The graduate programs in Special Education and Applied Disability Studies at Mercyhurst University will give you the skills and knowledge to transform the lives of students and adults with mild to severe disabilities across a variety of settings. These programs are designed to assist providers of educational and behavioral services to refine their critical thinking and analytical skills to the highest level, and develop applied research competencies necessary to create innovations in education and behavioral services that benefit individuals with disabilities or unique learning needs.

Program Overview

  • Options: Master’s (with concentrations), graduate certificates, 4+1 (for Mercyhurst undergrads)
  • Location(s): On campus; limited online courses available
  • Credits: 30 to 39
  • Duration: Minimum 21 months
  • Cost: $830 per credit; $26,750-$34,000 total
  • Deadline: Rolling admissions
  • Start term(s): Fall or Spring semester
  • Careers: Teaching, behavioral health, autism support, developmental disability services

The Special Education and Applied Disability Studies graduate program seeks to produce the most skilled special education professionals in the region. Mercyhurst strives to be the school of choice for those seeking a program that challenges them to think critically about trends in education while providing them with evidence-based effective approaches. We continue to shape the field nationally through service, publication, and presentation. By pursuing this degree, you’ll be prepared to work with clients in a wide range of potential settings, living out the Mercyhurst Education Department’s philosophy to “Teach Anyone. Anywhere.”

Master's degree and graduate certificate options are available to students whether or not they hold a teaching certification.* Educational opportunities include the master's degree (30-39 credits) with several concentrations, as well as graduate certificates (9-12 credits), which can lead to specific licensure or a PDE Endorsement. 

Please note: Those seeking special education teaching certification from the PDE must hold a teaching certification in another area, such as early childhood, middle level, or secondary education. Please peruse the program offerings below to find the program that's right for you.

The Applied Behavior Analysis concentration in this master’s program provides you with the necessary coursework requirements to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) examination through the Association for Behavior Analysis International. 

Learning Outcomes

Mercyhurst graduate programs are designed to give our students a competitive edge in the marketplace. Our curriculum will prepare you as an educator who is able to:

  • Analyze and critique educational research
  • Design a single-case research proposal using APA writing style
  • Critically evaluate and apply the ethical guidelines according to special education practice standards
  • Apply dimensions of applied behavior analysis
  • Utilize evidenced-based practices and assessments in clinical settings
  • Write measurable objectives, such as those found in an Individual Education Plan (IEP)
  • Write procedures for evidenced-based practices across disability groups and lifespans

To obtain a Master’s Degree in Special Education at Mercyhurst, students must complete a core of 30-39 graduate credit hours. Credit hour requirements may vary depending on concentration selected. The program may be completed in 24 months (full-time), or 30-36 months (part-time). 

If a student is seeking special education teaching certification from the Pennsylvania Department of Education, he or she must also hold teaching certification in another area, such as early childhood education (grades PK-4), middle level education (grades 4-8), or a specific content area in secondary education (grades 7-12). 

Candidates who do not already hold a valid teaching certification may have to take prerequisite or co-required courses in addition to the required special education graduate courses. This will affect the length of the program from start to finish. Additionally, there may be cases where exceptions to the following sequences may be made, based on previous related coursework.

This concentration prepares individuals to work as behavior analyst within the fields of education and developmental disabilities. 

The Association for Behavior Analysis International has verified the following courses toward the coursework requirements for eligibility to take the Board Certified Behavior Analyst or Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analyst examination. Applicants will need to meet additional requirements before they can be deemed eligible to take the examination.


  • EDSP 640: Concepts & Principles of ABA I (3 credits)
  • EDSP 650: FBA & Behavior Interventions III (3 credits)
  • EDSP 660: Concepts & Principles of ABA II (3 credits)

The graduate certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis is designed to meet the educational requirements for certification by the Behavior Analysis Certification Board. This 7-course sequence and associated practicum focuses on integrating research, basic principles, and specialized coursework with fieldwork in the areas of intellectual and developmental disabilities, autism, and behavioral health. Prospective students will have a choice to complete either the certificate alone, or as a concentration while pursuing a graduate degree in Special Education. Visit the Applied Behavior Analysis Gradute Certificate webpage for more information.

Available to qualified Mercyhurst undergraduate students, the M.S. in Special Education 4+1 program allows students to begin earning graduate credits during their junior year at no additional cost. Students starting the 4+1 program in the fall of their junior years can earn up to six credits, saving more than $5,000. Learn More.

Career Paths

Depending on your concentration of choice, our special education program prepares you for careers related to:

  • Behavioral health and analysis
  • Developmental disability services
  • Autism support
  • Postsecondary academic support and career services
  • English as a second language education
  • Traditional special education

Admissions Requirements

Prospective applicants for the Master of Science in Special Education and Applied Disability Studies must fulfill the following admissions requirements. At the discretion of the program director, admission may be granted to applicants who have not fulfilled all the admissions requirements provided they agree to the conditions of the acceptance prescribed by the director.
Admission decisions are made by the program director on a rolling basis after a holistic review. Applicants can choose to start in the Fall semester (preferred), the Spring semester, or the Summer semester.

  • Completed (free) online application
  • A bachelor’s degree in any discipline from an accredited school with a preferred overall minimum GPA of 3.0
  • Official transcripts from all post-secondary institutions you’ve attended 
  • A current resume 
  • A 500- to 750-word personal statement outlining your reasons for enrolling and personal and professional goals
  • A letter of recommendation from a professional or academic source (such as an employer or professor)
  • International applicants whose records are written in a language other than English must have their documents translated into English and a notarized statement attesting to the accuracy of the translations
  • International applicants whose primary language is not English must attain a TOEFL score of at least 79 on the internet-based exam OR an IELTS score of at least 6.5 OR a Duolingo English Test score of no less than 100.
  • Please note: for those seeking special education certification or ABA certification, during the course of your program it will be necessary for you to undergo the following:
    • Criminal background check
    • Fingerprinting
    • Child abuse clearance
    • Drug screening
    • Medical verification of TB vaccination

Professional Education Portfolio Credits

Students currently employed in the field of special education and disabilities services may earn academic credit for life experience by completing a Professional Education Portfolio (PEP). The PEP documents the student’s ability to interpret learning outcomes and how they are assessed, consider methods in which the learning outcomes can be addressed (i.e., outside the traditional university course), and critically examine their own prior professional learning opportunities. Once the PEP has sufficiently met course outcomes as outlined in EDSP 536 and EDSP 623, a maximum of six credits for life experience will be earned by the student.

Cost and Financial Aid

Mercyhurst graduate programs are competitively priced. Our goals it to provide you with an education that earns you an excellent return on your investment.

Tuition for the M.S. in Special Education graduate program is $804 per credit (2019/20 school year rates).

Estimated total program cost for the M.S. in Special Education ranges from $26,000 to $33,000.

Students in the M.S. in Special Education program are eligible for several graduate assistant positions in educational settings throughout Erie County. Graduate assistantships help offset tuition charges and provide students with a stipend for their work. Contact the Office of Graduate Admissions for more information.

Learn more about available financial aid for graduate programs including:

  • Graduate Assistant (GA) positions
  • Graduate Employment (GE) positions
  • Educational Benefits Supplemental Grant
  • Veteran benefits
  • Employer reimbursement
  • Federal direct loans

Contact Us

Phillip Belfiore, Ph.D.
Chair, Graduate Special Education
Office: Hirt 300B
Phone: 814-824-2267
Email: pbelfiore@mercyhurst.edu

Kseniya Kampova
Graduate Admissions Coordinator
Phone: 814-824-3384
Email: kkampova@mercyhurst.edu