If you’re patient, understanding, and love working with kids, teaching special education is a rewarding way to help shape the lives of young learners. Children with learning disabilities often need special attention to ensure their success at school. With an online special education degree, you’ll be trained to handle the specific requirements of children with various disabilities, helping them move past their limitations and achieve their highest potential in the classroom. Beyond general education, as a special education teacher you’ll be equipped to help students develop the life skills they need to succeed both in school and beyond, such as healthy communication techniques.

Overall, special education is a stable field. More than 450,000 positions for special education teachers were available in 2014, and that number is predicted to rise steadily through 2024 with a 6% growth rate in the field.

As a special education teacher, you’ll need to be organized, detail-oriented, even tempered, adaptable, and dedicated to helping your students reach achieve academic success. If you are considering a career in special education, read on. Our degree guide provides an overview of the functions special education teachers serve across various student grade levels, and the degree you will need to land your career goals.

Jump to a Section


Online Special Education Degree Overview

Degree Avg Degree Cost Avg Loan Default Rate Time Commitment Early Career Pay Mid-Career Pay Unemployment Rate
Associate $6,371 14.22% 2 years N/A $25,000 N/A
Bachelor's $15,183 9.42% 4 years $52,500 N/A 4.5%
Master's $16,401 11.52% 2 years $45,913 $48,450 N/A
Whether you are new to the field, or looking to advance in your current career, you should weigh the costs and time of getting a new degree against its benefits. There is no one-size-fits-all degree. The best choice for you will depend on your current educational background, financial standing, employment history, and area of interest. For instance, those with no experience may want to consider an associate degree, due to its shorter time commitment and lower cost. If finances are tight for you, then you should prioritize the student loan debt and default categories, as you will want to choose a degree that offers you the best chance of improving your financial standing with minimal risk. If your employer or someone else is paying for your education, then you might want to consider the degree that will offer you the highest salary. All salary information is sourced from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and/or PayScale

The No Child Left Behind Act requires all teachers to have their bachelor’s degree, and in some states a master’s degree as well. Special education teachers must also complete a teaching preparation program, including supervised student teaching. Earning an associate degree in special education is faster and relatively inexpensive compared to higher level degrees, requiring only two years of school at an average total cost of just over $6,000. There is, however, a limit to job possibilities and a lower cap on salary possibilities, with associate degree-holders in the field making an average of $25,000 per year.

Online Special Education Degrees


Online Associate’s Degree in Special Education

Earning an associate degree in special education takes two years, and typically costs just over $6,000. Expect courses such as early childhood education, English composition, and math for elementary teachers. Associate degree-holders can choose from a variety of career paths such as teaching pre-K, supervising daycare, working as library technicians, becoming teacher aides, or tutoring students with disabilities, and earn just over $25,000 per year. If you’re interested in pursuing an associate-level online special education degree, your coursework will prepare you with the necessary skills for educating all students, with an emphasis on those with disabilities.


    Early Childhood Education, English Composition, Math for Elementary Teachers


    Human Development, Child Development, Cognitive Studies


    Preschool Teacher, Daycare Supervisor, Library Technician


    Preschool Teachers: $28,000/year
    Daycare Supervisors: $20,000/year
    Library Technicians: $27,000/year


    Preschool Teachers: 7% job growth
    Daycare Supervisors: 13% job growth
    Library Technicians: 7% job growth

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Special Education

A bachelor’s special education degree online will require a four-year commitment. Special education instruction is a field that’s growing at a steady rate of 6% per year, with teachers making $57,000 per year on average. While you’re working towards your online special education degree, you’ll take courses such as multicultural education, early intervention, and early care and education. Programs will teach you how to instruct students in all basic core academic subjects, as well as classes like communication foundations and perspectives on education.


    Multicultural Education, Early Intervention, Early Care and Education


    Human Development, Child Development, Cognitive Studies


    Special Education Teacher, School Aide, Academic Support Specialist


    Special Education Teachers: $56,000/year
    School Aides: $24,000/year
    Academic Support Specialists: $53,000


    Special Education Teachers: 7% job growth
    School Aides: 8% job growth
    Academic Support Specialists: 12% job growth

Online Master’s Degree in Special Education

The majority of students who get their master’s in special education online become special education teachers, a job that pays $56,800 per year on average and shows a healthy growth trend at 6%. Master’s-holders can also write textbooks, become social and human services assistants, work as juvenile detention corrections officers, become librarians, and sometimes even teach special education at the college level, a profession that comes with an average salary of $62,000 per year.


    Special Services in School, Applied Research Methods, Ethical Issues in Behavior Analysis


    Common majors within the field include autism, early childhood special education, and literacy and response to intervention/ differentiated instruction/ high incidence disabilities.


    Social Service Assistant, Corrections Officer, Librarian


    Social Service Assistants: $30,000
    Corrections Officers: $40,000/year
    Librarians: $56,000/year


    Social Service Assistants: 11% job growth
    Corrections Officers: 7% job growth
    Librarians: 7% job growth

Online Doctorate Degree in Special Education

Earning your PhD in special education online requires a three-year commitment – on top of the six years needed to earn your foundational master’s. Secondary school teachers who hold a PhD in special education earn around $66,000 per year, and teachers at a college level earn $88,000 on average. Doctoral candidates major in a range of specialties, like early childhood, high incidence, severe disabilities, and education of students with visual impairments. Students pursuing their PhD in special education online can expect to focus on research, and are likely to spend some hands-on learning time working with children.


    College Level Instruction, Leadership, Special Education Supervision


    DBA and PhD


    District Superintendent, University Professor, Education Researcher


    District Administrators: $90,000/year
    University Professors: $72,000/year
    Education Researchers: $76,000/year


    District Administrators: 6% job growth
    University Professors: 13% job growth
    Education Researchers: 12% job growth

Online Special Education Choose Your Career

Average Special Education Salaries


Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

Salary: $90,410
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
6% 240,000 Masters N/A

Principals are responsible for the supervision of all teachers and students, as well as a wide range of administrative tasks. The principal creates school policies, drafts the academic calendar, hires staff, handles the school budget, and disciplines students. Principals work incredibly hard and their efforts are reflected in their compensation, with average yearly salaries over $90,000. Competition for principal jobs is somewhat tough, with only 240,000 roles in the U.S. in 2014.

High School Teachers

Salary: $57,200
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
6% 961,600 Bachelor's State licensure

High school teachers prepare students in grades 9-12 for success in college and beyond. These teachers tend to focus on one specialized subject, including branches of traditional academic subjects. Because the material they’re required to teach is fairly advanced, high school teachers often work beyond the school week to prepare lectures and grade assignments. With more than 961,000 high school teaching jobs in the U.S. and an average yearly salary of $57,200, teaching high school is a stable career path.

Middle School Teachers

Salary: $55,860
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
6% 627,500 Bachelor's State licensure

Middle school teachers work with students in grades 6-8, building on the academic foundation learned in elementary school. Middle school teachers are responsible for preparing their students for the transition into the more challenging academic environment of high school, and often teach specialized subjects versus a general curriculum. The 627,500 middle school teachers in the U.S. make an average annual salary of $55,860.

Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers

Salary: $54,550
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
6% 1,517,400 Bachelor's State licensure

Elementary school teachers work with children from kindergarten to 6th grade. They teach basic subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic, and ensure their students’ emotional and personal growth. Character traits like creativity and organization are imperative. The average salary for elementary teachers is $54,550 annually. Demand for professionals in this role remains consistently high; there were more than 1.5 million elementary teaching jobs in the U.S. in 2014.

Special Education Teachers

Salary: $56,800
Growth Rate 2014-2024 Number of Jobs: 2014 Degree Certifications
6% 450,700 Bachelor's State licensure

As a special education teacher, you’ll work with students with mental, emotional, physical, or learning-specific disabilities and will be required to assess your students to create and manage individualized education programs that will ensure their success. Sometimes this means creating variations on traditional lessons, and often entails additional instruction in emotional wellness, communication, and literacy. Teaching special education requires patience, and the best educators are adaptable, creative, organized, and understanding. On average, special education teachers earn upwards $56,000 per year.

Online Special Education Professional Requirements

State Licensed Teacher

After completing your online special education degree, you’ll also need to acquire a teacher’s license. Licensing (and therefore completion time and specific requirements) varies by state, but it typically requires passing a standardized certification exam, like the Praxis . In all states, teachers will only be granted a license after completing a bachelor’s degree. To pursue a career in special education, you are required to obtain a special education-specific teaching license. Typical completion time is 2-4 years depending on your program and specific state licensure requirements.

On top of licenses, some teachers may be required to obtain or wish to obtain additional certifications. A popular certification is the National Board Teacher Certification, a credential that demonstrates a teacher’s exemplary knowledge beyond that required for a standard license. National Board certified teachers usually make higher salaries and/or are compensated for continuing their education.

Is it required?


How long will it take?

2-4 years