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Special Education


Special education programs prepare people to teach students who have special needs that affect their ability to learn.

Special education programs prepare students to identify and teach students with emotional disturbances, physical, or developmental challenges. Challenges may include autism, speech and language impairments, blindness, deafness, or emotional disabilities.

Special education programs include topics such as:


Most special education programs require students to complete a practicum, or student teaching experience, before graduation. As student teachers, students work in a classroom under the supervision of a licensed teacher.


Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in special education. A bachelor's degree usually takes about four years of full-time study.

Many colleges and universities also offer graduate programs in special education. A master's degree typically requires two years of study beyond a bachelor's degree. Doctoral (PhD) degree programs usually require two or more years of study beyond the master's degree.

See schools that offer this program.

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Program Admission

You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges also require two years of a second language.

Some undergraduate special education programs have admissions processes separate from the general college admissions process. In such a case, you typically apply to the special education program after your freshman or sophomore year.

Program admissions vary. However, for all programs, you need good grades. You also usually need to complete some combination of the following requirements:

You may need to complete the following courses to qualify for the program:

Below is a list of high school courses that will help prepare you for this program of study:

Graduate Admissions

Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need a bachelor's degree and good grades. You also need to submit letters of recommendation and a personal statement.

For many programs, your bachelor's degree doesn't have to be in any particular major. You should, however, take several courses in child and human development and education, if possible.

There are some programs, especially doctoral programs, that do prefer applicants who have a background in special education. These are programs where you would undertake more in-depth educational research on special education. In cases such as these, other requirements may include:

Additional requirements at most schools include:

Typical Course Work

Program Courses

This undergraduate program typically includes courses in the following subjects:

Graduate Program Courses

Graduate programs that lead to a master's or doctoral degree typically include:

In many special education graduate programs, you choose a specific area of the field on which to focus. Possible areas may include:

You would then take courses in this concentration as well.

All programs require you to complete a student teaching practicum, which is a hands-on opportunity to work directly with students in a variety of educational settings. You might work in a classroom, a clinic, or a community agency. You could also work with students of different age groups and levels and types of disabilities. In addition, you benefit from working under the supervision and guidance of an experienced special education teacher.

In generally, you begin a practicum by taking on some of the classroom or clinical activities; for the rest of the time, you observe or assist. Eventually, however, you are given much more responsibility, including planning lessons, assessing educational needs, and monitoring the progress of your students.

Things to Know

Many states require that secondary teachers earn a graduate degree such as a Master in Teaching (MAT) degree before they are hired or within a limited time of being hired.

You need to be licensed to teach in public schools. All states require you to have at least a bachelor's degree and a certain amount of supervised practice teaching experience.

As part of their licensure processes, many states require you to take an exam such as the Praxis series. The Praxis II exam tests your knowledge of the specific subject you want to teach - in this case, special education. The Praxis III exam tests your knowledge of general education theories and teaching methodologies.

Because some states don't have official certification processes, you need to develop a teaching portfolio. This showcases your teaching vision, achievements, and competency to potential employers. As a student, you can start compiling samples of syllabi and student work that you've graded, as well as other materials that reflect your growth and development as a teacher. You can also include a statement of your teaching philosophy and career objectives.


East Side Area

Central Washington University

Walla Walla University

Washington State University - Pullman

King-Snohomish Area

City University of Seattle

Northwest University

Seattle Pacific University

Seattle University

Shoreline Community College

University of Washington - Bothell

University of Washington - Seattle

Spokane Area

Eastern Washington University

Gonzaga University

Spokane Falls Community College

Whitworth University

Statewide and Distance Learning

Washington State University - Global Campus

WGU Washington

Tacoma Area

Clover Park Technical College

Pacific Lutheran University

University of Washington - Tacoma

Tri-Cities Area

Heritage University (Pasco (Tri-Cities Area))

Washington State University - Tri-Cities

Vancouver Area

Washington State University - Vancouver

West Side Area

Centralia College

Saint Martin's University

Western Washington University

Yakima Area

Heritage University

Yakima Valley College