Doctoral Degree Programs

PhD in Special Education

The PhD in Special Education prepares individuals for careers as university scholars and teachers, and for leadership positions in schools. With a focus on the study of special education in urban and culturally diverse schools, we emphasize theory and research in language and literacy, early intervention, developmental disabilities, emotional/behavioral disabilities, special education policy, and teacher preparation. Our faculty is at the forefront of special education research and has received a number of grants to prepare future special educators and conduct research in the field.

For more information, sign up for our email list below, contact the Office of Student Services at 312-996-4532 or email Elise Wilson at  Ready to apply?  View the application instructions or start the application process now.

Degree Requirements

Student must complete a minimum of 96 semester hours of graduate work beyond the bachelor’s degree or 64 semester hours beyond the master’s degree for a doctoral degree. The plan of study for each student is prepared in consultation with the faculty adviser assigned in the student's area of specialization. The plan of study must be approved by a faculty adviser. All students are required to complete the core curriculum, appropriate work in the areas of specialization, a research project and a doctoral dissertation.

College and Research Methodology Core Curriculum (24 semester hours)

The core curriculum introduces students to issues in the conduct of educational research and begins the process of building methodological skills. The courses are:

  • ED 504 Urban Contexts and Educational Research
  • ED 505 Introduction to Educational Research: Paradigms and Processes
  • ED 506 Introduction to Educational Research: Designs and Analyses
  • ED 502 Essentials of Qualitative Inquiry in Education
  • ED 503/EPSY 503 Essentials of Quantitative Inquiry in Education (Students may register under the ED or EPSY rubric.)

One additional 4 credit hour course on research methodology that must be approved by the faculty advisor

Special Education Program Core (22 semester hours if a student has a master's degree, 54 semester hours without a master’s degree)

Required courses in the area of concentration include:

  • SPED 564 Proseminar in Special Education

Three research seminars (i.e., SPED 592, Seminar on Theory and Research in Special Education)

Students may take their remaining courses within the Special Education area, in other areas of the College of Education, or in other departments of the university (e.g., Anthropology, Disability Studies, Psychology, Public Policy, Sociology, and Women's Studies).

Research Project (6 semester hours)

All students in the doctoral program must work on a research project in collaboration with a faculty member, or a team of faculty members and students. Projects will focus on actual research problems in the student's area of concentration. Each student will make a formal oral and/or written presentation of the project findings.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination is taken after the required course work is complete. It consists of two parts:

  1. The comprehensive written portion is based on the student's course work.
  2. The oral portion is based upon the student's written dissertation proposal and is presented to a faculty committee.

Dissertation (12 semester hours)

A dissertation based on original research is required and must be defended before a faculty committee. The research must employ a theoretical framework and make use of the methods of inquiry appropriate to the problem investigated.

A student's distribution of semester hour credits required for the doctoral degree will be as follows (these are minimum hours; students typically take more hours than the minimum):


Minimum hours with master’s degree

Minimum hours without master’s degree

College Core and Research Methodology Curriculum



Specialization Requirement



Research Project









For further information regarding degree requirements, contact the Graduate Admissions Officer in the Office of Student Services at 312-996-4536, and consult the Graduate Catalog.

Advising Guide

Advising guides offer a checklist for class completion requirements. If you have any questions, please contact Mike Herkes, Coordinator of Data Management and Records, at in the Office of Student Services.

Advising Guide for the PhD in Special Education, Fall 2013 admits and onward (pdf)

Advising Guide for the PhD in Special Education, Fall 2012 admits and previous (pdf)


Doctoral Student Handbook for students admitted Fall 2013 and onward

Doctoral Student Handbook for students admitted Fall 2012 or previous term


Options and Outcomes

We prepare and graduate students who take key positions in higher education, and  school districts, where they are directly affecting policy, conducting research, and preparing the next generation of teachers. Our graduates get hired both locally and nationally at universities, colleges, non-profit agencies, research centers, school districts, and government agencies. In addition, our graduates publish articles in prestigious journals and regularly present their work at state and national conferences.

Program Application Process

Application Deadlines

Fall Deadline:  December 1
NOTE:  Faculty recommend new doctoral students for University Fellowships and Abraham Lincoln Fellowships.  In order to be considered for a faculty recommendation, you must submit your application by November 15.  Read more about the Fellowships.

  1. Applicants who are not currently registered graduate students at UIC must complete the UIC Graduate School application. Submit your application fee when completing the application.
  2. Complete the online College of Education application.
  3. The following documents should be uploaded online upon receiving email instructions after completing the UIC Graduate School application. View the Document Upload Guide for more information.
    • Upload undergraduate transcripts for your last 60 hours of the undergraduate degree and all graduate transcripts.
    • TOEFL or IELTS test scores for international applicants only
    • Three letters of recommendation. These letters should address the applicant's academic qualifications, research ability/experience and ability to carry on advanced degree studies. Letters may be from current or former professors or supervisors. At least one letter should be from someone who can address your experience working with children.
    • Goal Statement. Discuss the kinds of skills, abilities, and understandings that you would anticipate acquiring in a doctoral program. Describe how this interest relates to your personal experience and to your professional and scholarly goals at this time.  Faculty will evaluate your essay in terms of its clarity and cohesiveness, and how well your interests match those of the faculty. Please limit your essay to no more than 2,000 words.
    • Interview. If being considered for admission, the applicant will be required to participate in a face-to-face or phone interview with faculty. For information about College of Education application and interview, contact the Special Education office at (312) 996-5650.
  4. Submit GRE test score to UIC.

Scholarship Information

Project SURGE

Project SURGE (Special education Urban Research for Greater Equity) is a full-funded doctoral program which will begin at the University of Illinois at Chicago in January 2018. SURGE will graduate with a PhD in Special Education and a certificate in Educational Research Methodology (ERM). SURGE scholars will receive funding for full tuition and fees, as well as stipends for conference travel, books and materials, technology and software, and research. This interdisciplinary program focuses on special education policy, pedagogy, program design and research methodologies to develop and validate sustainable interventions for underrepresented populations of children and youth with disabilities in under-resourced schools, with specific attention to family and community contexts. SURGE scholars will also participate in writing groups led by faculty from the College of Education, research internships with our partner agencies including high-need LEA Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and seminars with national speakers about issues pertaining to urban special education and sustainable systems.

More information at