Best PhD Degrees in Special Education

BPhD SpecialEd CollegeChoice

Do you have a desire to teach students, no matter their learning abilities?

A Ph.D. in Special Education is perfect for natural-born teachers who love sharing knowledge in a way that’s easy for others to understand. With more special education programs popping up around the nation, educators are needed now more than ever to help students of all abilities. If you are a patient and passionate person who believes everyone deserves a high-quality education, no matter their differences, a career in special education may be perfect for you!

What kind of Special Education degree should you get?

If you already hold a bachelor’s or a master’s in a related field, a Ph.D. in Special Education may be the next logical step in your career path. These programs are challenging, and you’ll need to be prepared to dedicate several more years to your education before graduating. Many of the below programs require internships, dissertations, and field experiences for students to gain a hands-on approach to this style of teaching. A Ph.D. degree is perfect for educators or those who wish to pursue a research-based career path.

Perhaps you’re not quite ready to embark on a Ph.D., but you’re interested in an advanced degree. Check out our ranking of the Best Master’s degrees in Special Education!

How much money do people make with a Special Education degree?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Special Education Teachers can earn upwards of $59,000 per year. Of course, your salary will also depend on what line of work you choose after graduating and what city you end up living in.

There are plenty of careers prospects other than teaching with this degree. For example, some in this field choose to pursue careers as Speech-Language Pathologists. In this line of work, you can make nearly $80,000 annually. 

What can you do with a degree in Special Education?

A degree in Special Education can lead to so much more than working in a classroom. Of course, many graduates do choose to teach at the university level or pursue particular areas of research related to the field. You can also work for a non-profit, the government, or other organizations who need the expertise of special education teachers. 

Plus, many of the programs below offer unique areas of specialization, which can lead to exciting careers. Some of these areas include educational policy, emotional behavior disorders, working with autistic students, and more. 

What are the requirements for a Ph.D. degree in Special Education?

Many of the below programs require applicants to have prior experience in teaching and working with people who have special needs. Additionally, most programs require students to hold a master’s degree; though you’ll find some that only require a bachelor’s in a related field. 

Once admitted, doctoral students will be required to complete coursework, as well as internships and field experiences. Students may also be required to complete a minor or a particular area of emphasis to earn their degree. Many of the programs are incredibly research-focused, so Ph.D. candidates should have a specific area of focus in mind before applying. 

What are the best Special Education degrees?

Figuring out the best Ph.D. program within any industry can be overwhelming and time-consuming. Luckily, the College Choice team has compiled a list of the 12 Best PhDs in Special Education degrees just for you! These programs provide students with in-depth coursework, incredible research opportunities, and state-of-the-art labs and equipment to further their studies. Plus, these programs offer small class sizes with professors who have a passion for the field. Check out our best special education degree picks below!


University of Virginia

College Choice Score: 100.00

Average Net Price: $16,594

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With over 120 unique majors offered across the university’s eight undergraduate and three professional schools, the University of Virginia is home to 21,000 students. Graduates of this public research university have gone on to found Reddit, win Pulitzer Prizes, and even join the ranks of the Supreme Court. Interested in teaching? The university’s Curry School of Education and Human Development offers a Ph.D. in Special Education. 

Program Features

Doctoral students in this program have the option of focusing on one of two areas, including high-incidence disabilities or gifted education. This research-based program is for those who can complete the degree full-time in Charlottesville. Required courses may include:

  • Evaluation of Teaching
  • Principles of Curriculum
  • Seminar – Grant Writing 
  • Foundations of Ed Research
  • Teacher Education and Diverse Populations

All students in this program must complete the required coursework, as well as a research apprenticeship and other practical experiences. All applicants must have at least three years of experience in teaching students with disabilities. 


Most graduate students complete this program in four years on a full-time schedule. Popular careers include working in a university setting or for an agency or research center. The University of Virginia also offers funding opportunities for Ph.D. candidates, including the Dean’s Fellowship Program, as well as grants through faculty members.


University of Wisconsin-Madison

College Choice Score: 99.49

Average Net Price: $34,783

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Home to mascot Bucky Badger and over 14,000 postgraduate students, the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers 120 doctoral programs across its 20 schools and colleges. UW-Madison has several museums on campus, including the Chazen Museum of Art and the L. R. Ingersoll Physics Museum. For those interested in earning an advanced degree, check out the university’s Special Education Doctoral Program. 

Program Features

Offered through the School of Education’s Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, this rigorous Ph.D. program admits just three to six new students each fall semester. This 56-credit program is typically completed in four to five years. Required courses may include:

  • Intro to Qualitative Research
  • Research in Special Education
  • Foundations of Special Education
  • Multicultural Issues in Special Education

Additionally, all Ph.D. candidates are expected to complete a teaching internship, a research internship, and a dissertation. The university also offers a doctoral minor in Qualitative Methods in Education. Students may petition for a different minor based on their specific career goals as well. 


Faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are deeply passionate about their research. Popular research topics include adolescence, transition and vocational education, and diversity and equity issues in Special Education. Doctoral students will have plenty of opportunities to work closely with their professors on exciting areas of research. 


University of California, Berkeley

College Choice Score: 99.31

Average Net Price: $18,178

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Founded in the 1960s, Berkeley is a progressive public research university that serves as the University of California system’s flagship institution. The university offers more than 125 unique doctoral degrees across its 14 colleges and schools. The Graduate School of Education is home to a Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education. 

Program Features

Students in this program can utilize resources from both UC Berkeley and San Francisco State University. With a variety of specialization areas, including human development, math, science, and technology, educational policy, and more. Ph.D. candidates can tailor their degrees to their specific career goals. Required courses may include:

  • Early Childhood Policy
  • The Art of Making Meaning
  • Diagnosis of Human Handicaps
  • Education and International Development
  • Knowing and Learning in Mathematics and Science

In addition to coursework, all doctoral students must complete an internship, an oral exam based on their areas of specialization, a dissertation proposal, and more. Students are encouraged to participate in the university’s SPEDDR Center for Research (Special Education, Disabilities, and Developmental Risk). 


Graduates of this program at the University of California, Berkeley have gone on to pursue careers as Special Education Consultants, Administrators, Senior Program and Policy Associates, and more. Many graduates have also gone on to work for universities including Florida State University, Vanderbilt, the University of Hawaii, and more. 


University of Minnesota Twin Cities

College Choice Score: 96.52

Average Net Price: $16,808

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Founded in 1851, the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is a highly-ranked public research university that’s home to mascot Goldy Gopher along with over 50,000 students. The university is one of only five in the United States that boasts engineering, medical, law, veterinary, and agricultural schools all on one campus. The university also has a College of Education and Human Development which offers a Ph.D. in Special Education.   

Program Features

This 69-credit doctoral program offers a variety of scholarships, fellowships, awards, and financial aid options for students. Required courses may include:

  • Mind, Brain, and Education
  • Psychology of Instruction and Technology
  • Psychology of Human Learning and Memory 
  • Social and Developmental Psychology of Education
  • Developmental Psychology: Social and Emotional Processes

Additionally, all doctoral students must complete a sub-plan. The university offers the following sub-plans: Psychological Foundations of Education, Quantitative Methods in Education, School Psychology, and Special Education. The special education sub-plan offers further areas of specialization, including Deaf/Hard of Hearing, Emotional Behavior Disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Developmental Disabilities, and more.


This doctoral program at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities is ideal for those who want to conduct independent research and work in educational settings. U.S. News and World Report included the university in its rankings for the nation’s Best Value Schools, Top Public Schools, and Best Colleges for Veterans. 


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

College Choice Score: 95.65

Average Net Price: $11,100

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Of the University of North Carolina’s 17 campuses, Chapel Hill remains the flagship institution with nearly 30,000 students. UNC-Chapel Hill offers more than 70 unique doctoral degree programs across its 15 schools and colleges. The university’s School of Education offers a Ph.D. in Applied Developmental Sciences and Special Education. 

Program Features

This doctoral degree program offers many different areas of emphasis for students to choose from. These include Inclusive Early Childhood Development, Autism, School Age Programs, Struggling Readers and Writers, and more. Depending on your area of emphasis, required courses may include:

  • Issues in Ed Policy and Research
  • Critical Issues in Special Education
  • Biological Basis of Child Development
  • Promoting Mental Health and Wellness in the Schools
  • Histories of Schooling: Culture, Curriculum, and Change

Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree to apply, but a master’s degree is not required. New students are admitted into this program each fall semester.


The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has been ranked among the nation’s Top 5 Best Public Schools and Top 10 Best Value Schools by U.S. News and World Report. UNC-Chapel Hill has graduated many well-known folks, including Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, John Edwards, Ken Jeong, and more. Join the ranks and apply today!


University of Kansas

College Choice Score: 94.96

Average Net Price: $15,966

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Founded in 1865, the University of Kansas is a public research university with a total enrollment nearing 30,000 students. With nearly 350 unique degree programs, students can pursue plenty of different areas of study. The university’s Department of Special Education within its School of Education offers a Ph.D. in Special Education. 

Program Features

Doctoral students are recruited into this program and receive full funding towards their studies. Program specializations include Disability and Diversity in Education and Society; Instructional Design, Technology, and Innovation; Special Education Policy and Systems Studies; and more. Depending on your career goals, required courses may include:

  • Civic Professionalism 
  • Law and Special Education 
  • College Teaching Experience
  • Education as a Field of Scholarship
  • Conceptual Issues in Special Education

Students typically complete all requirements in four years on a full-time schedule. The university accepts roughly 15 new students into this doctoral program each year. 


This doctoral program at the University of Kansas places a particular emphasis on the multicultural and multi-national culture of our society. Students are also encouraged to participate in research studies by way of an immersive apprenticeship through this program. This comprehensive degree culminates with a dissertation. 


New York University

College Choice Score: 94.80

Average Net Price: $36,256

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Founded in the early 1830s, New York University is a private research university that is often held to the same prestige as Ivy League schools. From the university’s Tisch School of the Arts and the Silver School of Social Work to the Stern School of Business, NYU boasts 15 graduate and professional schools. The university’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning, with a focus on Special Education.

Program Features

Students in this program will earn their Doctor of Philosophy in Teaching and Learning and may take courses on either a part-time or full-time schedule. New students are admitted each fall semester. Doctoral students may attend several seminars, including:

  • Doctoral Seminar in Teacher Education
  • Doctoral Seminar in Multilingual Issues
  • Doctoral Seminar in Educational Linguistics
  • Doctoral Seminar in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Topics in Teaching and Learning: Schooling and Race

This program places a strong emphasis on research, and students will be expected to complete a dissertation, including both a written and an oral candidacy requirement.


New York University offers small class sizes and professors who are experts in the education field. Plus, all doctoral students will have access to research centers across Manhattan, including the Institute for Education and Social Policy, as well as the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools. 


Michigan State University

College Choice Score: 94.60

Average Net Price: $16,684

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From its College of Law to the Eli Broad College of Business, Michigan State University offers more than 200 unique degree programs to its over 50,000 students. MSU prides itself on its research findings and facilities, spending nearly $700 million in research expenditures annually. The university’s College of Education offers plenty of research opportunities with its Ph.D. in Special Education. 

Program Features

Offered through the College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education, this program gives doctoral students plenty of freedom in their studies. Students may choose to pursue one of the following cognates: Applied Behavior Analysis, Language and Literacy, Math, Technology, or something else. All students in this program will receive five years of guaranteed funding. Required courses may include:

  • Critical Issues in Special Education
  • Academic Issues in Special Education
  • Multicultural Issues in Special Education
  • Quantitative Methods in Educational Research
  • Current Issues in Literacy Research and Instruction

All doctoral students in this program are paired with an academic advisor who has similar goals and research interests. 


Michigan State University also requires students in this program to complete a dissertation, residency requirement, comprehensive exam, and an annual review each spring. Famous MSU graduates include Magic Johnson, Eli Broad, and Tyler Oakley.


University of Connecticut

College Choice Score: 91.90

Average Net Price: $18,699

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Often referred to as a “Public Ivy,” the University of Connecticut is a land-, sea-, and space-grant research university. UConn offers many unique resources to its students, including the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Homer D. Babbidge Library, and Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. Interested in teaching? Check out the university’s Ph.D. in Special Education.  

Program Features

Offered through the university’s Neag School of Education Department of Educational Psychology, this doctoral program provides funding for full-time students, including tuition and a generous stipend. Students may choose from one of the following areas of emphasis:

  • Early Childhood
  • Postsecondary Transition
  • Positive Behavior Supports
  • Literacy Supports (Reading and Writing)

Unlike other doctoral programs, UConn does not require students to complete a certain amount of credits to be eligible for graduation. During their studies, students will have access to the A.J. Pappanikou Center for Developmental Disabilities, which is located next to the university’s Health Center in Farmington. 


The University of Connecticut was featured on U.S World News and Report’s ranking of Top 90 Best Value Schools in the United States. UConn has also been ranked among the nation’s Top Public Schools and Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S World News and Report. 


University of Washington

College Choice Score: 91.76

Average Net Price: $9,443

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With over 45,000 enrolled students, the University of Washington is home to more than 26 libraries and 140 departments across various colleges and schools. Both alumni and faculty of UW have gone on to become Fulbright Scholars, Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and more. Offered through the university’s College of Education, interested students may pursue a Ph.D. in Special Education. 

Program Features

Doctoral students in this program will participate in research with faculty members, education-related courses, and field experiences to gain hands-on experience. Required courses may include:

  • Exceptional Children
  • Special Education and the Law
  • Ability, Education, and the Arts
  • Collaboration: Working with Parents and Professional
  • Issues and Trends in Inclusive Early Childhood Education

The university offers a variety of funding options for students in this program. Plus, students may choose to specialize in one of the following areas: Reading and Math for students with High- and Low-Incidence Disabilities, Secondary Education for Students with Disabilities, or Special Education: Applied Behavior Analysis Option. 


The University of Washington requires applicants for this program to submit GRE General Test scores. Plus, students should already hold a master’s degree in a related field. Other requirements include a resume, writing samples, letters of recommendation, transcripts, and a statement of purpose.


Ohio State University

College Choice Score: 91.29

Average Net Price: $18,042

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A public university with nearly 70,000 students across its campuses, Ohio State University is the third-largest campus in the United States. OSU boasts many research facilities for students to take advantage of. These include the Byrd Polar Research Center, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Mershon Center for International Security Studies, and more. For those interested in teaching, check out the university’s Ph.D. in Educational Studies, with a focus in Special Education.

Program Features

This full-time program offers complete funding for all doctoral students, which includes tuition, a monthly stipend, and other benefits. Applicants must already hold a master’s degree in a related field to be considered for this program. Once admitted, required courses may include:

  • The Ethnography of Communication 
  • Behavior Approaches to College Teaching
  • Reading for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Students
  • Behavioral Research Methods in Applied Settings 
  • Psychopharmacology of the Developmental Disabilities 

All students in this program will choose a specific track best suited to their unique career goals. These tracks include Applied Behavior Analysis, Teaching and Learning (Deaf and Hard of Hearing), Intellectual/Developmental disabilities, or High Incidence Disabilities. 


Ohio State University only admits students into this 63-credit program during the fall semester. In addition to required coursework, all doctoral students must complete a dissertation and field experience. Graduates of this program have gone on to become college professors, as well as researchers, administrators, non-profit directors, and more.


Indiana University Bloomington

College Choice Score: 87.07

Average Net Price: $12,488

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Indiana University Bloomington was founded in 1820 as a public research university and has grown to enroll nearly 50,000 students today. This “Public Ivy” is home to 16 schools and colleges, offering over 550 degree programs from which to choose. Through its School of Education, graduate students can pursue a Ph.D. in Special Education.   

Program Features

To be considered for this program, applicants must hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Admitted students can expect to take many interesting courses which may include:

  • Seminar in Special Education
  • Intermediate Statistics Applied to Education
  • Evidence-Based Practice in Special Education 
  • Methodological Approaches to Educational Inquiry
  • Paradigms and Policies of Special Education in the U.S.

Additionally, all doctoral students must complete a minor and a dissertation to graduate. Students may apply for fellowships or assistantships to offset program costs.


Indiana University Bloomington consistently ranks among the top universities in the nation. U.S. News and World Report included Indiana University Bloomington on its rankings of Best Value Schools, Best Colleges for Veterans, and Top Public Schools in the United States. The university also ranked among the nation’s Top 50 Best Online Graduate Education Programs.