Colleges with Special Education Degrees and Programs: How to Choose

Sep 26, 2019

Special Education College Programs

Special education degree programs are available from a wide range of postsecondary institutions at the undergraduate and/or graduate levels. These programs aim to prepare students to work as special education teachers, who work with children of various ages with different physical, mental, or learning disabilities. Explore some of the most distinguished colleges with special education majors and/or special education grad programs in the table below.

School Name Location Degree Levels for Special Education
Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
University of Texas at Austin Austin, TX Master's, Doctorate
University of Oregon Eugene, OR Master's, Doctorate
University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana Champaign, IL Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
University of Minnesota-Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
Michigan State University East Lansing, MI Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate
University of Georgia Athens, GA Bachelor's, Master's, Doctorate

Special Education Major

At the undergraduate level, students can most commonly pursue a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Special Education. Sometimes these programs are paired with a particular grade level, such as a degree in special education and elementary education. Typically, special education programs result in certification in special education for grades K through 12. Most of these programs are on-campus, but there are some online programs available.

Students in a bachelor's degree program in special education usually participate in a range of hands-on learning experiences working with children of various disabilities. Some programs may allow students to specialize in moderate or severe disabilities with a particular age range of children, such as pre-kindergarten to 8th grade or 5th to 12th grade. Coursework for these degree programs may include topics in:

  • Autism
  • Interventions
  • Behavior problems
  • Language development
  • Ethics
  • Assessment

Special Education Grad Programs

At the graduate level, students can pursue a master's or doctoral program in special education. Master's programs are most commonly offered as a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) in Special Education. Some of these programs are designed for teachers who are already certified, while some lead to initial teaching certification. Some of these programs are also available in online formats, and they may take 2 years to complete.

Doctoral programs typically result in a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Special Education and are primarily on-campus programs. These programs are usually offered in full-time formats and may take 3 to 4 years to complete. Doctoral students are typically trained in special education (college) teaching and research in the field.

How to Choose a Special Education College Program

There are many factors that any student should consider when choosing a college, such as location, financial aid/cost, and degree availability. Here we discuss a few of the important considerations for choosing a special education program.

State Requirements

Aspiring special education teachers should consider attending a school in the state in which they wish to work, as most special education programs help prepare students to meet that state's certification standards. For example, becoming a special education teacher in New Jersey has slightly different education and testing requirements than becoming a special education teacher in Texas.

Career Goals

As mentioned, there are different kinds of special education degree programs, as well as programs at the undergraduate and graduate level. When choosing a school, students should consider what their career goals are. For example, students who wish to work with elementary school-aged children may pursue a special education program paired with elementary education. Other students may wish to pursue research in the field and want a school that offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in special education so they can pursue their doctorate.

Hands-on Experience

While the majority, if not all, special education programs require some level of hands-on learning experience teaching and working with special needs children, students may wish to compare the different opportunities available in each program. Students may consider and compare experiences like observation hours, pre-clinical experiences, and student teaching to find the right fit.

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