What’s the Difference between a Master’s in Education and a Master’s in Special Education?

The basic requirement for a teacher at the primary or secondary level is a bachelor’s degree, but most schools require teachers to take additional courses in pedagogy and do field work. This teaching certification program may be taken as part of one’s undergraduate course work or while obtaining a master’s degree in education. In order to work with students who have special developmental or emotional needs, however, teaching candidates need to pursue a separate master’s degree in special education.

What is the Purpose of a Master’s in Education?

An MA in education, sometimes called an ME, is an advanced program for mainstream classroom teachers and prospective administrators. Certification and field work are generally a part of the program so that college graduates seeking to become teachers can become classroom ready after earning the MA or ME degree. The master’s in education is a pathway to advancement beyond the classroom for teachers eventually seeking a career in administration or curriculum development. It is also a first step many individuals choose when they enter the profession as a second career since an MA in education offers a variety of courses that will help individuals transition in classroom teaching smoothly. Finally, an MA in education qualifies teachers to teach at the community college level.

What is the Purpose of a Master’s in Special Education?

The master’s in special education is a more specialized degree designed either for individuals seeking to work with children who have special needs or individuals wanting to pursue research in the field of special education. Individuals can earn an MS degree or an M.Ed. degree. A wide range of curricular options is available. Degree candidates may focus on working with children that have any of the following special needs:

  • conduct and other psychological disorders
  • developmental disorders
  • autism spectrum disorders
  • physical disabilities

In addition to classroom teaching and research, those with master’s degrees in special education may become school psychologists and counselors. They may also become employed in public or private centers that work with children who have learning disabilities.

Where do the Master’s in Education and Master’s in Special Education Primarily Differ?

Any master’s degree in education guarantees a higher rate of salary because those with master’s degrees are considered experts in their respective fields. However, the field of special education is designed only for specialists working with students who have issues that challenge their ability to learn in a mainstream class setting. Thus, while an MA in education signifies advanced knowledge in pedagogy, an MS or M.Ed. degree in special education confers on its candidates advanced skills and knowledge about children with learning or physical disabilities.

A master’s degree either in education or special education is a “fast track” degree to career advancement, enabling recipients to pursue classroom teaching positions or careers in textbook publishing, research, state agencies, or school administration. MAs in education are the elite classroom teachers, and MAs in special education are the experts who design and implement teaching strategies for students who need adjustments to the mainstream curriculum in order to learn effectively.