Best Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees

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Are you ready to find your fit?

Become an innovative and compassionate teacher with one of the nation’s best online master’s in special education degrees.

Are you passionate about creating inclusive and safe classrooms? Can you envision yourself developing curriculum programs that are both effective and inventive? Do you want to enact change among students who may have diverse special needs?

Then an advanced degree in special education is just for you!

Top 10 Best Online Master’s in Special Education Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Purdue University Hammond, IN
2 Saint Joseph's University Philadelphia, PA
3 Ball State University Muncie, IN
4 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
5 Texas A&M University Killeen, TX
6 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN
7 Michigan State University East Lansing, MI
8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
9 Western Carolina University Cullowhee, NC
10 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS

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What kind of master’s in special education degree should you get?

No special education degree is the same. While some of these programs expect you to already be a licensed teacher, others do not require prior certification.

Likewise, while some provide licensure, others are research-based and do not end in certification. If you want to teach, make sure you find a program that will license you if aren’t already. But if you want to work in research, administration, or advocacy, you do not need to enroll in a licensure program.

Despite the differences in programs and their respective structures and requirements, all of the programs on this list – MA, MS, and M.Ed alike – can be earned fully online. Distance education is not only a flexible way to advance your career, it’s affordable too. For that reason, be sure to check out College Choice’s Best Online Colleges and Universities.

How much money do people make with a master’s in special education degree?

It’s not a secret that teachers are the among the least paid professionals in the country. However, the news isn’t all bad. On average, special education teachers make around $58,980 a year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

But that number doesn’t reflected added specialization and experience, which a Master’s in Special Education will surely provide. According to Payscale, special education teacher’s with advanced experience can make upwards of $74,450 a year.

What can you do with a master’s in special education degree?

While most assume a graduate degree in special education will prepare you for the classroom – and it definitely does – the degree is actually much more versatile.

Those with an MS in Special Education degree find that many career doors open for them. From advocacy and policy change to administration, the options are numerous and diverse.

Additionally, many of the programs on our list offer specialized certification in an array of areas, from Autism Spectrum Disorders to Applied Assessment Behavior. Added certification will prepare you for work in consultation, research, and curriculum design.

What are the requirements for an online master’s in special education degree?

Most of the programs on our list require between 30 and 36 completed credit hours. Many of these courses first provide a fundamental introduction to topics such as child development, curriculum design, and classroom management. From there you will take specialized courses in your focus area. These courses may fulfill certification or specialization credit.

While many full master’s degrees require two years of coursework, some can be earned in even less time. Indeed, it’s possible to earn your master’s in under 12 months.

Finally, some programs require field practicums. This will give you real-world, hands-on experience in the classroom if you don’t have it. We’ve been sure to note which programs require field work.

What are the best online master’s in special education degrees?

Best Online Master's in Special Education Badge

While some of these programs are offered through large research universities and others through small liberal arts college, they all share one thing one common: they are the 35 Best Online Master’s in Special Education programs in the country.

To determine the best special education programs we first looked at each program in the country that offers the degree online. From there we investigated the academic reputation of each school then critically examined retention rates, a sign of student satisfaction. Finally we factored in affordability and the early salaries of graduates.

After such extensive research, we determined the best programs in the nation that prepare special education teachers. Our figures and information come from the university and colleges’ websites, PayScale, and nationally recognized U.S. News & World Report and The National Center for Education Statistics.

2018 Ranking

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. Purdue University
    Location

    Hammond, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Purdue University is a renowned research university located in West Lafayette, Indiana. It is a member of the elite Big Ten Conference and offers 300 academic programs at all degree levels. One of the largest universities in Indiana and the Midwest, Purdue University is home to 40,000 students.

    Features

    When you earn an online Master’s of Education in Special Education degree at Purdue you will learn how to exhaustively plan and implement special education curriculum. Additionally, you will learn how to create safe and thriving classrooms while meeting the needs of your exceptional children. There are many ways to earn this degree, with some granting licensure, but all tracks include core classes such as:

    • Applied Behavior Analysis for Teachers
    • Identification, Evaluation, and Assessment of Exceptional Individuals
    • Intervention Strategies and Research
    • Social, Legal, and Ethical Issues in Special Education

    Notables

    Purdue is ranked #60 nationally by U.S. News & World Report and it was recently ranked #63 in the world by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. In addition to its academic accolades, Purdue is a green darling with its LEED-certified buildings, a sustainability council, and several conservation research labs and facilities.

  2. Saint Joseph's University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Saint Joseph’s University is a Catholic school based in Philadelphia suburbs. It is one of the nation’s oldest Jesuit universities and a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. SJU is organized into four schools, through which more than 8,000 students are enrolled.

    Features

    When you earn an MS in Special Education at Saint Joseph’s you can get certified in applied behavior analysis, the Wilson Reading System, or in Autism Spectrum Disorder. However you decide to earn your degree and specializations, this program will equip you to be a highly trained, compassionate, and insightful instructor. Core classes for all students include:

    • Diagnostic Assessment and Progress Monitoring
    • Students with Emotional/Social and Behavioral Disorders
    • Literacy, Written, and Oral Language, and Reading in the Content Areas
    • Students with Low Incidence Disabilities

    Notables

    Saint Joseph’s is well-ranked by Princeton Review, Forbes, and U.S. News & World Report. Not only is it well ranked as a whole, several of its individual departments and schools are considered among the best of their kind, including the education, business, and security programs.

  3. Ball State University
    Location

    Muncie, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Ball State University is located Muncie, Indiana and is a public, research-driven university. It offers over 200 academic programs through its half dozen academic colleges. Nearly 22,000 students attend Ball State.

    Features

    Ball State University provides many opportunities for acquiring an advanced degree in special education. You can earn an MA in Special Education with licensure in one of four areas: early childhood special education, mild interventions, severe interventions, or administration. Or, instead of becoming licensed, at Ball State you can pair the general degree with certification in:

    • Applied Behavior Analysis
    • Autism
    • Disabilities for Post-Secondary Settings with an Emphasis on Autism
    • Emotional and Behavioral Disorders
    • Response to Intervention

    Notables

    Ball State University is well ranked by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, and Washington Monthly. On top of its academic recognitions, Ball State University is known for its Immersive Learning program. Students who participate in this interdisciplinary program have the opportunity to complete internships, work across departments, and more. This program has been consistently praised for its innovation, student-centric approach to education.

  4. University of Arkansas
    Location

    Fayetteville, AR

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Arkansas, located in Fayetteville, is the largest school in the state with more than 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students. UA is a research university with hundreds of degree opportunities. However, it is perhaps best known for its strengths in business, education, communications, and architecture, and agriculture education.

    Features

    UA offers an online MEd in Special Education degree. Whether or not you seek licensure, this program can serve your interests and career goals. You will learn how to create effective classrooms and curriculum. And you will have several certification opportunities as well, in everything from behavior analysis to autism.

    • Nature and Needs of the Gifted and Talented
    • Curriculum Development in Gifted and Talented
    • Historical Foundations of Modern Education
    • Life-Span Human Development

    Notables

    The University of Arkansas is a well-decorated school, boasting a variety of awards and recognitions. For example, U.S. News & World Report ranks it among the “Best Southeastern Colleges.” Similarly, UA is also one of the “100 Best Public Colleges” in the country.

  5. Texas A&M University
    Location

    Killeen, TX

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Texas A&M University is easily one of the largest schools on our list with nearly 70,000 enrolled students. TAMU, located in College Station, is organized into more than a dozen colleges, schools, research facilities, and cultural centers. It is the site of comprehensive research activity in a range of fields.

    Features

    At TAMU you can earn either an MEd or MS in Special Education degree. Both are offered online and both will prepare you to engage in effective behavioral interventions. You will study both low and high functioning disabilities while also gaining practical skills in areas such as curriculum creation. Some of the classes you’ll have the opportunity to take at TAMU include:

    • Early Literacy for Students with Diverse Instructional Needs
    • Bilingual Special Education
    • Educating Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
    • Consultation in Special Education

    Notables

    U.S. News & World Report ranks TAMU among the top 70 best schools in the nation. Likewise, TAMU is ranked among the top 50 best valued schools. Its online programs boast similar accolades and rankings.

  6. Indiana University-Bloomington
    Location

    Bloomington, IN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Indiana University is a renowned school with more than 40,000 students. It is a flagship university with strong programs in the arts, education, and sciences. With its primary campus in Bloomington, IU also has a number of campuses throughout the region plus its highly regarded online college.

    Features

    Through IU’s online college you can earn an MSEd in Special Education that is especially field-based. In addition to coursework complimenting your emphasis area in either autism, behavior disorders, early childhood education, or instructional strategies, you will complete a common core consisting of:

    • Families, School, and Society
    • Classroom Management and Behavior Support
    • Collaboration and Service Delivery
    • Assessment and Remediation of the Mildly Handicapped

    Notables

    A Public Ivy and a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities, IU is a top-ranked school. In addition to its national and global rankings, several of its colleges and schools are among the best in the nation, including its School of Education.

  7. Michigan State University
    Location

    East Lansing, MI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Michigan State University is located in East Lansing, Michigan. It is a research-based university that was first founded as an agricultural school. Though today MSU offers more than 200 academic programs across all degree levels.

    Features

    Through MSU’s renowned College of Education you can earn an MA in Special Education. While earning your degree you will become either an expert in Autism Spectrum Disorders or Learning Disabilities. There is also the option of supplementing your program with a graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis. Whichever route you go, you can anticipate classes such as:

    • Collaboration and Consultation in Special Education
    • Assessment of Students with Mild Disabilities
    • Policies, Practices, and Perspectives in Special Education
    • Classroom and Behavior Management

    Notables

    Michigan State University is nationally and globally ranked by Forbes, U.S. News & World Report, Times Higher Education, and much more. It is considered a Public Ivy with strengths in the areas of criminal justice, political science, and communications.

  8. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Drexel University is located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and is known for its specializations in the areas of science, technology, education, and industry. Drexel offers more than 150 academic programs and has over 26,000 students. It is perhaps best known for its co-op program that gives students the opportunity to acquire paid experience while earning their degrees.

    Features

    When you earn an MS in Special Education through Drexel’s online program, you will gain a sturdy foundation in special education fundamentals. This means learning how to create and maintain an inclusive classroom, how to enact literacy and skill development, and how to provide emotional and behavioral support. You can even specialize in one of seven ways, including:

    • Special Education Leadership
    • Autism Spectrum Disorders
    • Collaborative Special Education Law and Process
    • Technologies for Special Education

    Notables

    The School of Education is one of the oldest within Drexel, having been founded before 1900. It is well-ranked, much like the rest of the University. Drexel is not only ranked among the top 100 best schools in the nation, but it is consistently listed among the country’s top 20 “Most Innovative Schools.”

  9. Western Carolina University
    Location

    Cullowhee, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    Western Carolina University is located in Cullowhee, North Carolina. It is part of the larger, renowned University of North Carolina System. Around 11,000 students attend WCU, enrolled in one of the five undergraduate colleges or the graduate school.

    Features

    At WCU there are three ways to earn an advanced degree in special education. You can get an MA in Education, an MA in Teaching, or you can go through the Academically or Intellectually Gifted licensure program. Whichever program best suits your needs and goals, you can anticipate a core curriculum covering:

    • Child and Adolescent Development
    • Assessment for Instruction
    • Teaching Exceptional Learners in Inclusive Classrooms
    • Foundations of Teacher Leadership in a Diverse Society

    Notables

    WCU was first founded to bring accessible education to the people in the Appalachian Mountain areas. The university still maintains that heritage, with a number of research and cultural centers housed on campus. Among them are the Mountain Heritage Center in addition to the Center for the Support of Beginning Teachers.

  10. University of Kansas
    Location

    Lawrence, KS

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Overview

    The University of Kansas is based in Lawrence, Kansas with nearly half a dozen other campuses and branches located around the state. KU itself is organized into over ten separate colleges, including the education school. Over 28,000 students attend KU.

    Features

    At KU you can earn your Master’s in Special Education degree in as few as two years. You will take ten courses, each of which lasts just eight weeks. During this time you will learn teaching strategies and methods for effective classroom models. This program emphasizes transitions through classes such as:

    • Career Development for Youth
    • Blending Academics and Transition
    • Work-Based Learning
    • Interagency Services for Transition to Adulthood

    Notables

    KU is nationally and globally ranked by Washington Monthly, U.S. News & World Report, Forbes, and Times Higher Education, among others. It is well-known for its education programs generally, but the special education program at the University of Kansas is ranked second in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

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