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30 Best Master’s Degree Special Education

The field of special education is as vast as a child’s personality.

There are countless different areas in which licensed teachers can make a difference. Helping children and young people at all different levels of abilities isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes caring, committed, and competent educators.

Are you a teacher who already works in the field of special education? Or perhaps you are someone who wants to help children and young people with special needs thrive?

If so, a Master of Special Education degree can help achieve that dream.

What will you learn in a master’s of special education?

Each graduate school is different. However, the curricula will go above and beyond what you covered in a bachelor’s degree.

Chances are, in your bachelor’s degree, you studied topics like classroom management and academic and social behavior of students. In a master’s degree, you’ll cover those in more depth.

You may take more specific classes that go beyond your undergraduate studies. A general curriculum might include classes that cover:

  • Working with students with moderate disabilities or severe disabilities
  • Academic and social behavior of students with severe disabilities
  • Research-based intensive interventions
  • Special education classroom management
  • Curricular design for students with unique learning needs
  • How to teach students in a specific age group
  • Communication strategies for nonverbal students
  • Creating inclusive settings
  • Behavioral management
  • Educational technology
  • Professional communication
  • Teaching strategies for students with an emotional disturbance
  • Assessment strategies for those with diverse learning needs
  • Evaluating multiple data sources to make sound educational decisions
  • Literacy skills in teaching diverse learners
  • Teaching English language learners

A student teaching experience is a core component of these programs. A student teaching experience will prepare special education graduates with the hands-on training needed to have confidence in the classroom.

You could take anywhere between 30 and 60 total credits, depending on the school. Many universities even offer a graduate certificate option so you can teach without successful completion of a full master’s.

And what do you need to apply? Admission requirements vary. However, as part of these admission requirements, most programs – including graduate certificate programs – require a bachelor’s degree in a related field. You will also need to submit official transcripts. You’ll need official transcripts from any undergraduate programs you attended. Most online programs look for a 3.0 GPA.

There are other application materials you will need besides these official transcripts. You will also need the following items:

  • Letters of recommendation (often two to three letters of recommendation are needed)
  • Successful completion of undergraduate coursework in education or related programs
  • Personal statement evidencing self determination in higher education and educational settings
  • K-12 work experience if relevant
  • GRE scores
  • Application fee

We admit – it can be tough to find the time and resources to earn a master’s degree. Even if you choose not to study on a full time basis, it take time to learn the essential skills and complete the clinical experiences necessary to graduate from a special education program. And if you’re seeking initial teacher licensure, it can take even longer.

That’s why the online Master of Special Education is in the top ten of the most popular online master’s degrees. Online special education programs often cater to students who are teaching. They provide asynchronous classes. That means there is no set class time and students can logon at their convenience. They also offer dedicated online student support services. Often, there are even mentors and advisors to guide when needed.

We all know time is precious. The amount of information and possible programs out there can be a bit overwhelming.

To make it easier, we’ve combed through many online special education programs. Our goal was to find the best of the best.

A word of caution – as is true with the best undergraduate special education programs, vigilance is key. Please make note of your state’s certification requirements. This is to make sure they fit in with any program you may want to pursue.

Many of the programs on our list participate in the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreement (SARA). This is an agreement that enables national standards to dictate comparable coursework and education outcomes between states.

But it’s always a good idea to double check your program and your state’s requirements to become a licensed teacher.

So is a degree in special education worth it? Definitely! A degree ins pecial education offers you the skills you need to gain insight into working with students with special learning needs. But you need to ask more than one specific question to find the right graduate school and special education master for your needs.

When researching the best master’s degree in special education for your needs, ask the following questions:

  • Is tuition affordable? Is it billed at a per credit rate, and is state and federal financial aid available? Are there any scholarship opportunities?
  • Will I be able to work hands on with students with diverse needs?
  • Do I need to have completed an undergraduate program in a specific area?
  • Are individual students given their own faculty advisors?
  • Is this program flexible enough for current teachers?
  • Is the school recognized by organizations like U.S. News & World Report? 
  • Will I be able to participate in faculty research or get hands-on teaching practice with a special education instructor in a real classroom?
  • What sorts of techniques will I learn to teach students?
  • Can I complete my student teaching for the online master’s degree while working at my current job?
  • What opportunities are there for hands-on learning? Will I learn research based intensive interventions and other strategies?
  • Will I be fully prepared to pursue licensure?
  • What services are available to support students online?
  • What are the admission requirements and core curriculum? What does the application process look like?
  • Will the core curriculum in these online programs prepare me for any other career paths?
  • What is the next start date for the program?

Also consider the accreditation of the online programs you are considering. Top accreditors of master’s degree in special education programs include:

  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE)
  • Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC)
  • The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE)

Look for a regionally accredited institution whenever possible. That’s especially important for special education professionals seeking licensure.

With that housekeeping out of the way, let’s get started!

Read on for our top special education masters programs rankings!

See Also: Affordable Online Master’s in Education

Quick Links to Our Top 10

  1. Western Governors University
  2. Florida State University
  3. Western Carolina University
  4. Indiana University Bloomington
  5. Saint Joseph’s University
  6. Graceland University
  7. Ball State University
  8. University of Nebraska-Lincoln
  9. University of Arkansas
  10. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

Methodology: We gathered data through publicly available resources, such as:

  • US News and World Report
  • the National Council for SARA
  • the National Center for Education Statistics
  • the school’s program websites

Then we assessed schools for our ranking. We used these criteria as guide-points:

  • Affordability
  • Extent to which the program can be completed online
  • School accreditation
  • Quality of learning outcomes

30 Best Master’s Degree Special Education Programs

#30. Grand Canyon University

MEd of Special Education

Grand Canyon University

The aspiring special education teacher will find a lot to love in the special education program at Grand Canyon University. This best online master’s in special education degree program has an affordable per credit tuition cost.

This professional studies program is offered by GCU’s College of Education. The online MEd in Special Education leads to initial teacher licensure for Arizona residents. GCU Counselors can guide and advise special educators from other states on how to obtain their teaching license.

The program includes 47 total credits that will train you to work with exceptional learners. Students can transfer up to twelve credits. The program includes concepts from a variety of academic disciplines. It is flexible and accessible at any time.

Coursework includes particular attention to the following subjects:

  • U.S. and Arizona Constitutions for Teacher Candidates
  • Methods of Teaching Math to Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities
  • Learning Environments for Students with Mild to Moderate Disabilities

There are countless grant and scholarship offerings. Aspiring special educators can be assured that their education will be affordable.

#29. University of North Dakota

Master’s in Special Education


If you want to become a special education teacher, you should consider a master’s degree in special education from the University of North Dakota. The learning environment here is ideal for diverse learners. It’s the perfect program for the special educator seeking a teaching license.

Students can choose between a MEd and an MS degree in Special Education at the UND College of Education & Human Development. The program also offers no less than nine specialization options:

  • Board Certified Behavior Analyst
  • Autistic Spectrum Disorders
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Intellectual Disabilities

This is a strong program created for certified teachers or non-certified individuals. It helps them serve children and young adults with mild to moderate disabilities. You’ll take classes covering topics like:

  • Teaching children with moderate disabilities
  • Assessment strategies for measuring student achievement
  • Educating children in an inclusive classroom setting
  • Instructional design
  • Multiple methods for classroom management

You’ll need a minimum of 32 total credits to graduate. It takes as little as eighteen months. All classes are 100% online. They are offered in an asynchronous format with weekly assignments and projects. Students can choose to start the program at three different times through the year.

#28. Emporia State University

MS Special Education

Emporia State University

You’ll find another one of the best master’s degree in special education at Emporia State University. A key component of this program is its focus on working with diverse learners in all kinds of learning environments, from K-12.

Emporia State’s online MS with a High Incidence Concentration has a specialized curricula that allows graduates to obtain a teaching license.

It is offered at The Teachers College’s Department of Elementary Education. The degree has 36 total credits.  You can take up to seven years to complete your program. The degree allows students to work at their own pace. You’ll gain insight into the educational approaches necessary to work effectively with special education students.

Coursework focuses on theory and application. You’ll take some of the following courses to give you the skills you need for teaching students of all kinds:

  • Characteristics of Students with High Incidence Disabilities
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders: Medical Issues & Trends
  • Family/Other School Professionals Working w/Exceptionality

Three application deadlines occur before each of the three start dates a year.  Students must be accepted both as a gradate student eligible for study at Emporia State and also into the Special Education Program. Applicants can take as many as nine total credits of electives in the program before acceptance.

#27. Frostburg State University

MEd in Special Education

Frostburg State

Frostburg State University has a graduate school with one of the best special education degrees.

This online master’s allows students to choose a specialization in grades 1-8 or graders 6-12. This is a comprehensive program that examines “every element of the special education environment.”

A key component of this program is its flexibility. For students who are public school certified or eligible to be, the program ranges from 39 to 42 total credits.

Students take classes in order. These include:

  •  the Professional Education Core (example class: Developmental Theory and Experiential Growth)
  • the Special Education Core (example class: Characteristics of Exceptional Children)

Electives and a Capstone project culminate the degree. Similar programs provide special education professionals with opportunities to broaden their degrees outside of that specific subject area.

#26. Kentucky State University

MS Special Education

Kentucky State

You’ll find another one of the best special education master’s at KSU’s School of Education. The online Master of Arts in Special Education with Certification in Learning and Behavior Disorders P-12 (MASPE) program offers superior educator preparation.

If you’re a special educator seeking a unique learning environment, you’ll love the specialized curricula of this program. You’ll cover topcis like:

  • Academic and social behavior of students with severe disabilities
  • Academic and social behavior of students with moderate disabilities
  • Ideal learning environments for students
  • Instructional planning for students with mild to severe disabilities
  • Classroom management
  • Self-determination strategies for students with moderate disabilities

Students are guided and supported through the entire program. That’s through electronic educational support services or field education advisement.

All students must participate in a student teaching practicum in a school. This is a key component of professional studies in this graduate school. It will give you the hands-on experience you need for working with students with mild to moderate disabilities. You’ll learn about classroom management and intensive interventions. It’s a great way to gain the skills necessary for teacher licensure.

The curriculum is made up of 36-45 total credits dependent upon a student’s prior educational background. Some students may be required to take a prerequisite twelve total credits. These provide educator preparation in topics such as:

  • Legal and Parental Issues in Special Education
  • Teaching Mathematics to Children and Youth with Learning and Behavior Disorders.

#25. Old Dominion University

Master’s in Special Education

Old Dominion University

Old Dominion University has a leading special education master’s program. The Department of Communication Disorders & Special Education at the Darden College of Education offers an MS in Education that is an excellent option for students residing in Virginia or Washington State. These are the only locations in which the program is available, according to current information.

The program focuses on:

  • scholarly research
  • instructional planning
  • advanced instructional strategies and learning environments
  • the foundations of special education leadership

This 30 credit hour special education program offers classes like:

  • Fundamentals of Human Growth and Development: Birth through Adolescence
  • Characteristics and Medical Aspects of Disabling Conditions

The coursework is the same as the on-campus master’s degrees. ODU offers dedicated resources for the online learning experience.  Support is available for both prospective students and current online students. There are multiple academic resources and technical supports. This best online master’s in special education degree program has an affordable per credit tuition cost.

#24. University of Missouri

M.Ed. in Special Education

The College of Education’s Department of Special Education houses Mizzou Online’s MEd in Special Education. This program provides a pathway to initial teacher licensure. It has an Emphasis in Early Childhood Special Education and Autism.

This 30 credit special education program is 100% online. It takes just two years to complete. Three start dates a year are offered. All required courses are semester based. Coursework is constructed to help graduates “design, deliver and evaluate services to children from birth to age 5.”

Classes teacher candidates will take in this online master’s in special education include:

  • Research With Exceptional Children
  • Young Children With Autism
  • Advanced Behavior Management

There is significant support offered before students are even enrolled. You can take a brief quiz to assess your aptitude towards online learning. This quiz leads to an assortment of Student Success Resources.

#23. University of Nebraska at Kearney

MA in Special Education

The MA in Education: Special Education program is available 100%  online through UNK’s eCampus.

This special education program has 36 total credits to graduate. After completing your professional studies, K-6 or 7-12 special education teacher licensure is the end result. All applicants must already have initial teaching licensure to be admitted. There are twelve required courses for professional studies. Then there are twenty-four credits in the emphasis area. You’ll learn how to deliver instruction in complex situations and to diverse groups of students.

Classes include topics like:

  • Functional Behavior Assessment and Behavior Intervention Planning
  • Inclusion and Differentiation Strategies for the 21st Century Classroom
  • Critical Issues in Education

UNK gives a short tutorial on “netiquette” prior to beginning any online master’s degrees. This is to make sure students are prepared in an online class. Tuition is charged per credit hour for the special education degree and financial aid is available.

#22. University of Arizona

Master’s in Special Education

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona has a leading special education master’s program.

There are three different MA in Special Education programs:

  • Behavioral Support
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing
  • Disabilities

These flexible programs also provide four possible concentrations:

  • Challenging Behavior
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Sensory Impairment
  • Gifted Students

All special education degree emphasis areas ask new teachers to complete 36 credits to graduate.

Classes include:

  • Special Services in the Schools
  • Language Development for the Exceptional Child
  • Behavior Principles and Disability: Assessment and Intervention

UA’s department of special education offers several dedicated support services to distance learners. For the online master’s degree, these include:

  • Career Services
  • Wildcat Joblink
  • the Online Library
  • round-the-clock tech support to teacher candidates

#21. Stephen F. Austin State University

Master’s in Special Education


At Stephen F. Austin State University, aspiring special education teachers have multiple special education master’s degrees to choose from.

Three options are available 100%  online for students in SFASU’s MEd in Special Education program. This is through the Perkins College of Education’s Department of Human Services. Students can choose from:

  • initial teacher special education certification seeking
  • non-teacher special education certification seeking
  • Educational Diagnostician certification seeking

The initial certification and non-certification programs have 27 total credits of core course and total credits of elective. The Educational Diagnostician program has 36 total credits.

Courses include:

  • The Educational Diagnostician
  • Trends in Education
  • Physical/Health Impairments

All programs provide students with thorough preparation in:

  • disability awareness
  • instructional strategies
  • formal and informal assessment
  • law

#20. Drexel University

Master’s in Special Education


You’ll love everything that the master’s degree in special education at Drexel University has to offer.

Drexel’s MS in Special Education at the School of Education is delivered in an asynchronous format. This research based program is meant to accommodate working teachers.

There are six certificate options. These are in:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Collaborative Special Education Law and Process
  • Special Education Leadership
  • Technologies for Special Education
  • Multisensory Reading Instruction

This is a 45 credit hour program that can be completed in just 21 months. There are:

  • 27 credits of core classes
  • 12 credits of concentration courses
  • Six credits of “action research”

All aspiring special education graduates must construct a professional portfolio. They must present this during the program exit interview.

Each student receives a dedicated academic advisor for the duration of the program for guidance and support. The online program provides the same faculty members teaching the same quality coursework as the on-campus program. You’ll have access to the same practical application field experiences as well.

#19. Purdue University

Master’s in Special Education

Purdue Global

The MSEd in Special Education at Purdue University is one of the best special education master’s around. It is top ranked by U.S. News & World Report along iwth the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

The Purdue University is a comprehensive and thorough online program. It has 31 to 41 total credits depending on which track is chosen. These education degrees take as few as twenty months.

Six tracks are possible in this program in learning disabilities at Purdue University. Students can opt to just pursue the master’s degree. Or they can follow either advanced or initial licensure tracks with a focus in:

  • mild intervention for mild learning disabilities
  • mild and intense intervention
  • intense intervention-only

For students who live outside of Indiana, Purdue University practices license reciprocity with 42 other states. Purdue University advisors can assist students with their student teaching practicum in any of those states. The curriculum is in line with edTPA (which used to be called the Teacher Performance Assessment).

Students at Purdue University must complete four professional portfolios. There are three with faculty advisement and one on their own.

#18. Texas A&M University

Master’s in Special Education

You’ll love the online master’s in special education at Texas A&M.

Students can opt for either a Master of Science or a Master of Education in Special Education online.

There are 36 total credits to graduate. This two-year program begins every June and offers classes in a sequential format.

Here, online study “does not mean independent study.” This program has a faculty made up of practitioners who are also researchers. They have all been through specific certification training on how to provide the most effective online instruction possible.

Classes include:

  • Adolescent Literacy for Students with Diverse Instructional Needs
  • Ethical and Professional Conduct in Special Education

A Certificate in ABA is available as an additional option. This adds eighteen credits hours to the program.

#17. Michigan State University

Master’s in Special Education

Michigan State

Special education teachers, listen up! The online master’s in special education at Michigan State University is one of the best.

Applications are accepted once a year in the spring for the online MA in Special Education. The program begins each year in June. All aspiring special education teachers are assigned a full-time, tenure-track faculty member.

This person serves as an academic advisor to help them navigate their time at MSU. The program includes 30 total credits.

Two endorsement areas are offered. Each adds an additional six credits:

All clinical requirements can be achieved through a student’s own classroom with faculty approval. Teachers can apply the skills they are learning to the classroom right away.

Courses include:

  • Literacy Instruction for Students with Mild Disabilities
  • Collaboration and Consultation in Special Education

#16. Arkansas State University

Master’s in Special Education

The Master of Science in Education (MSE) for Special Education Instructional Specialist K-12 online degree program at Arkansas State University is 36 total credits.

Arkansas State University

This online master’s in special education is perfect for working teacher candidates. It takes less than a year and a half. It is also a good option for those seeking successful completion of a master’s degree for teacher licensure. This school is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. It is also top ranked by U.S. News & World Report.

Coursework includes:

  • Positive Behavior Interventions and Support
  • Collaboration for Special Education Service Delivery
  • Characteristics of Individuals with Disabilities

Students learn applicable skills and real-world methodology. ASU offers such student services as:

  • an online library
  • Arkansas State Disability Services (which provides help and support for students of “Arkansas State online courses, A-State Online Program, Distance Education, and A-State courses at sister-campuses”
  • dedicated online 24/7 tech support through A-State Online Support

Based on current information on the school’s website, online tuition is affordable. It is charged at a per credit rate. Financial aid is available as is a helpful tuition calculator.

#15. Fort Hays State University

Master’s in Special Education

Special education teachers seeking a teaching license will love the online master’s in special education at Fort Hays State University. This research based program offers plenty of field experiences and diverse learning options for all kinds of career paths.

The Virtual College at Fort Hays State University provides a “personal academic advisor” to each online student in the Master of Science in Special Education online degree program. In addition to the training needed for actual teaching, there are also lots of resources and student services. This program guarantees a “user-friendly” experience.

The 36-credit hour program can be completed in about a year and a half to two years and is all online. Students can complete coursework and any field experiences or student teaching experiences in the places in which they live and work.

Students can choose between focus areas in Gifted or High-Incidence Special Education.

Comprehensive exams are given in both the fall and spring semesters. The curriculum is “designed to promote reflection and critical thinking.”

Students take away from the program “authentic learning experiences with real-life application.” Tuition is billed at a per credit rate with ample financial aid opportunities abound.

#14. Indiana Wesleyan University

Master of Education in Special Education

Indiana Wesleyan University

Indiana Wesleyan University offers one of the best online master’s in special education for teacher candidates who wish to pursue teacher licensure.

The online masters programs for special education with a major in Special Education are delivered through the School for Educational Leadership. These programs are designed for working educators from all states. This 33 credit hour program leads to initial licensure in special education for students with mild to moderate disabilities. Students from states other than Indiana will need to assess their state’s requirements to make sure the program will meet them.

The cohort-modeled program takes just over two years to complete. There are three annual start-dates. These give students the opportunity to start the online degree program when the time is ideal for their needs.

Core coursework for this master’s degree special education option includes:

  • The Culturally Competent Teacher Leader
  • Leading Instructional Improvement
  • Classroom Responses to Individual Differences in Language and Culture
  • Collaboration with Families and Professionals

#13. Minot State University

Master’s in Special Education

You’ll find another top online master’s in special education at Minot State University. The MS in Special Education degree program at MSU is 100% online and is delivered by one of the best online colleges for special education.

The degree is made up of 25-27 total credits of core classes. There is a capstone thesis project. You also have a choice of program emphasis areas. The program has a goal of creating educators who are “agents of positive change.”

The Special Education program emphasis areas include:

  • Deaf or Hard of Hearing
  • Specific Learning Disabilities
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Special Education Strategist (this area covers autism, emotional and behavioral disabilities, and intellectual disabilities)

Students choose from three start dates a year. They work with faculty advisors to tailor an individual plan of study to their academic experience.

MSU Online offers an Online Tutorial. This gives prospective students a glimpse of what being an online student would be like at MSU.

#12. Texas Tech University

Master of Education in Special Education

Texas Tech

The online master’s in special education at Texas Tech University has seven emphasis area options. The MEd in Special Education helps students achieve many different career goals.

These master’s degrees have multiple options, including:

  • Autism
  • ABA
  • Deaf Education
  • Educational Diagnostician
  • Generic Special Education
  • Orientation and Mobility
  • Transition
  • Online masters visual impairments

All of these have 36 total credits. Some of the certification options include some on-campus classes or weekend workshops.

Students take six credits of foundational requirements. Course topics include:

  • Cultural Foundations of Education
  • Educational Psychology

You must also take six credits of Basic Special Education Core classes. The remainder of the program is then dedicated to the emphasis area. Students can opt between a Master’s thesis or a comprehensive written exam to culminate the program.

#11. West Virginia University

Master’s in Special Education

West Virginia University

Another of the best online master’s in special education can be found at West Virginia University.

The online master’s in special education is perfect for teacher candidates. WVU Online offers degree programs for both licensed teachers and those who need to seek licensure. These top special education masters programs are online in both live, synchronous format and an asynchronous format via the WVU eCampus web.

There are five specializations:

  • Applied Behavioral Analyst
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Gifted Education
  • Multi-categorical Special Education
  • Severe/Multiple Disabilities

Students complete their field education teaching experiences in their own communities. That’s with with guidance and supervision from the esteemed UWV faculty in the Department of Special Education.

Students have the opportunity to participate in various Professional Development events and resources. These are meant to enhance their educational experience.

#10. Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota

Master’s in Special Education

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

The Master of Arts in Special Education (MASE) degree program at Saint Mary’s is one of the best online master’s in special education. It is ideal for certified teachers looking to enhance their abilities to work with students with special needs. It’s also great for others who need initial licensure.

Students have three dates in which they can start this 36 credit hour program. It can be completed in two years. Those seeking licensure will need to take additional prerequisite coursework. They must also participate in field experiences at one of Saint Mary’s physical campuses.

The program has a goal of guiding students to “understand the unique needs of learners with a wide range of disabilities.”

Saint Mary’s offers core classes in topics such as:

  • Literacy Development & Interventions
  • Behavior Theories
  • The Individual Education Process

In addition to also offering specific special education resources, each online Saint Mary’s student receives an iPad to access their classes on their time for ultimate ease and accommodation.

#9. University of Arkansas

Master of Education in Special Education

Teacher candidates will appreciate the flexibility of the special education programs at the University of Arkansas.

The MEd in Special Education is meant for practicing teachers. It’s ideal for those who want to advance in the specialized field of special education.

Students seeking initial licensure can still attend. They will need to take additional coursework beyond the regular program requirements.

This is a 36 credit hour program that can be completed in about two years. There are certificate options available in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Applied Behavior Analysis.

Students take nine total credits of core courses. These include:

  • Life-Span Human Development
  • Historical Foundations of Modern Education

You can make up the remaining credits with three hours of cognate study. There are 24 of specific classes related to topics like:

  • moderate disabilities
  • learning disabilities
  • instructional planning

All classes in these master’s degrees are online. You’ll need to complete a practicum. However, this can be completed in the student’s hometown. That’s often within a public school or agency that aligns with the program focus.

#8. University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Master’s in Special Education

University of Nebraska

The special education programs at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are some of the best for aspiring teacher candidates.

Two degree programs and three specialization possibilities await students online. The school offers both a MA a MEd.

Students can choose between thesis and non-thesis options. There are three specializations:

  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing Education
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Visual Impairments

These exist 100% online. However, the Visual Impairments specialization does include on-site summer coursework. For students seeking additional educator preparation or endorsements, the MEd program is ideal. It has 36 total credits.

For students who want to go on to research rather than teach, the MA program is the right fit.

Regardless of which of these best special education masters programs are chosen, all students work with an advisor. This is to chart out their coursework and academic goals.

#7. Ball State University

Master’s in Special Education

Ball State

There’s a lot for teacher candidates to love about the special education programs at Ball State University.

Ball State’s MA is an online program with five focus areas.

It requires at least 30 total credits to graduate. Students take nine hours of core coursework. You must take at least fifteen hours of coursework in a focus area. There is also a supplemental research course.

Focus areas include:

  • Applied Behavior Analysis
  • Autism
  • Director of Special Education/Exceptional Needs
  • Response to Interventions
  • Severe Interventions

You can focus on just one area. Or you can combine them to tailor the degree to your specific needs. Classes are offered per credit both in a synchronous and asynchronous format

There are a myriad of student support services and resources to help students be successful.

Courses include:

  • Educating High School Students with Severe Disabilities
  • Behavioral Consultation
  • Organization and Administration of Special Education Online Degree Programs
  • Cognitive Interventions for Special Education

#6. Graceland University

Master of Education in Special Education

Graceland University

The special education programs at Graceland University are some of the best for the licensed special education teacher.

The 30-credit hour MEd at Graceland’s Gleazer School of Education (GSOE) is ideal for already licensed teachers. It’s perfect for those who want to transition to working with children with disabilities. It’s also ideal for students who want to enhance their skills working with special needs children in their schools.

The degree is all online and takes about two years to complete. Students enter the program together. There are several start dates a year from which to choose. This is all in a cohort.

You will take courses in a sequence. Core classes include:

  • Introduction to Choice Theory: Teaching Students Responsible Behavior
  • Remedial Math Methods
  • Autism Spectrum Disorders

Accelerated study is available. Financial aid is also offered per credit.

#5. Saint Joseph’s University

Special Education Master’s Degree

Saint Joseph’s online MS in Education degree with Special Education certification is designed for Level 1 certified teachers in early childhood education through secondary school. It is also one of the best special education masters programs for Reading Specialists. Students with other backgrounds can still participate in the MS without seeking certification).

In addition to the certification tracks, there are two other tracks available:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders endorsement
  • Wilson Reading System® certification

The programs range from 36 total credits for the Master’s-only track to up to 39 hours. This depends on which additional track is chosen.

All programs require 24 total credits of core courses. These include:

  • Diagnostic Assessment and Progress Monitoring
  • Families, Schools, and Communities: Communication and Collaboration

Online students benefit from the experienced and caring faculty at their disposal. They also receive 24/7 tech support through SJU’s “Personal Support Center”. They even get their own “Student Services Coordinator” to help guide them to the resources they need.

#4. Indiana University Bloomington

Special Education Master’s Degree

Indiana University Bloomington

If you want to begin a career as a special education teacher, consider the special education programs at Indiana University Bloomington.

A distinguishing feature of the only-online MSEd is the “Mentor Teacher”. This is a person that oversees and offers guidance throughout the student’s ongoing field experiences. For students who are already teaching, a mentor can be picked at the school in which they teach. This support from a seasoned teacher provides a ready-made resource of practical and applicable skills.

36 total credits make up the program. Students have their choice of one of several track options. These include:

  • Autism
  • Behavior Specialists
  • Early Childhood
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Intense Interventions

Twenty total credit hours are devoted to core courses in topics like:

  • Families, School and Society
  • Collaboration and Service Delivery

Twelve hours make up the emphasis area courses. A final thesis or capstone project completes the program requirements.

#3. Western Carolina University

Special Education Master’s Degree

Western Carolina University

The special education programs at Western Carolina University are ideal for aspiring teacher candidates.

The  College of Education and Allied Professions at WCU offers two online programs. For students without a bachelor’s degree or licensure in a relevant field, WCU has a Masters of Teaching (MAT) degree program.

For students who hold the undergraduate SPED degree and licensure, there’s the Masters of Education (MAEd) program.

The MAEd program requires 30-33 total credits. There are:

  • twelve hours of core classes
  • 18-21 hours of concentration coursework
  • a final professional portfolio

The MAT program is 42 total credits. It requires:

  • eighteen hours of core coursework
  • twenty-four credits for the concentration
  • a professional portfolio

WCU offers a “Catamount Online Readiness Experience (CORE).” This is to test the waters of distance learning. Students have a resource page called “How to Distance” that provides tutorials and materials on all they need to know to succeed.

#2. Florida State University

Special Education Master’s Degree


The special education programs at Florida State University are perfect for teacher candidates seeking teacher licensure.

The FSU College of Education’s online Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction (C&I) degree program has a major in SPED Studies. It starts each fall with all core classes offered in an asynchronous format.

The flexibility allows students to maintain their jobs as educators. It lets them use their current teaching assignments as the field education classroom practicum.

This is a 33 credit hour program. There are 21 credits of required core coursework. These classes include:

  • Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Positive Behavior Support
  • Teaching and Technology.
  • The remaining twelve hours are from three different focus areas:
  • Early Childhood Special Education
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • High Incidence Disabilities

This program is not for students seeking initial certification. Online students are supported by all of the on-campus resources. They also have multiple specific resources available just for distance learning support.

#1. Western Governors University

Special Education Master’s Degree

Western Governors University

Last but not least on our list of the best special education programs for teacher candidates is Western Governors University.

The unique MS at WGU lands in our #1 spot. This program takes about two years to complete. It has a student-focused approach and competency-based learning model style.

With the competency-based model, students assess their current skills and experience with the help of an Enrollment Counselor and a Faculty Mentor. They develop an individualized Degree Plan. This focuses on the subject areas that they need to master.

Courses are organized into “competency units” as opposed to credit hours. Each of the courses provides the student with a “study guide and recommended learning resources.” There are thirty-one competency units of required coursework in topics like:

  • Psychoeducational Assessment Practices and IEP Development/Implementation
  • Instructional Models and Design, Supervision and Culturally Responsive Teaching

All students participate in “Program communities.” These are made up of fellow students and mentors to broaden their knowledge in their field of study. You’ll also participate in “Learning communities”. These are groups of other students going through similar assessments become a virtual support system.

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Michael Templeton
Managing Editor

Kacey Reynolds Schedler
Contributing Editor