What Can I Do with a Special Education Degree?
Reviewed by Jacob Imm
Apr 05, 2023
What Can I Do with a Special Education Degree?
What is special education? Special education is a booming field with a growing demand for qualified workers and an aging eligible workforce. If you’re considering it as a career, a degree in the subject can help you ascend the occupational ladder quicker and land top jobs.
But a special education degree isn’t just beneficial for landing teaching jobs. It can set you up for a host of interesting and unique careers that are both fulfilling and financially rewarding.
If you’re wondering, “What can I do with a special education degree?”, the answer is much more than you think. From serving as a classroom teacher to a tactical consultant, your career has many possible trajectories after completing a degree in special education.
What Can I Do with a Bachelors in Special Education?
Pursuing a bachelor’s degree in this field can unlock a variety of special education teacher jobs in the course of your career. The most classic and obvious way to channel your degree is by becoming a special education teacher, which can put you on a path toward consistent employment and enviable benefits.
Becoming a special education teacher is also an optimal place to start your career, as there are an abundance of these jobs and many positions welcome recent graduates. Therefore, it is important that you learn how to become a special education teacher first.
If you’re considering going into pedagogy, know that special educators:
- Need further certification – Like all teachers in the public sector, special education teacher requirements include having a license before legally being able to lead a class. Certification requirements vary by state, and education boards have been creating more avenues to licensure to make up for the shortage of teacher candidates.
- Put in hard work – Being a special ed teacher entails caring for and educating special education students with a wide range of mental and physical disabilities, who typically require more individualized attention. They need to plan and prepare classes plentifully, create lessons to suit the needs of their pupils, and be ready to respond to what’s going on in the classroom around them.
- Are well rewarded – The median special education teacher salary was close to $62,000 in 2021. If you work in a public school, you’ll also receive the benefits allotted to government workers, including health and life insurance, pension, and paid leave.
Early Intervention Specialist (EIS)
If a classroom setting isn’t your ideal workplace but you still want to help children struggling with a learning disability, you can use your special education degree to pursue a career in Early Childhood Intervention.
An early intervention specialist is called in when parents notice their child is displaying signs of delayed development. The majority of cases affect children under the age of 3. As such, EIS professionals are trained to guide children in learning the most essential life skills like speaking and cognition.
One of the most gratifying aspects of EIS is helping children who would have struggled in conventional classrooms keep pace with their peers before school age. If that idea inspires you, also note that EISs:
- Are certified – Just like with teaching, you’ll need a license to become an EIS. The process to obtain it varies state by state, but it usually requires completing a specialized training course.
- Are diverse and specialized – EISs help with a range of developmental latencies, from time management to speech pathology. For some of the more complex disabilities EISs assist with, they may need further education—including more specialized courses or potentially a master’s degree. With increased qualifications and more specialized work, you can expect higher compensation.
What Can I Do with a Masters in Special Education?
If you have a keen interest in the special education degree program as a whole, pursuing a master’s degree can magnify your prospects both within and beyond the field. Upon completing it, the following career possibilities can open up to you.
Behind teachers themselves, schools and institutions depend on a vigorous workforce to help schools run smoothly. Administrators perform much of the invisible work in education, wielding significant power in a school’s decision-making and processes like:
- Overseeing operations – Orchestrating everything from student services to academic research, administrators play a critical organizational role in a school’s various departments. They govern the nitty-gritty, from planning school-wide events to tasks as finite as ordering more student textbooks.
- Hiring staff – One of the key responsibilities of administration is selecting the instructors and employees that guide students through their schooling. Administrators are responsible for finding teacher candidates, reviewing them, and making decisions about who will best suit the culture and needs of their institution.
Because administrative work is so critical to an institution’s function, their work is often profitably compensated. According to the BLS, the median salary for academic administrators hovers around $100,000 annually and, similar to teaching positions, job opportunities abound.
If you have a background in teaching and want to further your career in teacher education, getting your master’s and becoming an instructional coordinator could be the path for you. It’s a natural progression from a role in the classroom, and anyone who has been working at a school for a while is likely already familiar with the position.
- Develop and implement curricula – The main role of an instructional coordinator is to oversee the material being taught at their school. Duties may include choosing or developing a syllabus, delegating its different subjects, and ensuring teachers are adhering to it.
- Are leaders in their areas of expertise – Instructional coordinators are the backbones of academic departments due to their in-depth knowledge of different subjects. Because they orchestrate the curriculum, teachers consult them frequently about the material when they’re having difficulty or need clarification. As such, ICs need exceptional communication skills.
The need for instructional coordinators is expected to grow almost twice as fast as regular teachers, rising 7% year after year. In 2021, the median salary for this role was $63,740, according to the BLS.
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Special Education?
If you’re committed to special education as a discipline and want to deepen your studies as much as possible, consider pursuing a PhD. A doctorate will place you among the most learned individuals in your field, granting you access to the following top-tier jobs.
Education Research Consulting
Proving your skills and knowledge by obtaining a PhD will make you an attractive candidate for consulting work with academic institutions, research groups, and other companies. This type of work varies widely between contracts and jobs but typically consultants will:
- Aid in research and assessment – School boards and other academic authorities frequently need guidance on organizing curricula and other programs to remain current and meet the needs of their students. Often, they’ll hire a third party to help objectively determine the strategies and choices they’ve made that are working (and which could use further editing or development).
- Develop and conduct projects – Research institutions and universities need qualified, learned PhDs to lead their programs. In this type of role, you may come up with the parameters and focus topic of a study, oversee colleagues as they conduct research, and prepare findings to share with your employers or the public.
- Work on projects they truly care about – Freelance consultants may pass on any projects at any time. The freedom to pick and choose the type of work that interests them is an advantage professionals in contracted positions don’t necessarily have.
Becoming a university professor is widely considered the pinnacle of the educational field, and a PhD is a surefire route toward achieving it. Professorships task you with the same type of work you did to achieve your PhD: monitoring research and leading higher education classes.
The duties of a professor include:
- Delivering lectures – Above all, professors teach students about their specialties. Contracted professors are typically expected to develop curricula for courses in addition to administering them.
- Overseeing research – In this role, you’ll be a mentor as prospective doctors take on their dissertations. Professors guide and mark the work of PhD students studying to get the same degree that they have.
- Authoring works – Different institutions have varying research or publication requirements as part of professorial contracts, but, in general, this expectation is universal on this career path.
Select the Right Program for Your Journey in Special Education
Whether you’re just beginning your studies or are exploring new ways to expand your career, developing your expertise means choosing a special education degree program that can energize you and help you meet your current goals.
While undergraduate degrees in special education help you map those first steps in your career, a track like North Central College’s Director of Special Education program can reenergize your current one and help you qualify for higher-paying and more rewarding positions.
Whatever your goals are in this crucial field, choose a program and institution equipped to help you build a versatile skill set and a professional network that’s inspired to give back as educators.
Jacob Imm is the associate director of communication in the North Central College Office of Marketing and Communications. He has 13 years of collegiate communications experience and has worked with hundreds of college students. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Notre Dame and a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University.
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