A doctorate in special education prepares graduates for various teaching and leadership careers, particularly those in fields concerning people with disabilities, impairments, and restrictions. With this degree in hand, professionals can help educate future special education teachers, develop special education programs and schools, and create more inclusive policies.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% job growth for postsecondary educators between 2019 and 2029, more than twice the average rate for all occupations. The BLS also projects 3% job growth for special education teachers during that same period, with earlier special needs identification and intervention driving much of that demand.

In this guide, we explore the online doctorate in special education, highlighting what the program has to offer and what educational and professional pathways students can pursue.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Special Education?

Ph.D. graduates often become researchers or teachers, whereas Ed.D. graduates often pursue administration or public policy careers.

The increasing number of children with identified special needs requires more professionals in this field. Graduates with an online doctorate in special education can enter several in-demand careers in this industry. They also possess the skills necessary to shape public services and programs.

This degree can take 3-7 years to complete, and students usually choose between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. in special education. This choice typically depends on each learner's career goals. Ph.D. graduates often become researchers or teachers, whereas Ed.D. graduates may pursue administration or public policy careers.

Few fields require training beyond a doctorate in special education, but public school teachers need state licensure. In some states, graduates may need to pursue special education licensure or educational leadership certification for certain roles. Prospective students should check with their state licensing organizations for more specific information.

What Can I Expect from a Doctorate in Special Education Program?

Coursework in a doctorate in special education depends on the degree type. An Ed.D program, for example, may offer classes in leadership and policy change within various educational contexts, whereas Ph.D. programs focus on developing future special education teachers and programs.

Ed.D programs also feature much more practical and interdisciplinary approaches to special education, while Ph.D. programs emphasize research, writing, and teaching strategies. Ph.D. students often teach during their studies to gain experience and earn funding. Both degree types may offer concentrations, which allow learners to specialize their training in certain disabilities or subfields.

Concentrations

Applied Behavioral Analysis

Applied behavioral analysis concentrations examine ways for professionals to define, measure, and analyze human behavior. Coursework looks at the methods used by teachers and professional behaviorists in these areas, along with results and improvements in students.

Learning Disabilities

This concentration explores how teachers educate students with specific learning disabilities. Coursework highlights methods for designing programs and evaluating and supporting learners with special needs.

Autism

In autism concentrations, students examine the research on meeting the educational and personal needs of children with autism. They may look at some of the issues, common learning challenges, and successful teaching methods in this field.

Early Intervention

These concentrations focus on best practices and policies regarding early intervention in special education. Students examine methods for identifying disabilities in children, evaluating their needs, and developing appropriate assessment procedures.

Policy and Administration

In policy and administration concentrations, students focus on program and policy development. They study issues in special education policies and processes for enacting change.

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How to Choose a Special Education Doctorate Program

Students must consider many different factors when choosing an online doctorate in special education. They should pick an option that offers the appropriate degree type and concentration for their career goals. They also need to ensure that the school has received proper accreditation.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctorate in Special Education Programs

Regional accreditation should play a big part in the decision process. Attending a school without accreditation may disqualify students from financial aid, transfer credits, licensure, and employment.

Programmatic accreditation, such as accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, can also have a large impact on student outcomes. This formal recognition informs students and employers that programs meet high industry standards and provide adequate preparation for the profession.

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How to Get Into a Special Education Doctorate Program

Prospective students typically need a master's degree in a related subject to earn admission to a doctoral program in special education. Some programs set additional requirements, such as a minimum 3.0 GPA and 1-3 years of professional experience in special education.

Applicants also need to submit letters of recommendation and other admission materials, such as standardized test scores and professional writing samples. Many programs require applicants to send in a research proposal, which discusses their research interests and study and career goals.

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What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Special Education?

A doctorate in special education can lead to an array of career opportunities. Many pursue postsecondary teaching positions, helping to educate the next generation of special education teachers. The $80,790 median annual salary for this field more than doubles the median annual salary for all occupations.

An online doctorate in special education can also lead to education administrator roles like academic dean and provosts. These administrators develop policies and manage student affairs in schools.

Graduates can also target the improvement of special needs programs and public policy through careers as political scientistsor sociologists. These professionals earn median annual salaries 2-3 times more than the median annual salary for all occupations.

Popular Career Paths

How Much Money Can I Make With a Doctorate in Special Education?

The salaries available to these degree-holders depend on their employer, location, and experience. According to the BLS, however, the median annual salaries among the more common career paths range from approximately $80,000-$125,000.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Special Education Prepares For

Teaching Licensure

Teaching licensure requirements vary by state, but most candidates need a bachelor's degree and a completed teacher preparation program. Some states may require that special education teachers hold a master's degree.

Board Certification in Special Education

A voluntary credential from the National Association of Special Education Teachers, board certification in special education recognizes professionals who meet advanced professional standards. Candidates need at least a master's degree in a relevant field and several prerequisite courses.

Special Education Teacher Licensure

Requirements for special education teacher licensure depend on the state, but candidates usually need a bachelor's degree and a completed teacher preparation program. Some states may require specialized training, a master's degree, or experience to qualify for the examination.

National Board Certification

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers certification for teaching professionals with at least three years experience. This voluntary credential can lead to employment or advancement.

Educational Administrator License

The requirements for educational administrator or leadership licensure vary by state, but candidates may need a master's degree and a completed teacher preparation program. Some states require classroom experience as well. In some locations, only professionals with this credential may qualify for school administrator positions in public schools.

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Special Education Programs

What is special education?

Special education involves teaching students with special needs, such as learning, physical, and behavioral disabilities. These classrooms feature adapted lesson plans and individualized learning and assessment strategies. Special education can help students develop communication, technology, mobility, and behavioral management skills.

How much does it cost to get a doctorate in special education?

The cost of a doctorate in special education depends on the school and program. According to U.S. News & World Report, the average cost of a doctorate in special education is $560-$780 per credit and $34,000-$60,000 overall.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in special education?

Many factors can influence the length of a doctorate in special education, including schedule, delivery method, and program and degree type. Typically, these programs run for 3-7 years, with Ed.D. programs often taking 3-5 years and Ph.D. programs lasting 4-7 years.

What can a doctorate in special education do for your career?

Graduates with a doctorate in special education can qualify for most positions and credentials available in the field. They may pursue teaching, educational leadership, or administrator positions at any level, including postsecondary education. They may choose policy or program development careers as well.

What's the difference between a doctorate in special education and a doctorate in education?

A doctorate in special education differs from a doctorate in education in that the former encompasses programs, policies and students with special needs. Students with disabilities call for individualized and adapted learning plans and support, requiring specialized training and credentials.