Doctorate in Education Overview
What is a Doctorate in Education?
The term “Doctorate in Education” can be used interchangeably for both Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Education programs. Simply put, a doctorate in education refers to a terminal degree in education. But although they are often lumped together in conversation, these two degrees have very different purposes. So what’s the difference between an Ed.D. degree and a Ph.D. in Education?
What is an Ed.D. Degree?
An Ed.D. is formally known as a “Doctor of Education” program. An Ed.D. is a terminal degree focused on educational practice and leadership, making it appealing to working professionals such as teachers, adjunct professors, and education administrators. Ed.D. students apply existing research & theories to real-world challenges (e.g. school improvements).
What is a Ph.D. in Education?
A Ph.D. is formally known as a “Doctor of Philosophy” program. A Ph.D. in Education is a terminal degree focused on developing original academic research in the field of education. Ph.D. students delve into advanced theories & concepts and come to their own conclusions. It’s the degree of choice for many university professors, academics, and high-level policy makers.
Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. in Education: What’s the Difference?
- Ed.D.: Ed.D. programs are practice-focused degrees designed for real-world use by educational leaders (e.g. teachers and administrators). Ed.D. degrees are typically 2.5-4 years in length, during which students complete a combination of core coursework, concentration credits, fieldwork, and a dissertation or capstone project. They are often part-time and online.
- Ph.D. in Education: Ph.D. in Education programs are terminal research degrees for academics interested in advancing educational theory and knowledge. Full-time Ph.D. in Education programs typically take 3-6 years to complete, during which students complete core coursework, research coursework, seminars, teaching apprenticeships, and a traditional 5-chapter dissertation. They are frequently in-person.
In this guide, we’ll explore all of the differences between Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Education programs, including the debate around whether the Ph.D. is better than the Ed.D.
A Comparison of Ed.D. & Ph.D. in Education Programs
Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. in Education
|Ed.D.||Ph.D. in Education|
|OFFICIAL NAME||Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)||Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)|
|DEGREE EMPHASIS||Professional Leadership & Applied Research||Education, Research & Advanced Theory|
|CONCENTRATIONS||Multiple Options||Multiple Options|
|DISSERTATION||Traditional Dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP) or Capstone Project||Traditional Dissertation|
|TIME TO COMPLETION||
|TYPICAL CAREER PATH||Professional Educational Leadership Roles||Academic & High-Level Research Roles|
|TUITION FUNDING||Limited||Full Funding Often Available|
Benefits of a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
- Practical Applicability: Doctor of Education programs focus on applied research in real-world settings. So you’ll have plenty of opportunities to put your learning into immediate effect in your workplace. Better yet, an Ed.D. typically culminates with a dissertation, DiP, or capstone that focuses on tackling a specific problem of practice. You’ll be able to develop & test solutions to a thorny issue in your field (e.g. reducing drop-out rates, supporting student veterans, improving curriculum development, etc.).
- Flexible Time-Frame: Doctor of Education programs tend to be much shorter than Ph.D. in Education programs. The quickest paths are 2-Year Ed.D. Programs, but even standard Ed.D. programs can be finished in 3 years. If you need extra time, many universities will allow you up to 7 years to complete your doctorate.
- Employment-Friendly: Ed.D. programs are designed for working professionals who are interested in educational leadership roles. That means they are often a) structured on a part-time schedule; and b) delivered in an online or low-residency format. Talk to your employer about your career plans. You may be eligible for employee education benefits or other incentives that will help reduce the cost of your degree (e.g. tuition discounts with partner schools).
- Professional Collaborations: Doctorates of education are ideal places to learn from peers and expand your career network. You’ll be amongst a crowd of dedicated education professionals in mid-level administrative & leadership positions. A number of doctorate in education programs are arranged in a cohort format, with plenty of opportunities for group work. Some doctorates culminate in team-based capstone projects. Ed.D. graduates even end up hiring each other.
Benefits of a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education
- Deep-Dive Research: Unlike Doctor of Education programs, which are usually built on existing research, Ph.D. in Education programs are focused on new & original research. Through their discoveries, Ph.D. graduates are expected to push their fields in unique directions. If you’re interested in exploring advanced theory & data-informed decision making, you can’t go wrong with a Ph.D. in Education.
- Respected in Academic Circles: A Ph.D. in Education is designed to train graduates for higher education faculty positions (e.g. Professor of Education) and top-level educational policy positions. A Ph.D. program will often contain teaching & research apprenticeships, conference visits, and opportunities to submit to scholarly publications. All of these elements will impress university hiring committees.
- Generous Funding: Ph.D. in Education programs are often fully funded—you don’t pay anything for the program. In addition to covering your doctoral tuition, a university may also provide you with a stipend and living quarters. Even if programs aren’t fully funded, you may still be eligible for generous Ph.D. scholarships and fellowships.
- Opportunities to Create System-Wide Change: Through your original research, you could end up rethinking best practices, teaching & learning strategies, and established government policies. This could be the starting point for change in the system, especially if you’re training the next generation of educational leaders.
Doctorate Details: Ed.D. vs Ph.D. Requirements
Ed.D. vs Ph.D. in Education Admissions
|Ed.D.||Ph.D. in Education|
|MASTER’S DEGREE||Master’s Degree (Ed.S. Graduates Often Eligible for Advanced Placement)||Master’s Degree or Doctorate (Some Ph.D. Programs Will Accept Bachelor’s Degree Graduates)|
|LETTERS OF RECOMMENDATION||
|ADDITIONAL WRITING SAMPLES||Often Optional||Examples:
||Often Optional or Not Required||Often Optional|
||Sometimes Required||Sometimes Required|
|INTERNATIONAL REQUIREMENTS||Each School Will Have Own Policies||Each School Will Have Own Policies|
Ed.D. vs Ph.D. in Education Coursework
Coursework for the doctorate in education will depend on the concentration—the curriculum for an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is going to be different to an Ed.D. in Counseling and Psychology. But all Ed.D. programs share the same general structure:
- Core Coursework: Theory, Practice & Policy
- Research Courses: Quantitative & Qualitative
- Concentration Credits & Electives
- Internships & Fieldwork
- Dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP), or Capstone: Address a Problem of Practice
Ph.D. in Education Curriculum
As you might expect, Ph.D. in Education programs tend to be heavy on research, theory, methodologies, and ethics. Colleges of Education want to provide you with all the advanced tools you need to complete your dissertation. You’ll be looking at:
- Core Coursework: Often with a Research Slant
- Research Courses: Quantitative & Qualitative
- Concentration Credits
- Doctoral Colloquia/Seminars
- Research & Teaching Apprenticeships
- Traditional Dissertation
In addition to passing courses, Ph.D. in Education students are often required to hit various degree benchmarks. These include:
- Doctoral Presentations
- Comprehensive Exams
- Publishable Articles
- Literature Review
- Oral Defense of Proposed Research Topic
- Final Dissertation Defense
Ed.D. vs Ph.D. in Education: Specializations
Examples of Ed.D. Concentrations
Doctor of Education programs are available in a dizzying area of concentrations—you’re sure to find a specialization that matches your career interests. For a detailed exploration, including Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. comparisons for each field, check out the following subject guides:
- Adult Education
- Christian Education Leadership
- Counseling and Psychology
- Curriculum and Instruction
- Early Childhood Education
- Educational Leadership
- Educational Technology
- Health and Physical Education
- Higher Education
- Mathematics Education
- Music Education
- Nursing Education
- Organizational Leadership
- Science Education
- Special Education
- TESOL & Bilingual Education
Examples of Ph.D. in Education Concentrations
The Ph.D. in Education follows a similar pattern. Doctoral concentrations will be available in many of the same subjects, including Educational Leadership.
But it’s worth doing a little digging. Colleges of Education often offer unique Ph.D. in Education specializations that play to their strengths. For example:
- The Ph.D. in Education from Harvard’s Graduate School of Education (GSE) is available in 3 concentrations: 1) Culture, Institutions, and Society; 2) Education Policy and Program Evaluation; and 3) Human Development, Learning and Teaching.
- The Ph.D. in Education from Rowan’s Global Campus comes in 5 concentrations: 1) Counselor Education; 2) Language & Literacy Education; 3) Higher and Postsecondary Education; 4) Special Education; and 5) Urban and Diverse Learning Environments.
- The Ph.D. in Education from UNC’s School of Education includes 4 concentrations: 1) Applied Developmental Sciences & Special Education (ADSSE); 2) Learning Sciences & Psychological Studies (LSPS); 3) Policy, Leadership & School Improvement (PLS); and 4) Culture, Curriculum & Teacher Education (CCTE).
The most important element in the Ph.D. equation is going to be your faculty advisor/mentor—this is the person who will guide you through your research work and your dissertation. Once you have a concentration or two in mind, start looking into the background of professors. Collaboration is going to be key.
Ed.D. vs Ph.D. in Education: Sample Plans of Study
Ed.D. Calendar: 3 Years
- Core Coursework & Foundational Content
- Concentration & Electives
- Potential Summer Residencies or Conferences
- Core Coursework
- Research Coursework
- Concentration & Electives
- Dissertation Preparation
- Fieldwork or Internship
- Dissertation, DiP, or Capstone Project
- Fieldwork or Internship
Ph.D. in Education Calendar: 5 Years
- Core Coursework
- Research Coursework
- Concentration & Electives
- Seminars & Research Labs
- Teaching & Research Apprenticeships
- Article Writing
- Dissertation Work
Online Delivery for Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. Programs
Ed.D. Online Availability
Ed.D. programs are built for working professionals, so many universities offer online or low residency doctorates in education. Even if you are expected to come to campus, it will only be for brief residencies or degree benchmarks (e.g. dissertation defense).
For a comprehensive overview of your options, check out the Online Ed.D. Rankings & Nationwide Directory of Programs. You’ll be able to choose from a huge range of concentrations.
Ph.D. in Education Online Availability
Ph.D. in Education programs have traditionally been offered on campus. In this way, Ph.D. students have immediate access to:
- Faculty advisors & mentors
- University lecture rooms for their teaching assistantships
- A huge range of university resources (e.g. libraries, research institutes & labs, affiliated K-12 schools, etc.)
Online Ph.D. in Education programs do exist, but they tend to be offered by private online universities instead of brick & mortar institutions. These aren’t going to look very good on a résumé.
If you need to be at home, you could consider a low residency option from a regionally accredited university (e.g. Rowan, Lesley, etc.). COVID-19 has caused a shake-up in learning practices, so you may see more of these programs being offered in the future.
Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. in Education Student Profiles
Ed.D. Candidate #1
Let’s say that Doctor of Education Candidate #1 :
- Has an M.Ed. and 3+ years of educational leadership experience in a PreK-12 setting
- Is thinking about becoming a Principal or Director of a Non-Profit Educational Organization
- Needs to continue working to pay for the degree
- Wants to reserve time for family
This professional may wish to pursue an Online Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in PreK-12 Leadership.
Ed.D. Candidate #2
Let’s say that Doctor of Education Candidate #2:
- Has a master’s degree and 5+ years of mid-level educational leadership experience in a university as a postsecondary administrator
- Aspires to become a University President
- Wants to be exposed to high-level networking, roundtables, and summer experiences abroad
This professional may want to look into a low residency Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education or a Hybrid Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership that includes in-person elements and focuses on the 10,000-foot view of administration.
Ph.D. in Education Candidate #1
Let’s say that Ph.D. in Education Candidate #1:
- Has a master’s degree in education or a related field
- Aspires to an academic faculty role (e.g. Professor of Education)
- Is fascinated by advanced research
- Is able to commit to significant time on campus
- Enjoys teaching at the university level
This professional should—without question—choose to earn a Ph.D. in Education.
Ph.D. in Education Candidate #2:
Let’s say that Ph.D. in Education Candidate #2:
- Has a master’s degree in education or a related field and 5+ years of educational leadership experience
- Can’t decide between a career in academia or education consultancy
- Loves advanced research
- Doesn’t want to spend too much time on campus
This professional could explore research-heavy Online Ed.D. programs and low residency Ph.D. in Education programs. There’s no right answer on this one.
Ed.D. vs Ph.D. in Education: Career Paths
Ed.D. Job Titles
Ed.D. students often have 3+ years of educational leadership experience under their belts before they even start a doctoral program in education. That means Ed.D. graduates often qualify for mid- and high-level positions such as:
- PreK-12 Education Administrators (e.g. Principal, Superintendent, etc.)
- Instructional Coordinators
- Postsecondary Education Administrators (e.g. Dean, President, etc.)
- CEOs of Educational Organizations & Companies
- Education Lobbyists & Consultants
For a complete rundown of post-graduation opportunities & salary numbers, see our Guide to Ed.D. Careers.
Note: Ed.D. graduates can—and do—hold positions as Professors of Education. However, these folks tend to be experienced professionals who are transitioning into academia after years of work in the field. And they often have significant teaching and research experience on their résumés.
Ph.D. in Education Job Titles
Ph.D. in Education students are trained to be experts in research and university-level teaching. So it follows that jobs for graduates are focused in these two realms:
- University Professor/Education Faculty
- Research Specialist
- Director of Education
- Education Program Manager
- Senior-Level Policy Researcher/Analyst
But keep an open mind on career paths. Ph.D. in Education graduates can also be found in high-level educational leadership positions within PreK-20 settings (e.g. University President), consultancies, and non-profits. You don’t have to go into academia.
What do Educational Experts Say?
To learn more about the differences between Ed.D. and Ph.D. in Education programs, we spoke with Dr. Jill Perry, M.A., Ph.D., Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Perry serves as Executive Director of the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). She has 25+ years of experience in educational leadership and program development, professional doctorate preparation research, and classroom teaching. Dr. Perry is also a Fulbright Scholar and returned Peace Corps Volunteer.
Learn more about Dr. Perry’s work at the University of Pittsburgh and the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED). You can also watch the great video that CPED put together on the Ed.D. vs Ph.D. discussion.
Q: Where did the misconception of the Ph.D. being “better” than the Ed.D. come from?
The Ph.D. has been around for centuries. It’s been associated with developing expertise in a certain content area and pursuing an academic or research career that would generate more knowledge about that content through various forms of study. The U.S. Ph.D. is modeled after the German Ph.D., which is based on empirical research. When the Ed.D. was created at Harvard in 1920-21, it was developed as a degree for a burgeoning group of leaders in the Boston Public School System. The inventor of the degree, Henry Holmes, wanted to create a professional title and degree for men who would supervise several schools at a time (essentially the superintendency). He used the Ph.D. design but subtracted research courses (and eventually the language requirement) and allowed candidates to study practical issues in schools. Additionally, he recruited Ph.D. faculty to teach in the program. From there, the degree was adopted at institutions around the country and treated as a practitioner degree with fewer credits/courses than the research degree for the School of Education. You can read more about the issue in “What History Reveals about the Education Doctorate.”
Q: Why is this notion misguided?
The Ph.D. is not better than the Ed.D. They are different degrees with different purposes. It’s similar to the distinction between a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and an MD—a Ph.D. student conducts research to generate new knowledge for the medical field, whereas the MD student is a practitioner who works directly with patients. They are taught different skills for different careers.
Q: How has the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) helped to strengthen the Ed.D.?
CPED is a consortium of over 115 Schools of Education. We have worked collaboratively at the faculty level to develop an understanding of what practitioners need to be able to transform practice with skills learned in Ed.D. programs. In doing so, we have created a Framework that guides members (and non-members) in developing Ed.D. programs that focus on preparing students to become scholarly practitioners, or those that blend practical wisdom with inquiry and research to improve local problems. We do not view the Ed.D. as “less than” a Ph.D. Rather, we view it as a professional degree that requires preparation in skills, knowledge, and dispositions that result in practitioners who can change, improve, and impact educational settings. Our framework is intentionally flexible so that members can adapt it to their local context and needs to design the strongest program they can for practitioners.
There’s a lot of advice on the benefits of pursuing an Ed.D., but are there ever situations when you advise against pursuing it?
If you want to become a tenure track faculty member or a researcher in a company such as the RAND corporation, you wouldn’t want the Ed.D. While CPED emphasizes the strong role that research and inquiry have in Ed.D. programs, we stress that these skills are taught to be applied to practice for immediate change and improvement. Those who do research for publication need to learn a different research skill set—how to design studies that result in generalizable knowledge or development of theories. They need to learn how to publish their work in journals, how to advise students, and how to teach. The job description of a tenure-line faculty position is vastly different than the job of a superintendent of schools. Their training should also be different. We do see Ed.D. graduates in academia, however. There are those who were trained under the Ed.D. when it was a research degree at some institutions. These faculty are researchers. We also see retired practitioners who assume clinical faculty positions where they teach from their practice perspective and are not expected to do academic research.
What does the future of the Ed.D. look like? How do you see it changing over the next five to ten years?
We have just celebrated the 100th year anniversary of the Ed.D. With those 100 years came a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about the degree. In the past 14 years, CPED has done much to shift the understanding and the design of Ed.D. programs towards a doctorate that is the highest form of preparation for educational practitioners who can transform practice. We see the future of the Ed.D. continuing to strengthen as a professional degree. In the next 5-10 years, we anticipate that more institutions will redesign their Ed.D. programs to fit the practitioner model. CPED will work collaboratively to shape the future through continuous improvement and assessment to meet the needs of educational practice.
Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. in Education: 5 Questions to Ask Yourself
1. Why Do I Want to Earn an Education Doctorate?
Any doctoral program in education is going to require a significant investment of time & resources. So it’s important to ask yourself this basic question. Sometimes the answer is simple:
- You wish to use your Ed.D. to make thoughtful & research-driven improvements in your school, district, college/university, or educational realm.
- You need an Ed.D. in order to qualify for a specific job position (e.g. Superintendent).
- You want to earn a Ph.D. in order to become a Professor of Education at a college or university.
- You’d like to apply your Ph.D. research to governmental policy or education program development.
But we know that sometimes the answer is complicated. If you’re struggling with your decision, talk to everyone—recent graduates, professional mentors, LinkedIn contacts, colleagues—anyone who can give you seasoned advice.
2. What Are My Long-Term Career Goals?
Make a list of your 3-year, 5-year, and 10-year career goals. This will give you a sense of whether you’re heading in a professional direction (e.g. Ed.D.) or a research-focused direction (e.g. Ph.D.).
Once you have your list in hand, have a look at recent job postings for your ideal career. In reality, an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. is acceptable for a number of high-level educational leadership & teaching positions. Choose a doctoral program in education that suits you best.
3. What Are the Practical Considerations?
The following factors are going to weigh heavily in your decision:
- Time-Frame: Doctor of Education programs tend to be shorter than Ph.D. programs and built for working professionals.
- Budget: Ph.D. in Education programs are often fully funded; you’ll usually have to find your own scholarships & funding for Ed.D. programs.
- Online vs. On-Campus: Online Ed.D. Programs are commonplace; Ph.D. in Education programs are typically on-campus or low residency.
- Peer Interaction: Doctor of Education students will have opportunities for team collaborations and workplace interactions; Ph.D. in Education students will get to teach undergraduates and work closely with a faculty advisor.
4. Is a Doctoral Program in Education Worth the Money?
This question is particularly important when you’re considering the Ed.D. If you don’t need a doctorate in education to qualify for a job, you’ll have to decide whether you’re willing to fork out tens of thousands of dollars and spend 3 years of your life in study. For budget-friendly options, see our rankings of the Most Affordable Online Ed.D. Programs.
Even if you’re in a fully funded Ph.D. program, you still have to reckon with the long time commitment, the quality of faculty members, and the reputation of the university. Getting stuck in a terrible Ph.D. program can be extremely tough on a person’s mental health. Demand the very best in your education.
5. Have I Talked to Enough People?
This is the best tip we can give you. The more people you talk to, the clearer the skies will become.
- Workplace Mentors: Make time to sit down with mentors or peers and chat to them about your aspirations. They may have ideas for avenues that you haven’t even considered (e.g. Ed.S. with the option to pursue an Ed.D. later down the track).
- Recent Alumni: Universities will often be able to connect you to recent graduates of their doctoral programs in education. Talk to alumni about what worked and what didn’t.
- Career Inspirations: People often list their doctoral achievements on their LinkedIn profiles—you can ask Ph.D. in Education and Ed.D. graduates about why they made that choice.
- Family: Your education choice is going to affect the people around you. Budgets will get tight. Recreational hours will disappear. Time for chores will vanish. It’s important to discuss the benefits & disadvantages before you get locked into a commitment.