Special Education

Those who earn a degree in special education build the skills they need to address the individual needs of their students.

University of Massachusetts Amherst special education students become catalysts for change, helping increase educational opportunities and improve outcomes for children with disabilities and their families. A key priority of the program is examining and understanding how students’ needs are identified, how special needs are classified, and the impact when children—especially those from low-income or underrepresented communities—are misdiagnosed.

Students move through the UMass Amherst special education program in small cohorts, enjoying individualized experiences, support from faculty, and the partnerships of a collaborative community of future educators. They study innovative, evidence-based practices, and explore and develop lesson plans and curricula to meet the needs of diverse learners.

With a significant shortage of teachers of students with moderate disabilities in our schools, our graduates have a wide range of job prospects and opportunities to have a deep impact on the field. Some teach in conventional classrooms, work with small groups of students in separate classrooms, or become administrators. Others work in the private sector as curriculum developers or for nonprofit organizations serving underrepresented groups.


Special education teachers who want to contribute to the field through leadership or scholarship are excellent candidates for the UMass Amherst Ph.D. program. Through our course of study, they build a broad-based knowledge of special education—of the learning and development of children who require specialized instruction, educational adaptations, and support for their learning efforts to succeed. They develop competency is five key areas: human development, social issues/justice, pedagogy (instruction), philosophy of education, and research. They become critical producers and consumers of both quantitative and qualitative research and generate new knowledge that they are able to apply in diverse educational settings. With the support of our faculty, doctoral students have extensive opportunities for college teaching and practicum experiences, to apply for grants, publish in journals, present at conferences, and provide service to the profession.

The education specialist degree (Ed.S.) in special education administration is ideal for special education teachers on an administration path who have already earned a master's in special education or a related field and who want an advanced degree without the the extended commitment and formal examination of the doctoral program. It is an intensive, cohesive program of professional development requiring an academic-specific specialty area and 30 credits beyond the master's. This program is currently not accepting applications.

UMass undergraduate students can earn a bachelor’s degree in special education and a teaching license for pre-K through 8 or grades 5 through 12. Our B.A. students complete a primary major in education with a concentration in special education as well as a secondary major of their choice. Students apply in the fall of their sophomore or junior year. (Those who apply as juniors will need an additional year to finish.) Applicants complete prerequisite courses in math, child development, and special education, and must earn passing scores on the communication and literacy portion of the Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure (MTEL).