Special Education Ph.D.

The Special Education Ph.D. program helps students develop advanced foundational knowledge in the area of special education, yet provides the latitude necessary for a program of research that meets the individual research focus of the doctoral student in collaboration with a student’s advisor. Our doctoral students are likely to arrive with an extensive knowledge base at the master’s level of special education, which often exceeds 42 credits. The Ph.D. concentration in Special Education extends this knowledge base by encouraging the development of both breadth and depth in an area of study that will carry students well beyond the dissertation as they transition into research careers. Special Education meets the criteria established by national and state accrediting boards, the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Disciplinary accreditation is critical to national visibility, placing graduates, and developing a national pool of strong applicants.

The goals of the Special Education doctoral study are as follows:

  • to prepare doctoral students who will generate new knowledge and are able to apply this knowledge to the field of special education.
  • to provide a program of study that prepares doctoral students to have a strong and broad-based knowledge of special education which they are able to apply in a variety of diverse school settings.
  • to advance knowledge and research through doctoral education of the learning and development of children who require specialized instruction, educational adaptations, and support for their learning efforts to succeed.
  • to train students who can be critical producers and consumers of both quantitative and qualitative research.

Program milestones:

Activities while in the program (conferences, student teaching): As part of ongoing student mentoring by faculty each doctoral student is expected to engage in professional development activities in the following three areas, which we have termed Doctoral Program Professional Development Activities:

  • College teaching and practicum supervision experiences
  • Professional writing for refereed journals, grants, and conference presentations
  • Service to the profession

Course of Study

Program of Study


Course Description Credits
  Core Courses: 4 courses required  
EDUC 822 Seminar in Special Education Research 3
EDUC 884 Social Policy and Disability 3
EDUC 892D Professional Seminar in Special Education I 3
EDUC 892S Professional Seminar in Special Education II 3
  Research Methods: 4 courses required   
EDUC 555 Introduction to Statistics and Computer Analysis I 3
EDUC 656 Statistics and Computer Analysis II 3
EDUC 619 Qualitative Research Methods in Education 3
  Approved Research Course 3
  Elective Courses: minimum of 4 courses  
Elective Credits Elective courses are selected in consultation with the advisor. 12
Dissertation Credits   10

Additional courses from outside the College of Education may be counted as research courses if they meet the requirements of a research course and are approved by the doctoral program of study committee. Research courses may also be elective courses.

EDUC 822 Seminar in Special Education Research

The purposes and processes used for synthesizing research findings and completing literature reviews for the purpose of evaluating knowledge claims in the field of special education will be covered in this course.

EDUC 884 Social Policy and Disability

Relationships between social policy and disability in a democracy are explored, specifically, with particular reference to the ever changing landscape of societal values associated with the evolving paradigms that frame disability research and policies.

EDUC 892D Professional Seminar in Special Education I

This seminar prepares doctoral students in special education. Emphasis is on current research, issues, trends, ideas, and directions of the field of special education. 


EDUC 892S Professional Seminar in Special Education II

This doctoral seminar focuses on developing and refining analytical writing skills, doctoral study goals, professional beliefs, research skills and life beyond the degree program.

EDUC 555 Introduction to Statistics and Computer Analysis I

The purpose of this course is to give students in the social sciences and, in particular, education, skills in statistical reasoning so that they will be critical readers of research literature in their fields and in a position to design research studies and analyze data on their own.

EDUC 656 Statistics and Computer Analysis II

This course is designed to provide beginning graduate students in education and related fields with an understanding of the basic statistical techniques necessary for conducting research.  Prerequisite: Educ 555.

EDUC 619 Qualitative Research Methods in Education

Introduction to the assumptions, language, logic, and methods of qualitative inquiry in educational settings. Students are required to conduct a small-scale qualitative research project.



Application Timeline

Students are only accepted for fall admission. Late applications will not be considered.

  • Application Due: January 2nd
  • Applicant Interviews: Late February/Early March
  • Notification to Applicants about recommendation for admission: Mid-March
  • Commitment to the Program: April 15th


Applicants applying for the Ph.D. degree in Special Education should possess a master's degree in special education or a related area (e.g., psychology, school psychology, communication disorders, school counseling, elementary/secondary education, educational administration) and demonstrate they have met the prerequisite competencies in special education which include the foundations of special education (e.g., laws, policies, and beliefs), assessment, curriculum and instruction in special education, and child development. It is preferred that applicants possess a teaching and/or administrative license from an NCATE-approved program in special education or a related area and at least three years of teaching and/or administrative experience.

Applicants will meet criteria for admission to the Graduate School and admission policies of the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Admission decisions are based on multiple sources of information. College transcripts, work experience, interests, and recommendations are considered in the selection process. Quantitative, verbal, and analytic aptitude, motivation to do well, a specific interest in the field of special education, and likely fit are four characteristics that are evaluated in the selection of potential doctoral students.  GRE  scores are not required for completion of our application but scores can be submitted optionally and will be considered along with the rest of your application materials.

Students selected from the initial applicant pool will be asked to campus for an interview with the faculty.

All doctoral students in the College of Education must demonstrate competency in five (5) required areas: social issues/justice, pedagogy (instruction), philosophy of education, and research. If these competencies have been met at the master's degree level, doctoral students will not be required to undertake additional course work in these areas upon admission. Elective courses may be used to meet these competencies.

Course completion culminates with the comprehensive exam, the successful completion of which marks the beginning of doctoral candidacy. The doctoral candidates then declare a program of doctoral research which ultimately leads to the Ph.D.

Required Application Materials

  • Online Application
  • 2 letters of recommendation that evaluate applicant’s educational and professional experiences
  • Personal statement including applicant's interest, skills, and career goals
  • Résumé
  • Official undergraduate and graduate transcripts

Optional Application Materials

  • GRE scores
  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) - For international applicants.

For more information contact the program specialeducation@umass.edu.