Early Childhood Special Education (PhD)

This is a doctor of philosophy in special education with an emphasis in early childhood.

The Doctorate of Philosophy program in ECSE supports advanced instruction in Early Childhood Special Education. Candidates will develop a program to meet their learning and research goals in the field of Early Childhood Special Education.

Degree Requirements

Students meeting entrance criteria will be conditionally admitted to the program, assigned an advisor, and expected to enroll in designated requisite coursework.

After completion of 9 credit hours, including 3 credits of quantitative methods plus 6 credits of special education doctoral core coursework, students must pass a qualifying examination to be fully admitted into the department.

Upon successful completion of the qualifying examination, students form a program committee and develop a program plan.  The committee shall consist of four or more graduate faculty members (at least three from within the department and at least one from outside the department). The program plan will delineate coursework and competency activities to meet department requirements.

Once the majority of course-work and competencies are completed (80-90%), students will be required to pass a comprehensive examination to advance to candidacy.

Upon successful completion of the comprehensive examination, students will form a dissertation committee and develop a research proposal.  The dissertation committee may be the same as the program committee or may change based on the need to include faculty members with specific areas of expertise. Once all committee members approve the proposal, students can begin implementation of the dissertation study.

Upon completion of the study, students must submit a written draft to the dissertation committee and orally defend their work.

Students will graduate only after all dissertation committee members approve the written dissertation and oral defense.

Students must also comply with all College of Education and Graduate School guidelines.

Full degree requirements are listed in the Doctoral Student Handbook



  • For fall semester: Jan. 15
  • For spring and summer semesters: Aug. 15

Admission Requirements

  • Graduate GPA above 3.5
  • Minimum GRE scores:
    • Test taken on or after Aug.1, 2011: combined score of 297 or better on the verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning sections and analytical writing score of 4.0 or better
    • For more information, contact MU Testing Services.
  • A minimum of three years full-time appropriate teaching or professional experience in PK-12 or other direct services with persons with disabilities
  • Minimum TOEFL/IELTS scores (only for students whose native language is not English)
    • TOEFL: a score of 100 of better
    • IELTS: a grade band score of 7 or better on the IELTS taken within the past two years
    • Ideally, the TOEFL or IELTS will be taken six to nine months before the term you wish to enroll. We will accept scores form the past two years.
    • For more information, contact MU Testing Services.

How to Apply

Complete the following steps before your application deadline.

  1. Complete the Graduate Studies application.
  • Applicants who have never been enrolled at the University of Missouri must submit their application for graduate admission.
  • Applicants who are currently enrolled at the university must submit a change form to this office.
  • If you have been enrolled at MU as a graduate student before but have not been enrolled in the past year, submit a request to re-enroll to the Department of Special Education, 303 Townsend, Columbia, MO 65211.

Graduate students who have taken only online courses should use the Graduate Studies application system.

  1. Have official transcripts from all previous college work at institutions other than MU sent directly to:

Office of Graduate Studies
210 Jesse Hall
Columbia, MO 65211

  1. Complete the Personal Data Sheet.
  • The Personal Data Sheet includes pertinent biographical information and professional experience.
  • As a part of this requirement, the applicant must confer or correspond with one of the special education faculty members in the proposed area of concentration prior to submitting an application. If you do not know who to speak to, contact Delinda van Garderen at vangarderend@missouri.edu.
  1. Write a statement of purpose, usually around 500 words, in which you summarize your professional goals, including career objectives, research interests, your motivation for advanced graduate work and other pertinent information.
  2. Submit at least three letters of recommendation.
  • The letters should attest to your professional competence, academic preparation and potential for graduate work.
  • Ideally, two letters should be from college or university professors who can discuss your academic abilities, and one should be from an administrator or colleague who can describe authoritatively your professional experience and potential.
  • Letters may be sent to the Department of Special Education, or they may be submitted through the Graduate School.
  1. GRE scores from the past five years
  2. TOEFL or IELTS scores from the past two years (only required for students whose native language is not English)

Waivers will not be granted for this requirement.

Conditional acceptance: Conditional acceptance into the program is not provided for those students who wish to pursue English language training in the U.S. prior to starting their graduate studies. Applications submitted will be reviewed for admission into the program as per the criteria noted below.

An interview may be required by the admissions committee.

Please feel free to submit any other materials that you feel would give a clearer picture of your qualifications. If you have questions or if you would like a paper application packet, contact the Department of Special Education at umccoesped@missouri.edu.

Admission Decisions

Each applicant’s credentials are reviewed by a committee of faculty that is committed to using professional judgement to find applicants with great potential for success and contribution to the profession. Membership in underrepresented groups is a special consideration for the committee. The department cannot assure admission to all applicants who meet minimum admission requirements.