2019 Best Online Colleges for Special Education Degrees

Quick Facts
Accreditation: CAA and CAEP
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $24,204
Avg Salary: $60,702

Online special education programs are available at the associate, bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Teachers who earn degrees or certifications in special education will work with students with physical or mental disabilities or other types of learning differences. Every state has different requirements for teacher licensing, so it is important for students to find out what those requirements are to make sure that their educational program is meeting state standards. In addition to our comprehensive list of accredited online special education degrees, we highlight the best online colleges offering master's degrees in special education, ranked based on tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale.

Prospective students of online special education degrees should make sure that the school they are looking to attend is regionally and programmatically accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Accreditation through this body ensures that the education students will receive has been held to standards that assure quality and supports continuous improvement to strengthen P-12 student learning.

Find an Online Degree:

Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Special Education Degrees (247)

Find an Online Degree:

2019 Best Online Colleges Offering a Master's in Special Education

Special Education-Top Online Colleges-2019-Badge

The following 24 schools are ranked for their impressive salaries and affordable tuitions for their online master's in special education degrees. All schools on this list are under $32,000 per year, and 15 are under $15,000. Ranked #1 is The George Washington University, with a low cost of only $14,620 each year. Graceland University, ranked #11, has a great return on investment, with an affordable annual tuition of $7,575 and a reported mid-career salary of $71,500.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about SR Education Group.

Rank School Annual Tuition Median Salary
#1 #1 Annual Tuition $14,620 Median Salary $91,400
#2 #2 Annual Tuition $11,200 Median Salary $89,200
#3 #3 Annual Tuition $15,696 Median Salary $89,000
#4 #4 Annual Tuition $12,945 Median Salary $82,200
#5 #5 Annual Tuition $21,504 Median Salary $80,100
#6 #6 Annual Tuition $31,068 Median Salary $77,000
#7 #7 Annual Tuition $10,925 Median Salary $74,100
#8 #8 Annual Tuition $15,480 Median Salary $73,200
#9 #9 Annual Tuition $16,537 Median Salary $73,300
#10 #10 Annual Tuition $26,505 Median Salary $74,100
#11 #11 Annual Tuition $7,575 Median Salary $71,500
#12 #12 Annual Tuition $10,728 Median Salary $69,000
#13 #13 Annual Tuition $12,150 Median Salary $66,900
#14 #14 Annual Tuition $15,864 Median Salary $67,300
#15 #15 Annual Tuition $17,046 Median Salary $67,000
#16 #16 Annual Tuition $9,045 Median Salary $64,700
#17 #17 Annual Tuition $9,240 Median Salary $63,900
#18 #18 Annual Tuition $8,925 Median Salary $63,100
#19 #19 Annual Tuition $12,852 Median Salary $63,600
#20 #20 Annual Tuition $12,037 Median Salary $63,000
#21 #21 Annual Tuition $10,725 Median Salary $62,800
#22 #22 Annual Tuition $9,273 Median Salary $61,000
#23 #23 Annual Tuition $20,422 Median Salary $61,200
#24 #24 Annual Tuition $9,960 Median Salary $59,800
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo. Updated 2018.

Online Special Education Degree Overview & Career Information

A bachelor's degree is the minimum amount of education required to become a special education teacher. Although associate degrees typically are not offered in this specific field of education, there are programs in related subjects, such as early childhood education, that can prepare individuals for future study at the undergraduate level or for certain entry-level jobs. A student graduating from a special education teacher-preparation program with a bachelor's degree is eligible to be licensed, while individuals who have a bachelor's degree that is not intended for licensure preparation, or a degree in a field other than special education, may need to undergo additional training as outlined by their state. Master's degree programs come in a variety of formats. Some are geared toward individuals with no prior teaching experience who want to make a career change, while others are for licensed teachers who wish to add to their skill set so that they are better suited to teach students with special needs. Doctoral programs are available to those who want to work in research, top leadership roles or teaching at the university level. Graduate certificate programs are also an option for teachers who want to gain skills in the area of special education but who do not want to commit to a full master's degree program.

View Special Education Programs View Special Education Programs

Online Associate Degrees in Special Education

There are a few online associate degree programs specifically in the special education field, but it is more common to find programs at this level in a general discipline such as early childhood education. This type of degree can prepare individuals to work in certain entry-level jobs in the childcare field, such as working in a daycare or as a teacher's aide. It can also provide a starting point from which to move on to more advanced study at the bachelor's level. Classes that students might take while earning their associate degree cover subjects such as early childhood education, child development, linguistically and culturally diverse learners, advocating for children with special needs, and how to create an inclusive classroom. An online associate degree program can be found at community colleges and four-year schools offering online education. Students will spend approximately two years on their studies and will complete as many as 67 semester hours of work. In order to be admitted, an applicant will need to have a high school diploma or GED.

View Associate Programs View Associate Programs

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Special Education

A bachelor's degree is typically the minimum amount of education required to become a licensed special education teacher. This type of program can be found at colleges and universities and usually takes four years to complete. Example courses that students will take include Special Education Assessment, Literacy Facilitation for All Learners, Foundations of Teaching and Learning, and Lifespan Development. There is also a required student teaching component. Those who are looking to become a certified teacher following the completion of a bachelor's degree should check to make sure that the degree they enroll in meets their state's licensure requirements, and that the program itself is designed to lead to teacher certification. Not all bachelor's degree programs in special education are intended to lead to certification, as some are more geared toward individuals who are planning on pursuing graduate-level work.

In addition to working as a public school teacher, a bachelor's program in special education will prepare an individual to work as a paraprofessional or teacher's aide in the private school system, or as a tutor to children with special needs. In order to be admitted to a program, applicants will need to have a high school diploma or GED. Other common requirements include a personal statement and SAT or ACT test scores.

View Bachelor's Programs View Bachelor's Programs

Online Master's in Special Education

There are many universities that offer online master's programs in special education. There are programs available for those who have no prior teaching experience and who wish to become licensed special education teachers, as well as for teachers who work in another area and want to make a career change by moving into teaching children with special needs. Programs at this level take approximately two years to complete. As part of a master's degree curriculum, students will take classes in subjects such as adaptive instruction and assessment, instruction for special education students, social, legal, and ethical issues in special education, and applied behavior analysis. An internship or student teaching is also required, unless one is enrolled in a program that does not lead to licensure.

Upon completing a master's degree, graduates will be qualified to work as licensed special education teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. They might also find employment as a special education consultant or in supervisory roles within a school setting. Admission requirements for a master's degree program will vary based on the institution, but most require that applicants have earned a bachelor's degree. Although it is beneficial to have an undergraduate degree in a related field, admission to a graduate degree program is not dependent on this factor. Other admission requirements may include a resume, personal statement, GRE test scores, and letters of recommendation. Some of the more competitive programs may require applicants to go through an interview process as well.

View Master's Programs View Master's Programs

Online Doctoral Degrees in Special Education

Professionals working in the field of special education who want to advance their education through earning a PhD or doctoral degree can find online options through several universities. A doctoral-level program is an appropriate choice for someone hoping to work in top leadership positions within the field, such as director of a special education program. It is also appropriate for those who want to develop and implement educational policies, as well as for those who want to conduct their own research or teach the next generation of educators at the university level.

A doctoral program in special education will be made up of traditional coursework as well as research and a dissertation. Classes that a student might take include History of Special Education, International Special Education, Special Education Administration, and Special Education Law and Ethics for Leaders. In order to be admitted to this level of program applicants will need to have a master's degree and teaching experience. Other typical requirements include a resume, one or more writing samples, and GRE test scores. The length of time it takes to complete a doctorate will vary depending on the program and how long a student spends on their dissertation. Some programs may take as many as seven years to complete.

View Doctoral Programs View Doctoral Programs

Online Certificates in Special Education

Online certificate programs in special education are available at the graduate level, which means that an applicant will need to have a bachelor's degree in order to be admitted. Another common admission requirement is a teaching license, as this type of program is typically geared toward teachers who are already licensed and want to add to their skill set to better serve students with special needs. Students enrolled in a certificate program will take classes in areas such as teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, diagnostic assessment and progress monitoring, and current issues in special education. Many certificate programs will also require student teaching. A certificate in special education can usually be completed in about a year. Once the certificate has been earned, licensed teachers can continue on in their careers with a better understanding of how to teach students with special needs.

View Certificate Programs View Certificate Programs


One factor that individuals should keep in mind when deciding on an educational program is whether or not that program is regionally and programmatically accredited. When a school is regionally accredited, it means that an independent organization has evaluated that school as a whole and determined that it meets certain educational standards. Regional accreditation is important because credits transfer more easily between regionally accredited institutions. Furthermore, federal financial aid is not available to students enrolled in non-accredited schools.

Programmatic accreditation is given out by independent organizations that specialize in evaluating programs in specific subjects. For example, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) was the main accrediting body for teaching programs until it merged with the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) to form the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Education programs that have received CAEP accreditation are considered by the accrediting body to be quality programs that prepare students for their future teaching careers. Aspiring special education teachers should look for a training program that has this type of accreditation because that will provide them with the assurance that they are learning the most up-to-date skills and that they are receiving a rigorous training that will turn them into quality educators.

Special Education Teacher Requirements

In order to become a licensed special education teacher, an individual will need to earn a bachelor's degree at minimum. However, the bachelor's degree does not have to be specifically in special education. Elementary education is another degree that is common for special education teachers to earn. They may then specialize or minor in special education. It is also possible to become a special education teacher with a bachelor's degree in an unrelated subject, though additional training will be required, and these specific requirements will depend on the state in which the individual intends to teach.

Beyond a bachelor's degree, the requirements needed to become a special education teacher will vary from state to state. Typically, there is some type of examination that aspiring teachers must pass. Some states may require teachers to go on to earn a master's degree after they achieve their initial certification. Obtaining licensure also generally requires completing observed student teaching, which is a typical component of teacher training at all levels.


100% of users found this page helpful Was this page helpful?
This website offers school details to prospective students as an informational resource. The appearance of a school listing on this website should not be interpreted as an endorsement by the school of this site.
Recommendation rate refers to the percent of students who said they would recommend this school based on reviews submitted to our partner site, GradReports.com.
This indicates that a school has an annual tuition of $15,000 or less as reported to the National Center for Education Statistics or based on the school's website.