Special Education M.S. 

The M.S. is an academic degree and is strongly oriented toward research. M.S. programs focus on the development of academic and scholarly skills, not development of superior teaching ability. Thus, an M.S. would be appropriate, for example, for a student who wishes to pursue a doctorate in special education; an M.S. degree would be an important preparatory step for this individual. The M.S. is also appropriate for international students or other students who have sharply defined career objectives and who exhibit very strong academic credentials.

While pursuing the master's degree, students may also earn the Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis and/or the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Educating Individuals with Autism offered via the World Campus. To do so, a student must complete a separate certificate application on the Graduate School website and pay the associated application fee before completing all of the credits required for the desired certificate. For example, a student wishing to earn the Graduate Certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis along with the M.S. in Special Education should submit two separate applications – one for the M.S. program and one for the graduate certificate program.

How to Apply

For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

All applicants are expected to have a GPA of 3.0 or higher from prior coursework.

The process of applying for graduate admission at Penn State requires the following application materials, all of which are submitted via The Graduate School's online application.


  • Graduate Application and application fee – Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. You will need to upload the following items as part of your online application.

  • Résumé or curriculum vitae

  • Personal statement – A one to two page statement addressing your purpose and objectives in enrolling in a graduate program in Special Education.

  • Transcripts – A copy of an official transcript from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State, but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. Upon admission and your acceptance of admission, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.

  • Three references – Reference forms will be uploaded directly to the Graduate School application by the reference writer who will receive an email from the Graduate School after the applicant enters reference contact information into the application.

  • GRE Scores (PSU Institution Code: 2660) – Official test results from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) must be submitted electronically by ETS directly to Graduate Enrollment Services at Penn State. Advanced subject results are optional. The GRE website provides information about testing centers and dates. To insure that the scores will reach us in time for consideration of your application, please schedule your exam no later than two (2) months in advance of the semester deadline. Test scores that are more than five (5) years old will not be accepted.

  • Proof of English Proficiency – The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS), with some exceptions. For detailed information please visit the Graduate School's Requirements for Graduate Admissions page.Applicants should request that TOEFL scores be sent to Penn State electronically. Applicants should request that IELTS scores be mailed directly to Penn State's Graduate School at the following address:

    The Pennsylvania State University
    Graduate Enrollment Services
    114 Kern Building
    University Park, PA 16802

Begin the graduate school application


  • Choose “DEGREE ADMISSION” as your enrollment type.

  • Choose "UNIVERSITY PARK" as your campus.

  • Choose “SPECIAL EDUCATION” as your major.

  • Choose “M S” as your degree.

Applications deadlines for each semester are noted below. It is strongly recommended, however, that applications be submitted by December 1 of the prior academic year in order to receive full consideration for financial funding (e.g., submit by December 1, 2020, for funding consideration in Fall 2021).


  • April 1 for Fall semester admission

  • November 1 for Spring semester admission

  • April 1 for Summer semester admission


M.S. students must accumulate a specified number of credits, pass a comprehensive exam, and write and defend a master's thesis. Students pursuing this degree should check with The Graduate School for the specific deadlines pertinent to completion of the degree.

Candidates for the Master of Science degree must complete a minimum of 30 credits at the 400-level and above. (While graduate students may enroll in courses below the 400-level, these courses will not count toward their degrees.) Of the 30 credits required for the M.S. degree, 6 must be taken from one discipline outside of special education; 18 must be taken in special education; and 18 must be taken at the 500 level or above. SPLED 573 and EDPSY 406 are required as are 6 credits of thesis research (i.e., SPLED 600). M.S. students must also submit a master's thesis and pass a comprehensive examination. Because the M.S. is an academic degree, no practicum courses are counted against the minimum number of credits for the degree. The following list summarizes the minimum credit requirements.


  • Minimum Total Credits: 30 (6 thesis credits + 24 coursework credits)

  • Required Courses: EDPSY 406 and SPLED 573

  • Thesis Credits (SPLED 600): 6

  • Coursework Credits: 24 (3 cr SPLED 573 + 3 cr EDPSY 406 + 9 other SPLED cr + 6 cr outside SPLED + 3 additional cr)

  • Special Education Credits: 18 (6 thesis credits + 12 coursework credits)

  • Non-Special Education Credits: 6 (all 6 credits must be taken within a single discipline)

  • Credits at 500- or 600-level: 18 (6 thesis credits + 12 additional credits at 500-level)