Many online special education programs offer bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees, as well as certificate curriculum. These degrees may be earned with or without a teaching certificate. Some graduate-level programs require students to have a valid teaching credential, however. Online special education programs may be attended full- or part-time and are often completed in less time than traditional college degrees.
Bachelor's degree programs in special education usually include either certification in general special education alone or as a dual certification with elementary education or another subject. Each locality or region has its own set of requirements for certification. Before enrolling, prospective students should confirm that educational programs meet the certification requirements set forth by their local or regional education departments. Bachelor's degrees may take 2-4 years to complete.
Master's degrees can be earned with or without certification. At the master's level, students generally focus on one or more areas in special education. Areas of concentration offered by online special education programs may include reading specialist, curriculum specialist, gifted education, and intellectual impairment.
The entry requirements to online special education master's programs vary by university, but all require a bachelor's degree. The bachelor's degree does not necessarily have to be in special education. Some master's programs may require a particular score on an entry exam such as the Miller Analogies test or the Graduate Record Exam. A master's degree in special education may take 16 months or longer to complete.
Online doctoral special education programs may require a residency, i.e., classes taken on campus. Similar to campus-based doctoral programs, special education doctoral programs may require students to complete original research and a dissertation. This advanced coursework may take three or more years to complete.
Those who already have bachelor's or master's degrees may decide to earn a teaching certificate without pursuing another degree. Teaching certifications may be earned in general special education, orthopedic impairments, hearing or visual impairments, learning disabilities, autism, among others. The length of these online special education programs might be as few as eight weeks.
Professionals with a master's degree in special education sometimes want to move into administrative roles as special education directors. In order to do this, a special education director certificate is needed. There are some universities that offer this certification.
It is important to attend a regionally accredited special education program. Attending an accredited university may allow the student to receive financial aid if he or she is qualified. Additionally, accreditation alerts employers to the fact that the graduate has met established minimum competency standards.