PhD Programs in Special Education

PhD Programs in Special Education
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The Definition and Scope of a Special Education Doctoral Degree

PhD programs in Special Education target individuals who have a particular passion for researching and disseminating ways in which teachers can impart knowledge to students with disabilities and extraordinary needs.

The aims of a doctoral program in the field of Special Education are:

  • To develop a group of individuals who will positively affect the social and educational requirements of people with disabilities and challeges and their families.
  • To make available to society a body of experts, scholars and researchers who are able to make a difference in the lives of thousands of people who are marginalized because of their special needs
  • To increase the pool of qualified educators who will be able to train teachers who deal with special needs students
  • To expand the numbers of individuals who can influence, advocate and lead efforts to positively impact the lives of people with physical, mental or emotional disabilities and challenges

What You Can Do With a PhD in Special Education

When you earn your doctorate in Special Education, you become equipped to take on any of the following responsibilities:

  • you could become a faculty member at a research university and help other individuals who, like you, would want to spread awareness about educating people with unusual needs
  • you could also apply for leadership positions in policy making bodies such as education agencies at the local or state level
  • you could join a non-governmental body that works with individuals with specific learning requirements or appropriate departments in the state and federal governments
  • you could design and deliver training programs as a consultant or coach attached to schools and colleges as an expert in the area of Special Education

Eligibility Requirements

Most colleges and universities require that you have a master’s degree in a related field in order to apply for admission into the program. You usually need at least 2 references and a statement of purpose. You may or may not have to take a standardized test such as the GRE.

Some programs may offer an exceptional student the possibility of an integrated Master’s and Phd program directly after the undergraduate degree. In some cases, you could also opt for an inter-departmental or “joint” doctoral program.

Also, be ready to pay for transcripts because wherever you apply, the admissions office will ask for you to send them sealed copies of all transcripts that you may have. Of course, there is always an application fee and you will have to fill out an online application.

I would advise you to carefully research available programs on the internet and make a note of individual eligibility and admission requirements as they are sure to vary.

Choice of Programs

The US News ranking of the best PhD programs in Special Education includes Vanderbilt University, University of Kansas, University of Oregon, University of Florida and University of Texas–Austin at the very top positions1.

Northcentral University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Education a specialization in exceptional children.The program is offered completely online. This program includes 13 courses including: introduction to the exceptional child, quantitative methods, and developing curriculum for the mentally disabled2.

Walden University also has an online PhD program in education with a specialization in special education. This course is designed for teachers, administrators, and college professors3.

Capella University offers an online program in special education leadership. This program is designed for those interested in an administrative position in special education. The courses involve a lot of law, finance, and administrative courses. If you want to continue to be a teacher, this isn’t for you. If you are interested in becoming a director or supervisor of special education then this degree will suit your needs4.

You should also check out the PhD programs in Special Education offered at San Francisco State University5 and the University of Maryland6.

Closing Words

If you do decide to go for one of the PhD programs in Special Education outlined above, I congratulate you for making the decision to pursue a very rewarding and socially responsible career.

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1You can see the US News Best Special Ed School Rankings at

2For details on Northcentral University go to

3For the Walden University program, visit

4More information on the Capella University program in Special Ed leadership, go to

5 Learn about San Francisco State University’s program at

6The University of Maryland website has more information at