The field of special education seeks to create equal opportunities in education for special needs children. Some of the disabilities that these children face include visual impairments, autism, and mental retardation, each of which necessitates the need for specially trained educators who can cater to their academic needs. Obtaining a certificate in special education is just one of the ways to foster a career in the field. There are several different types of certificates designed for varying levels of education.

Types of Special Education Certificates

Certificate Vocational

Vocational certificates are intended to provide hands-on training for a specific career path and usually don’t require a college degree as a prerequisite. Vocational certificate programs in special education are ideal for the individual who would like to gain expertise in the field and enhance their qualifications without having to pay for expensive schooling. In order to be admitted to a special education vocational program, applicants must:

  • Have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent
  • Satisfy the required minimum GPA requirements

Vocational certificates are relatively quick and painless programs. A special education vocational certificate may be obtained in as little as a single semester, or with twelve credit hours. The courses will cover topics related to pedagogy, theory, and policies pertaining to special education, including current issues in special education, curriculum design, education psychology, and literacy development. Nearly all vocational programs include a capstone project or student teaching internship. Online students may complete all but the student teaching component via web portals such as Blackboard.

Pre Master’s Certificate

A pre master’s certificate in special education is designed for students who plan on eventually entering a master’s degree program in the field. As such, any credits obtained through their pre master’s certificate may be applied toward their master’s degree program. In most cases, students have 4-5 years from the time they complete their pre master’s certificates before they must complete a full master’s degree. Within the interim, they may get experience in the workforce, qualifying for jobs with their certification. Admissions requirements for a pre master’s certificate program include:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • A specified undergraduate GPA
  • Official undergraduate transcripts

Pre master’s certificates in special education consist of 12-30 credit hours and may be completed in one to two semesters. While there may be a few core courses on curriculum design, the pre master’s certificate delves deeply into relevant topics in special education. Courses will touch on topics such as special education inclusion in schools, adult special education, teaching reading to learners with special needs, and strategies for high-incidence learners. Most programs include a special education practicum as well. The courses are graduate level courses, structured as they would be in a full master’s degree program. Online learners will get the same curriculum and materials, but they must complete all work remotely with use of video lectures, podcasts, and electronic assessments as needed.

What’s Next for Certificate Holders?

Certificates hold validity with employers. They serve as an indication than the individual has received experience in the field. Vocational certificates are best for entry-level positions, while a pre master’s certificate may be suited for those who already work as special education instructors but would like to qualify for a raise or promotional opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, special education teachers made an annual median wage of $53,220 in 2010.

There are also several options for furthering your education. Those with vocational certificates may find that their continued interest in the field leads them to pursue a bachelor’s degree in special education. Pre master’s certificate holders commonly go on to complete a master’s degree, which allows them to qualify for special education administration jobs. If your certificate does not include a general teaching licensure component, you may need to enroll in a requisite program.