Master’s in special education
The National Center for Education Statistics estimates that disabled students make up approximately 14% of all public school enrollment. A master’s degree in special education is designed to educate individuals who want to pursue a career working inside or outside the classroom supporting people with disabilities. This program is designed to advance your knowledge of special education, with opportunities to concentrate your studies in a particular area or field. For example, if you want to work with people with autism spectrum disorder you could look for a university that would allow you to specialize in autism intervention and assessment.
What do I need to apply?
Admissions requirements vary by program, but all require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree, and most have minimum GPA requirements. You may also be asked to provide academic references, a personal statement, and/or test scores. The academic references can be written by a professor or tutor from your undergraduate program, or a counselor who is familiar with your academic skills. Your personal statement showcases why you are a good candidate for the program, and provides an opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective school.
Online vs. on-campus
Given the current heath pandemic, many universities now offer master’s programs exclusively online, or with a hybrid component. This is a great option for those who live far from campus or have tight daytime schedules due to work and family commitments. Online programs or classes give more flexibility and independence when managing coursework. Hybrid classes are a blend of online and face-to-face learning. For example, a hybrid class might have scheduled meetings on-campus, online lectures and tutorials, and an expectation that coursework be submitted online.
Does my university need to be accredited?
The short answer is yes. To have your degree recognized by future employers or academic programs, you should make sure that you only apply to accredited universities. Accreditation is a sign that the program you are enrolled in has reached a standard of excellence set by the national accreditation agencies. For you, this means that your course has passed the test, and that you are signing up for the real academic deal. This process is especially important when working in the special education field. One of these accreditation agencies is the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation which ensures that the students graduating from this program are prepared for educational or professional advancement.
The classes in a master’s program take a deeper look into special education policies, laws, evidence-based theories, and curriculum development. Upon completion of the program, the graduate should have an advanced understanding of how to support children, adolescents, and adults with disabilities.
This course seeks to build on the foundations set into place during undergraduate programs in special education, and continue reviewing educational theories and psychology. Students are taught about cognition and learning development which is applied to teaching.
Behavior analysis is the scientific approach to analyzing behavior, and how environmental factors affect it. This course focuses on principles, techniques, and research into child behavior, which can be used to assess behaviors and to implement meaningful changes in a child’s life.
Language and literacy support
This course provides students with the knowledge and skills needed to support people with disabilities in reading, language, and literacy. It takes a look at phonetics, phonological awareness, oral and written language strategies to support people who may have difficulties reading.
The practicum component of a master’s program is when a student gets to apply their knowledge to a real-life situation, under the guidance of a supervisor. It is a valuable experience for students to learn from experienced professionals who work in the field.
Special education law/policy
This course is an overview of the legal rights of people with disabilities and their families. It covers the history and current status of laws put into place to protect people with disabilities, the judicial decisions, and the American legal process.
Classroom and behavior management
When working with diverse learners, it is important to have an understanding of classroom and behavior management. The course offers strategies and systems meant to manage difficult classroom behaviors, helping to create an environment conducive to learning for all students.
This course focuses on the collaboration of families and professionals to promote communication between the people and agencies in a child’s life. By applying knowledge on cultural and linguistic diversity, students can develop the skills needed to identify and apply this information to appropriately meet a child’s educational needs.
A thesis is a paper students write which sums up the knowledge they’ve learned in the master’s program. A thesis highlights a student’s in-depth understanding of a particular area in special education. Generally, between 40-80 pages in length, the thesis is also evidence that the student has developed essential writing and research skills.
A concentration within the master’s program is a set of classes which specialize in a particular aspect of special education. Selecting a specific concentration can give the student an advanced set of skills to better prepare them for their future career.
In 2020, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 1 in 54 children in the United States were diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which makes autism awareness an important portion of special education. A concentration in autism awareness introduces students to the disorder, how to support students with ASD, and assess ASD to implement positive educational programs.
A concentration in educational diagnostics teaches how to effectively assess and diagnose the special learning needs of students using different assessment techniques. Students are presented with diffferent prevention and intervention strategies which can be applied to an educational setting.
High incidence disabilities
High incidence disabilities are sometimes known as mild disabilities. This can include emotional or behavioral disorders, ADHD, or learning disabilities. This concentration prepares you to identify specific learning needs and create educational programs for these students. Graduates can apply this knowledge to working as teachers or intervention specialists.
Gifted and talented
This focuses on children who show evidence of high achievement in specific academic fields, creativity, leadership, or intellectuality. Children who are categorized as gifted or talented have different curriculum needs, and graduates from this concentration learn how to develop an appropriate program for these children.
Similar to concentrations, certificates can provide the opportunity to expand your knowledge in a specialized area. Certifications can be completed at the graduate, postgraduate, or professional level. In addition to increasing your knowledge, certificates can benefit your future employment prospects.
This graduate certificate prepares you to integrate technology into your future classroom as an important part of the education process. How, why, and when should technology be used to support student learning? As technology becomes an increasingly important aspect in our lives outside the classroom, it can be used as a helpful tool inside the classroom.
Applied behavior analysis (ABA) certificate
This form of therapy is one of the most effective interventions used in working with children with autism and other behavioral disorders. It can improve social, communication, and learning skills through positive reinforcement. ABA certification is required for ABA licensure, though the specifics vary by state. Make sure to visit Behavior Analyst Certification Board for more information.
If you plan to teach at a public school after your master’s program in special education, completion of a teaching credential program is generally required. A credential program can be taken alongside or after the completion of the graduate program. The licensing requirements vary by state, but typically a bachelor’s degree, completion of the credential program, and a passed assessment exam are required to be considered for licensure.
Assistive technology professional certificate
This certificate recognizes the competency and understanding of assessing, analyzing, and assisting customers with disabilities by selecting the appropriate assistive technology. Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America offers certification, continuing education, and professional development. This is for students who want to pursue a career as an assistive technology professional.
Autism graduate certificate
This certificate is designed to equip you with what you need to know to help students who are on the autism spectrum. It is meant to provide essential knowledge of evidence-based interventions and support strategies.
A Ph.D. program can take 3-8 years depending on the research and coursework required. At the end of the program the information is presented as a thesis or dissertation. While sometimes you work with others in your cohort, the work is mostly independent.
Doctorate in Special Education
A doctorate in special education is a terminal degree, the higest award available in the field of special education. Graduates often work as administrators, directors of clinical programs, or teach at the post-secondary level. Depending on your research topic and speed, a Ph.D. in special education can take anywhere from 3 to 6 years to complete.
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
A Ed.D. in education is a professional doctorate rather than an academic one. For individuals who want to work as senior-level professionals in the academic field, this degree may be better suited than a Ph.D. program. This program involves collecting data, conducting interviews, observations, and developing strategies that solve an issue in the education field. This degree will generally qualify graduates to work at the post-secondary levels, as would a Ph.D.
Doctorate of Philosophy in Education (Ph.D.)
Students in the Ph.D. program conduct their own research seeking new information about education. This program is best for students who want to pursue a career working as a postsecondary teacher, or researcher at the university level.