Education Administration

Is a Doctorate in Education Worth It?

Is a Doctorate in Education Worth It?
Students in EdD programs are earning EdDs to pursue leadership roles in the field of education at the elementary, middle school, high school, and university levels. Image from Pexels
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry October 21, 2019

Teachers looking for ways to change the educational system for the better should consider getting an EdD, a degree for educators who want to advance to administrative and leadership positions in academia—roles in which they can influence what's taught and how.

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What would you do if you had more control over what and how students are taught? Not just the students in your classroom, but students across an entire school, school district, or state?

As a Doctor of Education (EdD), you will be able to move into the kinds of administrative and leadership positions in K-12 education, higher education, nonprofit organizations, corporate training programs, or government agencies that provide you the opportunity to transform how children and adults are educated. You’ll be eligible for jobs influencing curricula, shaping school policies, hiring and firing teaching staff, creating school budgets, and determining educational goals for institutions and organizations.

In this guide to a doctorate in education, we’ll cover:

  • What kinds of educators pursue a doctorate in education?
  • Possible fields and career paths for a doctorate in education
  • EdD versus PhD
  • Prerequisites for a doctorate in education
  • What you’ll study in a doctorate in education program
  • Possible EdD concentrations
  • Commitment required for a doctorate in education
  • Is a doctorate in education worth it?

What kinds of educators pursue a doctorate in education?

It’s important to note that a doctorate of education is not a form of teacher training. Students in EdD programs don’t study applied pedagogy or instructional techniques related to a particular subject matter. While applicants to these programs typically have experience teaching, the reason they’re pursuing EdDs is to explore leadership roles in the field of education at the elementary, middle school, high school, and university levels.

Teachers who pursue a doctorate degree in education may aspire to become school principals, school administrators, or district superintendents, curriculum designers, directors of online learning programs, or corporate or nonprofit training managers.

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Possible fields and career paths for a doctorate in education

Most senior positions in education and educational administration require applicants to have a doctorate in education. With this degree, you can apply to education leadership positions like:

Elementary, middle, or high school principal

Principals at all levels oversee the day-to-day operations of schools while also working to ensure that student learning goals are achieved. In this role, you have the power to directly influence student success. Principal salaries differ by grade level. Elementary school principals earn about $84,418 annually, middle school principals earn about $93,932, and high school principals earn about $91,584.

School superintendent

These are the top administrators of the district. In this role, you’ll have the power to develop and launch new policies and programs that benefit students and teaching staff. Working closely with the school board, you’ll establish and oversee everything from the district’s total budget to human resources and infrastructure at individual schools within the district. Superintendents earn about $121,930.

Executive director of education

This role could be your chance to move out of the educational system, if that’s your goal. Executive directors of education work in businesses and nonprofit organizations, and are responsible for the design, implementation, and evaluation of educational initiatives. This can involve managing staff and volunteers, overseeing budgets, developing curricula, and handling external relations. As an executive director, you’ll earn about $77,206, though you can make six figures at the university level.

Provost

In this role, you’ll be in a position to make decisions that impact education at the university level. The provost is the university president’s second-in-command, and they work with deans and department heads to set academic goals and allocate resources to support those goals. Provosts earn around $168,405, making this one of the more lucrative career choices for EdD holders.

College president

Ready to lead a university? In this most senior-level role, you won’t spend much time shaping your institution’s academic goals. You’ll be too busy establishing your school’s strategic vision, creating the best possible learning environment, and raising money. It’s a high-pressure position, but you’ll be well compensated. College presidents typically make around $308,731 per year.

Chief learning officer

This is another position outside of academia that you may be able to advance into with a doctorate in education. The chief learning officer is a senior-level executive who creates and oversees an organization’s education and training programs. You’ll be able to develop and implement your own strategies for training and development. A CLO earns about $156,410 annually.

Doctorate in education versus a PhD in education

A doctorate of education is designed to prepare students to take on academic leadership roles. It is education’s version of a professional degree, like an MBA or JD. A PhD is an academic degree designed to prepare professors and researchers. Both are doctoral programs that cover topics related to education, such as curriculum development and learning styles. At some point, however, the programs diverge: EdD candidates continue to do classroom work, while PhD students start conducting the research that will become their dissertation.

Every doctoral program for educators and educational administrators has different prerequisite core and elective courses, graduation requirements, and features. Some EdD programs look a lot like PhD programs, and vice versa. Read program descriptions carefully before making the decision to apply.

Prerequisites for a doctorate in education

When you apply to doctorate in education programs, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree or, preferably, a master’s degree (in teaching or education) from an accredited college or university. You’ll also likely need career experience in classroom teaching or educational administration.

Schools may require any or all of the following:

Letters of recommendation

Letters of recommendation should reflect your work and research experience, and be from academic references who know you well.

A statement of purpose

Your statement of purpose should include a summary of your undergraduate and graduate work, research projects, and publications, and how they help qualify you for the program. As well, you should note your career goals and how this program will help you achieve them.

GRE or GMAT scores

Each school will have specific requirements, and some schools may not require GRE or GMAT scores at all. The University of Southern California, allows applicants to take an EdD writing assessment in place of the GRE or GMAT.

What you’ll study in a doctorate in education program

The best doctorate in education programs teach students to solve complex educational problems, and to find innovative ways to reach educational goals. Generally, coursework in these programs covers educational leadership concepts and processes, dynamics and practices in educational systems, educational equality, and research methodologies.

You’ll take classes like:

Educational Leadership

Coursework in this class will focus on developing an understanding of the theory and practice of advanced leadership skills needed to address inequities, maximize student learning and teacher performance in learning environments.

Advanced Leadership in Educational Systems

This class will provide the history and background of educational administration, as well as current issues and resources that influence work in education.

Advanced Learning Theories

This class will explore the foundations of curriculum and the relationships between cognitive development and learning, and will examine the role of historical analysis in instructional design.

Curriculum and Instructional Reform

This coursework will explore recent trends in educational reform and the impact of standardized math and language assessments on students, learning, and the public education system.

Foundations of Research in Curriculum and Instruction

This class will explore the various research methodologies involved in producing scholarship in curriculum, and the many benchmarks and processes of becoming an effective researcher.

Professional Development and Teacher Learning

Coursework here will examine the public school system and how teacher professional development has been influenced by standards-based education reform and other forms of public policy.

Perspectives in Curriculum, Teaching and Teacher Education

This class will try to address questions like: What is curriculum, and who gets to decide (and who’s left out)? The answers will address the purpose of education and the role of the teacher.

Critical Pedagogy Foundations

This course will address critical pedagogical theory and the ways education acts as a social force, influenced by cultural politics.

Issues in School Improvement

This coursework will include research and assessment of the effectiveness of teachers, principals, and school improvement models to effectively critique policy construction and outcomes.

Issues in Teacher Education

This class will examine the call for the redesign of teacher education programs and the impact of teacher practices on student learning, including a look at recent research into teacher evaluation and student success and how it informs policy and practice.

Sociocultural Perspectives

Community-focused learning turns the cognitive activity of teaching around, and examines the sociocultural influences that impact teaching and learning.

Diversity in Learning

This coursework will explore historical and modern policy and practices in education systems, and how the political, social, and cultural forces impact the experience of women and various racial and ethnic groups.

Teacher Learning and Socialization in Poverty Schools

The preparedness of teachers for working with students in impoverished school districts is critical, and this class will examine the intersection of education and poverty, and the ways in which teachers can respond to the barriers to success students face.

Most doctorate in education programs conclude with a final practicum, thesis project, or dissertation. Depending on the program you attend, your final project may involve conducting original research and mounting a defense of your conclusions or tackling a real problem in the educational system.

Possible EdD concentrations

If you have an area of education you feel passionate about, you may be able to tailor your doctoral curriculum accordingly. Many EdD programs allow students to choose a specialization or concentration. Both your core and elective coursework may be determined by the specialty study area you select. Different universities offer different specializations, but students can often choose from concentrations like:

Higher education

Obtaining an EdD with a specialization in higher education prepares you for leadership positions in colleges and universities or for teaching at the postsecondary level.

Special education

A concentration in special education will include a focus on equity and social justice, and prepare students for work as special education leaders and administrators.

Language and literacy education

The study of learning language includes the sociopolitical, sociolinguistic, and psycholinguistic perspectives of literacy in schools and communities.

Organizational research and assessment

An EdD with this specialization will provide students with strength in leadership, problem solving, and reflection to help create adaptable and effective learning environments.

Innovation in learning

This concentration will prepare graduates for effective leadership and fostering innovative problem solving in the wake of evolving expectations in public and private education systems.

Educational administration

This specialization applies theory and practice to create and sustain responsive and reflective learning communities adaptive to change.

Early childhood education

Early childhood education can often involve families, so this specialization includes research methods and training in early childhood development as well as the impact of the larger community.

Educational technology

A concentration in educational technology includes the impact of evolving internet learning, data driven instruction and the technology that enables effective teaching and learning.

Instructional design

Instructional design helps improve organizational performance through applied research and the principles of systems and learning theories.

Commitment required for a doctorate in education

Chances are that you’ve already earned your Master of Education or Master of Arts in Teaching degree (or another relevant graduate school-level degree) if you’re considering applying to a doctoral program. That’s good because it means you can handle advanced coursework. A doctoral degree represents a more significant time commitment than a master’s degree. It is possible to complete some EdD programs in as little as two years—assuming you can put your career on hold and study full-time in an on-campus program.

Most students can’t. Generally, Doctor of Education students work full-time in teaching or administrative positions for the duration of their studies. That means you may be taking classes, doing research, and writing your thesis over a period of anywhere from four to seven years. Note: EdD programs can usually be completed in less time than PhD programs because professional doctoral students are typically not asked to perform original research.

Whether you choose a full-time or part-time program, or study on- or off-campus will depend on your circumstances. If you’ll be working while studying, online EdD degree or hybrid doctorate programs are worth considering. They are flexible enough to complete while managing professional and personal responsibilities.

Is a doctorate in education worth it?

That depends on your career goals. There’s not much point in pursuing a doctorate of education if your long-term goals involve landing a professorship or continuing to teach at the K-12 schools- elementary, middle-school, or high-school level. In that case, a PhD in education or a PhD in the subject you’re most passionate about is a much better fit.

If, on the other hand, you want to solve the problems you see in the educational system, change how students are taught and what they learn, or jump into a leadership position in your school system, the EdD is a great terminal degree option.

Having a doctoral program-level degree on your CV is always an asset. Be aware that some in academia regard the EdD as a “lesser degree.” This only matters, however, if you aspire to a career in higher education. In administration and education policy analysis, a doctorate in education can be extremely valuable; it provides the qualifications you need to step into the highest-paying senior educational leadership positions.

Finally, this may be the perfect time to pursue an advanced degree in educational leadership. The job outlook for principals and university-level administrators is good, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

More importantly, there will always be students in the US (including adult learners and people in programs outside of the public school system). These students depend on leaders to keep education systems running smoothly and curricula up-to-date—and ensure that policies are fair for all. In the classroom, you can improve the educational experiences of dozens of students each year. In the kinds of executive roles that a doctorate in education can lead to, you’ll have the power to enhance the education of thousands.

(This article was updated on December 8, 2021.)

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Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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