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The best master’s degrees in special education

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    Special education looks at strategies and techniques that help students with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders to progress academically. A master’s degree in this subject can give you the opportunity to concentrate on specific ages, including older students up to 21 years of age. You might also pursue this program to advance research in the field.

    This program may interest you if you want to enhance your skills to plan more effective lessons for students with learning disabilities and create a safer environment in the classroom. It could also allow you to learn and contribute to innovative methods that improve education initiatives for young people. A growth of 3% of employment of special education teachers is projected between 2019 and 2029, and highly-skilled individuals with a master’s degree are typically in demand.

    Requirements for master’s degrees in special education usually involve:

    • academic transcripts from a undergraduate degree
    • minimum GPA of 3.0, or GRE scores
    • resume, possibly showing experience working in education
    • 2 to 3 letters of recommendation
    • personal statement

    The best master’s degree programs often allow you to concentrate on a particular area. That could be a certain age group, a type of disability, or based on either practical skills or research and theory. Below you can find essential information, such as program length, cost, and the teaching approach, to help you determine which school is best for you.

    The best master’s in special education programs

    • Boston University

      Boston University Boston, Massachusetts
      Boston University

      At the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University, you could earn a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in special education. The program specializations allow students to focus on particular grades or areas outside of formal education settings, including:

      • General special education
      • General special education and social work (dual degree program)
      • Special education teaching licensure and social work (dual degree program)
      • Special education administration*
      • Teacher of students with moderate disabilities (pre-k-grade 8) combined with elementary education (grades 1-6)
      • Teacher of students with moderate disabilities (pre-k-8)
      • Teacher of students with moderate disabilities (grades 5-12)
      • Teacher of students with severe disabilities (ages 3-21)


      The program is taught in person at the campus in Boston or can be organized through partner schools. The teaching specializations involve a practicum with the relevant age group. Coursework includes special education cognition, learning, and behavior; assessment in special education procedure; and methods in special education. 
       

      Program nameMaster of education in special education
      Name of school (dept.)Wheelock College of Education and Human Development
      AccreditationNew England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
      LocationBoston, Massachusetts
      CostTuition: $56,854 per year
      Finance office
      Program formatOn-campus or satellite location
      Program length 2-3 years, 36 to 83 credit hours
      Read more
    • University of Wisconsin – Madison

      University of Wisconsin – Madison Madison, Wisconsin
      University of Wisconsin - Madison

      The Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education is part of the School of Education at UW-Madison. It offers a master of science in special education with 2 possible concentrations:

      • Teacher certification
      • Research and theory

      The program aims to equip students with professional skills to apply for the Wisconsin cross-categorical special education license to work with students aged 6-13 and ages 10-21. Alternatively, the research program advances students’ analytical skills, preparing them for academic positions or roles in community organizations.

      Teaching specialists will complete a practicum and a student teaching seminar. Research students will sit a comprehensive exam and produce a project or thesis. Coursework includes research methods in rehabilitation, mental health, special education, and multicultural issues in special education. 

      Program nameMaster of science special education
      Name of school (dept)School of Education
      AccreditationYes, Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
      LocationMadison, Wisconsin
      CostTuition in-state: $12,220 per year
      Tuition Minnesota resident: $19,052 per year
      Tuition out of state: $25,548 per year
      Finance office
      Program formatOn-campus
      Program length 18 months-2 years, 30-43 credit hours
      Read more
    • Clemson University

      Clemson University Clemson, South Carolina
      Clemson University

      Through the College of Education at Clemson, you can earn a Master of Education (M.Ed) in special education. The course sequence is verified by the Association for Behavior Analysis International (ABAI). The program has an emphasis in multi-tiered systems of support, academics, and behavior, but doesn’t offer field experience. It’s best suited to those already working in a school or formal educational setting, as access to students will be required for projects.

      It’s taught online, which makes it flexible enough to fit around your existing schedule. Coursework includes advanced classroom management, applied behavior analysis, and behavior analytic supervision. 

      Program nameMaster of education special education
      Name of school (dept.)College of Education
      AccreditationYes, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      LocationClemson, South Carolina
      CostOnline tuition: $545 per credit
      Finance office
      Program formatOnline
      Program length 2 years, 36 credit hours
      Read more
    • University of Minnesota

      University of Minnesota Minneapolis, Minnesota
      University of Minnesota

      Through the Department of Educational Psychology at the College of Education and Human Development at UMN, you could earn a Master of Arts (M.A.) in special education. The program is part of the educational psychology degree and has an emphasis in applied behavior analysis. Students have the option to choose a thesis route or complete a research project.

      Through electives, the program can be tailored to focus on college teaching, research, or consulting. The program is taught in person at the campus in Minneapolis.
      Coursework includes classroom management and behavior analytic problem solving, interventions for behavioral problems in school settings, and educating preschoolers with disabilities – specialized approaches and interventions. 

      Program nameMaster of arts educational psychology – special education
      Name of school (dept)College of Education and Human Development
      AccreditationYes, Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
      LocationMinneapolis, Minnesota
      CostTuition in-state: $8,790 per semester
      Tuition out of state: $13,602 per semester
      Finance office
      Program formatOn-campus
      Program length2 years, 32 credit hours
      Read more
    • University of Washington

      University of Washington Seattle, Washington
      University of Washington

      The College of Education at UW offers an M.Ed. in early childhood special education. There are 3 program options:

      • Initial teaching certification
      • Special education endorsement
      • Master’s only

      These choices make it possible to gain something from the program, whether you’re not yet qualified or already have the necessary certification and endorsement. It’s also possible to complete a special education program with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis.

      The program is taught at the University of Washington campus in Seattle; a version is also available online. Coursework includes autism and other social, communication, and developmental disabilities, ethics in applied behavior analysis, and instructional methods for students with moderate to severe disabilities. As part of the program, students will complete field experiences at early intervention settings, as well as preschool and elementary schools.
       

      Program nameMaster of education in special education – applied behavior analysis
      Name of school (dept)College of Education
      AccreditationYes, Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
      LocationSeattle, Washington
      CostTuition in-state: $6,174 per quarter
      Tuition out of state: $11,128 per quarter
      Online tuition: $589 per credit
      Finance office
      Program formatOn-campus and online
      Course length2 years, 45 credit hours
      Read more
    • Purdue University

      Purdue University West Lafayette, Indiana
      Purdue University

      The College of Education at Purdue delivers a Master of Science (M.S.) in special education. There are several tracks to choose from:

      • Master’s only without a practicum
      • Master’s with initial special education licensure
      • Master’s with advanced special educational licensure
      • Master’s with advanced special educational licensure (intense only)
      • Licensure only—mild or mild and intense

      This degree is taught online and classes are asynchronous, which means you can fit them around your schedule.

      Students pursuing licensure will need to complete a practicum and student teaching seminar. Coursework covers intervention strategies and research, advanced characteristics of children with mild disabilities, and identification, evaluation, and assessment of exceptional individuals

      Program nameMaster of science special education
      Name of school (dept)College of Education
      AccreditationYes, Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
      LocationWest Lafayette, Indiana
      CostTuition in-state: $379.05 per credit
      Tuition out of state: $700 per credit
      Finance office
      Program formatOnline
      Program length 20 months, 31-45 credit hours
      Read more
    • Texas Christian University

      Texas Christian University Fort Worth, Texas
      Texas Christian University

      At the College of Education at TCU, you could earn an M.Ed. in special education. The college works with 2 campus laboratory schools providing excellent practical learning opportunities for students. The program is designed for those that have already achieved licensure. There are several options:

      • Special education
      • Special education accelerated (TCU undergraduates only)
      • Special education with educational diagnostician certification

      The program is taught in person at the campus in Fort Worth. Coursework involves understanding exceptional children and youth at risk, planning and instruction in academically diverse classrooms, motivating and managing students in the classroom, and technology for diverse learners. It also includes a research component and practicum.

      Program nameMaster of education in special education
      Name of school (dept)College of Education
      AccreditationYes, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      LocationFort Worth, Texas
      CostTuition: $1,790 per credit hour
      Finance office
      Program formatOn-campus
      Program length2 years, 36 credit hours
      Read more
    • Vanderbilt University

      Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee
      Vanderbilt University

      At Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, you could earn an M.Ed. in special education. There are several program concentrations available:

      • Applied behavior analysis
      • Early childhood
      • High incidence
      • Low incidence – severe disabilities
      • Low incidence – visual disabilities

      The program includes fieldwork with a range of students and research projects. It’s taught in person at the Peabody College campus in Nashville. Each program concentration will involve a comprehensive exam and a project or thesis. Coursework modules comprise management procedures for academic and social behavior, trends and issues for students with behavior disorders, and advanced issues in family intervention.

      Program nameMaster of education special education
      Name of school (dept)Peabody College
      AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      LocationNashville, Tennessee
      CostTuition: $2,096 per credit
      Finance office
      Teaching approachOn-campus
      Course length2 years, 30-60 credit hours
      Read more
    • University of Kansas

      University of Kansas Lawrence, Kansas
      University of Kansas

      The School of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Kansas delivers a number of master’s degree programs in special education. Students can choose from:

      • Autism spectrum disorder
      • Early childhood unified
      • High incidence disabilities
      • Low incidence disabilities
      • Secondary special education and transition

      Within each program concentration, you can choose licensure and endorsement or a non-teacher track.

      The program includes a practicum, an advanced practicum, and culminates in either a master’s project or a thesis. Coursework covers inclusive strategies and interventions for preschoolers, assessment for transition planning, and family and interprofessional collaboration in special education. Some concentrations are available online while others are taught at the campus in Lawrence.

      Program nameMaster of Science in education – special education
      Name of school (dept)School of Education and Human Sciences
      AccreditationHigher Learning Commission (HLC) and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP)
      LocationLawrence, Kansas
      CostTuition in-state: $10,188 per year
      Tuition out of state: $24,430 per year
      Finance office
      Teaching approachOn-campus and online
      Course length2 years, 30-36 credit hours
      Read more
    • Florida State University

      Florida State University Tallahassee, Florida
      Florida State University

      Through the College of Education at FSU, you could earn a combined bachelor of science (B.S.) and M.S. degree in special education. It aims to equip you with the skills to be eligible for a Florida Professional Educator’s Certificate in Exceptional Student Education (K-12) with endorsements in autism spectrum disorders, reading, and English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL).

      The program includes field experiences and student teaching. Students need an associate of arts, or to have completed the general education curriculum at FSU before enrolling on this program.  Coursework covers assessment and methods in early childhood special education, assessment and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability, and methods for teaching students with low incidence disabilities. The program is taught in person at the campus in Tallahassee.

      Program nameBachelor of science and master of science special education
      Name of school (dept)College of Education
      AccreditationYes, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
      LocationTallahassee, Florida
      CostTuition in-state (undergraduate and graduate): $215.55/479.32 per credit
      Tuition out of state (undergraduate and graduate): $721.10/1110.72 per credit
      Finance office
      Teaching approachOn-campus
      Course length3 years, 145 credit hours
      Read more

    Financial support

    Before you choose your master’s program, you’ll need to consider how you’ll meet the tuition, fees, and other study costs. You may want to look into federal aid or getting a loan. You can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to determine your eligibility.

    Alternatively, your university or college might provide aid and financial assistance in the form of scholarships or graduate assistantships.

    Another option to consider is funding in the form of external scholarships, grants, and awards. For example, the TEACH Grant, is a support-for-service program that covers the cost of tuition. Similarly, students can apply for research funding or the special education teacher grant from SPEDxchange. It awards $1,000 annually to graduate students pursuing a degree in special education.

    Careers

    A master’s degree in special education can help you gain your license, certification, or endorsement in your state. Many graduates are able to secure higher salaries, specialized teaching positions, or continue to study and research the subject. Holders of this degree could consider several potential roles, including: