Special Education Program Curriculum & Admission Requirements

The Ph.D. in Special Education at the University of Kansas focuses on the formation of scholars, highly-competent, and socially-committed educational researchers, leaders, and teacher educators who design, develop, and use educational and social interventions that result in transformational outcomes. Because such a professional identity requires students to play an active role in its development, the doctoral program is premised on four instructional principles:

  • (a) problem-centered learning focusing on the formulation of significant research questions and specification of corresponding methods of inquiry;
  • (b) apprenticeship with multiple mentors involving intentionality, collective responsibility, recognition, respect, trust, and reciprocity;
  • (c) creating and sustaining a safe and engaging intellectual community/culture in which students feel support among themselves and in collegial relations with faculty; and
  • (d) scholarly integration in which the teaching and research mission of the department and faculty is closely linked.


Teaching requirement

Students must complete one required teaching internship experience in which they demonstrate pedagogical competencies.

Internship requirement

Students must complete at least one research internship in which students are mentored through various aspects of research, such as study conceptualization, methodology, data collection, data analysis, etc. It is at the discretion of the student and advisor to determine if students enroll in credit hours for this internship.

Comprehensive examination

Upon completion of all coursework, the student is eligible for the comprehensive examination. The comprehensive examination consists of both a written and oral part and tests the student's knowledge of the areas of the coursework; ability to reason, evaluate and draw supportable conclusions; and knowledge of current issues and trends within the field.


After successfully passing the comprehensive exams, the student must present a dissertation showing the planning, conduct, and results of original research and scholarly creativity. The purpose of the dissertation is to encourage and ensure the development of broad intellectual capabilities as well as to demonstrate an intensive focus on a problem or research area.

more program structure


The social context of the doctoral program is multicultural and multi-national. Coming from various backgrounds, cultures, and countries our students develop a global understanding of disability, education, and social systems. We continue to encourage applicants from across the globe and are pleased each year to welcome international students to our doctoral cohort.

Focus on Research

Doctoral students are grounded in interdisciplinary theoretical knowledge and prepared in the full range of methodological approaches to enable them to engage in transformational research. This process begins in the first semester as students quickly become immersed with their advisors and other faculty in research and other scholarship aimed at enhancing the quality of life of persons with (dis)abilities and their families. This apprenticeship continues through the point where students are capable of conceptualizing and leading their own research and scholarship endeavors.

Program Curriculum

The program’s curriculum prepares doctoral students for professional positions in a variety of settings. The student works closely with an advisor to determine a plan of study. The Ph.D. degree requires rigorous study in research, educational foundations, disability issues, special education, organizational and individual change, curriculum, teaching, and program development. The curriculum requirements outlined below are the minimum required for the degree. To be adequately prepared for an intended career, the student’s advisor may encourage additional coursework or opportunities, which may include presenting and/or publishing scholarly papers.

Course Requirements


Please note, this is a potential plan of study. Please consult with your faculty advisor before enrolling. The standard courses involved in the program are listed above. Students will develop a personalized program plan with their advisor. Additional requirements include major courses, research courses, courses outside the department and specialization courses.

Ph.D. in Special Education Graduate Admission

Applicants must have a master’s degree or equivalent with at least a 3.5 grade point average on a 4.0 scale. International applicants are strongly encouraged to complete the application process well in advance of the application deadlines, in order to ensure adequate time for processing of visa related paperwork. Meeting minimum admission standards does not guarantee admission to the program.

Applicants are strongly advised to establish a dialogue with one (or more) faculty members in the preferred specialization area prior to applying for the doctoral program. The purpose of the dialogue is to understand how the applicant’s scholarship interests align and/or intersect with departmental faculty, and to ensure the specialization focus aligns with the applicant’s interests and skills.

Finally, meeting with faculty will assist in identifying a good match with a specialization advisor. This dialogue also is critical for applicants to learn about various social, academic, and teaching aspects of the doctoral experience that will complement development as a scholar. Communicating with specialization faculty prior to submitting an application is strongly recommended and is considered vital to the department admissions process.

applicant info

Application review

Doctoral program applications for the Ph.D. in special education are only reviewed for fall admission. All materials must be received prior to deadline in order to be considered. Select applicants will be invited to participate in an interview.

Professional training

Applicants must have relevant professional training, usually represented by undergraduate and graduate degrees in special and/or general education or a related field, and are usually expected to have at least three years of professional teaching experience in public schools or related agencies that serve individuals with disabilities.

Available Funding

Nearly all doctoral students receive funding. Doctoral student funding relies on a variety of funding sources. Other projects and sources of funding may exist. Funding is discussed during the application process.

Application Deadlines

Dec. 1
Priority fall semester application deadline for funding consideration
May 1
Final fall semester application deadline

Application materials will continue to be accepted based on available space and funding. Applicants who are identified as a finalist will be invited to interview sometime in late January or early February. Please contact department admissions for more information.

Application Checklist

Ph.D. in Special Education

Applicants are required to submit the following materials and meet the following requirements before the application deadline:


  • Online application

    Complete through the KU Office of Graduate Admissions.

  • Letter of Introduction

    Prepare a personal letter of introduction addressed to the faculty member you wish to study under. The letter should present a thorough and precise summary of your professional preparation, qualifications, objectives for doctoral study, and projected career goals so that reviewing faculty members can become well acquainted with you. The quality and clarity of your writing skills will also be assessed through this letter. Please identify the specialization you wish to study in. Click the link above for details.

  • Transcripts

    For application purposes, you may attach scanned versions of official transcripts to your application for all degrees conferred. If you are admitted to a program and accept the admission offer, you will be required to submit an official, final transcript that shows your degree has been conferred. Click the link above for mailing details.

  • Resume or CV

    Prepare a professional resume describing past employment experiences, licensure received, educational preparation, number of years teaching experience, publications and presentations, professional association memberships, and other professional activities.

  • Letters of recommendation

    You will submit the names and email addresses for three references when you apply online. The references should reflect individuals who can provide a thorough and objective evaluation of your abilities as an effective practitioner with students with disabilities and your abilities to pursue advanced study at the doctoral level. Two of the three references should address this latter set of abilities.

  • Proof of English proficiency

    Applicants who are non-native speakers of English must demonstrate English proficiency in the skill areas of reading, writing, and listening. Please read the full policy and acceptable proof of proficiency options by clicking the link above for details.

  • Academic writing sample

    Submit a sample of your scholarly writing. Click the link above for details.

Program Faculty

Lisa Didion
Lisa Didion
Assistant Professor
Lisa Dieker
Lisa Dieker
Williamson Family Distinguished Professor in Special Education
Jennifer A. Kurth
Jennifer A. Kurth
Chair, Professor
Kathleen Lane
Kathleen Lynne Lane
Associate Vice Chancellor of Research, Roy A. Roberts Distinguished Professor
Valerie Mazzotti
Valerie Mazzotti
Roy Roberts Distinguished Professor
Wayne Stratford Sailor
Wayne Stratford Sailor
Director and Senior Scientist, SWIFT, Professor
Karrie A. Shogren
Karrie A. Shogren
Professor; Senior Scientist, Bureau of Child Research
Elizabeth A. Stevens
Elizabeth A Stevens
Assistant Professor
Kathleen N Tuck
Kathleen N. Tuck
Associate Professor
Michael L. Wehmeyer
Michael L. Wehmeyer
Ross and Marianna Beach Distinguished Professor in Special Education, Director and Senior Scientist, Beach Center on Disability
Alison L. Zagona
Alison L. Zagona
Assistant Professor