Special Education Degree Programs


Consider an online teaching program currently accepting applicants for 2024.

School Level Program Admissions

The University of Texas Permian Basin

Master MA in Special Education
CAEP-accredited, Complete in as little as 12 months, six start dates a year, cost-effective tuition.

Winthrop University

Master M.Ed. In Special Ed. Intervention
CAEP Accredited, offers two tracks for licensed teachers and can be completed in 2 years 100% online.

George Mason University

Master Master of Education in Special Education
Program can be completed in 2 years.

Campbellsville University

Master MA in Special Education - Initial Certification
2 Concentrations: Teacher Leader, Initial Certification

View online teaching programs currently accepting applicants for 2024.

Teachers that follow the educational path to special education have the honor of working with a unique classroom of students that require extra care. Students that suffer from debilitating physical or mental illnesses are often enrolled in special education classes so that they may receive instruction that caters to their individual needs, whether that be a more structured learning path or alternative methods of teaching.

If you are one of the many people that are interested in becoming a special education teacher or specialist, you should take the time to review the requirements for teachers in this field, as well as any challenges that are presented while working in this field.

Most universities offering this degree offer both thesis based and course based options. If you choose the course based option, you will earn your degree by attending courses, completing any necessary exams, and carrying out practical assignments. If you choose the thesis based option, you will earn your degree by writing a thesis on a specialized subject, which usually involves conducting interviews, and a lot of research.

If you opt for the course based option you can expect to take courses in theory, practical knowledge, research, human growth, behavioral programming, behavior modification, learning disability diagnosis, behavioral analysis, and methods of teaching various subjects for students with disabilities, along with many other highly specialized subjects.

Read more about Online Special Education Degrees >>


Consider an online teaching program currently accepting applicants for 2024.

School Level Program Admissions

The University of Texas Permian Basin

Master MA in Special Education
CAEP-accredited, Complete in as little as 12 months, six start dates a year, cost-effective tuition.

Purdue University

Master Online MS in Education
Specialized degrees in Special Education, Curriculum Instruction, Learning Design and Technology.

University of West Florida

Master Master of Education in Curriculum & Instruction
CAEP Accredited, 3 specializations.

Arizona State University

Bachelor Online Bachelor of Education Programs Website

View more 100% online teaching programs currently accepting applicants.

What is a Special Education Degree?

Special education teaching degrees are earned by students who wish to work with students who have mental and learning disabilities. The degrees are tailored by age range, grade level and also many that highlight a specific disability level or type. Those who want to work with students who are in special education must gain an understanding of the autism spectrum, mental disabilities such as down syndrome and cerebral palsy, and language and speech impediments.

Each special education bachelor's degree varies among schools. Some may offer a program that is concentrated in a particular area of special education, while others may be a K-12 program. Special education teachers must learn about the typical behaviors and social interactions among students with various learning and mental disabilities, as well as the unique teaching approaches that are used to work with each one. Many special education programs don't focus solely on academic subjects, but also incorporate activities that help delayed students gain the motor, social and cognitive skills that are appropriate for their age level and condition.

Special education teachers understand the rewards of helping the most challenged children move forward in their academics.

If you have a passion for helping children, along with the patience and empathy require to help children with a variety of special needs, this can be a great career path that leads to several professional outcomes. Special education teachers are needed at all grade levels, as well as public and private schools.

What Skills Do Special Education Teachers Require?

Unlike other areas of teaching where one set of curriculum is enough to approach an entire classroom, every special needs child has their own unique challenges to overcome. This requires teachers to create individual plans for each student based on their situation. A student with ADHD will require a different approach than one with a physical handicap, for instance.

In academia, we don’t often credit teachers for being creative. After all, they follow prepared lesson plans and take a uniform approach to their classroom activities, set standards for testing success and measure performance based on numbers, not emotions.

But special needs teachers require a certain amount of creativity and the ability to think on their feet. In this role, behavior can be more unpredictable and teachers must be willing to adapt. This sometimes means changing up prepared plans and adjusting to the moment with your students. It also helps to have a deadline-driven and routine oriented mindset. Special needs children, particularly those with conditions such as autism, feel more comfortable when routine is followed and unexpected situations are kept at a minimum.

Degree Requirements for Special Education Teachers

To work as a Special Education teacher you will need a bachelors degree, preferably in the area of education. Since you will face more complex classroom circumstances in this role, your choice of degree program is essential. If you are just now mapping out your direction, you should speak with brick and mortar schools in your area to find out what programs they offer. But consider the benefits of online learning as well; especially if program offerings are limited in your city. You can find online programs that are reputable and specifically tailored to special education.

Each state will have their own unique guidelines for teaching students with special needs. Some states mandate special certifications for teaching in this area. Additionally, masters degrees are a must in several states, with a focus on special education.

What types of special needs students are there?

Before choosing this career, you should take some time to learn about the types of special needs children you may work with.

Children have long been identified by their short attention spans, inability to sit still and maintaining concentration. However, children with these challenges face extra difficulty thriving in a traditional classroom atmosphere. However, there are strategies that can help them move ahead that you can learn with the right education.

These disorders are identified by a wide scope of symptoms that can affect communication and inappropriate or unacceptable social behavior. This can lead to anxiety in children with these challenges that directly affect their ability to learn. You will need to develop top-notch one-on-one skills in your education to give these children the attention they require.

Cystic Fibrosis
This devastating respiratory disease affects over 70,000 children all over the world. Children who have this condition need the care of a teacher who can recognize when they need care. These kids will also miss a significant amount of classroom time because of doctor appointment and illness that go along with the condition.

This common learning disability occurs in children who often have normal to high intelligence, but a low level of reading ability due to the brain’s inability to process reading based assignments. Teachers will have to be encouraging and learn coping mechanisms that help students with dyslexia work around their challenge and do well in school.

Neurological Disabilities
Neurological issues can be caused by several problems, including tumors, trauma, birth defects, and many other causes. Damage to the nervous system can lead to a wide range of problems for students. That is why teachers will need to be adept at making an individualized lesson plan for these students, which is common for special education teachers.

Of course, these are just some of the common disabilities that you may encounter as a special education teacher. This is why education is the most important part of your process for preparing for a career in the field. When you speak with representatives from schools you consider, make sure to discuss this topic. You may be well suited for one type of child impairment more than another. You may also realize your state has a need in a certain area that may offer opportunity if you choose it as an area of focus. If you look at the salary and career outlook below, you can see how this can make a direct impact on annual compensation.

Special Education Teachers

Special education teachers work with students who have special needs. They work with special needs students on a one-to-one basis, assessing their needs and abilities and determining what academic curriculum will best meet the student’s needs.

Special education teachers also work with other teachers to communicate the student’s needs and progress. They also work closely with the parents and family members and work together to ensure the student is progressing as expected.

Specific state requirements vary by state, and some states require that teachers meet the No Child Left Behind teaching standards.

Many teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in teaching and teach for a couple years and then return to college for a master’s degree in a specific area such as special education.

Becoming a Special Education Teacher

As a special education instructor, you will work with these students and develop a plan of education to help them understand the lessons and grasp the material. Helping every student succeed, despite their difficulties is just one of the challenges that you will face in this highly rewarding career.

When you become a special education teacher, you take on a great responsibility. You will need to take courses that are relevant to all special education situations. You will need to take courses that involve child psychology, teaching strategies, special education law, and child development. This wide variety of different classes will enable you to have a much wider picture on how to deal with children with special needs. College is designed to prepare you for a future in the career path that you choose.

If you love working with children, if you want to enrich their lives and help educate them, if you think that teaching is what you would be best at, you should most definitely consider getting a degree in special education. You will help children to learn how to utilize their unique talents and overcome obstacles to learning.

Special Education Degree Programs

Special education teachers work with students that have learning, behavior, mental and emotional disabilities and assist them in learning. The U.S. News & World Report states that special education is among the top ten majors that change the world, according to a PayScale survey. If this type of career interests you, continue reading and get the facts on this career and what it all entails.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Special Education

Special education teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree and state-issued licensure or certification in that area. Bachelor degree programs take four years to complete and include coursework, internships and student teaching. Some special ed teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in a specific area like elementary education with a concentration in special education and a minor in a certain subject area like art, music, math, etc. Other special ed teachers earn a bachelor’s degree specifically in special education.

Although a special education program has general education courses like biology; math; and composition and professional education courses like educational psychology; content area reading and classroom management, it also includes courses specific to special education students. These courses include learning disabilities; emotional and behavioral problems of children and adolescents; mild disabilities: social studies and science; communication disorders; and curriculum & instruction: severe disabilities. The student will also spend one semester student teaching in an actual classroom.

View all Bachelor’s in Education Programs.

Dual Degrees in Special Education

Another option for aspiring special education teachers can be seen in a dual-degree program, which can allow the student to take a major in elementary education and special education. After completion of this four-year program, the graduate can obtain initial licensure as an elementary school teacher teaching special education students. A student teaching component is also included in this program’s curriculum.

Master’s Degrees in Special Education

Teachers of special education teach students with special needs. In order to fill this very specialized role, you need a bachelor’s degree in special education (Bureau of Labor Statistics). If you’re looking to enter an administrative position, you may need a master’s degree as well.

Special education teachers work with students who need a more specialized education than mainstream students in the educational setting. Some of these students might have physical or learning disabilities, behavioral problems, mental conditions, or any other condition that would require them to need a modified educational platform.

Master degree special education programs can usually be completed in two years. Students are typically required to have a bachelor’s degree prior to entering the program. Courses in a master degree programs may include survey of special education: mild to moderate disabilities; collaborations and communication in special education; professional, ethical and legal practices and policies in special education; and methods of teaching student with mild to moderate disabilities. Students are generally required to complete a research project or a thesis and pass a comprehensive examination.

The difference between special education programs at the bachelor degree level and the master degree level are not just in the years of study involved but also the state requirements. Some states require special education teachers have master degrees and specific certifications at that level whereas other states may hire special education teacher with just a bachelor degree and certifications in special education.

View all Master’s in Education Programs.

Doctorate Degrees in Special Education

Special education programs are also offered at the doctoral degree level. Graduates of doctoral degree programs don’t generally pursue teaching jobs where they work with special education students but rather pursue careers in research or teaching special education in colleges. Participants in this program have master degrees and will complete, in addition to program courses, a comprehensive examination, a dissertation, and an oral examination.

View all Doctorate in Education Programs.

Online Special Education Degrees

Special education programs are offered online. Online education is often an option for a licensed teacher who has a bachelor degree but wishes to pursue a master degree and certification in special education. Most of the courses can be taken through distance learning. However, because the individual is already teaching in a classroom, he or she can complete any student teaching component that may be required right in the school where he or she is working.

Saint Joseph’s University’s online program enables the student to earn certifications in Wilson Reading System, Autism, and Special Education. Special education programs are also offered online at the bachelor’s degree. The only catch here is that the student will have to find a school in the area in which to complete the internship or student. Many states require the student to complete student teaching before they can be licensed.

View all Online Education Degrees.

Careers for Special Education

Special Education teachers can expect to make a salary in the range of $37,110 to $88,080, which is quite a range, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Salary is not only dictated by state data, but by what kind of children you will focus on in your role. The BLS also states that job opportunities for teachers of children with multiple disabilities, autism disorders, and speech or language challenges have the best opportunity for employment. This is because of the more stressful nature of these positions. The need for Special Education teachers is expected to grow at 6% annually from 2014-2024.

Finding the right degree program is essential to preparing for a career as a special education teacher. No amount of love, patience, empathy and consideration for children with these challenges can be an effective substitute for proven methods for improving their success in school But if you have both, you can thrive in this rewarding profession.

Employment growth for special education teachers is expected to grow six percent between 2012 and 2022, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, special education teachers working with preschool children are expected to see a higher employment growth (12%) during that same decade. The BLS also reported that special education teachers nationwide earned average yearly salaries of more than $54,000 as of May 2014.

Some of the positions you may be able to apply for after graduating include, but are not limited to, special education teacher, remedial specialist, researcher, administrator of a special education department, or even a trainer for other professionals who work with individuals with physical or learning disabilities. Each location has its own set of licensure qualification, so be sure to check with your state to find out their specific requirements.

Fortunately, there has been much progress in diagnosing learning disabilities that there are now excellent training tools for teachers. With a special education degree you will be trained on how to teach to the children and not just a set curriculum. You will learn how to use each individual child’s strengths to show them that they have the ability to learn as well as the ability to learn many different subjects.

If you are looking to get a rewarding degree, you should consider getting a degree in special education. You have the opportunity to help shape and lead the mind of a child that may have difficulties learning. This means that you are changing their world and offering them a chance to have a better future.

Supportive Special Education Organizations & Associations

Even while you are choosing a degree program, you should consider reaching out to credible associations and organizations that can help inform your decisions. These can also provide great networking and professional insight. Here are a few you should research right now:

National Association of Special Education Teachers (NASET) Website
This organization is dedicated to helping aspiring Special Education teachers prepare to enter the field. They also have great professional development courses that help existing professionals stay in tune with best practices and developments in the field.

Council for Exceptional Children Website
This organization acts as an advocate for special needs students through influencing public policy and helping teachers have the resources they need to be successful.

Special Education News Website
This resource is updated with news and resources that you can read. Articles have topical interest that educators and parents of special needs children can absorb and benefit from.

Researching and Preparing for a Special Education Degree

Preparation and training is important to success as a special education teacher. Being drawn into this field says more about your personality than what meets the eye. People that are involved with special education typically have a high desire to make a difference in the lives of children.

Some of the most common traits of special education teachers include patience, a mild mannerism, the ability to calm, creativity, and adaptability. People that are interested in teaching but want to pursue a different path than traditional classroom teacher may find this field to be what they are looking for. Special education often requires teachers to have the ability to lift at least 50 pounds and may require additional training for certain disabilities.

Types of Special Education Degrees

Like most degree programs in education, special education has a wide range of levels for you to choose from. At the very basic level, the certificate program is an option for teachers that have graduated from an educational degree program and wish to have further certification in special education. This option is great for teachers that wish to open themselves up to more professional opportunity or want to broaden their resume.

Associates level degree programs are preferable for students that may want to transition to bachelors programs in the future. This 2-year program introduces students to the basics of special education and sets the stage for higher learning in the future. At the next level, the bachelor’s degree program in special education is the most commonly attained degree program in this discipline.

The standard 4-year bachelors degree provides students with a degree that allows for certification or licensure as a K-12 special education teacher. The curriculum within this degree program focuses on the academic needs of students with disabilities or impairments, as well as the various teaching methods associated with working in special education classrooms.

Students that wish to pursue even higher learning in this field go forward into master level programs, which are great options for students that wish to pursue more profitable careers or for graduates of standard educational degree programs. Partnering your special education degree with a relevant specialization can not only allow you more professional opportunities in the field, but also give you more expertise in certain aspects of special education.

Specializations in Special Education Degrees

Our experts have provided some of the more popular specializations below for you to browse.

  • Gifted Education: This specialization focuses on the needs of students with exceptional learning capabilities. If you choose to focus your degree program within this specialty, you can be instructed on how to identify traits of gifted children, assess their abilities and needs, and provide curriculum that is appropriate for their learning level in an effective way.
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder: As autism spectrum disorders become more prominent in society, it makes sense why this specialization is becoming more popular for special education teachers. ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms in children at school age such as non-verbal tendencies, behavioral difficulties, and several learning and development impairments. Teaching methods that are appropriate for use with children suffering from ASD are taught within this specialty, as well as the broad range of care that children with ASD require.
  • Visual Impairments: Upcoming teachers that wish to work with children that are blind or have other visual impairments choose this specialty to assist them with becoming effective and proactive instructors. The use of verbal teaching, sound development, and voice reasoning is taught within this specialty, as well as the implementation of sensory devices such as Braille.
  • Early Childhood: Early childhood specializations focus on the special needs of children in grades K-3. If you are studying within this concentration, you will learn techniques and applications that are appropriate and effective for children within this younger age group. Curriculum design for children within this age group is also taught, as well as how to manage behavioral issues and specific disabilities.
  • Emotional Disturbance: Children that suffer from different emotional or behavioral disorders require very special attention with an educational environment. If you choose this specialization, you may learn the different techniques associated with working with children with challenging behaviors or those that have minor to serious emotional disabilities. This includes intervention methods, emotion management, and situational preparedness.

Special Needs Teacher Requirements and Curriculum

As with most educational degree programs, there are certain standards that all professionals within this discipline must abide by. The Council for Exceptional Children is an organization that sets these standards and provides information for professionals within this field throughout their career lifetime.

Some of the requirements of special education teachers include obtaining a bachelors degree in a special education field from an accredited degree program, receive training or field experience that includes the application of appropriate pedegogical skills, and participating in a degree program that includes the important core aspects of special education. Having these skills not only allows you to be in line with what is required by most states for licensure, but also may give you the necessary skills to work with fragile children in a way that promotes excellence.

Sample Courses

During a standard bachelors degree program, you may see an array of general education courses, as well as the specialty courses required for you to graduate. Our team has researched some of the more popular degree programs in special education to give you a better idea of what to expect throughout your educational experience. Depending on the level of education you are pursuing and any relevant specialties, you could see even more than what is provided here.

Literacy Facilitation for All Learners

This course instructs teachers how to reach learners that have difficulty with reading, writing, or both. The creation of literacy intervention plans may be taught in this class, as well as the assessment, intervention, and follow-up process.

Children with Exceptionalities

Throughout this course, students may learn about the different mental, physical, and emotion disorders that are present within children, as well as the learning difficulties that may be present as a result. Students are introduced to technology as a resource for learning and the involvement of school resources, family, and outside support agencies.

Cost of A Special Education Degree

The cost of an educational degree is one of the most important aspects of making the important decision towards furthering your degree. Some colleges offer 4-year degree programs for under $20,000 for total tuition, while others charge chose to $50,000.

According to some of the costs listed by universities, it is more financially preferred to choose an in-state university or a university that charges a flat rate for students regardless of their place of residence. Our experts looked deep into some special education degree programs to provide you with some estimates on cost. Remember that costs change frequently between universities, so follow-up research is recommended for the colleges you have an interest in.

Auburn University

Auburn University has a highly recommended special education undergraduate degree program for interested learners. The current tuition for attendance to this school is $5,484 per semester, which totals $21,936 for in-state students.

University of Nebraska – Lincoln

The bachelors program at UNL is a great choice for individuals choosing special education for their major. The current program total for this university is $19,297.50 for in-state students. Costs change each semester, so be sure to research any changes prior to enrollment.