Exceptional Learning - Admission Requirements

The Ph.D. at TTU focuses on the characteristics, strengths, and educational needs of individuals and groups whose learning potential and opportunities for success are frequently unrealized. Exceptional and at-risk populations include people for whom social, economic, and physical characteristics may serve as a barrier to development and learning. The Ph.D. will prepare leaders to work in schools, agencies, and universities to effect positive change in populations of diverse and at-risk learners, addressing social, economic, and physical characteristics that may serve as barriers to learning, primarily through research and service activities. The program core develops an understanding of the characteristics of these populations. The research core provides a strong emphasis on research techniques and applications. Four concentrations allow you to focus on specific interests:

Applied Behavior Analysis prepares professionals who can develop and deliver behavioral interventions and supports for individuals within educational and habilitative settings. There are two strands with ABA: one focused on pre-school aged children and their families (YCF) and one focused on school-aged children and adult populations (ABAS). (Concentration leader – Dr. Jane Baker) 

Literacy prepares professionals to deal with literacy issues related to diverse and at-risk populations of all ages. (Concentration leader – Dr. Deborah Setliff)

Program Planning and Evaluation prepares professionals for leadership roles in program assessment and quality enhancement. (Concentration leader – Dr. Barry Stein)

STEM Education builds the capacity of innovative educational leaders to advance new ideas and to design/implement strategic innovations in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. (Concentration leader – Dr. Holly Anthony)

Admissions Requirements*

  • GPA. Consideration for admission to the program is based on the applicant’s grade point average (GPA) in the last graduate degree or the last sixty hours of undergraduate work if no graduate degree has been completed. An average of 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) or above from a recognized baccalaureate, graduate, or professional degree from a regionally accredited (e.g. SACS) college or university, or an international equivalent based on a four-year curriculum is required for admission.
  • Official Transcripts. Applicants must submit official transcripts from all previously-attended colleges and/or universities.
  • GRE. A combined score of 1,000 or above on the verbal and quantitative sections (with no less than 400 on either section) and a 4.0 on the writing component of the GRE is required for admission.
  • International Applicants must also meet the English Language Requirement by providing test results on one of the following:
    • TOEFL--minimum IBT of 79
    • IELTS--minimum score of 5.5
    • PTE Academic--minimum score of 53
    • FLS Level 8
    • ELS--Level 112
    • TOEIC--minimum score of 750
    • CEFR--Band B-2
    • SLEP--minimum score of 58
  • Applicants who have been awarded a degree from a university in one of the following countries are exempt from the TOEFL requirement: Australia, Belize, the British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Scotland, the United States, and Wales.
  • Scholarly writing. Students must demonstrate the ability to do scholarly writing by submitting a reference-based paper, thesis, or other written document in which information from various sources has been synthesized. The applicant must be the sole author
  • Statement of intent. One to two pages should clearly outline the prospective student’s (a) intended enrollment (fall admission only), (b) intended concentration, (c) autobiographical statement, (d) education and professional goals, (e) area of interest for future research, and (f) how your interest fits with faculty in your chosen area of study.
  • Three letters of recommendation. At least one letter should be from a professor who is able to comment on your qualifications for graduate study. Consideration will be made based upon the content of the letters.
  • A professional vitae.
  • Interviews with Ph.D. doctoral program faculty.
  • A prospective student who scores within 50 points of the combined score of 1000 (with no less than 400 on either section) on the GRE may be considered. A majority vote by the admissions committee followed by approval from the concentration leader will determine the prospective student’s admission status. These are the minimum standards to be considered for admission. Fulfilling the minimum requirements does not guarantee admission.

    *Please note the STEM Education concentration requires the following additional admission requirements:

    • Three years of STEM teaching/outreach (P–16)
    • Masters Degree and oneof the following:
      • minimum of 18 semester hours of graduate credit in a STEM discipline
      • Teacher Licensure in a STEM discipline (Grades 7–12)
      • Teacher Licensure (K-6/8) with Highly Qualified Status in a STEM discipline based on 24 semester hours in math/science or a passing score on the PRAXIS II middle grades math or science test

    Prospective students are encouraged to make application to Graduate Admissions in time for admission to be completed at least one full semester before expected entrance to the Ph.D. program. Admission is open for Fall semester only. The deadline for application is March 1 for admission the following Fall semester.

    College of Education
    Exceptional Learning Ph.D.
    P.O. Box 5116 Cookeville, TN 38505
    Phone: (931) 372-3177

    Questions, please email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it   |  Website


    Revised February 14, 2011



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