What is a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)?
Leaders and emerging leaders in many different fields—from K-20 education to the military, healthcare, and non-profits—benefit from the skills acquired from a Doctor of Education. If you successfully earn one of the best Ed.D. degrees in the U.S., you’ll be in good company.
- Purpose: In essence, a doctorate in education is a terminal degree that’s ideal for scholars, teachers, university faculty, and other professionals looking to enhance teaching skills, design policy, and/or promote learning in workplace environments.
- Benefits: Graduates of an Ed.D. program can expect to have gained knowledge that can be immediately applied to their jobs — from implementing applied research to tapping into decision-making rubrics to address real-life problems.
Better yet, many schools offer career-focused Ed.D. specializations. For example, a teacher, principal, or dean might opt for a concentration in Curriculum and Instruction; an education administrator might plump for Educational Leadership; and a nursing director, military officer, or business executive might be interested in Organizational Leadership.
Best Ed.D. Rankings Methodology
You may have seen plenty of “Best Ed.D.” lists elsewhere. So what are the secret ingredients that go into our doctorate in education rankings?
- First, we examined U.S. News and World Report rankings of the top schools for graduate education programs and Times Higher Education (THE) world rankings.
- We also factored in student completion rates, according to the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and total Ed.D. programs offered (the more the better).
- Finally, we considered positive signals across these categories. Schools that did well in one area (e.g. U.S. News) didn’t necessarily achieve a high ranking. Instead, schools that did well across the board earned the highest scores.
Why Didn’t a Top School Make the Best Ed.D. List?
Look closely and you’ll see that our Best Ed.D. list isn’t just a compilation of Ivy League institutions and big-name schools. This is because some of them just don’t offer Ed.D. degrees. A number of schools have stuck mainly to Ph.D. in Education programs, which we have not considered. Moreover, we focused on schools with a history of positive student outcomes. We believe it’s what makes our rankings unique & valuable.
Note: COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works at many universities. Some schools are modifying their Ed.D. programs to be hybrid or 100% online. These changes could become permanent—check the program links in our rankings for the latest info.
Top Schools with Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Programs
21 University of Maryland-College Park
Maryland educators take note! UM’s 3-year doctorate in education is ideal for K-12 administrators who wish to tackle current school system challenges, collaborate with like-minded peers, and implement system improvement initiatives. Better yet, this Ed.D. is approved by the Maryland State Department of Education for Superintendent II Certification.
The cohort-based Ed.D. in School System Leadership is offered in a blended format, with all-day Saturday seminars and online modules. It contains an 8-credit apprenticeship. And—in lieu of a dissertation—it features a real-world capstone project. Bear in mind that you must have Maryland Administrator I Certification or the equivalent to apply.
20 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Nestled in the Research Triangle in North Carolina, UNC Chapel Hill prides itself on groundbreaking research and study opportunities. The part-time, campus-based Ed.D. in Educational Leadership is geared toward preparing professionals for administrative roles at the K-12 district level. Classes are held in the evening during fall & spring terms. Completion requires an internship and a doctoral dissertation, with a minimum of 2 semesters reserved for proposal and defense.
The School of Education recommends that all Ed.D. students who aren’t licensed school administrators become licensed during their time at UNC. So it also offers a 27-credit School Administration Add-on Licensure program that leads to a K-12 Principal license from the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.
19 University of Virginia
- Ed.D. in Administration and Supervision
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction (Online)
- Ed.D. in Higher Education
It’s no wonder that U.S. News and World Report ranks Curry School of Education as one of the 20 Best Graduate Education Schools in the country—it has developed a number of content-rich & practice-focused Ed.D. programs. In lieu of a dissertation, all Ed.D. students at Curry complete a capstone project.
With small cohorts and classes primarily held on 2 full days a month, the Ed.D. in Administration and Supervision is an ideal setup for the working professional looking to finish an Ed.D. degree within 4 years. Classes include Designing Learning Environments and Optimizing Human Capital in an Organization.
Curriculum & Instruction
The 3-year Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction, which is available online, is personalized according to candidates’ knowledge and interests. Covering K-16 education, this part-time doctorate in education should also appeal to those interested in non-profit and philanthropy work.
Explore the part-time Ed.D. in Higher Education if service projects, a content minor, and courses such as College Student Development or Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in Higher Education sound appealing.
18 Arizona State University
ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College gives students the flexibility needed to complete their Doctor of Education—the Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation is offered in an online or hybrid format. Both options have a similar structure and coursework. They are also cohort-based, with students choosing one of three focus areas: PK-12 Change Leadership; Higher Education Change Leadership; or Systems, Professional, and Reimagined Change Leadership (SPARC).
Designed with the practicing educator in mind, this Ed.D. degree enhances students’ abilities to transform local educational organizations. Ed.D. students must be active professionals in positions where they can “implement small-scale change.” In the third and final year of the program, an action-research dissertation is required, culminating in an online oral defense.
17 Ohio State University – Main Campus
- Ed.D. in Educational Studies, Educational Administration
- Ed.D. in Educational Studies, Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA)
- Ed.D. in Kinesiology, Physical Education
OSU’s Department of Educational Studies has multiple top-10 ranked graduate programs, including on-campus doctorates in education that have been shaped by Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED) principles.
The cohort-based Educational Administration Ed.D. features the department’s P.L.A.C.E. Framework, which involves contextual “practicing, planning and problem solving” with real-life issues encountered in professional settings. These problems of practice help students hone their leadership skills within a team and in the field. This 3-year doctorate in education culminates with a Dissertation in Practice (DiP).
The Ed.D. in Educational Studies, Higher Education and Student Affairs (HESA) trains mid-career Ed.D. students in the skills needed to reform organizations, improve learning, and evaluate teachers. Likely career paths include VP for Student Affairs or Dean of Students, though graduates also end up leading non-profits. Choose from unique course offerings like Impact of College on Students or Admission and Retention of College Students.
Current K-12 PE teachers can up their game with the Ed.D. in Kinesiology, Physical Education, offered by the Department of Human Sciences. For the final project, this Ed.D. degree contains a thesis or a non-thesis option.
16 University of Georgia
- Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
- Ed.D. in Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development
- Ed.D. in Science Education
- Ed.D. in Student Affairs Leadership
- Ed.D. in Workforce Education (Hybrid Option)
- Ed.D. in Workforce Education (Traditional)
- Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management
As a proud member of the CPED consortium, UGA’s College of Education has plenty of quality Ed.D. programs on offer. With the exception of the Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management, education doctorates at UGA range from 3-4 years in length.
Practicing school and district administrators looking to improve school systems can explore the Educational Leadership Ed.D. This 3-year, cohort-based Ed.D. degree includes blended coursework, an Advanced Leadership Residency, and an action research dissertation. Tier I or other leadership certification is required for admission.
Higher Education/Executive Doctorate
The accelerated, 2-year Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management is custom-built for mid- and senior-level professionals in higher education settings. You’ll meet 8 times per year for weekend intensives (Thursdays-Saturdays). Most meetings take place in Atlanta, with occasional visits to the Athens campus. During summer terms, you’ll also participate in week-long experiential study trips to domestic and international sites.
Deepening one’s understanding of adult learning and change is what the Ed.D. in Learning, Leadership, and Organization Development is all about. Classes are offered in a blended learning environment, with some virtual learning to allow working professionals flexibility.
The part-time Ed.D. in Student Affairs Leadership is a primarily online offering with some on-campus meetings. Supervised internships—whether at the student’s current job or elsewhere—are a main component of this doctorate in education. Candidates with master’s degrees need 2-3 years of full-time employment to apply.
The Ed.D. in Workforce Education centers on workforce issues and policy. Elective courses allow students to cultivate their own interests. The traditional option is delivered in a face-to-face instructional format; the practitioner option combines online and in-person meetings in a cohort group approach.
15 Indiana University Bloomington
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Art Education (Residential or Online)
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Mathematics Education
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Science Education (Residential or Online)
- Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
- Ed.D. in Higher Education
- Ed.D. in Instructional Systems Technology (Online)
- Ed.D. in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education (Online)
Choices, choices, choices… IUB’s School of Education has developed all kinds of online, hybrid, and campus doctorates, with a degree to suit almost every education professional.
You can become an effective K-12 leader by pursuing the Educational Leadership Ed.D. and diving deep into senior-level issues facing educators. To appeal to working professionals, classes in this cohort-based doctorate are held 3 weekends per semester in a blended learning environment.
Interested in enrollment management, institutional research, and student development? Check out the Higher Education Ed.D. Full-time students who are able to identify a dissertation topic by the end of their second year can finish the Ed.D. degree in 3-4 years.
Teaching & Subject Specialties
Whether the goal is to continue as an educator at the K-12 level or teach at a university, the Art, Mathematics, and Science Education specializations within the Curriculum and Instruction Ed.D. will allow you to master those subjects through advanced coursework. IUB also offers a cohort-based Ed.D. in Literacy, Culture, and Language Education. This online doctorate in education helps literacy and language specialists build on their existing skills.
Appropriately, the Ed.D. in Instructional System Technology is online, although all Ed.D. students must attend an annual conference. You’ll learn how to create instructional materials, understand needs analysis, and evaluate the effectiveness of products and services.
14 Michigan State University
MSU’s Department of Educational Administration has designed a 3-year Doctor of Educational Leadership that aims to develop diverse leaders for Michigan schools and community organizations. This practice-based Ed.D. degree encourages faculty and students to work together to address critical challenges facing the state’s education community.
The Ed.D. program sets itself apart by offering annual summer forums where stakeholders create strategies for improving school policies. In the third year of the program, group capstone projects bring students face-to-face with a community problem of practice to research and solve. In addition, all doctoral students in education have the opportunity to travel overseas for 3 weeks on a faculty-led, most-expenses-paid trip with the Fellowship to Enhance Global Understanding program.
13 Johns Hopkins University
- Ed.D. Entrepreneurial Leadership in Education (Online)
- Ed.D. Mind, Brain, and Teaching (Online)
- Ed.D. Instructional Design in Online Teaching and Learning (Online)
JHU’s cohort-based Online Ed.D. is available in a number of global specializations—check the Ed.D. program plan to learn which ones are available in your year. If you enter with a master’s degree, you’ll be required to complete 54-57 credits over the course of 3-7 years. On a 3-year plan, you would take ~2 courses per semester.
JHU is a CPED member & globally ranked in education, so be prepared for rigor. You can expect to tackle challenging leadership & research coursework, all kinds of electives, and an applied dissertation that addresses a current problem of practice. Coursework is online, but you should try to plan for 3-day summer residencies at JHU each year—attendance is strongly encouraged.
12 University of California Berkeley
Looking for a quality Ed.D. peer group? UC Berkeley’s competitive, cohort-based LEAD doctorate only admits 10 students every other year. It’s available in a hybrid format, which means you’ll be required to attend a 4-week summer intensive and 12 annual all-day Saturday sessions. Some—but not all—weekday courses (late afternoon & evening) are available online. You can work full-time while you study.
You’ll follow a 3-year plan of study, tackling 3 core courses & personalized electives each semester. UC Berkeley’s innovative doctorate in education also includes research seminars, LEAD field visits, and a dissertation that’s designed for submission to journals. Graduates of the LEAD program pursue leadership positions in school districts (e.g. superintendent) and C-level roles in non-profit leadership, policy, global educational ventures, and more.
11 The University of Texas at Austin
Designed with the working professional in mind, both Ed.D. degrees at the College of Education at UT Austin can be completed in 30 months (2.5 years).
Aspiring superintendents of school districts or chief executives in state education agencies might be attracted to the cohort-based Cooperative Superintendency Program. This highly-ranked Ed.D. readies leaders for the mercurial world of public education systems. You’ll take classes like School Restructuring & Renewal and School District Functions and complete a Superintendent Practicum.
If you’re aiming for executive or high-level administration roles in education, you should apply to the Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership. In this blended doctorate, you’ll learn about technology in education, student success and learning, and policy and governance from a renowned and diverse faculty. Some e-learning components are offered alongside on-campus work.
10 Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus
- Ed.D. in Comparative and International Education (CIED)
- Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
- Ed.D. in Higher Education (HIED)
- Ed.D. in Lifelong Learning and Adult Education
Penn State’s College of Education has a plethora of highly-regarded Ed.D. options, which it categorizes as “D.Ed.” programs.
Prospective principals, superintendents, and administrators seeking to know more about policy, politics, law, finance, and organizational theory related to education should look to the standard Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. Dedicated students can take advantage of that program’s joint law degree.
Adult & Higher Education
The Ed.D. in Higher Education puts a premium on flexibility—an advisor will work with you to design an individualized program of study. Moreover, you’ll be encouraged to take on a minor within another academic field (e.g. marketing, organizational behavior, sociology, educational psychology, etc.).
If you choose the Lifelong Learning and Adult Education Ed.D., you’ll take classes such as Family Literacy and Perspectives on Adult Learning Theory. You’ll also be allowed to choose 15 elective credits from one or more Supporting Areas within Penn State.
The Ed.D. in Comparative and International Education takes a global look at education—learners dive into the analysis and operation of the world’s education systems with course offerings like the Social and Cultural Contexts of Learning and Work.
Learn More About the Ed.D. Program:
9 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
- Ed.D. in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership — Educational Administration & Leadership
- Ed.D. in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership — Global Studies in Education (Online)
- Ed.D. in Higher Education
- See All Ed.D. Degrees
UIUC offers so many online & on-campus Ed.D. degrees that we only had room to list a few highlights! Be sure to explore all the options in curriculum & instruction, learning design, diversity & equity, language & literacy, and more. If you end up plumping for UIUC, you’ll be earning a doctorate in education from a public research university with some of the highest paid graduates in the country.
Plans of study & delivery methods vary by Ed.D. program. For example, the 64-credit Global Studies in Education Ed.D. is built to appeal to international educators, with online coursework in core areas (e.g. human rights, global youth, etc.), customizable electives, field research seminars, and a thesis. Meanwhile, students in the on-campus Higher Education Ed.D. can “build their own” curriculum—only a few research courses are mandatory.
8 University of Washington – Seattle Campus
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Language, Literacy, and Culture
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Mathematics and Science
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction – Teacher Quality and Teacher Education
- Ed.D. in Leadership for Learning (Certification Option Available)
The Ed.D. in Leadership for Learning, which was recognized as an Exemplary Educational Leadership Program by the University Council for Educational Administration, continuously updates its curriculum. From field placements to internships and capstone projects, this cohort-based Ed.D. degree promises a personalized focus. For example, you can choose to participate in any of the 10+ research initiatives sponsored by the College of Education. You’ll also have the option of earning Washington State Superintendent Certification.
Curriculum & Instruction
Those interested in classroom or leadership roles at the school & district-level should check out an Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction. It comes complete with subject specializations that are aligned with career goals, including a Language, Literacy and Culture Ed.D. for educators who wish to expand their knowledge of second language learning and culture.
7 University of Southern California
- Ed.D. in Educational Leadership (Additional Concentrations Available)
- Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership (Online)
- Global Executive Ed.D.
The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership challenges students to address the inherent inequities in education. Concentration areas include Educational Psychology, Higher Education Administration, K-12 Leadership in Urban School Settings, and Teacher Education in Multicultural Societies. For dissertations, students work collaboratively on thematically related topics. This leads to a shorter dissertation process.
The Ed.D. in Organizational Change and Leadership is almost entirely online, with an annual immersion weekend at USC. The curriculum can be completed in less than 3 years; coursework and the Dissertation in Practice (DiP) encourage students to self-reflect on how to modify their own strategies and approaches. Those without a master’s degree but who have work and leadership experience are welcome to apply.
Already have significant leadership experience? Consider the Global Executive Doctor of Education. You’ll dig into your own individual and local challenges to enact improvements and change. This accelerated education doctorate is only 25 months and requires participants to travel to 9 intensive class sessions in locales such as Los Angeles and Hong Kong while completing the rest of the coursework online.
6 New York University
- Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
- Ed.D. in Educational Theatre in Colleges and Communities
- Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration
- Ed.D. in Leadership and Innovation (Online)
NYU’s Steinhardt School emphasizes holistic education—faculty work across disciplines to promote the exchange of new ideas. This philosophy carries over to its Ed.D. programs, which contain summer research design workshops, culminating projects, and colloquiums.
The Ed.D. in Educational Leadership aims to prepare students for senior leadership roles and policy positions. This Ed.D. degree is available in a full-time or part-time plan of study, with coursework that covers everything from educational reform to policy analysis. Study environments are made up of professors, Ed.D. classmates, and school leaders.
In contrast, the Online Leadership and Innovation Ed.D. is only 24 months/2 years. The curriculum covers topics such as organizational theory, education policy, change & innovation, and management & data ethics, and incorporates 2 in-person residencies.
Professionals working in higher education or corporate education are eligible to pursue the cohort-based Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration. This 3-year, part-time doctorate in education combines theory, research, and problem-solving through the exploration of organizational theory, adult and workplace learning, and finance and governance.
The 42-credit Ed.D. in Educational Theatre is a research-intensive program worth exploring. You can choose from one of four specializations: Drama in Education; Applied Theatre; Theatre for Young Audiences and Play Production; or Drama Therapy (which does not lead to licensure). This doctorate is available in a part-time or full-time plan of study.
5 University of California – Los Angeles
UCLA’s Department of Education often tops “Best Of” lists for its graduate programs, including the Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. This Ed.D. degree melds experiential learning, theory, and practice. It also fosters an individualized and supportive environment for each student. And UCLA’s 450+ alumni work in community colleges, universities, school districts, educational associations, and learning ventures.
To meet the needs of working professionals, this 3-year doctorate in education contains classes on one evening per week and on Saturdays. In the first year, you’ll work to improve your leadership skills and educational practices through classes such as Legal Aspects of Educational Management and Practice or Educational Enterprise. In the second year, you’ll focus heavily on two courses: Research Methodology and Advanced Directed Field Experience. The third year includes a leadership seminar and dissertation practicum.
4 Harvard University
Whether you want to take the reins in school environments, non-profit settings, private companies, or government departments, Harvard’s Graduate School of Education seeks to transform your career through its Ed.D. in Leadership. This full-time, 3-year Ed.D. degree brings together a diverse cohort of 25 students and encourages them to shake up the status quo and translate visionary ideas into successful programs. A full-tuition funding package, stipends, and a paid residency are offered to all students.
In the first two years, you’ll engage with classes such as Race, Equity, and Leadership; Thinking Strategically about Education Reform; and Practicing Leadership. The third year is consumed by a paid residency, where you’ll work with one of the school’s partner organizations to gain practical experience and make a personal contribution. A strategic project and written capstone go hand-in-hand with the residency so you can reflect on your successes and challenges.
Learn More About the Ed.D. Program:
3 Vanderbilt University
- Ed.D. in K-12 and Higher Education Leadership and Policy
- Ed.D. in Leadership and Learning in Organizations (Online)
The Department of Leadership, Policy and Organization at Peabody College offers two Ed.D. programs. One is predominantly online; the other is in-house. Both doctorates conclude with a capstone project, which is a year-long undertaking of research wrapped up in a group project. 84 credit hours are needed, but 30 credits will be transferred from an accepted master’s degree.
K-20 Leadership & Policy
The 3-year Ed.D. in Leadership and Policy is available in a K-12 or Higher Education concentration. Regardless of the focus, this on-campus program with weekend-based coursework prepares Ed.D. students to make their institutions perform better.
In contrast, coursework for the Online Ed.D. in Leadership and Learning in Organizations is predominantly online, with only 3 on-campus convenings. This doctorate in education is designed for mid-career professionals who wish to enact systemic organizational change using both theory and practice. Over 3-4 years, you’ll be able to dive into coursework such as Human Capital and Talent Management and Designing for Learning in Communities.
Learn More About the Ed.D. Program:
2 University of Pennsylvania
- Ed.D. in Educational Linguistics
- Ed.D. in Higher Education
- Ed.D. in Penn Chief Learning Officer
- Ed.D. in Reading, Writing, and Literacy
- Ed.D. in Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education
- Executive Ed.D. in Higher Education Management
- Mid-Career Ed.D. in Educational Leadership
In the hybrid Mid-Career Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, doctoral students meet on-campus for 1 weekend per month and 1 week every summer. A typical Ed.D. student brings 15-20 years of experience to the seminar table. Mid- to senior-level professionals in C-Suite and HR positions looking to develop an organization’s talent should also check out the unique Penn Chief Learning Officer Ed.D.
Higher Education/Executive Doctorate
The Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management is geared specifically for senior-level leaders looking to advance in their careers while keeping their full-time positions. This tightly structured, 2-year degree meets on-campus for 1 weekend per month and 1 week each summer.
In contrast, the part-time Ed.D. in Higher Education is customizable. Out of the 20 courses, you’ll be able to choose 16 electives. You’ll tackle 1-2 courses per term (summer, spring & fall) and end the program with a dissertation.
Teaching & Subject Specialties
The Ed.D. in Reading, Writing, and Literacy allows students to customize their plan of learning with one or more concentrations, including Adult Literacy Education. Meanwhile, the Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education Ed.D. lets educators take on assorted theoretical and practice-based issues within community or school settings in an interdisciplinary way. And the Ed.D. in Educational Linguistics is designed to suit early to mid-career language educators interested in courses such as Citizen Sociolinguistics.
1 Columbia University in the City of New York
- Ed.D. in Adult Learning and Leadership
- Ed.D. in English Education
- Ed.D. in Curriculum and Teaching – Multiple Concentrations
- Ed.D. in Early Childhood Education
- Ed.D. in International Educational Development
- Ed.D. in Nursing Education (Online)
- Ed.D. in Urban Education Leaders
- See All Ed.D. Degrees
When all the Ed.D. concentrations are taken into account, Columbia runs 70+ Doctor of Education programs, easily surpassing the other schools on our list. If you can dream it, you can probably find it here, with everything from an Ed.D. in Anthropology and Education to an Ed.D. in Applied Exercise Physiology. Ed.D. degrees typically come with certification and non-certification tracks, with some featuring bilingual extensions.
Doctoral programs are housed in the Teachers College, otherwise known as the Graduate School for Education, Health, and Psychology. This explains the interdisciplinary vibe of the degree offerings. In fact, over 33% of tenured faculty are psychologists or health educators, lending extra weight to programs such as the Ed.D. in Cognitive Science Education and the Ed.D. in Health Education. Teachers College also runs scores of centers and institutes, including the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching.
How to Choose an Ed.D. Program
Combing through our Best Ed.D. list and other Online Ed.D. rankings can be overwhelming. Here is a list of things to consider when choosing a doctorate in education. Rank them according to your values and priorities.
- Delivery Format: Would you prefer a 100% online, campus-based, or a hybrid Ed.D. degree?
- Program Length: Is the doctorate in education part-time or full-time? Can you fit it into your current work schedule?
- Specializations: Do available Ed.D. concentrations align with your educational and career goals?
- Required Ed.D. Coursework: Are Ed.D. course topics relevant, up-to-date, and applicable to your job?
- Internship & Fieldwork Requirements: Are you interested in supervised leadership experiences?
- Dissertation or Capstone: Would you prefer a traditional, 5-chapter dissertation or a less traditional final project?
- Institutional Reputation: Is your university regionally accredited?
- College of Education & Program Reputation: Does the college hold CAEP accreditation? Is it a member of the CPED? Does it have a strong research arm?
- Faculty Quality: Are Ed.D. professors currently engaged in the profession? Do their research interests align with yours? Is their experience relevant to your leadership goals?
- Total Cost: Is any internal funding available (e.g. scholarships)? How much do Ed.D. students usually take out in loans? Will you be eligible for a substantial salary bump after graduation?
Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.
There are significant differences between the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), and Education Specialist (Ed.S.) credentials. All of them are advanced degrees, and most require a master’s degree to apply to the program. However:
- Ed.D. The Ed.D. degree sets itself apart from the Ph.D. by focusing on the practical application of knowledge & research, rather than pure theory. Ed.D. programs will contain a traditional dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP), or capstone project.
- Ph.D. in Education: A Ph.D. in Education may have more of a theoretical slant than an Ed.D., with coursework that applies to professionals in academia or research institutions. Ph.D. in Education programs will include a traditional dissertation.
- Ed.S. An Ed.S. typically requires fewer credits than an Ed.D. or Ph.D. — it’s roughly the equivalent of receiving a second master’s degree. It usually does not contain a dissertation.
A Ph.D. in Education and Ed.D. are both research-focused and are—for the most part—considered equivalent degrees. Most institutions simply offer one or the other. That means your choice of program will depend on your career goals.
Pursue an Ed.D. to:
- Teach courses at the university level or become a leader at an educational institution
- Get hands-on leadership skills (for professionals)
- Pursue a broader focus on applied research and practical knowledge
Pursue a Ph.D. to:
- Teach education at the university level or become a director of institutional research
- Produce system-wide change
- Understand theories of educational practice
- Conduct rigorous and extensive original research
Pursue an Ed.S. to:
- Create a positive learning environment for students or staff
- Become a school principal, superintendent, or dean
- Focus on developing qualifications for a specific job
The Ed.D. Admissions Process
An Ed.D. program can be challenging to get into—you’ll need to draw upon all your professional and academic credentials to make it through the admissions process. Ed.D. degrees at well-known schools are highly competitive; even less competitive doctorates in education are intended for well-prepared candidates who have already accomplished a great deal academically. Here’s how to make sure you’re one of those candidates.
Typical Ed.D. Admission Requirements
- Master’s Degree: Ed.D. programs generally require students to have earned at least a master’s degree (or an equivalent number of graduate credits). However, the master’s degree does not necessarily need to be in education. If you already hold an Ed.S. degree, you are often eligible for advanced placement.
- Minimum GPA: Where a minimum GPA is specified, an overall 3.0 (B) or higher is generally preferred.
- Work Experience: If you’ve never worked in the field of education before, it may limit your options. Because the Ed.D. is a practical degree intended for mid-career professionals, at least 3 years of relevant work experience is generally required. This is not always the case—Nova Southeastern University’s Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership is a notable exception—but it’s the norm.
- Letters of Recommendation & Personal Essay: You’re going to need at least two letters of recommendation; most programs also require a personal essay (the format of the personal essay varies widely from program to program). Applicants often treat these two requirements as an afterthought. But in highly competitive programs, the identities of the people writing your letters of recommendation, and the content of your personal essay, can be the most important parts of your application.
- GRE Scores Optional: If you hate the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), we have good news: many Ed.D. programs will accept the Miller Analogies Test (MAT) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) as a substitute for the GRE. Start your research with our convenient list of No GRE Ed.D. programs. You’ll find 77+ schools that do not require the GRE, as well as details on their admissions requirements and available program concentrations.
Ed.D. Admissions Interview
In competitive Ed.D. degrees, it is common for the school to conduct an interview with a prospective Ed.D. student prior to accepting an application. This interview is sometimes conducted online.
In most cases, the purpose of the interview is more to check in with the student — verifying the person’s identity and identifying any obvious red flags — rather than a decisive part of the process. But if the Ed.D. program you’re applying for is especially competitive, we recommend you speak to students and alumni to get a sense of what might be expected.
Ed.D. Admissions Essay
For the doctorate in education, some schools also require an admissions essay, though the format can vary. The Maryville Ed.D.’s personal statement essay is fairly complex, requiring both a detailed autobiography and a short dissertation proposal, whereas Northern Arizona University merely asks you to provide a writing sample where you summarize an article in your own words. But whether the required admissions essay is simple or complex, it’s likely to be short.
International Student Requirements
In addition to addressing any relevant student visa requirements, international students who have not already demonstrated English fluency must generally earn a good score on the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) exam.
How Ed.D. Admission Requirements Differ Between Schools
There is no single Ed.D. admissions process. All worthwhile Ed.D. degrees will require you to fill out an application and send official transcripts, but beyond that admissions requirements differ from program to program:
- Some schools require a Master in Education and some don’t.
- Some schools require prior work experience in the field (e.g. 3 years or more) and some don’t.
- Some schools require a high minimum GPA (e.g. 3.0-3.5) and some don’t.
- Some schools require you to take the GRE and some don’t.
- Some schools require an admissions interview and some don’t.
- Some schools require an admissions essay and some don’t.
Since there are no universally accepted admission requirements, it’s wise to make a shortlist of regionally accredited Ed.D. programs and go from there.
Ed.D. Admissions Checklist
Here’s a simple checklist of what Ed.D. applicants should have in hand before starting the application process. Be sure to check with the specific school for admission requirements.
- Relevant contact information for every university you’ve attended in the past, so that you can have official transcripts sent.
- A résumé that shows the necessary work experience.
- Money for the application fee(s), which typically ranges from free to $100.
- Your GRE, MAT, and/or GMAT score information, if required.
- Your TOEFL and/or IELTS score information, if required.
- Two authorities in the field who are willing to write you letters of recommendation.
- A general idea of what you might write in an admissions essay, if required to do so.
The Doctor of Education: What to Expect
During the course of your Ed.D. degree, you’ll typically be expected to tackle doctoral coursework, internships, and a research-based dissertation, DiP, or capstone project.
Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Coursework
Classes for the Doctor of Education vary widely by school, which is why we suggest you take a close look at the curriculum before applying. Standard coursework for all doctorates in education will include:
- Qualitative and Quantitative Research
- Writing for Research
- Doctoral Seminar or Capstone
- Dissertation, Doctoral Writing Assessment or “Consulting Project”
Sample Ed.D. Course Titles
Outside of those common denominators, schools will alter the Ed.D. coursework quite a bit. Here are a few real-life examples:
Drexel University has an Ed.D. in Educational Leadership in Management with nine specializations and a set of core courses such as:
- Creative Strategies for Educational Leaders
- Educational Leadership and Change
- Transformative Leadership: Finding One’s Source
Mississippi College’s Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership contains courses such as:
- Comparative Philosophies of Education
- Curriculum Planning and School Improvement
- Instructional Supervision
- Intermediate and Advanced Statistics
University of Southern California (USC) offers a Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership with classes like:
- Analyzing Organizational Change and Its Effectiveness
- Education Performance Problems
- Framing Educational Leadership in a Global Context
- Understanding the Fundamentals of Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Walden University’s Doctor of Education contains ten specializations. The common courses between them are:
- Leading the Future of Education
- Research Theory, Design and Methods
- Tools for Doctoral Research Success
Some schools offer only one Ed.D. specialization/concentration; others offer ten. We’ve assembled some common titles. This is by no means an exhaustive list—there are more specializations than one could imagine!
- Adult Education
- Athletic Administration
- Curriculum Studies
- Curriculum, Teaching, Leadership and Learning
- Early Childhood Education
- Educational Leadership and School Change
- Global Executive
- Higher Education Administration
- Human Resource Development
- Information Technology
- Literacy Education
- Organizational Leadership Studies
- Urban and Multicultural Education
Many Ed.D. programs require that students complete a focused internship. This allows students to combine theory with practical knowledge in a supervised environment. Internships create a situation for students to learn from other professionals, become more effective leaders, and apply the skills they have learned in their coursework.
- For some Ed.D. degrees, like the one at East Tennessee State University, this is a 150-hour requirement. Students pay for the credit hours, while the university assists in setting up an appropriate internship. All internships are planned and completed under the guidance of a faculty member.
- Other internship requirements are more demanding. Watson College of Education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, for example, requires three different internships of 100 hours each.
Internships for a doctorate in education often differ by concentration. For example, an internship at a multinational corporation might be arranged for a global executive specialization, whereas a non-profit internship might be arranged for organizational leadership studies. This is yet one more area for students to look into when researching Ed.D. degrees.
Ed.D. Dissertation, Dissertation in Practice (DiP) or Capstone
All Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs will contain a large, research-based project. Some Ed.D. degrees opt for a traditional dissertation along the lines of a Ph.D. Other Ed.D. programs contain a Dissertation in Practice (DiP) or capstone project.
- Doctorates in education that require a traditional dissertation include classes to assist students with each of the steps required to write one (e.g. how to come up with a dissertation topic, how to structure the dissertation, and how to conduct effective research).
- After the dissertation is planned, proposed, and written, the final step is defending it. Typically, an Ed.D. committee will read the student’s dissertation, and—on a set date—faculty members will ask questions of the student to ensure they fully understand the focus area of their dissertation.
- Questions will be open-ended so that Ed.D. students must think critically about their work. The thought of defending a thesis can be stressful, but students are given months to prepare. And committees generally want students to succeed, not fail!
DiP or Capstone Project
If you’re interested in alternatives to this route, take a look at our guide to Ed.D. programs without traditional dissertation requirements. DiPs & capstone projects have some of the same hallmarks as a dissertation—crafting a proposal, conducting extensive research, and defending one’s findings—but there are a few significant differences. It’s important to know about them before you make a decision, since it will affect how you rate the effectiveness of the Ed.D. degree.
Questions to Consider Before Committing to an Ed.D.
Why Do I Want to Earn a Doctorate in Education?
An Ed.D. can put your résumé at the top of the pile for many positions. But not every position. Do a little market research before making a commitment. Ed.D. holders tend to become school administrators, college administrators, college-level teachers (e.g. adjuncts), and instructional coordinators. If you’re considering one of these roles, it’s doubtful you’ll regret the knowledge gained from this degree.
Do I Really Need an Ed.D. Degree?
The short answer is no—an Ed.D. is not always necessary in order to snag a job in K-20 leadership. However, salaries for elementary and secondary school administrators vary widely; the top 10% make more than $140,000, while the bottom 10% earn less than $60,000. The gap is even more pronounced for postsecondary administrators. A doctorate in education can often help you secure a stronger salary.
Have a look at our guide to Ed.D. Careers & Salaries for detailed advice on this question.
Should I Study Part- or Full-Time?
If life circumstances allow a full class load, then full-time study is ideal. An accelerated Ed.D. degree takes 2+ years. That’s short enough to avoid feeling too much of a sting from lost income, yet long enough to take advantage of more internship opportunities and on-campus networking.
However, while part-time Ed.D. students may only have time to get the work done (and little else), most will likely walk away with less student debt, which may be worth it even if the doctorate in education takes longer.
What Are the Pros and Cons of an Ed.D. Degree?
- Advancement possibilities in your career
- New learning can revive a passion for your industry
- Opportunity to become a scholar and researcher in your field
- Earn the title of “Doctor”
- Opportunity costs—the time and length of the degree means potentially forgoing other useful ways to spend those years
- May be expensive in terms of both program cost and lost income due to reducing work hours
- Balancing family/work commitments can be challenging
Do I Opt for a Ph.D. in Education or an Ed.D.?
Ed.D. programs might not pack the same punch as Ph.D.s in terms of “perceived” prestige, but they serve an important role in terminal degree studies and they’re well-recognized by employers.
The practical application of the Ed.D. is the hallmark of the program. Whereas Ph.D. programs have a strong theoretical research component, Ed.D. programs stress the importance of real-life function and application. If the practical takes precedence over the philosophical, choosing an Ed.D. is a no-brainer.