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Doctoral Training: Preparing the Next Generation of Scholars in Severe Disabilities

The Ph.D. program in Severe Disabilities at Vanderbilt University equips future faculty to conduct rigorous research, deliver effective training, and provide service that improves educational outcomes for students with severe intellectual disability, autism, and multiple disabilities. In partnership with the Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, numerous disability organizations, and both urban and rural schools, we provide hands-on internships, cutting-edge research opportunities, exceptional coursework, and interdisciplinary collaboration opportunities. Our four-year, full-time program focuses on preparing the next generation of scholars in severe disabilities to carry out research, leadership, teaching, and service marked by its rigor, relevance, relationships, and reach.

The Department of Special Education is consistently the top-ranked doctoral program in the nation. Faculty in the severe disabilities program include Professors Alexandra Da Fonte, Deborah Hatton, Erik Carter, Robert Hodapp, Joe Lambert, Paul Yoder, and Victoria Knight.

Accepted doctoral students receive:

  • Full tuition funding
  • A competitive stipend
  • Health insurance
  • Financial support for dissertation research and attendance at professional conferences
  • Substantial research opportunities
  • Numerous opportunities for scholarly publication

Application Process

Vanderbilt’s competitive admissions guidelines require a strong academic record, high GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a detailed personal statement addressing motivation for doctoral studies and future plans, and prior experience in the field. Applications are due November 30.

For more information about the severe disabilities doctoral program, contact Erik Carter (615-875-3398; or Bob Hodapp (615-322-8946;

Funding for this doctoral leadership training is provided by a grant from the Office of Special Education Programs (H325D170004).