So, you want to be called 'doctor,' but you don't want to practice medicine. In fact, education is what really inspires you. Perhaps you've already started to build a career in education as a teacher or a school administrator. Or perhaps you haven't gotten that far yet; you're still figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life.
If you've already earned your master's degree but feel you aren't done learning yet, a doctoral degree is the next—and final, or terminal—degree that awaits you. If you haven't earned your master's yet, don't worry: there are plenty of programs that offer a track conferring both the master's degree and the doctorate.
So, what is a doctorate degree in education? We'll answer that question and many others in this article, including:
A doctorate in education is an advanced degree. In fact, it is the most advanced degree you can earn in the field, which is why it's called a terminal degree.
Academic degrees are hierarchically ranked as follows:
It is a bit misleading to discuss a doctorate degree in education, as it implies that there is just one type of education doctorate. There are, in fact, two principal doctoral tracks for educators: the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.).
The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) is an academic degree, and typically those who pursue it continue on to careers as professors and/or researchers. The Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is a professional degree for educational leaders, and those who pursue it usually do so to advance in the fields of academic administration, curriculum development, or policy implementation.
The focus of Ph.D. programs if forward-thinking: they study and question the validity of current practice, explore potential future trends in education and probe the theoretical underpinnings of education and learning.
The focus of Ed.D. programs is more practical. They examine current problems and consider various approaches to solving them, and they study in-depth the power structures that sustain modern education and how to operate within them. These generalizations are not absolute, obviously, and there is considerable overlap between the two degrees. Still, the Ph.D. remains the degree of choice for academics, the Ed.D. for education professionals.
Most Ph.D. candidates attend their programs on-campus as full-time students. Ed.D. students—who are often mid-career professionals—more often complete the program part-time while continuing to work full-time. Ed.D. programs are frequently scheduled to accommodate the needs of their busy students.
Admissions requirements to doctoral programs in education vary from one school to another, although most expect at least the following:
Some schools require GRE scores; others are test-optional or don't consider standardized test results at all. Most Ed.D. programs require a specified number of years of professional experience as a prerequisite to admission.
Combined master's/doctoral programs are likely to require either a bachelor's degree in education or completion of specified courses typically completed by education undergraduates. Most programs offer non-credit versions of these courses to students admitted conditionally, pending successful completion of the courses.
Doctoral-only programs likely require a master's in either education or teaching.
Again, this varies from school to school. Typically, you will complete an application form and submit all required additional materials (transcripts, letters of recommendation, etc.). Some schools may require an interview, either in-person or online.
You should think about visiting schools that you are seriously considering. Simply showing up in person demonstrates your serious interest in the program, and that can make a difference in a school's admissions decision. At nearly all schools, doctoral admissions decisions are made by faculty, not by the school's admissions office. Meeting with faculty and, hopefully, impressing them may be the best way to distinguish yourself among the applicant pool.
The people who are most likely to pursue a Ph.D. in education are those who seek careers as:
The Ed.D. serves a broader group of professionals, including:
Research is the core experience of most doctoral programs; most programs, Ph.D. and Ed.D. alike, culminate in a dissertation (although some Ed.D. programs are starting to offer no-dissertation doctorates, with a capstone project replacing the dissertation).
Education doctoral programs typically commence with a core curriculum covering:
You will probably also have the opportunity to take courses in an area of specialization. These areas may include:
The bulk of your effort will be devoted to your dissertation (or capstone project). Under the supervision of a faculty advisor, you will select a research topic and write a dissertation on it. This is no end-of-term college paper; dissertations are typically hundreds of pages long and can require years of research to complete. They have catchy titles like "Teacher Efficacy for Behavior Management: An Examination of the Construct and its Predictors" and "An Action Research Study Exploring the Implementation of Discussion Pedagogy in Support of Student Autonomy in Advanced Placement Courses." When you complete your dissertation, you will defend it before a faculty panel, a process that typically takes two grueling hours.
A doctorate in education can take three or more years to complete. A full-time Ed.D. typically takes three to five years to complete; many full-time Ph.D. programs label themselves six-year degree programs.
Some schools set limits on the amount of time students can take to complete a doctoral degree. That limit is often within the seven-to-ten year range. However, it is not uncommon for schools to waive the limit, particularly for students with extenuating circumstances (e.g., financial or family situations that impeded their progress).
Educators pursue an Ed.D. to improve their chances at leadership roles. The jobs they most frequently pursue include:
Educations who earn a Ph.D. tend to stay in academia. Those who ascend to tenured positions typically earn very generous salaries; below that, it's hit-and-miss. Adjunct professors are notoriously underpaid and overworked, and many schools are shifting more of their workload to them (because they are relatively cheap). Outside of a full professorship, perhaps the most lucrative career path for an education Ph.D. lies in work as a curriculum or instructional consultant to a school system or private education company.
You can get an education doctorate online, and in the case of the Ed.D.—a professional degree typically undertaken by students currently working a full-time job—it may make a great deal of sense to do so. Online study is convenient and flexible, two appealing attributes for students already committed to work and, perhaps, family and community as well.
The following schools are among those offering the Ed.D. online:
Online Ph.D. programs are rarer and harder to justify. Because the Ph.D. leads to a career in academics, there are critical benefits to attending a Ph.D. program in person. Primarily, you will be able to network, both with peers in the program and faculty. These are connections you will need to build your postdoctoral career.
Schools offering a Ph.D. in education online include:
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