If you're planning to work with students with learning differences—or need an additional degree to continue working in education—it's beneficial to understand your academic options and what to look for in special education master’s programs. Choosing a reputable degree program is crucial because it equips you with the necessary knowledge, skills, and strategies to meet the needs of students with unique challenges in the classroom.

The right program can also have a significant impact on your career readiness and job opportunities, ensuring you’re well-prepared to make a positive impact in students’ lives. To find a special education degree program that aligns with your career goals, learn what factors to consider before you start applying.

Five Things To Look For in a Special Education Master’s Programs

A well-rounded special education master's degree should provide a strong foundation in both the theory and practice of serving students with learning differences. However, each program has its own format, curriculum, and admission requirements, and the experience you'll gain will vary. As you explore options, research each program's features, reputation, and success rates to ensure it prepares you well for a career in special education.

1. Accreditation

Opting for an accredited special education program gives you confidence that you’re receiving a high-quality education and ensures the best financial return. For example, the MEd in Teaching Special Education at Regis College is a Massachusetts-approved educator preparation program that allows you to work in classrooms with a variety of students.

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While program curriculums and institutional resources differ by school, all accredited programs meet the established quality standards recognized by state educational authorities. Enrolling in an accredited program provides assurance that you’re completing relevant coursework, learning from qualified faculty, and satisfying all requirements for a valid teaching license.

Not only do employers value degrees from highly credible programs, but attending an accredited program is typically mandatory to teach in public schools. “You want to make sure that the program you go into is a state-approved program that can lead you to licensure,” says Priscilla Boerger, program director of Regis College’s Master’s in Teaching Special Education. Otherwise, you may have to complete additional requirements on your own.

2. Curriculum

A thorough curriculum will set you up for success as a knowledgeable and skilled special education teacher. Look for special education master’s programs that cover the most important skills for supporting student development, such as assessment of learning challenges, classroom management, curriculum adaptation, and instructional strategies.

Teaching is a highly interactive job, and educators must leverage all of their interpersonal and support skills to make the most of their acquired knowledge. As a result, it's equally important for your graduate program to focus on developing qualities that will help you be an effective advocate for your students, such as empathy, good communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving.

3. Internship Opportunities

The more you spend time teaching in the classroom, the better you'll become at managing students, planning lessons, and overseeing developmental goals. Look for programs that offer ample opportunities to gain practical experience through internships or student teaching. Working alongside seasoned educators and fellow students enables you to learn from others, find new ways to manage challenges, and expand your toolkit of teaching techniques.

Students in Regis’ MEd in Teaching Special Education program get teaching practice in three classrooms and two field placement observations, totaling around 20 hours each. In the final semester, students have to complete a practicum of 150 hours for current teachers and 300 hours for prospective teachers. By the time graduates are entering the field, they’ve already had exposure to students with a wide range of moderate learning challenges and feel empowered to run a classroom.

4. Cost

Making a plan for funding your graduate education is crucial to ensure you complete your degree. Start by exploring the individual resources available to you, such as military benefits or savings. Then, research which colleges have student-centric financial aid departments with a good track record of helping students find sufficient resources. Many institutions will provide information about the average amount of financial aid packages, and you can ask more questions about the breakdown of loan- and grant-based aid.

Grants and scholarships are the best options for reducing your out-of-pocket costs, and many are specifically reserved for educators who are willing to work in areas with teacher shortages. Grants and scholarships are offered through private organizations, colleges, state and federal agencies, and employers. If you intend to work while pursuing a graduate degree, it may be beneficial to seek a position with an employer who will subsidize your education costs.

A Graduate Assistant position is another option for students who plan to cover some costs out of pocket. And if you’ve exhausted other low-cost options, low-interest federal student loans may help you manage any remaining expenses. Private loans are also available, but they come with higher interest rates and less favorable repayment terms. Overall, it’s important to consider which funding sources make sense for your career goals and minimize your financial burden.

5. Flexibility

Choosing a program that complements your lifestyle will make it easier to earn your degree and achieve your professional goals. In addition, work and family obligations may make it challenging to attend in-person classes on a regular basis. To combat this, be sure to compare the length and format of different programs and the frequency of class sessions to make sure you can fully commit to your education.

Regis’s hybrid special education master’s program is tailored to adults who want the engagement and community of a traditional program with the flexibility of online learning. Half of the courses are online, and in-person classes are typically in the evening to accommodate working adults.

Benefits of a Master's Degree in Special Education

As you compare degree programs, think about how you plan to use your education down the line. “It's a good time to go into special education,” says Boerger, “because many states are looking at what can we change; how can we make it easier for people to get into this field?”

Earning a graduate degree in special education offers numerous benefits, but perhaps the most important is the specialized knowledge you receive from this program as a current educator. In the end, this expertise will prove very useful in your long-term prospects, offering career advancement opportunities within education and increased earning potential.

Most importantly, this degree can amplify your impact on the lives of students who oftentimes need it the most. “There are a lot of children coming into classrooms with a variety of needs,” Boerger explains. “Having that special education background is certainly going to allow teachers to be able to work with those students.”

As a result, a master's degree can give you the ability to move into roles that have a significant impact on underserved communities and position you in a way that positively shapes the educational experiences of students with learning challenges.

Pick the Special Education Master’s Program That’s Right for You

Any accredited degree program will allow you to earn a graduate degree in special education, but not every school is right for you. As Boerger notes, Regis’s MEd in Teaching Special Education covers everything needed to prepare students to pursue a teaching license and more.

“Our program also leads to sheltered English endorsement, which is a requirement for the state of Massachusetts,” Boerger notes. “To be a teacher, you are required to have that endorsement, and if you go through the program successfully, you’ll be endorsed in sheltered English.”

By enrolling in a comprehensive and specialized program, you will acquire the advanced skills and practical experience necessary to become a successful special education teacher. If you want to know more about the special education master’s program, contact an admission counselor at Regis College to find out if the program aligns with your goals.

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