9 Careers You Can Pursue with a Master’s in Special Education

A high school teacher helps a student with her assignment.

Earning your master’s in special education can empower you to make a difference in people’s lives. 

Why Get a Master’s Special Education?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2020-21, 15% of all public-school students received special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At the same time, many states, including California, have reported a shortage of qualified special education teachers. By entering or advancing within the field of special education, you can impact lives and your community. At the same time, having a master’s degree sets you apart as a qualified candidate for many roles and often increases your salary and earning potential.

What Careers Can I Pursue With a Master’s in Special Education?

In addition to teaching, there are several other high-demand careers that can help you fulfill your calling to work with students with disabilities. While many people who earn a master’s in education or special education plan to teach in a classroom setting, a special education master’s can lead to a variety of careers that help people or children with exceptionalities. 

Earning this graduate degree also makes you a more marketable candidate when applying for a job. Why? Because school systems are turning toward hiring teachers with special education credentials who can teach a wider range of students in their classrooms. 

Here are nine careers you can pursue with a master’s in special education. 

9 Special Education Careers. Adjunct Professor annual salary: $88,064. Classroom Teacher annual salary: $61,820. Specialist Roles annual salary: varies. Educational Tester Diagnostician: $80,078. Independent Consultant or Trainer annual salary: $69,309. Special Education Instructional Coordinator annual salary: $63,740.  Behavior Intervention Specialist annual salary: $63,021. Director or Program Manager: $126,897. Special Education Clinical Roles annual salary: Varies

1. Classroom teacher 

Average annual salary: $61,820
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 4%

Special education teachers help students with disabilities in all grade levels. If you want to work in a classroom or teach directly, this role may be the right fit for you. As a special education teacher, you can work at the preschool, elementary, middle, or high school level. 

In some cases, you may spend time planning and implementing relatively minor educational accommodations for students with mild to moderate disabilities. 

If you work with students whose challenges are more severe, you may help teach life skills that will allow your students to have the greatest independence possible as adults. Special education teachers craft individualized plans and strategies to meet their students’ needs. If you enjoy customizing approaches for individuals with different needs, you’re likely to enjoy this process. 

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Although you can become a special education teacher without a graduate degree, earning your master’s in special education will not only make you a more qualified applicant, the advanced training is also likely to make you a more effective teacher. Teachers with master’s degrees also typically earn a higher salary. Special education teachers are currently in high demand; by pursuing or advancing in this career, you can have a real impact on children.

2. Educational diagnostician or tester 

Average annual salary: $80,078
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 7%

If you’d like to help with early intervention and diagnosis of special needs, you may want to become an educational diagnostician or tester. In these roles, you’ll assess children to help understand their needs and growth. Diagnosticians often meet with teachers and parents to help design appropriate learning plans and evaluate a student’s progress along the way. A master’s degree is almost always necessary to be a diagnostician, so this is a great way to use your advanced training to help others.

3. Adjunct professor

Average annual salary: $88,064
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 12%

Community colleges and some four-year colleges and universities hire people with master’s degrees to teach as adjunct faculty members. You might consider using a master’s in special education to teach in this setting if you want to help equip and inspire soon-to-be special education teachers.

4. Special education clinical roles

Average annual salary: Varies

An advanced degree in special education can also prepare you for work in clinical settings. Hospitals, for example, may offer early intervention positions designed to help children and adults with disabilities receive the services they need. You could also use your master’s degree in special education to help coordinate learning for children who are hospitalized for long periods of time or are in rehabilitation centers after experiencing an illness or injury. You may also be able to provide education, therapy, or rehabilitation for people with disabilities in other clinical settings.

5. Behavior intervention specialist

Average annual salary: $52,388-$66,861
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 25%

A behavior intervention specialist observes and assesses individual students and provides counsel to teachers, parents, and students in order to improve behavior and enable student success. If you’d enjoy working with a team of people determined to help a student succeed, this career might be a good fit. As a behavior intervention specialist, you might work at one or more schools or at a residential treatment center, group home, or in an early intervention program.

6. Special education instructional coordinator

Average annual salary: $63,740
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 7%

Instructional coordinators help develop individualized education programs, or IEPs, for students. If you become an instructional coordinator, you’ll work with teachers and school leaders to customize plans and meet students’ needs.

7. Independent consultant or trainer

Average annual salary: $69,309
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 6%

Using your knowledge of special education, you could provide expertise to your state department of education or to school districts. As a consultant with an advanced degree, you might also train other teachers to be more effective in their work.

8. Director or program manager

Average annual salary: $126,897
Projected percent employment increase from 2020 to 2030: 24%

Having a master’s degree can prepare you to manage special education programs or to design programs or curriculum to meet students’ needs. Classroom and leadership experience will help you achieve this high-impact role.

9. Specialist roles

Average annual salary: varies

A master’s in special education can also prepare you for specialist roles within a school or district. Examples include: 

  • Resource specialist
  • Tansition team specialist
  • Curriculum adaptation specialist 

An M.A. with added authorizations could also prepare you to be a reading specialist or adapted physical education (P.E.) teacher.

Next Steps in Your Teaching Career

Earning your master’s in special education can lead you to a fulfilling career — and the field is ripe with opportunities. Watch our video below to learn more about how PLNU’s master’s program is filled with dedicated community for students to be successful in their filed while also having life-changing experiences in the process. 

An ideal next step for you may be to learn more about Point Loma Nazarene University’s Master of Arts in Special Education, including the types of courses you will take and details about how the program works.

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