community.
Ball State University offers an online Master's in Special Education that is at the forefront of cutting-edge teaching technologies and techniques. They offer some of the best student services and technology, utilizing an interdisciplinary approach to all subject areas. The Master of Arts in Special Education is designed for students from all backgrounds, including those without experience in education. All courses are facilitated via Blackboard in an asynchronous format. Students can customize their studies to fit their career goals, with 30 total credits required. Additional graduate certificates are available in topics like Applied Behavior Analysis, Autism, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, Disabilities for Postsecondary Settings, and more.
West Virginia University is a large public university that has offered quality online programs for many years. Students are required to complete field and practicum experiences, all of which can be arranged in the student's home community. The university offers online programs through a Secure OnLine Environment, which makes the online program cohesive and streamlined for all students. Distance learners have access to six different concentrations, including those in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Gifted Education, Multicategorical Special Education, and more. Regardless of residency, all online students pay in-state tuition rates. The university is ranked as one of the top 100 public universities by U.S. News and World Report.
The University of Arizona is a public research university and employs cutting-edge research methods to ensure that all students are at the forefront of educational service. The Master of Arts in Special Education offers three different concentrations, all entirely online. Students can choose between Behavioral Support, Disabilities, or Deaf and Hard of hearing to enhance their studies. The programs are ideal for teachers who are already licensed and offer an additional opportunity to emphasize even further in areas like Sensory Impairment and Challenging Behavior. Regardless of the concentration chosen, all degree emphasis areas require 36 units to graduate. The school is ranked as one of U.S. News and World Report's Best Education schools.
The Master of Arts in Teaching in Special Education at North Carolina State University integrates theory and practice. Students complete classes in both synchronous and asynchronous formats, all of which are delivered through the WolfWare platform. No past teaching licensure or experience is required. Students are also required to complete hands-on practicum experiences via internships and student teaching. Thirty-three total credit hours are required, with core courses in topics like Resource Teaching in Special Education and Organization and Behavioral Management for Inclusive Classrooms. No thesis is required, with students instead required to complete a number of cumulative examinations.
The Master of Science in Education at the University of Kansas is offered with a concentration in Special Education. It is taught by world-renowned faculty members who are active advocates for people with disabilities. The program requires 36 credit hours of study, along with an intensive field placement. Additional tracks are available in Secondary Special Education and Transition as well as in High Incidence Disabilities. Regardless of the concentration chosen, students will take classes in areas like Family and Interprofessional Collaboration, Language and Communication and Autism Spectrum Disorders. All programs can be completed in less than two years, with tuition starting at less than $600 per credit hour.
Texas Tech offers over 100 different graduate degree programs, all of which are designed around the needs of busy employed professionals. The Master of Education in Special Education at Texas Tech University is offered online through the eLearning and Academic Partnerships division. Students can pursue multiple concentrations, including those in Autism, Deaf Education, Generic Special Education, Transition, Visual Impairment, Orientation and Mobility, Educational Diagnostician, and Applied Behavioral Analysis. Regardless of the concentration chosen, 36 credit hours are required to graduate. Students will take about six credits worth of foundational requirements, with a final master's thesis or comprehensive evaluation examination required. All classes are offered through the Blackboard Learn 9.1 and Worldwide eLearning platform.
Western Carolina University was founded as a teachers college and continues to offer exceptional education programs to this day. The university offers both a Master of Education and a Master's of Teaching in Special Education. The Master's of Education requires 30 to 33 credit hours of study, including a final professional portfolio, while the Master's of Teaching requires 42 credit hours and a professional portfolio. Tuition is incredibly affordable, starting at less than $250 for state residents. Additional discounts are available for active military members and their dependents as well. For students seeking additional education in the field, the university also offers an Intellectually Gifted licensure program.
Western Governors University is a non-profit, online-only college. This university offers distance education programs that bill by the term instead of the credit, allowing students to take more credits per semester to save money. The Special Education program is student-centered, utilizing a competency-based learning model so that students focus on the subject matters that they need to master before moving on quickly to the next area. Students aren't required to complete a certain number of credit hours but instead required to master certain "competency units." Students will take coursework in key topics like Psychoeducational Assessment Practices and Culturally Responsive Teaching. All students are organized in program communities made up of fellow students and academic and industry mentors to help enhance their experience as they move through the coursework.
The University of Nebraska - Lincoln offers two distinct Special Education programs. The Master of Arts includes a thesis and non-thesis track, as well as the ability to pursue a minor topic. The Master of Education requires no thesis and consists of 36 credits, making it ideal for experienced teachers. All students will take classes in core areas like Collaborative Teaching Practices and Classroom Management. Additional endorsements exist in areas like Early Childhood Special Education, Early Intervention Specialist, Preschool Disabilities, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education, and Visual Impairments. Individual seeking certification must complete a seven-week practicum, which can be completed in the student's hometown.
The Master of Education in Special Education at the University of North Dakota is designed for students without a background in education. Thirty-two total credits are required or degree completion, with all courses focusing on mild to moderate disabilities. The program offers multiple specializations, including those in Autism Spectrum Disorders, Gifted and Talented, Intellectual Disabilities, and Visual Impairment, among others. The University of North Dakota is ranked as one of the top 100 public universities by U.S. News and World Report. All students pay low tuition regardless of residency, with rates starting at just $266.16 per credit hour.
The Master of Education in Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte is offered with specializations in Academically or Intellectually Gifted instruction. It prepares students to meet the diverse needs of students with disabilities. All courses are offered entirely online and in an asynchronous format. Most students can earn a degree in less than two years by pursuing 33 total credit hours of study. The university offers an alternative Master of Teaching degree that includes a practicum, allowing students to gain access to full-time teaching opportunities and academic research. All students, regardless of the pathway chosen, complete culminating projects and coursework in academic theory and development.
The Master of Science in Education in Special Education at Old Dominion University exposes students to the advanced instructional strategies and foundational understandings necessary for success in special education. Thirty credit hours are required, with extensive coursework in topics like Characteristic and Medical Aspects of Disabling Conditions. All students are required to complete hands-on experience as well as in-depth research projects. Online students receive the same resources they would receive if they were studying on-campus, including technical, academic, and career support. Tuition is affordable, costing students less than $500 per credit hour depending on residency.
The Master of Arts in Special Education at the University of Missouri - Columbia is offered with an emphasis in general, special education. Students engage in in-depth research and learn how to deliver quality behavioral interventions. Graduates are prepared to work as child psychologists, administrators, as well as classroom instructors. The program requires no on-campus residency, with 33 credit hours required. Students can choose from a number of personalization options through various credits, with each carried out under the guidance of a respected faculty advisor. Before graduating, each student is also required to complete a thesis or capstone project.
The remote program in Special Education at the University of Cincinnati allow students to earn a degree in less than two years. Most students pursue leadership positions in K-12 education upon graduation. All courses are offered via an asynchronous format through the Blackboard learning system. Courses are fourteen-weeks in length and cover topics such as Applied Behavior Analysis and Transition Strategies for Individuals with Disabilities. Students also receive training in advanced research methods and literature reviews. Four different concentrations are available, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Transition to Work, Behavior Disorder, and Advanced Studies. Each student is awarded a personal enrollment advisor and access to exceptional student support services.
The Master of Education in Special Education at the University of Washington is offered with a specialization in Applied Behavior Analysis. Candidates learn how to teach students with moderate to severe disabilities, incorporating theories about instructing students with autism, key behavioral principles, and behavioral measurements and assessments. All students are required to complete an intensive practicum in the remote setting of their choosing, working about 25 hours a week with students who have developmental disabilities. In all, students receive over 750 hours of supervised experience. The program is also offered with an accelerated option, allowing candidates to complete their degree entirely online in less than a year of study.
The curriculum of the Master of Arts in Special Education emphasizes research and experiential learning. Students learn the instructional skills necessary to work with individuals with special needs, benefiting from a hybrid learning structure. The curriculum requires 36 credit hours of study, with core courses including topics like Classroom Management and Special Education Law and Leadership. Multiple concentrations are available, including those in Emotional/Behavioral Disorders, Intellectual Disabilities, and Learning Disabilities. A portfolio and action research project are also required, and although the program does not lead to certification, it provides candidates with exceptional professional enhancement.
The Master of Education in Special Education at George Mason University prepares participants to work with the diverse, multifaceted needs of individuals with special needs. All coursework is available both asynchronously and synchronously and is available entirely through the Blackboard learning system. Most participants can earn their degrees in as little as two years. Thirty credit hours are required, with additional certificates in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Applied Behavioral Analysis available. Regardless of residency, all distance learners pay the same tuition. Transfer credits are accepted from most universities, allowing students to graduate more quickly and at a fraction of the cost of other programs.
As a student at Stephen F. Austin State University, you will have three different degree paths in Special Education available to you. Students can choose between initial teacher certification seeking, non-teacher certification seeking, and even Educational Diagnostician certification. Most programs require 27 credit hours to graduate, with core classes in topics like The Educational Diagnostician and Physical/Health Impairments forming the cornerstone of the program's curriculum. Students learn how to assist special populations in any setting while paying affordable tuition rates that are some of the lowest among comparable programs. Depending on residency, students can pay as little as $377 per credit hour.
The Master of Science in Special Education at Saint Joseph's is ideal for certified teachers and Reading Specialists. It offers multiple tracks, including those in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Wilson Reading System. A range of credit hours are required, depending on the track chosen. Regardless, all students are required to complete 24 credit hours of core courses in key topics like Diagnostic Assessment and Progress Monitoring. Students receive access to exceptional support services like 24/7 technical support and student services coordination. Saint Joseph's is ranked eighth overall in the north by U.S. News and World Report. It ranks highly in many of the organization's rankings as well, offering affordable graduate programs that start at just $578 per credit hour.
The online Master of Education Special Education at Mississippi College leads to certification in Special Education Mild/Moderate K-12. Students will take classes such as Curriculum Development and Teaching Students with Moderate Learning Problems. Students also take extensive coursework in reading and psychology, learning how to both diagnose and work with students with exceptionalities. The program offers multiple start dates, allowing students to begin their studies at any time. It is affordable and can be completed in as few as ten months. Upon completing this degree, students are prepared to become academic and spiritual instructors for all students with disabilities.
The Master of Education in Special Education at James Madison University does not prepare students for licensure examinations, but it does allow them to pursue careers as program specialists and behavior specialists. It is ideal for teachers seeking non-teaching careers. Core coursework includes studies in topics like Education and Learning Theories and Practice. Students learn how to address the needs of gifted students, as well as how to examine current trends and problems in special education. No student teaching practicum is required, but all candidates must complete a final portfolio or research project. Additional Special Education programs are available, some with certification and licensure available for candidates who are willing to complete a practicum as well as some on-campus studies.
The Master of Education in Special Education at Oakland University requires 44 credit hours, including 25 core credits in topics like Legal Issues in Special Education. It includes a concentration in Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as a student teaching practicum. Other available concentrations include those in Specific Learning Disability, Emotional Impairment, and a dual option in Specific Learning Disability and Emotional Impairment. All students receive access to exceptional student support services, such as distance learning guides and the famous Kresge Library. Online students pay the same tuition rates as those studying on-campus, with rates starting at $706.25 regardless of residency.
The Master of Education in Special Education at the University of Idaho is offered through the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences. Three different tracks are available. The Master's-only track is designed for candidates who already possess undergraduate degrees in Special Education. The Master's plus Certification offers students training if they didn't already have a background in special education. Finally, the Master's plus Special Program Area track enables students to concentrate on a program of focus. All programs require student teaching or some kind of a culminating master's program. Required classes include topics like Behavioral Analysis or Children and Youth and Language Development and Communication Disorders.
The Master of Education with a specialization in Special Education offers certified teachers the opportunity to receive state endorsement for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade in Washington State. All courses are offered entirely online, with 37 credit hours required for graduation. Required courses include studies in topics like Education of Exceptional Children and Assessment and Curriculum for Students with Disabilities. Graduate students at Washington State receive a personalized academic advisor, as well as 24/7 technical support and other student services. Graduate students also receive access to off-campus events that promote networking with other online students as well as a global network of proud alumni.
The Master of Arts in Education: Special Education at the University of Nebraska at Kearney requires 36 credit hours to graduate. Special education certification is possible after completing the 12 core courses and 24 special education emphasis credits of this program. Key courses include topics like Functional Behavior Assessment and Inclusion and Differentiation Strategies for the 21st Century Classroom. Tuition is incredibly affordable, starting at just $293 for in-state students. Ranked as one of the Best Online Graduate Education Programs by U.S. News and World Report, this degree is an option for teachers who already hold a certificate in any discipline and offers specializations in both K-6 and 7-12 Special Education.
The Master of Arts in Special Education at the University of Alabama is designed to prepare educators to serve secondary school students with disabilities. It is offered in a blended format that emphasizes asynchronous coursework. Requiring 36 credit hours of study, the program is an option for students with no prior background in education. It includes hands-on classes like Computer-Based Instructional Strategies and also requires an internship under the guidance of a certified teacher. Distance learners pay the same tuition regardless of their residency and can pursue Class A certification even without a bachelor's degree in education. Additional certificates are also available in topics like Applied Behavior Analysis and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
Slippery Rock University's Master of Education in Special Education: Grades 7 to 12 is designed to be a fifth year of study after undergraduate preparation. It is designed for students who already possess certification in instruction or a secondary content area like Math or Science. Offered exclusively online, it is taught by world-class faculty who are leaders in Special Education in the state of Pennsylvania. The program is grounded in theory and research and includes a hands-on, practical approach that addresses the needs of a diverse student body in the typical 21st-century classroom. Other degree options include tracks in school administration, autism, and more.
Taking less than two years to complete, the Master of Education in Special Education at Northeastern University is one of the best of its kind. It is designed for licensed educators who are looking to enhance their professional portfolios. Its curriculum emphasizes experiential learning and real-world applications. Before graduation, students create ePortfolios to document their progress and also benefit from international networks which help them gain influence in the professional world. The program is offered entirely online and is incredibly interactive. Students gain access to experiential work opportunities as well as full-time cooperative opportunities in which they can work in a paid position for three to six months.
Offered on-campus as well as online, this program can be completed in 33 to 36 credit hours of study. It prepares educators to work with students age birth to eight and meets coursework requirements for initial teacher certification. Required classes include studies in topics like Special Education Foundations and IEP Development. As an alternative to the stand-alone program, the school also offers a 39-credit Master of Arts in Educational Leadership and Special Education Administration that prepares candidates for dual licensure as a special education director and a principal. This can be completed in less than three years.
The Master of Special Education at Liberty University is designed within a Christian worldview. It offers multiple specializations, including those in Administration and Supervision, Reading Specialist, and Math Specialist. Regardless of the concentration chosen, students are required to take 36 credit hours and graduate prepared to work in public, private, or Christian schools. A teaching practicum is not required, but instead, students must engage in case studies in which they discuss current trends in education. As the largest private, nonprofit online university in the United States, Liberty has a demonstrated history of success in educating talented, workplace-ready distance learners.
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