What can You Do with a Special Education Degree?

  (Updated October 15, 2021)
Janelle Cox
Janelle Cox
M.S. in Education
Female teacher sits and works with special needs students.

If you are dedicated to helping individuals with special needs, then you might make an excellent candidate for a special education degree. Special education majors learn many skills while pursuing their degree, including studying developmental disabilities and how to advocate for their students, developing curriculum for students with special needs as well as teaching, and how to manage them.

A special education degree offers many career paths, from teaching in a school setting to consulting or working in a private learning center. Here are a few positions that a special education degree can prepare you to fulfill.

Applied Behavior Analyst

Teaching isn’t the only job to consider with a special education degree; an applied behavior analyst is another option to contemplate. Analysts are called upon to work with students with autism and other disabilities to improve their social-emotional life and communication skills. Those who choose this career will be required to work in various types of environments and use their knowledge to educate teachers, caregivers, families, and students.

Becoming an applied behavior analyst starts with earning a bachelor’s degree in special education or a related field before you need a master’s in applied behavior analysis. You must also pass a certification exam, complete fieldwork, and get your board-certified license. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics groups behavior analysts with mental health counselors and says the median pay for this career is $46,240. The US Employment Demand for Behavior Analysts says the demand of applied behavior analysts is increasing with California accounting for 36 percent of the increase in 2019.

Early Intervention Specialist

If you’re interested in working with children under the age of five who are at risk of a developmental delay, an early intervention specialist may the career path to choose. Specialists travel between homes or daycares helping children learn developmentally appropriate skills. This career requires a bachelor’s degree and has a median income of around $40,596.

Education Writer

A special education degree can take you to a career outside of the classroom as an education writer. You can use your knowledge and skills to produce content for special needs students and teachers. The job can entail writing lesson plans, working on textbooks or whitepapers, or writing articles. Education writing is typically done on a freelance basis which means it can be done from your home and on your schedule.

Many publishers seek former educators to produce their content which means if you have any type of experience working with special needs children along with your degree, you will have a leg-up in landing a writing gig. The average salary depends upon the level of your degree as well as your experience. Since most education writers are self-employed, candidates typically get to name their pay-rate. The job outlook of a writer is expected to grow 9 percent over the next decade, which is about 15,400 openings each year.

Special Education Advocate

Students with disabilities do not always get the services they need; this is where a special education advocate comes in. Their role is to work on behalf of the child or family to demand basic education requirements. Advocates are responsible for knowing policies and procedures, interpreting documentation, being familiar with local, state, and federal laws, drafting letters and requests, as well as connecting families with experts to help address concerns.

To become a special education advocate, you must be able to process legal terms and procedures which is why having a bachelors or master’s degree in special education is very helpful. Some advocates also have a non-practicing law degree as well.  The Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates offers training and certification which can be helpful to better equip you to fight for your clients.

According to the Economic Research Institute, advocates can earn an average of $40,298 a year. While there is no job outlook for this position, many advocates remain active in many communities because disabilities are now being identified earlier than before.

Special Education Consultant

Earning a master’s degree in special education can qualify you to become a consultant where you work on behalf of students with special needs. Special education consultants typically work in a private setting and are contractors hired by schools, educational companies, non-profits, or families to help evaluate students, develop IEPs (Individual Education Plan), and offer insights and guidance on policies or educational changes.

Besides a required master’s degree, experience working with special needs students or a having a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as mental health along with certification and a license may also be necessary. The average hourly rate of a special education consultant as of 2020 is $70 an hour or $112,500 a year. According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of instructional coordinators (similar to an educational consultant) is projected to grow 10 percent from 2020-2030.

Special Education Teacher

A natural career choice to pursue with a special education degree is a special education teacher. Special education teachers serve a range of students with delayed or developmental disabilities in a self-contained or inclusion classroom. This position carries an array of responsibilities, such as developing Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), modifying lessons, and planning activities that are specific to each student’s ability. Teachers also work closely with parents, specialists, and administrators to discuss students’ IEPs.

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education teachers in public schools are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree as well as a state certification or license. The median salary for a special education teacher was approximately $61,500 in 2020, with the projected job outlook to grow eight percent over the next decade.

If you’re thinking about a special education degree but you’re not sure if the classroom is the right fit for you, then you have options. Choosing between these varying opportunities will depend upon your interests and goals for the future. If you feel dedicated to helping individuals with special needs, any of these above options will take you to a career path that will create a positive effect on many children’s lives. Explore our available programs and get started today!

 *Updated October 2021
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