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Special Education is the academic home to many students who enjoy working with children and youth, especially children and youth with disabilities. Special Education graduates enter a high-need field with an almost 100% job placement rate, with graduates finding employment in Wisconsin and across the country.

Students admitted to Special Education will have four certification options. Each of these options can be completed within a four-semester professional sequence that includes coursework, field experiences, and starts each fall.

Certification Options

Special Education Cross-Categorical K-12

The program prepares educators to serve as resources and advocates for persons with disabilities and their families. This includes being a leader, collaborating with others, and working creatively within and outside schools to create inclusive educational experiences to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities and their families.

Graduates are prepared to work effectively across disability categories, including intellectual and developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, and emotional/behavioral disorders. The program emphasizes coursework and experiences in elementary, middle, and high schools with students who have a wide range of abilities, including students with severe disabilities. 

Elementary Education K-9 and Special Education K-12

The Elementary Education and Special Education teacher certification program prepares educators who foster high academic achievement in all children—particularly students of color, students from minoritized racial, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as students with disabilities. The program helps students become leaders who collaborate and work creatively within and outside schools to foster inclusive educational experiences for all pupils, including those with disabilities. Program graduates understand the important role that families play in supporting students’ development and achievement.

This program emphasizes collaboration, with training in both Elementary and Special Education program areas. It focuses on inclusion and gaining a strong background in working with students across disability categories, including learning disabilities, emotional/behavioral disorders, and other high incidence disabilities.

Graduates receive a Bachelor of Science degree in Education and will be eligible to receive an Elementary Education license in grades K-9 and a Special Education license in grades K-12.  

Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)

Graduates will be certified in ECSE, ages birth-grade 3. This program prepares early intervention and early childhood special education professionals to serve young children ages birth through eight years who have, or are at-risk for, developmental delays and disabilities, as well as the families of these children. Graduates may work in a variety of settings including, but not limited to: Early Head Start, Head Start, licensed childcare centers, 4K programs, and grades kindergarten-grade 3.

Early Childhood Special Education and Special Education Cross-Categorical K-12

This option will prepare educators to support the needs of students with disabilities from birth through Grade 12. Students will be certified in both ECSE and Special Education Cross-Categorical K-12.

The Teacher Pledge

The School of Education at UW-Madison currently offers a unique financial opportunity for students in Special Education programs called The Teacher Pledge. The school pledges to pay the equivalent of in-state tuition and fees for all teacher education students. In return, students pledge to work at a Wisconsin PreK-12 school for three to four years after graduation.

Madison College Transfer Agreement

Madison College students should also investigate the transfer agreement between Madison College and UW-Madison. Students meeting the requirements of this agreement are guaranteed admission to UW-Madison's School of Education and to Special Education.

Program Admission Overview

Undergraduate students generally apply to the professional part of the Special Education degree program in their sophomore year. Selection is made during the spring semester. Currently, students are admitted to the program once a year, effective for the summer following selection. Once admitted, students typically spend four semesters completing their remaining coursework.

Information about application procedures for the Elementary-Special Education dual teacher certification option is available in the Elementary Education section of the Guide.

Entering the School of Education

New and Current UW–Madison Students

New freshmen and transfer students interested in special education are admitted directly to the School of Education with a “pre-professional” classification. This classification indicates that a student is interested in a program offered by the school, but has not applied and been admitted to the professional program. Students interested in special education receive the "pre-professional" classification of PSR.

On-campus students wishing to be admitted to the school while working on eligibility requirements and application can apply for admission to the school by completing a Pre-Professional Application. A minimum GPA of 2.5, based on UW–Madison coursework, is required to transfer into the school. This GPA may be modified by the Last 60 Credits rule (detailed below). It is not necessary to be a "pre-professional” student before applying to a professional program.

It is strongly recommended that students interested in a School of Education program meet with an academic advisor in the School of Education Student Services office, 139 Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall. Students may call 608-262-1651 or email soeacademicservices@education.wisc.edu to schedule an appointment with an advisor.

Prospective Transfer Students

Applicants not already enrolled on the UW–Madison campus must be admissible to the University to enroll in a School of Education program. Admission to UW–Madison requires a separate application and admission process. See UW–Madison Office of Admissions and Recruitment for application information. Prospective transfer students are strongly advised to meet with an advisor in the School of Education Student Services office in advance of their application; call 608-262-1651 or email soeacademicservices@education.wisc.edu to schedule an appointment with an advisor.

Students with a Previous Degree

Prospective applicants who already hold an undergraduate degree are strongly encouraged to meet with an advisor in the School of Education Student Services office in advance of their application. Consultations with advisors are available in person, by telephone or online; call 608-262-1651 or email soeacademicservices@education.wisc.edu to schedule an appointment.

Applicants who already hold an undergraduate degree are admitted to the School of Education as either an Education Special student or a second degree student, depending on their interests and academic background. Admission as an Education Special student indicates that the student has an interest in pursuing certification in a subject area studied during the initial degree; another degree is not awarded for this "certification only" coursework. Second degree students are seeking a second, unrelated degree from the School of Education, which may, or may not, include teacher certification. Candidates for limited enrollment programs must meet all admission eligibility requirements for the program and must compete with the eligible applicants for program admission. More information is available here.

Application and Admission

Certification to teach special education requires that a student be admitted into the professional part of the degree program. The School of Education admits students into the special education program one a year, effective for summer following selection. In recent years the program has been able to accommodate all qualified applicants.

Program Admission Eligibility Requirements

Requirements and selection criteria may be modified from one application/admission period to the next. Any changes to these criteria may occur up until the application period begins. Potential applicants should consult the School of Education's Undergraduate Admissions page for application deadlines and detailed information regarding current eligibility requirements and selection criteria prior to submitting an application.

To be eligible for admission to the professional program, applicants must:

  • complete at least 40 transferable college-level credits by the end of the fall semester before application.
  • successfully complete RP & SE 300 Individuals with Disabilities (3 cr) by the end of the summer semester of the application year.
  • earn a minimum 2.5 grade point average (GPA) on a 4.0 scale on all transferable college-level coursework attempted.1
  • submit all program application form(s), transcripts, and other related application materials by the application deadline specified on the School of Education's Undergraduate Admissions page.
1

A comprehensive cumulative GPA of all college-level, transferrable coursework attempted on both the UW–Madison campus coursework and coursework taken at any other colleges or universities may be calculated for the exclusive purpose of establishing an applicant’s eligibility for consideration. Both the comprehensive cumulative GPA and the comprehensive cumulative GPA based on a student’s last 60 credits may be calculated. See Last 60 Credits Rule (detailed below). If admitted, students must earn the minimum cumulative GPA for UW–Madison coursework established by their program and the School of Education each semester after admission.

Last 60 Credits Rule

Two grade point averages will be calculated to determine candidates' eligibility for program consideration. GPAs will be calculated using

  • all transferable college level coursework attempted, and
  • the last 60 credits attempted.

The higher GPA of these two will be used for purposes of determining eligibility. If fewer than 60 credits have been attempted, all credits will be used to calculate the GPA. Graded graduate coursework will also be used in all GPA calculations. ("Attempted" coursework indicates coursework for which a grade has been earned.) More information on this rule is available here.

Program Selection Criteria

The special education faculty will review all completed applications that meet eligibility criteria. When reviewing an application, special education faculty want to learn as much about the applicant as possible and will make every effort to take into account the whole person. Applicants are encouraged to provide, in writing, whatever they would want to share in a face-to-face interview.

The selection committee members will consider several factors when selecting students for the program. Although the grade point average (GPA) is considered an important indicator of success, it is not the only basis on which applicants will be selected for admission. Trends in the applicant's grades, difficulty of course load, and outside work load will be considered (see factors 1, 2, and 3 below).

In addition to the GPA, faculty will consider the following factors:

  • College grading and course selection pattern. Transcripts will be examined individually. Account will be taken whether an applicant has clearly followed an unusually easy or difficult pattern of courses or if the GPA reflects a poor grade in an exceptionally difficult subject area.
  • Trends of college grades. An applicant who started very poorly or showed a decline in their early phases of college, but performed strongly in later college years, may be judged more favorably than another with the same GPA but level or declining record.
  • Writing sample (Statement of Purpose). Application materials must include an essay that discusses the applicant's motivation for pursuing a career in special education. Applicants are encouraged to share their personal and/or professional experiences working with children, adolescents, or adults with disabilities. 

Criminal Background Investigation

The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is required by law to conduct a background check on each applicant for a Wisconsin educator license. This check is intended to determine if the applicant has engaged in any behavior that endangers the health, welfare, safety or education of PK–12 pupils. Local school districts also will conduct criminal background checks routinely on teacher education students prior to the start of in-classroom field work. Admitted applicants to any teacher education program who have a positive background check should confer with the Academic Dean’s Office (Room 139 Education, 1000 Bascom Mall) about the potential impact of this on field placements and licensure.

An individual who is deemed ineligible to participate in field or clinical experiences based on the results of their background check may not be able to complete the requirements for their degree or certification. Students with questions about these processes should contact the Teacher Education Center.

Note: Students cannot complete the Certificate in Disability Rights and Services in conjunction with this program.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

School of Education Liberal Studies Requirements

All students are required to complete a minimum of 40 credits of Liberal Studies coursework. This requirement provides an opportunity to do some academic exploration beyond the scope of the major. Students take courses in areas of particular interest and also have an opportunity to sample the wide selection of courses offered across the university. Coursework is required in humanities, social studies, science, and cultural and historical studies. Some elective coursework is also needed to reach the required number of credits.

The School of Education’s Liberal Studies Requirements automatically satisfy most of the University General Education Requirements outlined above, including ethnic studies, humanities/literature, social studies, and science. Students pursuing most School of Education degree programs may also complete Communication Part B, Quantitative Reasoning Part A, and Quantitative Reasoning Part B through courses required by their degree program. If a student cannot complete a General Education Requirement within the curriculum of their chosen School of Education program, academic advisors can offer suggestions for courses that meet the requirement and augment the student’s primary area of study.

A basic outline of the liberal studies is included below. Students must consult the detailed version of the requirements for information about course selection and approved course options.

Humanities, 9 credits

All students must complete a minimum of 9 credits to include:

  • Literature
  • Fine Arts
  • Humanities Electives

Social Studies (Social Science)

All students must complete a minimum of 9 credits. Teacher certification programs and Kinesiology have unique requirements in this category.

Science

All students must complete a minimum of 9 credits to include:

  • Biological Science
  • Physical Science
  • Laboratory Science
  • Science Electives

Cultural and Historical Studies

All students must complete three requirements (9 credits) met by separate courses. Any of these courses can also be used to meet the Humanities or Social Studies (Social Sciences) requirements if it has the relevant breadth designation.

  • Ethnic Studies
  • U.S./European History
  • Global Perspectives

Complete Liberal Studies Electives to total 40 Credits.

Program Structure

The Special Education program has four primary components:

  • Liberal studies courses expose students to a broad range of academic disciplines. The university-wide General Education requirements also encourage this breadth of study.
  • Professional education coursework includes an examination of the schools' relationship to our society and the processes by which students grow and learn.
  • Core Requirements offer an in-depth study of Special Education, including a four-semester professional sequence of teaching methods coursework and field experience in schools. This sequence is designed so that students can complete the program in four years.
  • Elective coursework is taken to reach the required minimum of 120 credits.

Special Education Options - Select One

Elective Coursework

Complete additional coursework to reach the minimum of 120 credits.

GPA and Other Graduation Requirements

Graduation Requirements

Students must complete all requirements and also obtain the endorsement of the program faculty advisor(s) to receive certification through UW–Madison. The State of Wisconsin requires that anyone wishing to teach in a public K–12 setting hold a valid teaching license issued through the Department of Public Instruction. In addition to completing a certification program, students must submit a separate application for this license. Requirements below are based on UW–Madison coursework. 

  • 2.75 cumulative grade point average. This may be modified by the Last 60 Credits Rule.
  • 2.75 cumulative grade point average across all professional education courses (excluding practicum and student teaching).
  • 2.75 cumulative grade point average in the major.
  • Minimum 120 credits (degree candidates only). Most students will need more than the minimum to complete all requirements.
  • Major residency: Degree candidates must complete at least 15 credits of upper-level major coursework (numbered 300–699) in residence on the UW–Madison campus.
  • Senior residency: Degree candidates must complete their last 30 credits in residence on the UW–Madison campus. Student teaching and practicum are considered part of the 30 credits.

Degree Audit (DARS)

UW–Madison uses “DARS” to document a student's progress toward the completion of their degree, including any additional majors and certificates. A DARS (Degree Audit Reporting System) report shows all the requirements for completing a degree and, against courses that are planned or completed, shows the requirements that have been met, and those that are unmet. A report can offer suggestions about courses that may be taken to meet specific requirements and can assist in the academic planning and enrollment process. Students can access a DARS report in the Course Search & Enroll app or Student Center via My UW.

DARS also has a "what-if" function. This feature makes it possible to request a DARS report as if pursuing another program, major or certificate. It is an excellent tool if considering a new or additional area of study. School of Education students in a pre-professional classification such as Pre-Elementary (PRE), or Pre-Kinesiology should request a "what if" DARS report of their professional program of interest.

More information on how to request a DARS report is available on the registrar’s website.

DARS is not intended to replace student contact with academic advisers. It creates more time in an advising appointment to discuss course options, research opportunities, graduate school, or issues of personal interest or concern to students.

DARS is used as the document of record for degree program, major and certificate completion in the School of Education.
 

Additional Certification Requirements and Applying for a License

In addition to completing UW-Madison's program requirements, students must also complete Wisconsin statutory requirements and certification requirements established by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Many of these requirements are embedded within the program's requirements and require no additional attention. The endorsement of the program coordinator/faculty is also required to receive certification through UW–Madison.

The State of Wisconsin requires that anyone wishing to teach in a public K–12 setting hold a valid teaching license issued through the Department of Public Instruction. In addition to completing a certification program, students must submit a separate application for this license.

Detailed information about certification requirements and applying for a license is available under Certification/Licensure.

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.
  1. (Professionalism) Adhere to professional ethical standards and conduct her or himself in a courteous and professional manner.
  2. (Collaboration and Communication) Collaborate and effectively communicate with students their families, other educators, related service providers and members of the community to address the needs of students with disabilities.
  3. (Assessment) Collect information on student backgrounds, learning characteristics and achievement that can be used to determine students’ present level of performance and guide instruction.
  4. (Special Education Evaluation and Individualized Educational Planning) To the maximum possible the teacher candidate will participate in the Educational Evaluation and Individualized Educational Planning process.
  5. (Instructional Planning) Plan instruction that meets the needs of students, is consistent with State and local standards and provides access to the general education curriculum.
  6. (Instructional Presentations) Present lessons and units of instruction that gain and maintain student attention and are consistent with students’ interests and IEP goals.
  7. (Classroom Management) Create and maintain a safe, positive and supportive learning environment that is conducive to learning and the mental health of the students.

Refer to the available named options for more information on the four-year plans.

Special Education Program Advising

Students not yet admitted to special education meet with their assigned advisor in the School of Education Student Services office, Room 139 Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall, see below. Students are assigned an additional faculty advisor when admitted to the professional component of their degree program.

School of Education Advising

Academic Advising in the School of Education

Dedicated to supporting and promoting student success, Academic Advisors are here to assist students with the adjustment to college, understanding their degree and career goals, and connecting them to resources. Advisors support prospective and current School of Education students in all programs through:

  • course selection
  • mentoring and advocacy for underrepresented and international students
  • understanding degree requirements and progression
  • interpreting academic policies
  • helping students recognize their strengths and suggesting ways to expand their skills
  • expanding learning through activities such as study abroad, volunteering/work/internship, and by assuming leadership roles

To schedule an appointment: Current students can schedule an appointment online through the Starfish app in MyUW. Appointments can also be made through email at studentservices@education.wisc.edu, by calling 608-262-1651, or in person.

Career Advising in the School of Education

The School of Education Career Center provides students with the knowledge needed for connecting their classroom experiences with real-world application to develop skills needed to navigate the ever-changing world of work. Through individual appointments, events, courses, and online resources, the Career Center provides students and alumni with the tools needed to be successful in their career development. 

Career and Internship Advisors are prepared to help students with:

  • Exploration of career and academic pathways
  • Resumes
  • Cover letters
  • Job/Internship search
  • Interview preparation
  • Mock interviews
  • Graduate school search, applications and decisions
  • Negotiating job or internship offers
  • Professional networking
  • Connecting with employers

Students are encouraged to meet with their Career and Internship Advisor early in their college experience to take full advantage of the resources and support available.

To make an appointment: log into Starfish from the MyUW dashboard.

For more information, visit the School of Education Career Center website or reach out at career-center@education.wisc.edu.

Additional Resources

Students interested in special education may also want to consult the following resources:

Information about faculty, staff, and other contributors to the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education can be found on the department's website.

Additional Certification Requirements 

Students interested in certification must, in addition to completing UW–Madison's program requirements, also complete Wisconsin statutory requirements related to teacher education and certification requirements established by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Students must complete all requirements and also obtain the endorsement of the program faculty to receive certification through UW–Madison. For additional certification requirements and information about applying for a license, see the Teacher Education Center.

Applying for a Teaching License

The State of Wisconsin requires that anyone wishing to teach in a public K–12 setting hold a valid teaching license issued through the Department of Public Instruction. In addition to completing a certification program, students must submit a separate application for this license. Students intending to complete a teacher certification program should monitor program requirements carefully. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) periodically implements regulations that affect all certification programs; teacher certification candidates are responsible for having up-to-date information about certification requirements.

Licensing Levels

The following licensing options will be offered at UW–Madison.

  • The core Elementary Education licensing level will be Kindergarten through Grade 9. Early Childhood, and English as a Second Language Kindergarten through Grade 12, can be added to the K-9 option.
  • Special Education will offer licensing at the Early Childhood level, Kindergarten through Grade 12 level, and a program option that licenses in both Early Childhood Special Education and K-12 Special Education. The new Elementary Education and Special Education degree certifies students in both Special Education Kindergarten through Grade 12 and Elementary Education Kindergarten through Grade 9.
  • Secondary Education program areas will license in their subject area Grades 4 through 12, and also in English as a Second Language Kindergarten through Grade 12.
  • World Language Education program areas will license at the Kindergarten through Grade 12 level.
  • Students in special fields such as Art, Music, and Physical Education will be licensed at the Kindergarten through Grade 12 level
  • Health and Library Media Specialist both license at the Kindergarten through Grade 12 level.
  • Communication Sciences and Disorders (Speech-Language Pathology) will license at the K-12 level.

Wisconsin State Licensing

The State of Wisconsin issues an initial teaching license to certified teachers. The current fee is $125. An online license application is available through the Department of Public Instruction. A background check will also be conducted by DPI. Information about fingerprint submission, when necessary, is available through the Department of Public Instruction.

Before applying for a license, DPI requires the electronic submission of “Endorsed Candidate for Licensure" (ECL) data by the certifying officer of the institution where the teacher preparation was completed. For UW–Madison teacher certification students, the endorsement will come from the School of Education, L139 Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall. Once this information has been submitted to DPI, students are notified by email that they may begin the application online.

Before endorsing a student, UW–Madison requires that

  1. all certification requirements are met;
  2. student teaching (following the school district calendar) is completed;
  3. final grades are posted and reviewed;
  4. the degree is “posted” by the registrar’s office (one to four weeks after graduation); and
  5. a recommendation for certification is received from the program faculty.

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction may require an additional 6 to 8 weeks for license processing.

Licensing Outside of Wisconsin

To apply for a license in a state other than Wisconsin, first check out the application requirements of that state. The University of Kentucky has a website that provides links to teacher licensing agencies in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Many states have a verification form that needs to be signed by a UW–Madison certification officer. This form verifies that a state-approved licensing program has been completed. These forms should be sent to the School of Education Teacher Education Center at L139 Education Building, 1000 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706, or by email (educatorlicensing@education.wisc.edu) to be completed. You must complete your personal information on the form before sending it to the Teacher Education Center. If the form requests information about practicum and student teaching assignments (names of schools, grade levels, dates, etc.), this information must also be completed before sending the form to the Teacher Education Center.

Professional Certification/Licensure Disclosure (NC-SARA)

The United States Department of Education requires institutions that provide distance education to disclose information for programs leading to professional certification or licensure about whether each program meets state educational requirements for initial licensure or certification. Following is this disclosure information for this program:

The requirements of this program meet Certification/Licensure in the following states:

Wisconsin

The requirements of this program do not meet Certification/Licensure in the following states:

Not applicable

The requirements of this program have not been determined if they meet Certification/Licensure in the following states:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming, District of Columbia; American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Information about scholarships, academic and career advising, study abroad opportunities, student diversity services, and other resources for students in the School of Education can be found on the school's Resources page.