The Ph.D. program prepares leaders in the field of special education to bring systemic change to educational and community settings in ways that improve access and equity for children and youth with disabilities and their families. The program prepares graduates to address pressing issues in the field including increasing equity across diverse groups of students, improving post-school outcomes for individuals with disabilities, and enhancing teacher efficacy in special education.

Faculty research focuses on the following areas:
•    Research methodologies in special education
•    Diversity and equity issues in the field of special education
•    Literacy and reading instruction for individuals with disabilities
•    Teacher education and preparation of high quality special education teachers
•    Evidence-based interventions with students with severe disabilities including multiple disabilities, intellectual disability and autism
•    Special education issues in adolescence, transitional and vocational education

Special education is one of the two academic areas in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education. The areas are joined by a common mission of preparing professional leadership personnel to address the educational and rehabilitation needs of individuals with disabilities across the life span. Special education addresses the needs of children, youth, and young adults through its teacher education, research and service programs. Rehabilitation psychology addresses the needs of older youth, young adults, and adults. Department faculty in both areas join resources to provide training and research programs that promote successful transition from school to the world of work, post-secondary, education and successful psycho-social adaptation for individuals with disabilities.

The department is a national and international leader in preparing Ph.D. professionals to serve in leadership positions in university teaching, research, and program administration. This leadership is evidenced by the publication and research record of its faculty and graduates, and by the routine placement of Ph.D. graduates in major universities and colleges.

Fall Deadline January 1
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) May be required in certain cases; consult program.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Application information is available on the department website. Applicants are expected to meet general requirements for admission to the Graduate School. The admissions committee considers a variety of factors including academic preparation, letters of recommendation, personal statement, and professional experiences.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Program Resources

Financial support is available to admitted students and may include scholarships, traineeships, teaching assistantships, and research/project assistantships. The Special Education Ph.D. program seeks to provide four academic years of funding to qualified admitted students. Funding includes tuition remission and stipend and access to the University's health insurance program among other benefits. Prospective students should see the program website for funding information.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 56 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 32 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 28 credits must be in graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide (
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations Qualifying examination, preliminary examination, dissertation, final oral committee examination.
Language Requirements No language requirements.
Doctoral Minor/Breadth Requirements All doctoral students are required to complete a minor.

Required COURSES

Complete a minimum of 56 post-master's degree credits to include the following:

Special Education Core/Seminars
RP & SE 871 Foundations of Special Education3
RP & SE 872 Seminar in Special Education Research3
RP & SE 873 Professional Development for Future Special Education Researchers and Faculty in Higher Education 11
RP & SE 873 Professional Development for Future Special Education Researchers and Faculty in Higher Education 11
RP & SE 710 Multicultural Issues in Special Education3
Additional RP & SE seminar courses chosen in consultation with the faculty advisor, with at least one course focused on adolescence, to reach a total of a minimum of 20 credits of seminar/core courses. 9
Doctoral Minor (chosen in consultation with faculty advisor)9
Research Design and Statistics
ED PSYCH 760 Statistical Methods Applied to Education I3
ED PSYCH 761 Statistical Methods Applied to Education II3
RP & SE/​COUN PSY/​CURRIC/​ED POL/​ED PSYCH/​ELPA  719 Introduction to Qualitative Research3
Additional courses in research design/statistics/methods chosen in consultation with the faculty advisor to total a minimum of 15 credits6
RP & SE 930 Rehabilitation Counselor Education - Teaching3
RP & SE 941 Internship: Research3
Dissertation (minimum of 6 credits)
RP & SE 990 Research or Thesis3
RP & SE 990 Research or Thesis3
Total Credits56

In addition to the course requirements noted above, students must pass a qualifying examination and a preliminary examination.

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

Students are allowed to count graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits taken as an undergraduate are allowed to count toward the post-master’s credits for the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 15 credits of coursework numbered 300 or above taken as a UW–Madison University Special student toward the minimum graduate degree credit requirement; those courses numbered 700 level or above taken as a UW–Madison University Special student may count toward the minimum graduate coursework (50%) requirement. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


A semester GPA below 3.0 will result in the student being placed on academic probation. If a semester GPA of 3.0 is not attained during the subsequent semester of full time enrollment (or 12 credits of enrollment if enrolled part-time) the student may be dismissed from the program or allowed to continue for one additional semester based on advisor appeal to the Graduate School.


Students are assigned a faculty advisor upon admission to the program. See the program handbook for additional information about advising.


15 credits

Time Constraints

Doctoral students have five years from the date of passing the preliminary examination to take the final oral examination and deposit the dissertation. In some departments, if the professor(s) in charge is satisfied with the preparation, the preliminary examination may be construed as the final examination.

A candidate for a doctoral degree who fails to take the final oral examination within five years after passing the preliminary examination is required to take another preliminary examination and be admitted to candidacy a second time.

Deposit of the doctoral dissertation in the Graduate School is required.



Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

  1. (Conceptual Knowledge) Formulates ideas, concepts, designs, and/or techniques within and beyond the current boundaries of knowledge, or practice within the field of study; demonstrates breadth within their learning experiences.
  2. (Research Skills) Articulates research problems, potentials, and limits with respect to theory, knowledge, or practice within the field of study; creates research, scholarship, or performance that makes a substantive contribution.
  3. (Teaching/Advising Skills) Shares knowledge and research in the field with students in a clear and engaging manner; effectively communicates with students within and outside of class; advances contributions of the field of study to society.
  4. (Communication and Leadership Skills) Communicates complex ideas in a clear and understandable manner to a variety of audiences.
  5. (Service) Participates in public and professional service.
  6. (Professionalism/Ethics) Demonstrates the ability to work well with others, participates in professional organizations, adheres to ethical standards of research protocol and professional behavior.


Rehabilitation Psychology:
Malachy Bishop,  Brian Phillips, David Rosenthal, Susan Smedema, and Timothy Tansey

Special Education:
Zhe An, Aydin Bal, Bonnie Doren, Taucia Gonzalez, Melinda Leko, Andrea Ruppar, and Kimber Wilkerson

For more information about faculty in the Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education Department, see: