Education Administration

Should You Get an Online Doctorate in Education?

Should You Get an Online Doctorate in Education?
Most people who choose to earn an online doctorate of education do so precisely because they have lives and obligations outside the classroom. Image from Unsplash
Christa Terry profile
Christa Terry December 11, 2019

Leaders in K-12 schools, districts, universities, and other educational organizations have the unique privilege of shaping how students learn and how teachers teach. They also have doctorates. Want to join their ranks? An online Doctor of Education program may be your best bet.

Related Programs You Should Consider

Article continues here

The Doctor of Education (EdD) is a practice-focused (i.e., professional) degree designed for aspiring education leaders and administrators. While researchers and academics typically opt for education PhDs, teachers and administrators who aspire to higher-paying, higher-impact positions usually choose to pursue an EdD. Graduates from Doctor of Education degree programs have the knowledge, skills, and, perhaps most importantly, the credentials to advance in education outside the classroom.

There are plenty of EdD programs out there to choose from, including hybrid online/on-campus programs and programs that can be completed entirely online. These are often just as rigorous as traditional on-campus programs. The benefits of earning an EdD are the same, no matter what format you choose.

In this article about whether you should get your Doctor of Education degree online, we’ll cover:

  • Why get a Doctor of Education degree online?
  • Careers you can pursue with an online doctorate in education
  • Factors to consider when enrolling in an online Doctor of Education program
  • Best online Doctor of Education degree programs
  • What do the best online Doctor of Education degree programs have in common?
  • How long does it take to earn a doctorate of education online?
  • What is the average cost of earning a doctoral degree in education online?
  • What are the most affordable online Doctor of Education degree programs?
  • What should you know about pursuing a doctoral degree online?

Why get a Doctor of Education degree online?

The most compelling reason to pursue an EdD online is convenience. On-campus doctoral programs may or may not accommodate the needs of working professionals who want to advance their careers but cannot take time off to pursue a degree. Online programs, in contrast, are typically designed to allow students to work when they need to and study when they can. Some may have semi-regular or weekly live sessions, but even in these programs, the majority of your work is completed asynchronously (i.e., on your own time).

Another reason someone might choose an online EdD program is that they can enroll in a faraway school without having to pick up and move. Nor do you have to worry about traffic and parking, as you would in an on-campus program. Local students are discovering the significant savings in time and money that online study provides, and some are opting to enroll online even when an on-campus program is a practical option.



University and Program Name Learn More

Careers you can pursue with an online doctorate in education

Students in online Doctor of Education degree programs work in public education and higher education, and for private firms and nonprofit organizations concerned with education. They want to sharpen their leadership, management, and communication skills to prepare to step into roles like:

Online doctorate in education versus an online PhD in education

There are actually three terminal degrees for professionals in the education sphere: the Doctor of Education, the PhD in Education, and the Education Specialist (EdS) degree. All three can be pursued online, and there can be a significant overlap in the coursework for each. However, the PhD is an academic degree with a focus on original research, while EdD and EdS degree programs are practical degrees more suited to aspiring principals, superintendents, and other administrators.

It’s harder to nail down the differences between EdD and EdS degree programs—mainly because they can be so similar. Some EdS programs are barely distinguishable from EdD programs. Things get even more confusing when you realize that some EdD programs are nearly indistinguishable from PhD programs. It really depends on the school and how it chooses to approach each degree. The best thing to do is to read program descriptions carefully before applying to any colleges or universities.

Factors to consider when enrolling in an online Doctor of Education program

Every online EdD program is different. Don’t make the assumption that you’ll never have to show your face on campus because you’re a distance learner; many online Doctor of Education programs have on-campus residency requirements. Some require students to spend one weekend on campus each year, while others mandate residencies that last weeks. If spending time on campus is absolutely out of the question for you, limit your search to programs that are 100 percent online. Fortunately, there are some good ones available.

Similarly, don’t assume that you won’t have to be “in class” at certain times if you’re enrolled in an online program. Not all online EdD programs are entirely asynchronous. Some require students to log into live classes at specific times (often in the evening or on weekends) and to participate in live virtual discussions via video or text chat.

It’s common for Doctor of Education programs to require applicants to hold a master’s degree in a related field or to have significant work experience. Still, it is possible to find online EdD programs that either accept applicants without advanced degrees or applicants without a professional background in education. You probably won’t find one that will admit applicants fresh out of a bachelor’s degree program.

Every Doctor of Education program has different coursework. There can be significant variability among programs offered by different schools. The classes in online doctorates are usually very similar to (or even identical to) the courses offered in on-campus programs, though distance learners at some colleges and universities will take different courses than their on-campus counterparts. At some schools, the selection of courses available to online students is more limited.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that different means easier, however. Most online programs are identical in content and standards to their on-campus equivalents. Online study can actually be a little more challenging, in that online study requires a higher degree of self-motivation.

Best online Doctor of Education degree programs

It’s tough to rank Doctor of Education degree programs objectively because what’s best for one student may not be best for another. To find the best online Doctor of Education degree program for you, look at your circumstances, your resources, and your professional goals. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable taking out a lot of loans, in which case the best online doctorate in education is probably the most affordable one (more on that below). If you have particular career aspirations, the best school is the one that offers an EdD concentration related to your goals. Or maybe you need a lot of flexibility, in which case you should look at schools that offer 100 percent asynchronous online doctoral programs.

Finding a program that’s a great fit requires introspection and carefully studying each program’s admission requirements and program requirements. To get started, have a look at the following programs:

What do the best online Doctor of Education degree programs have in common?

All online EdD programs prepare students to step into educational leadership roles. The best ones are found at colleges and universities that have earned accreditation from one of the many regional or discipline-specific accrediting agencies. You can quickly find out whether a program you’re interested in is accredited (and by which agency) by searching the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s accreditation database.

Great online Doctor of Education programs also have plenty of highly focused concentration options to choose from. Educational leadership is a diverse discipline, and while generalist programs exist, you will get more out of your doctoral studies if you specialize. Some online EdD concentrations you might want to consider are:

  • Counselor education and supervision
  • Diversity and equity in education
  • Entrepreneurial leadership in education
  • Global studies in education
  • Higher education administration
  • Human resource development in education
  • Instructional design in online teaching and learning
  • Instructional leadership
  • Leadership in K-12 education
  • Mind, brain, and teaching
  • Organizational leadership studies
  • Professional leadership, inquiry, and transformation
  • Special education leadership
  • Urban leadership

The best online doctoral degree programs in education utilize the most up-to-date technology to facilitate communication between instructors and students. It is a lot easier to complete your coursework at a school with an intuitive learning management system, easy-to-access course content, mobile-friendly interfaces, and real-time tech support. You won’t encounter any roadblocks when it comes to communicating with professors or submitting assignments in the best programs, and you’ll get the same level of attention from your instructors as you would if you were studying on campus.

One thing great online EdD programs don’t necessarily have in common is a dissertation requirement. Schools with research-oriented programs may require Doctor of Education students to write a dissertation. Others, however, culminate in a field-based capstone project.

How long does it take to earn a doctorate of education online?

Online doctorate in education programs typically require students to complete between 50 and 64 credits. Full-time students can technically finish in three years (two years of study followed by one year of research plus a dissertation or capstone project), but every student’s journey is different. It may take you five years or more if you study part-time or you enroll in a Doctor of Education program that doesn’t have a master’s degree prerequisite. Keep in mind that many schools have a maximum time to completion. If you hit this limit before you’ve finished your final project, you may no longer be eligible to graduate.

What is the average cost of earning a doctoral degree in education online?

According to data published by US News & World Report, earning an online education doctorate typically costs anywhere from $375 to $1,230 per credit. The total cost of an online EdD program can range from $20,000 to $79,000 in total tuition. How much you pay to get your Doctor of Education degree will depend on whether your college or university offers a lower rate for in-state tuition (some do this for distance learners and some don’t), whether you are required to pay technology fees, whether you take extra courses or study year-round, and whether your employer is willing to shoulder some or all of the cost of your degree.

The good news is that you will be eligible for financial aid, loans, grants, and scholarships as long as you choose an accredited online EdD program. The bad news is that you probably won’t be able to pay for some or all of your tuition by working for your university as a teaching assistant or research assistant, as you might be able to if you were attending an on-campus program.

What are the most affordable online Doctor of Education degree programs?

Some of the most affordable online Doctor of Education degree programs can be found at:

What should you know about pursuing a doctoral degree online?

Earning any professional doctorate, whether you study online or on-campus, takes time, grit, resilience, and perseverance. When you study online, however, you have to be extremely self-driven if you don’t want to end up one of the 40+ percent of doctoral candidates who don’t graduate. You won’t have to look your professors and advisors in the eye if you fail to meet benchmarks, and that can make it easier to neglect coursework or fall behind on your thesis. In other words, if you aren’t motivated by your career aspirations or your passion for educational reform, you may not make it to the end of your doctoral program.

On the other hand, most people who choose to earn an online doctorate of education do so precisely because they have lives and obligations outside the classroom. Online doctoral programs are typically structured to accommodate students who need to step back from their studies now and then for personal or professional reasons. Don’t be afraid to seek out online EdD programs that offer the flexibility you need to keep working or care for your family. It may take you longer to earn your degree, but once you have it, you’ll have the skills and qualifications you need to enhance educational systems and improve the way students are taught.

How useful is this page?

Click on a star to rate it!

Since you found this page useful...mind sharing it?

We are sorry this page was not useful for you!

Please help us improve it

How can this content be more valuable?

Questions or feedback? Email

About the Editor

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.

To learn more about our editorial standards, you can click here.


Related Programs You Should Consider


You May Also Like To Read

Categorized as: Education AdministrationTeachingEducation & Teaching