Ph.D. in Special Education - On campus at University Park

The Ph.D. in Special Education is an academic degree designed to prepare special educators for leadership roles in research and graduate education. We provide doctoral candidates with the critical skills needed to be successful in higher education. Like most doctoral programs, our program requires coursework that provides knowledge about the field of special education, about theoretical models, and about research and statistical methods. Unlike most traditional doctoral programs, the Penn State program does not presume that day-to-day professional skills are learned incidentally during doctoral study or the first years on the job. Instead, the faculty provides models, shaping, and response opportunities to help you acquire and practice the professional skills expected of professionals in the settings encountered subsequent to graduation. Our students learn by doing.

Overview of Course and Examination Requirements

Each student's program is guided by an academic adviser and committee of graduate faculty members. Student programs are structured according to students' past experiences and career objectives. Differentiation in preparation is reflected in different programs of study, cognate areas or minors, and areas of emphasis within special education. However, all Ph.D. candidates must pass a Candidacy Examination, meet specified English Competencies, complete a series of Competency Activities, pass Ph.D. Comprehensive examinations (including the final oral examination), and complete a doctoral dissertation demonstrating the ability to use theory to develop and evaluate educational practice. In addition, all candidates must meet the minimum course requirements for the degree. These requirements include 24 credits of research methods, 18 credits in a minor or related field, and 36 credits in education. Up to 30 credits earned in a master's degree program may be applied with the approval of the student's committee. The specific courses used to meet these general requirements may vary considerably from student to student.

Overview of Professional Requirements

The professional requirements are designed to help students meet the criteria of the next environment (CONE). When developing the CONE model, our faculty performed several steps, two were critical: (a) identifying the major roles and responsibilities of the successful professional, and (b) organizing the program to prepare students to meet these expected demands. The major roles were, for the most part, taken from university promotion and tenure guidelines and an analysis of the day-to-day responsibilities of university faculty. While some of the information and skills are presented in graduate seminars, the majority of the competencies are learned through one-to-one interactions with individual faculty.

General Sequence for Doctoral Study

Expected Rate of Progress

The following schedule is intended to be descriptive and not prescriptive.

  1. Candidacy Evaluation. Completed by mid-term of the second semester for students entering the program with a master's degree.

  2. Competency Exams:
              Paper #1: Literature Review. Completed by mid-term of the first summer or early in the third semester.
              Paper #2: Empirical Study. Completed by the end of the fourth semester.
              Doctoral Seminar (SPLED 500). Completed by the beginning of the fifth semester.

  3. Oral Comprehensive Examination. Completed by the end of the fifth semester.

  4. Final Oral Comprehensive. Completed within seven years of date of acceptance as a candidate.

Departures From Prescribed Sequence

Occasionally, students may request from their committee a departure from the prescribed sequence of examination. For example, if a student wishes to submit a grant to an outside funding agency to support dissertation research, the timelines of submission are such that seeking outside funds may delay program completion without some flexibility in scheduling. By a two-thirds vote, a student's committee may allow a previously submitted proposal to be used for a dissertation (and defended in the Comprehensive Examination). Documentation of such departures should be submitted by the adviser, in writing, and placed in the program file.

How to Apply

Financial Aid for Doctoral Students