Education Administration

What Is a Doctorate Degree in Education?

What Is a Doctorate Degree in Education?
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. Image from Unsplash
Tom Meltzer profile
Tom Meltzer February 18, 2020

The field of education offers two doctoral tracks: the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), which prepares education professionals in administration, curriculum, and policy; and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), which produces academics and researchers.

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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:

  • What is a doctorate degree in education?
  • What is the difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D.?
  • What are the entry requirements for a doctorate in education?
  • What will you learn from your doctorate in education?
  • What can you do with a doctorate degree in education?
  • Can you get an education doctorate online?

What is a doctorate degree in education?

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.).

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The salary medians for professionals with a master's or doctorate in Education Administration range from $75,000 to $320,000 depending on the location, degree, and qualified job position. (source)

A Doctor of Education (EdD) or PhD can advance a career even further than a master’s—meaning more responsibility and better pay.

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What is the difference between a Ph.D. and an 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.

What are the entry requirements for a doctorate in education?

Admissions requirements to doctoral programs in education vary from one school to another, although most expect at least the following:

  • An undergraduate transcript
  • A resume or curriculum vitae
  • Letters of recommendation (including peer recommendations and professional endorsements for the Ed.D.)
  • Writing samples, perhaps including a statement of purpose

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.

What is the application process for a doctorate in education?

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.

Who might consider a doctorate degree in education?

The people who are most likely to pursue a Ph.D. in education are those who seek careers as:

  • Education professors
  • Education researchers
  • Leaders in education policy development
  • Leaders in instructional design development

The Ed.D. serves a broader group of professionals, including:

  • Principals and other school administrators
  • Superintendents and other district officials
  • Curriculum and instruction developers
  • Chief learning officers

What will you learn from your doctorate in education?

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:

  • Education leadership and organization
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Learning and pedagogic theory
  • Multicultural education
  • Educational research practices
  • Quantitative methods in research

You will probably also have the opportunity to take courses in an area of specialization. These areas may include:

  • Bilingual education
  • Curriculum and instruction
  • Early childhood education
  • Educational administration
  • Educational technology
  • Entrepreneurship in education
  • Instructional design
  • Learning and pedagogic theory
  • Special education
  • Urban issues in education

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.

How long do doctorate in education programs take to complete?

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).

What can you do with a doctorate degree in education?

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.

Can you get an education doctorate online?

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:

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Author

Tom Meltzer began his career in education publishing at The Princeton Review, where he authored more than a dozen titles (including the company's annual best colleges guide and two AP test prep manuals) and produced the musical podcast The Princeton Review Vocab Minute. A graduate of Columbia University (English major), Tom lives in Chapel Hill, NC.

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.


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