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Master’s in Special Education

Knowing you’re making a difference in the lives of children with disabilities makes special education an extremely rewarding career. If you’re ready to take your experience outside the classroom or want to dig deep into a specialized subject area, pursuing an advanced degree may be a good next step for you.

Earning a master’s degree in special education can open up new job opportunities, increase your earning potential, and move you into a leadership position. Read more about the benefits of obtaining your master’s degree, how getting one can affect your salary, and what to expect from a master’s in special education degree program.

Why Get a Master’s of Special Education?

If you’re already working in the field of special education, you might wonder whether getting another degree is worth the time and expense. Here are a few ways an advanced degree can benefit you:

  • Prepare for additional job opportunities. If you’re considering work beyond the classroom, having a master’s in special education can dramatically open up your career potential. Those with a master’s in education often pursue leadership positions such as special education director or educational coordinator. You can learn more about career opportunities below.
  • Become a more competitive job candidate. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 51% of special education teachers held a master’s degree in 2013. Just 33% had only a bachelor’s degree. Earning your master’s degree will give you an edge over other, less qualified candidates
  • Focus in depth on your interests. Special education is a complicated subject area, with many specialties within the field. Earning your master’s can give you the opportunity to dive deep into areas such as autism, severe disabilities, early childhood education, auditory impairment, and more. Not only can specializing be personally challenging and rewarding, it can also make you a more competitive job candidate and may increase your earning potential.
  • Expand your knowledge, skills, and approaches. Master’s degree programs include more in-depth and complicated topics such as “the law and special education.” They also provide the opportunity to find and digest the latest research in disability education. Many programs offer the opportunity for enriching fieldwork and internships.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Special Education?

Having a master’s degree in special education can open up your career opportunities beyond teaching in the classroom. Here are a few positions to explore. Keep in mind, however, that some of these positions may require additional certification and experience beyond a master’s degree.

  • Special Education Director: Special education directors manage special education across a school or district. They make sure students with special needs are receiving the best education and getting the services they need. They also make sure special education teachers have the right training and tools and that the schools themselves are properly equipped to serve students with disabilities. This may be a good fit for you if you have strong communication and project management skills, and value being in a leadership position.
  • Instructional Coordinator: Also called “instructional designers” and “curriculum designers,” instructional coordinators oversee the curriculum for a school. A special education instructional coordinator creates instructional materials for students with disabilities and works with teachers and principals to put the curriculum into practice.
  • Educational Diagnostician: An educational diagnostician works with students to assess and diagnose learning disabilities. They work with students and special education teachers to create an educational plan to best serve each student’s individual needs. Educational diagnosticians also follow a student’s progress throughout his or her school career to make sure the curriculum and services are still meeting the student’s needs. This can be a great position if you value creating strong bonds with students and helping them succeed.
  • Educational Coordinator: If you’re interested in creating curriculum but want to expand beyond a traditional classroom, consider becoming an educational coordinator. Educational coordinators work for traditional museums, children’s museums, zoos, aquariums, and other educational centers to plan learning programs. As more institutions understand the importance of addressing the needs of students with disabilities, job candidates with special education experience might be especially valued.
  • Early Intervention Specialist: If you’re passionate about working with young children, an early intervention specialist can be a challenging but rewarding career choice. Early intervention specialists work with young children struggling with developmental disabilities or behavioral issues. They assess and identify the problem, then work with children on developing the skills and coping mechanisms to address those issues. They often serve as the interface between a child’s family and other service providers.

What Can I Earn With a Master’s in Special Ed?

In addition to making you a more competitive job candidate, having a master’s degree in special education may lead to a higher salary. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, teachers with a master’s degree made around 25% more than those with just a bachelor’s in the 2015–2016 school year. And special education teachers in particular made 24% more in 2013, according to the BLS.

Beyond teaching, other careers available with a master’s degree in special education may also make significantly more. For example, instructional coordinators, who typically have a master’s degree in a specific area of education, made a median annual salary of $64,450 in 2018. Special education teachers, on the other hand, made $59,780.

Master’s in Special Education Degree Programs

There are several different types of master’s degrees you can earn in special education. Much of the curriculum in each type of degree overlaps, but each has a slightly different emphasis. Some programs also prepare you for a general teaching certification (if you don’t already have one) or certification for a specific specialization in special education. Make sure you pick a program that meets your certification needs.

Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Special Education

An M.Ed. degree in special education focuses on giving students an in-depth understanding of the field of education and the practice of teaching. Special education teachers planning on entering leadership positions or who are interested in curriculum planning often pursue this degree.

Many schools offer two different M.Ed. tracks: One that provides only a master’s education, and one that also prepares you for teaching certification. The master’s part of your education typically takes a year to complete; certification takes an additional year.

Here are some courses you might take in this degree path:

  • Curriculum Design in Special Education
  • Procedures in Classroom Management for Students with Disabilities
  • Professional and Ethical Practice
  • Law and Disabilities

Master of Arts in Teaching or Master of Science in Teaching

An M.A. or M.S. degree in teaching focuses on classroom instruction and earning a teaching credential. Teachers looking to expand their knowledge and earning potential or students planning on entering the teaching profession often pursue this degree. These programs typically take two years to complete if you’re enrolled full-time.

Here are some courses you might take in this degree path:

  • Educational Assessment of Students with Disabilities
  • Methods for Teaching Reading to Students with Disabilities
  • Methods for Teaching Math to Students with Disabilities

Requirements for most master’s degrees in special education programs are similar but will vary by school and whether you’re pursing a teaching credential. However, you can expect the following requirements for most programs:

  • A completed program application
  • Two or three letters of recommendation that speak to your teaching experience
  • Transcripts showing you completed a bachelor’s degree at an accredited school
  • GRE scores
  • A statement of purpose that describes your interest and experience in special education
  • A resume highlighting your relevant experience

Special Education Specializations

Although special education itself is a specialization of education, you can hone in further on a specific area of this field with a specialization. Here are common options:

  • Autism: Work with students on the autism spectrum and provide personalized support and services specific to those needs.
  • Special education for early childhood: Work with children from age 3 through third grade. Identify issues and provide intervention strategies.
  • Mild to moderate disabilities: Work with students with ADHD, learning disabilities, or mild intellectual disabilities.
  • Severe or multiple disabilities: Work with students with severe disabilities. Develop transition plans with families for life after school. Some programs combine this specialization with the autism specialization.
  • Applied behavior analysis: Understand the science behind behaviors. Learn how to identify negative behaviors and encourage positive behaviors. Most programs prepare students to take the Behavior Analyst Certification Board
  • Hearing Impairment: Work with deaf/hard of hearing students. Become proficient in sign language.

Some of these specializations may require additional certification. You should check with the program and your state for specific requirements.

Online Master’s in Special Education

If you’re currently working as a special education teacher, or you need more flexibility than a traditional program would offer, you might consider an online master’s in special education.

There are many options available, in a variety of formats. Programs geared towards students who already have a teaching credential may be offered completely online. These programs can often be completed in one year if you’re enrolled full-time; they don’t require an internship or classroom experience, since they don’t prepare students for a teaching credential.

Programs that do include credential prep usually require some amount of training in an actual classroom. These degree programs often offer most courses in an online format, but require students to find a classroom setting in their area to gain real-world experience. Some programs may help students find classroom placements.

When considering an online program, make sure you keep in mind:

  • The schedule. Does it run all year? Is it full-time? Part-time? Can you take classes any time or will you need to be online at certain times of the day? Many programs are completely flexible, while others may have limitations similar to an on-campus program.
  • Your credential requirements. If you still need to earn your teaching credential or are interested in a specialized credential, make sure the program meets credentialing requirements in your state. Some programs work directly with a specific school district or within state requirements, so they may not be a good fit for you if you aren’t planning on working in that area.