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Doctorate Degrees in Education

With a doctorate in education, you can make an impact on education through leadership, curriculum design, research, and post-secondary teaching positions. The knowledge you gain in a doctoral program will prepare you to address challenges in education—challenges of both today and tomorrow.

On this page you’ll learn about the advantages of getting a doctorate, the types of doctorate degrees, and what a doctorate program entails.

Why Get a Doctorate in Education?

There are many benefits to advancing your career by earning a doctorate in education. Just a few of these benefits include:

  • You can advance to the top of your field: A doctoral degree is the most advanced degree available for educators. It conveys prestige and earns respect.
  • Your salary may increase: According to Payscale.com, educators with a doctorate can earn close to 40% more than those with a master’s degree.
  • You will gain a greater perspective about education topics: Doctoral programs teach advanced concepts in educational theory and practice.
  • You can have a direct impact on education policy and reform: You will contribute to the field by creating research and policy that provide insight into best practices; you will help facilitate change.
  • You can help create innovative education solutions using new technologies: Doctorate in education programs focus on new technologies in education. You’ll be on the cutting edge of technology and finding ways to integrate it in schools.

Types of Doctoral Degrees

There are two types of doctorate in education degrees. The one you choose depends on your career goals.

A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) focuses on the practical applications of educational research. This degree is appropriate for individuals who wish to work in positions of leadership or policy-making.

A Doctor of Philosophy in Education (Ph.D.) is theory-based and stresses research that can expand the existing body of knowledge in the field. This degree is appropriate for individuals who seek careers as university professors, teacher educators, or researchers.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate?

A doctoral degree can open many opportunities in the education field. Because Ed.D. programs are more focused on practice and policy, and Ph.D. programs are more focused on research, there are some distinctions in career options.

The following provides insight into the types of career paths for each degree program.

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)
  • School principal
  • Education administrator
  • Instructional coordinator
  • Corporate training and development manager
  • District superintendent
  • Adult education specialist
  • Director of online learning programs for the design of curriculum and programs
  • Education counseling and academic advisor for students, faculty, or school systems
Doctor of Philosophy in Education (Ph.D.)
  • Researcher
  • Post-secondary instructor
  • Professor of special education
  • Research and education program director
  • Education policy director
  • School administrator or superintendent
  • Corporate training and development manager
  • Executive director of educational nonprofit
  • College president

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)

A Doctor of Education can lead to high-level leadership positions in education. The degree is designed to prepare you for both leadership and scholarship around teaching, policy, and professional practice. Ed.D. graduates gain the knowledge and advanced research skills required to make a positive impact on the quality of educational programs.

As a scholar and educational leader with a doctorate, you have an array of opportunities to assist in the organization and management of complex systems in educational settings. Ed.D. programs also offer opportunities for specialization in areas such as health and psychology, mental health and hospital facilities, system reform, and management of educational curriculum.

Some career options include:

  • School principal: Oversees day-to-day management at their school, including supervision of staff, school policy implementation, communications, and curriculum development and implementation.
  • Instructional coordinator: Inspects a school’s curriculum and teaching standards by working with teachers and principals to implement curricula and analyze its effectiveness.
  • District superintendent: Serves as the top-ranking executive within a school district by working with the education board to develop and execute strategy.
  • Corporate training and development manager: Works with private companies to develop and implement employee development curriculum in alignment with business.

Ph.D. in Education

If you’re interested in helping advance scholarship in education through research, a Ph.D. in education track is the best option for you. Ph.D. programs require similar coursework as Ed.D. programs; however, because Ph.D. programs are geared toward research, there may be more required coursework about research methods.

A Ph.D. degree usually leads to teaching and/or research positions in colleges or universities. Tenure track faculty positions are open to graduates with a Ph.D., but many of the positions open to Ed.D. graduates are an option with a Ph.D. as well.

Salary and Job Growth for Educators with a Doctorate Degree

Doctorate salaries vary by position. Below is a list of careers with salary and career growth information:

CareerSalaryProjected Career Growth
School principal (elementary, middle school, high school)$95,310+8% (average growth)
Education administrator, elementary and secondary$95,390+5% to 9% (average growth)
Education administrator, postsecondary$94,340+10% to 14% (faster than average growth)
Instructional coordinator$64,450+11% (faster than average growth)
Corporate training and development manager$111,340+10% (faster than average growth)
Postsecondary instructor/professor$78,470+15% (much faster than average growth)

Doctorate in Education Programs

Although Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs have different focuses, the root of the curricula and what you’ll learn are similar. Most programs have the following essential elements:

  • Education policy
  • Curriculum theory
  • Research methods
  • Organizational leadership and change
  • Instructional technology

There are also opportunities for specialization with each type of program—especially Ed.D. programs. For example, you might focus on special education or instructional technology.

Here’s what to look for when researching doctorate in education programs.

Entrance Requirements for Education Doctoral Degrees

Most doctorate in education programs have similar acceptance and graduation requirements, regardless of the type of degree or specialty.

Although some programs require you to have a master’s degree in education or its equivalent before enrolling in a doctorate program, it’s also possible to go straight from a bachelor’s degree into an Ed.D. or Ph.D. program at some schools.

The majority of programs also require:

  • Qualifying scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
  • A minimum G.P.A. of about 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Professional writing samples, such as a master’s thesis
  • For non-native English speakers, a passing score on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam

Graduation Requirements

Program structure and coursework vary depending on the institution and your chosen specialty. However, most doctoral programs require 60 or more units of study.

Full-time doctorate students can typically complete their graduate degree in three years if they already have a master’s degree. Without a master’s degree, it will likely take more than four years to complete a doctorate.

Graduation usually requires passing all required and elective courses and completing a dissertation. Once the dissertation is completed, the doctoral candidate must defend their research in an oral examination in front of a panel of academic advisors.

Ph.D. programs also may require the following:

  • Research project: These are multi-stage projects required after you’ve completed your coursework. They require an initial proposal, data collection, a synthesis through a comprehensive thesis, and a defense in front of a panel of faculty. An advisor with similar research interests will serve as guidance.
  • Comprehensive exam: Many Ph.D. programs require a written and oral comprehensive exam, usually administered upon coursework completion.
  • Academic publication: Because tenure track faculty are required to create and publish their research regularly, many Ph.D. programs include publication as a requirement for graduation. The published work can come from the coursework and research acquired throughout the program.


As mentioned previously, there are core areas of study that you will find in both Ed.D. programs and Ph.D. programs. However, there are also distinctions. 

Ed.D. Curriculum

Your program may consist of rigorous training that provides graduates with high-level teaching skills and knowledge. In addition to general classes that provide perspectives for solving complex educational problems, you may take specialty courses that align with your area of interest.

The following types of courses may be included in an Ed.D. program of study:

  • Educational leadership: An introduction to defining objectives for the current trends and issues that impact education today in your area of concentration. The focus is on defining purposes of education and providing problem-solving strategies. Students also discuss philosophy, self-assessment of their values and their goals, commitments, and values.
  • Advanced leadership in educational systems: An overview of the concepts and requirements needed to successfully manage and develop education programs for systems, populations, or communities.
  • Advanced research and learning theories: A discussion of learning theory as it relates to organization, school systems, or governmental agencies
  • Curriculum and instructional reform: Includes the design of educational materials that consider theories of cognition, learning, assessment, and professional development for school systems that include diverse populations and multicultural influences

Individuals pursuing an Ed.D. may choose from any number of specializations including:

Ph.D. Curriculum

Ph.D. programs focus heavily on research. Their coursework provides a foundation in educational theories and methodologies that will help students with their dissertation research. Some courses found in a Ph.D. program in addition to those listed in the Ed.D. curriculum include:

  • Advanced statistics and quantitative research methods courses: Provide students with the skills to understand and critique statistical analysis, collect and synthesize data, and present data clearly and effectively.
  • Advanced qualitative research methods courses: Allow students to practice and understand qualitative methodologies. Some programs require either a specific general qualitative research methods course or the option to take a course on one of the five types of qualitative research: ethnography, grounded theory, case study, phenomenology, and narrative.
  • Education policy evaluation and implementation courses: Provide students with foundations in theories and the history of education policy to give them the tools to help advance and reform current policy.

Online Doctoral Education Programs

Most schools that offer Ed.D. or Ph.D. programs online have a curriculum that follows a traditional format but is accessible through distance learning.

The chief benefit of online doctoral degrees is the convenience they afford. Some programs require short residencies in addition to the online work, while others offer degrees that can be completed entirely offsite. In either case, you’ll have more freedom to learn at your preferred pace and around your schedule while pursuing an online education doctorate.

Before pursuing an online degree, it’s important to consider your learning style. If you’re a self-starter who thrives on your own, then an online education degree might be right for you. However, if the in-class discussion is important to your learning, a more traditional doctorate program might be a better fit.

Make sure to thoroughly research any online doctorate program you’re considering. Online programs haven’t been around as long as most brick-and-mortar universities, and many are still establishing their reputations. The program you select should be accredited. Check with people you trust, such as administrators in your district, and ask if they think the programs you’re considering will help you reach your professional goals. If you eventually want to be a superintendent or school principal, check around online to see if the programs you’re considering have alumni in those roles. If a program hasn’t launched people on career paths that you hope to one day follow, then it might not be right for you.

Paying for Your Ed.D. or Ph.D. in Education

Students who wish to pursue a doctorate in education must be committed to a lengthy and costly course of study, even if they plan to earn their degree online. According to U.S. News & World Report rankings in 2017, most doctoral programs in the nation cost around $50,000. This figure is much higher than it used to be, as evidenced when compared to the U.S. Department of Education’s education statistic information from 2012, which researched and projected doctoral programs to cost around $36,000.

The good news is there are plenty of scholarship, grant, and loan options available to you. Here is a brief list of some of your options:

  • Many schools take care of all or part of your tuition in exchange for your research or teaching assistance.
  • You can obtain federal loans through FAFSA.
  • In the education space there is an abundance of private scholarships offered by individuals, professional organizations, and other institutions. One such example is the ISI Henry Salvatori Fellowship, which awards $10,000 to graduate students aiming to teach at the college level.
  • Some schools offer scholarships, such as the TEDS Ph.D. Program Scholarship, which selects three theological, education, or intercultural studies Ph.D. students per year to award $23,000 each for their studies.

Make sure to do your own research as well, as there are plenty of scholarships and grant options out there.

New Challenges for Doctor of Education Graduates

The field of education cannot be static. It needs to change with advances in our understanding of teaching, learning, technology, and other areas.

You can keep up on such issues by consulting the resources below. In addition, the International Journal for Cross-Disciplinary Subjects in Education provides an article about current issues, new trends, and new challenges for educators, such as dealing with diversity.    

Useful Resources

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