In the 2018-2019 school year, 14 percent of all public school students (7.1 million) received special education services. The right services can revolutionize the educational experience for these students, ensuring they get a quality education and are well-prepared for the future. Not only is special education a huge benefit to these students, but it is also a legal right under laws such as Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
You can make a difference in the lives of special needs and exceptional students, while carving out a viable career path for yourself. Jobs in special needs will increase by an estimated 3 percent between 2019 and 2029, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Choosing the right special education degree is key for supporting your students and charting a course to career success. Here’s what you should know as you weigh your options.
Special Education Degree Options
There are many paths to a career in special education. Some of the most popular degree options include:
Master of Education (MEd)
A master of education degree gives a broad survey of education so you can take on both classroom and supervisory/administrative roles. In addition to learning general concepts in the field of education, most programs allow you to specialize in a specific area as well. For example, some students pursuing their master’s in this field might opt for a concentration in special education. Others may choose to focus on the psychological and support side of special education and specialize in counseling or school counseling. With this training, you can test special needs students, make program recommendations, and offer community and family support.
It's important to note that if you choose an MEd program, you must make sure the specific program you select offers the specialized training you need. A general MEd may not offer enough of a special education focus to prepare you for your ideal career.
Master of Arts in Special Education
A master of arts in special education (MA or MASE) is similar to a master of education, but with a specialized focus on special education services. You’ll learn about classroom management, individual support services, special needs diagnostic processes, and more. This degree also prepares you to take on administrative and supervisory roles, such as by designing curricula for other teachers.
Master of Arts in Administration of Special Education (MAASE)
In addition to offering the classroom training you’ll get with most other special education degrees, the MAASE focuses heavily on administrative skills. This empowers you to advise districts and schools on special needs education, develop curricula for schools and school systems, supervise special education teachers, and more. Rather than focusing primarily on the classroom, this degree prepares you to work directly on educational policy.
If your primary career goal is to ascend the special education career ladder so you can make a difference from an administrative position, the MAASE is almost certainly the right degree program for you.
Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders
Understanding the challenges that special needs students face is critical to better understanding them. If you’re beginning your bachelor’s degree, consider a major in communication sciences and disorders. Many aspiring speech-language pathologists choose this degree. However, it offers a broad overview of communication issues, making it a good starting point for a future teacher who intends to pursue graduate work in special education. If you already work at a school that primarily serves students with communication disorders, this degree could also be a good fit.
You don’t necessarily have to spend several years in school to expand your understanding of special needs education. A number of certification programs can prepare you to meet the needs of specific groups of students, while making your resume stand out. SNU’s Special Education Boot Camp is an ideal prelude to pursuing special education certification.
Benefits of Choosing a Master’s Degree in Special Education
Now more than ever, schools and parents recognize the importance of early identification and appropriate interventions for special needs students—whether they have a learning disability, are gifted, or are twice-exceptional. The number of students seeking special education services will likely increase in the coming years. Between the 2011-12 and 2018-19 school years, the number of students receiving special education services increased from 6.4 million to 7.1 million—growing from 13 to 14 percent of the public school population.
School systems must rise to this demand, integrating students meaningfully into educational programs while meeting their individual needs.
Some benefits to pursuing a master’s degree in special education include:
- Better support for your students. If you already teach special needs students, graduate training offers new skills you can use to help them go farther and be more fully included.
- Higher earnings. A master’s degree increases your earning potential. People with bachelor’s level training in special education had median annual earnings of $61,030 in 2019. More education also lowers unemployment rates, helping to recession-proof your career.
- Learn from experts in the field. There’s no greater source of special education knowledge than those who have been in the trenches, working with students. Choose a school that offers exceptional professors who have dedicated their lives to special needs students.
- Opening career doors. No matter how skillful you are in the classroom, certain roles are only open to people with advanced degrees.
- A deeper understanding of special needs learning. Sharpen your skills and your classroom management tools so you can give each student the greatest possible chance of success.
- A chance to network with other special needs professionals. Share ideas. Compare stories. Then when you graduate, help one another land great jobs at schools that are doing exceptional work.
- A chance to climb the leadership ladder. If you have aspirations outside of the classroom, a master’s degree can prepare you to move into administration, oversee district educational policy, or even land a job consulting for governments, nonprofits, and companies.
What Makes SNU’s MAASE Degree Different?
If you’re an adult considering a return to school, SNU’s MAASE perfectly blends convenience with a quality education. So what sets us apart?
- You can attend school while holding down a job or raising a family. Attend class online or just one night a week, so you can keep your schedule under control.
- Learn from innovative education leaders who have already done the work you hope to do.
- Our innovative cohort model helps you begin networking from day one. Take classes with a group of peers who will soon occupy roles in special education.
- School is more affordable than you might think. Most SNU students get financial aid. Our financial aid office can help you explore funding options even in challenging situations, such as if you have previously defaulted on a student loan.
It’s never too late to switch careers or to grow in your chosen field. Adult learners often struggle to return to school, but SNU offers a unique program tailored to the unique needs of people with demanding schedules. You can do it. We can help.
Ready to get moving toward an enriching career? Want to learn more about your options? Check out our free guide, The Ultimate Career Roadmap for Master’s in Administration of Special Education Graduates.