Special Education Degree: Advantages and Specializations

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 30, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A special education degree is a credential that shows a candidate's expertise in supporting students with disabilities. Those in this field are passionate about making education accessible and enjoyable for all students. If you're considering a special education degree, it could be beneficial to learn about the different options available to you. In this article, we discuss the advantages of a special education degree, explore the specializations of this area, review some types of these degrees and outline several relevant jobs that could be perfect for you.

Advantages of a special education degree

By earning a special education degree, you can learn the best ways to instruct students with differing abilities and learning styles. Here are some advantages of this educational path:

Learn valuable skills

Studying special education can give candidates invaluable teaching and life skills that serve them in all kinds of professional and personal environments. Learning how to collaborate with students with disabilities prepares you to work effectively with others in any situation. Your newfound skills can aid you in the education field and in many other professions if you decide to pursue them, such as healthcare, business or law. Here are some examples of skills you may acquire from a special education degree:

  • Analytical thinking: By examining the historical and current experiences of students with disabilities in and out of academic settings, you can start to question, collect data about and analyze the environments around you. Strong analytical thinking skills help you create solutions and build spaces where students with disabilities have physical and emotional support.

  • Communication: Those who work in the special education industry are often experts in multiple techniques of communication, including verbal, non-verbal, written and visual. Being able to both convey information in a clear and concise way and listen to others carefully is essential to instructing students properly and supporting their growth.

  • Patience: As building skills and studying facts may be challenging and frustrating for students sometimes, great special education professionals are consistently patient and understanding. In this field, you can discover the importance of letting students work and learn at their own pace and process emotions in their own way.

  • Empathy: As a special education employee, it's likely you can have the opportunity to work with students from a diversity of backgrounds, all with unique perspectives and wisdom. Listening to the ideas of these students and building lasting relationships with them can foster your sense of empathy, your respect for other people's intelligence and viewpoints.

  • Positivity: It's critical that special education professionals model positivity in both attitude and behavior so that students can feel motivated to achieve goals, overcome challenges and reach their full potentials. In addition, the optimistic attitudes of many students with disabilities inspire professionals in this field to have a positive outlook on life.

Gain important knowledge

By pursuing a special education degree, you can encounter a wide variety of information and expand your knowledge base. Along with discovering how to instruct students effectively, how to develop and implement particular types of curriculum and how to advocate for students, you can also study topics such as different disabilities, special education history and disability-related law and policy. By exploring this area, you can gain a rich perspective on the lived experiences of different students.

Become an excellent teacher

Being ready to instruct and interact with students with different abilities is essential to becoming an excellent teacher or education professional. All students have individual needs and specific learning approaches, so it's beneficial for a teacher to be adaptable to trying new instruction methods. Teachers who foster a welcoming and supportive classroom environment for all can fulfill their responsibility of caring for the physical and mental well-being of students.

Read more: Top 6 Teaching Skills That Employers Look For

Gain the opportunity to help people

Special education teachers and professionals provide key services to students with disabilities in educational environments. They help students practice skills, examine facts, build relationships, find hobbies and plan for the future. As a teacher, you perform an imperative role in society as a guide for people, preparing them to work well with others and lead successful lives. As an employee in this field, you have the opportunity to support other people and help them thrive both inside and outside of the classroom. Your actions can directly benefit people's lives, which makes this a very fulfilling career path for many.

Become a competitive candidate for jobs

Possessing a special education degree makes you a more qualified and impressive candidate for many jobs. Like knowing a language, this credential allows you to foster a more inclusive classroom and sets you apart from other candidates for teaching positions. It proves that you're prepared to provide high-quality, accessible education to a diversity of students in your class. It also expresses your commitment to meeting student needs and using a variety of teaching strategies. If you're applying to jobs outside of education, you can convey to employers your interest in supporting people with disabilities in different fields.

Specializations for a special education degree

Choosing a specialization in the special education field can allow you to get particular expertise in a subject that interests you. It can also help you stand out among other job candidates and impress potential employers. Here are some ideas for concentrations you could pursue:

  • Early childhood special education

  • Education for students with visual impairments

  • Education for students with hearing impairments

  • Education for students on the Autism spectrum

  • Education for students with learning disabilities

  • Occupational therapy

  • Speech-language therapy

  • Physical therapy

  • Behavioral health

  • Social-emotional learning

  • Adapted physical education

  • Adapted curriculum

Related: 16 Jobs That Involve Working With People With Special Needs

Types of special education degrees

You can choose a special education degree based on your location, budget, schedule, interests and other factors. Here are some options available to you:

Associate-level degree

An associate-level, two-year degree in special education can qualify you for entry-level, supportive positions in the field such as teacher's aide, tutor, assistant or learning disability specialist. These types of roles can be superb opportunities to shadow advanced professionals, gain practical work experience and build your resume. Many students who earn associate degrees pursue bachelor's degrees by completing two more years of education. Many educational institutions have transfer programs that can be cost-effective options for students.

Read more: 10 Types of Associate Degree Teacher Jobs (and Their Primary Duties)

Bachelor's-level degree

One of the most popular paths for those seeking a job in the special education field is to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Typically, students perform student teaching at a local school during their studies to gain useful experience in a realistic work setting. After earning the proper licensure and certifications, those who earn bachelor's degrees often become special education teachers or similar professionals.

Master's-level degree

Continuing your education past the undergraduate level can enable you to expand your skill set and expertise and increase your job prospects. Taking more time to study special education and relevant concentrations can qualify you for high-level positions like director of special education at a school. If you earn a master's degree in an area like medicine or law, you could apply your special education knowledge in roles like counselor, therapist, speech pathologist or even policymaker. This way, you could advocate for students with disabilities in different industries.

Types of special education degree jobs

There are many jobs available in which candidates with a special education degree could excel. Combining your degree with further study in different areas, such as healthcare or management, can make you eligible for even more positions. Here are some job ideas:

1. Special education paraeducator

National average salary: $36,689 per year

Primary duties: A special education paraeducator assists one or multiple students with disabilities in a classroom environment. They may help students with tasks such as understanding a teacher's directions, reading resources and writing journal entries. Their primary responsibility is to ensure the physical and emotional health and well-being of students. While requirements can vary by state, employers hiring for this role typically seek candidates with at least a high school diploma or associate degree.

Related: 40 Special Education Aide Interview Questions With Answers

2. Recreational therapist

National average salary: $47,622 per year

Primary duties: A recreational therapist helps people with disabilities find joy in arts and crafts, music, sports and other recreational activities. These hobbies can be therapeutic and can aid people in building strength, developing social skills and gaining confidence. Usually, candidates for this role have at least a bachelor's degree in special education, recreational therapy or a related field.

Related: How To Become a Recreational Therapist

3. Intervention specialist

National average salary: $48,241 per year

Primary duties: An intervention specialist works with students, parents and teachers to design a custom instruction program that fits a student's needs. They provide support for students who may experience challenges in conventional academic environments. This job is for candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in special education or a related field.

4. Special education teacher

National average salary: $50,566 per year

Primary duties: A special education teacher creates and implements lessons and educational activities for students with disabilities. Their primary goals are to improve the communication and social skills of students. To become a teacher, it's important to fulfill the licensure and certification requirements of your state. In addition, employers hiring for this role typically seek candidates with at least a bachelor's degree in the field.

5. School counselor

National average salary: $52,352 per year

Primary duties: A school counselor creates and implements school programs that support the morale, well-being and academic performance of students. As counseling is a form of health care, those in this role hold a master's degree in counseling from an accredited educational institution. It's important they have the necessary and official training to provide appropriate advice and treatment to students.

6. Tutor

National average salary: $54,223 per year

Primary duties: A tutor works with students one-on-one to provide custom assistance with certain subjects, such as reading or math. Requirements can vary by company, but employers hiring for this position often seek candidates with at least a high school diploma. For high-level tutoring positions, it may be necessary to have an associate or bachelor's degree in special education.

7. Educational specialist

National average salary: $58,183 per year

Primary duties: An educational specialist is an expert in a particular area of education, such as early childhood, administrative leadership or education technology. Those in this role conduct research to find the best practices for instructing students effectively. The job responsibilities of this role require candidates to have at least a master's or doctorate degree in special education.

8. Sign language instructor

National average salary: $61,390 per year

Primary duties: A sign language instructor implements lessons for students who are deaf or who have hearing impairments. They're experts in using visual cues to convey information understandably. Those who want a job as a sign language instructor can check their state school board for teaching licensure and certification requirements. They also have at least a bachelor's degree in sign language, deaf education, special education or a related field.

9. Director of education

National average salary: $80,704 per year

Primary duties: A director of education designs and supervises special education programs for a school or other organization. They may develop curriculum and class content, host conferences and source educational materials. A bachelor's or master's degree prepares candidates best for an education director role.

10. Speech and language pathologist

National average salary: $111,469 per year

Primary duties: A speech and language pathologist works with patients to improve their verbal communication abilities. As a medical professional, those in this field have at least a master's degree in speech-language pathology from an accredited institution. Many people seeking this position can start their educational path by earning a bachelor's degree in special education.

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