Doctor of Education Degree Programs
A Doctor of Education (EdD or, less commonly, DEd) is a professional degree designed to equip graduates with the skills and scholarly knowledge needed for leadership roles in education. In addition to the EdD, another common education degree available at the doctorate level is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). While there are distinct differences between the two programs, the lines between them may be blurred at some schools. The primary difference between EdD and PhD programs is that EdDs are typically more practice-based, while PhD programs are typically more research-based. Generally, graduates of EdD programs tend to go into educational leadership and administrative roles while graduates of PhD programs tend to pursue research and teaching roles, often at colleges and universities.
Table of Contents
- Reasons to Pursue an EdD Degree
- Majors and Areas of Study
- Program Options
- Admission Requirements
- Core Concepts
- Top-Rated Programs
- Select Program Profiles
- Employment Opportunities
- Frequently Asked Questions
Reasons to Pursue a Doctor of Education Degree
There are various reasons to get an EdD degree. Among them are:
1. To develop your skills. A doctorate in education degree program can help an individual develop their research, critical thinking, and leadership skills and learn how to apply that advanced knowledge to the education field. Those already in leadership positions will learn current best practices that can make them more effective in their jobs.
2. To become a leader in education administration. A Doctor of Education can increase opportunities for positions in school leadership, non-profits, government agencies, healthcare, and more. The possession of an EdD may make candidates more equipped to enter into careers including superintendent, principal, and higher education administrative positions such as dean and chief academic officer.
3. To solve problems in the education system. Doctorate in education programs also prepare individuals to solve challenges in today’s education system, from how to best assess student progress to how to incorporate technology in education. Some EdD graduates go into research, nonprofit, and education policy work, in which they can use their expertise to effect change on a larger scale.
Doctor of Education Majors and Areas of Study
Graduates with a Doctor of Education degree typically go into administrative and leadership roles in education as opposed to teaching roles. The area of specialization (also known as concentration, specialty, or emphasis) of the EdD degree usually closely aligns with the related career path. For example, an EdD in Educational Technology will typically lead to jobs like educational technology specialist and an EdD in School Administration will typically lead to school administrator roles like dean, college president, principal, vice principal, superintendent, and assistant superintendent. Sometimes further specializations are available within each of these areas. An EdD in Curriculum and Instruction, for example, may offer specializations such as Early Childhood Education, Elementary Education, Secondary Education, Art Education, Science Education, Foreign Language Education, and more. Graduates can also find positions in the corporate and non-profit sides of the education sector. Some common areas of specialization for Doctor of Education degrees include:
- Adult Education; Adult and Community Education; Adult Learning and Development
- Counselor Education; Counseling or Educational/School Psychology
- Curriculum and Instruction; Curriculum Studies
- Educational Technology
- Educational/School Leadership and Administration
- Higher Education Administration
- Instructional Design and Technology
- Reading Education; Reading and Literacy
- Special Education
- Urban Education Policy or Leadership
Doctor of Education Degree Program Options
When choosing a school for your doctorate in education degree program, it is important to compare schools that offer a specialization in your specific area of interest. For example, if your goal is to be a curriculum specialist, you should look for schools that offer EdDs in curriculum and instruction.
Program format is also an important consideration to factor in when choosing a school for your EdD. Of course traditional, on-campus doctoral programs in education are offered, but so are online and hybrid programs. As you are comparing programs for your EdD, you should select a program with a format that fits your schedule and availability as well as your preferred learning style. As doctorate in education degrees typically take at least three years of study to complete, choosing the right school from the beginning is important, as transferring credits to another school is often limited at the doctoral level.
Online Degree Program Formats
Since the majority of those seeking admission to a doctoral program in education are already certified as teachers or administrators, an online doctorate may only require limited in-person attendance. Many programs allow students to complete the majority of coursework online and may only require students to come to campus for summer seminars or for orientation. Other programs may take more of a hybrid or blended format and require attendance for select weekend or evening meetings to encourage peer engagement and student-faculty partnerships.
In addition, most doctorate in education programs require field experience, sometimes called capstone experience, or an applied dissertation that will need to be completed in person. As most EdD students are employed full time (sometimes even by the program), they may be able to complete their field experience in the educational setting in which they work. As in-person and research requirements vary by institution and program, be sure to understand each program’s expectations and consider your availability and commitment to doctoral study before seeking admission to an online EdD program.
Specific requirements for admission may vary and can include a master’s degree, letters of recommendation, an entrance essay, qualifying scores on the GRE or GMAT exams, qualifying degree GPA, and an in-person interview. Candidates must demonstrate a high level of academic and professional performance as EdD programs tend to be highly selective. An organized, self-disciplined mindset, as well as a strong aptitude for converting theory into practical applications, is invaluable to an individual aiming towards a doctoral degree in education. Online programs typically follow a competitive admissions process that is similar to their on-campus counterparts.
Many EdD programs require a master’s degree to be admitted, but others require only a bachelor’s degree. Since they are practice-based, nearly all Doctor of Education programs also require teacher or administrator certification and several years of experience in the field. Some programs require students to remain employed full-time throughout the program.
Core Concepts for a Doctor of Education Degree
Core concepts and coursework for doctorate of education degrees depends largely upon the field of specialization. Broadly, though, doctoral degrees in education cover coursework in research and instruction methods as well as practical solutions of complex problems in a focus area of education for real-world application. Doctor of Education programs also typically include a field experience component for students to practice what they have learned. Since most students in EdD programs are already working, field experience can usually be completed within the student’s school district. Doctorate programs culminate with the candidate selecting a final thesis or dissertation project that includes conducting a research study. Examples of courses in a Doctor of Education degree program include:
- Advanced Qualitative Research Methods
- Altering the Structure and Culture of Schooling
- Case-Study Research in Education Policy and Practice
- Comparative Higher Education
- Curriculum Theory
- Directed Field Experience/Practicum
- Dissertation Research
- Education Policy and Politics
- Foundations of Organizations and Leadership
- Learning Theory and the Educational Process
- Organizational Theory & Higher Education
- Principles of Educational Administration
- Statistics for Educational Research
- Theoretical Perspectives in Education
Top-Rated Doctor of Education Degree Programs
Each year, US News & World Report ranks the top education schools with graduate-level programs. The following schools from their 2024 list offer Doctor of Education programs.1
- Teachers College, Columbia University (#1 tie; on campus)
- University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#1 tie; on campus)
- University of Pennsylvania (#3 tie; on campus)
- Vanderbilt University (#6; on campus or online)
- University of California-Los Angeles (#7 tie; on campus)
- Harvard University (#9 tie; on campus)
- New York University (#9 tie; on campus)
- University of Washington (#11; on campus)
- Johns Hopkins University (#13; on campus)
- University of California, Berkeley (#14 tie; on campus)
- University of Oregon (#14 tie; online)
Select Doctor of Education Programs
Central Michigan University (CMU) offers a unique Doctor of Educational Technology (DET) program that is based on 12 online courses and a practical dissertation. The curriculum for the DET is developed with the goal of preparing graduates for leadership in K-12 and higher education settings, as well as in corporate and private institutions. Students take two courses per semester (fall, spring, and summer) for the first two years before taking comprehensive examinations and beginning work on the dissertation. For admissions consideration, students must have a master’s degree and a GPA of at least 3.5, with at least three years of professional experience. Courses in the DET program include Educational Technology Research; Differentiated Instruction in Online Learning; and Higher Order Learning and New Literacies. CMU also offers an online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Educational Leadership, with emphases in K-12 or Higher Education, designed to prepare graduates for leadership roles emphasizing the application of educational theory. The program uses a cohort model, so students in the EdD program move through the program with the same students they start with. EdD students who have earned an accredited Specialist in Education (EdS) degree in Educational Leadership may be able to apply up to 27 credits to the EdD degree.
Loyola University Chicago offers an EdD in Administration & Supervision with Principal Endorsement or Superintendent Endorsement in Lake County that is designed to prepare graduates for school- and district-level leadership roles. The EdD programs focus on curriculum, program, and budget decisions with a special awareness of individual and social justice. The principal program requires applicants to be practicing teachers or administrators with at least two years of experience while the superintendent program requires applicants to have two years of supervisory or administrative experience and a Type 75 General Administrative or Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Principal Endorsement. Both programs comprise a total of 72 credit hours, with 24 credit hours transferable from a master’s program. Courses are offered during afternoon, evening, and weekend hours in order to accommodate students who are working full-time. An optional study abroad in Rome is offered as part of the curriculum, which also includes courses in school law, supervision, and educational research. Loyola University Chicago also offers an EdD in Curriculum and Instruction and an EdD in School Psychology.
At the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education (GSE), you can get a Doctor of Education (EdD) in Higher Education, which prepares graduates to be prospective research-practitioners and leaders in higher education institutions. The program teaches students to solve contemporary problems in educational practice using applied research to ultimately make a difference in students’ lives. Comprising 20 course units, the curriculum includes courses like Higher Education Finance; Proseminar in Research & Analysis; one course in Quantitative Methods and one in Methods; as well as 16 course units of electives. The program culminates with a final defense of the dissertation. The program is in a part-time format spanning around four years, and typically, students take one to two courses in the fall, spring, and summer terms. Those students looking for a program with a more executive format may be interested in Penn GSE’s two-year Executive Doctorate in Higher Education Management EdD. The University of Pennsylvania also offers EdD programs in Educational Leadership; Educational Linguistics, Penn Chief Learning Officer; Reading/Writing/Literacy; and Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education.
The Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia features a Doctor of Education (EdD) with options for academic emphasis in Administration & Supervision; Curriculum & Instruction; or Higher Education. To seek admission students must hold a master’s degree and have relevant professional experience, as well as a satisfactory educational background. Admitted students work one-on-one with a faculty advisor as they develop a personalized curriculum and work towards completing their academic capstone. A minimum of 72 credit hours is required to earn the EdD. All degree requirements must be met within seven years of admission to the program and within four years after passing the comprehensive examination. Additionally, students must remain continuously enrolled during the fall and spring semesters during all parts of the degree program. In order to provide more flexibility, the Curriculum & Instruction program is now offered online and on a part-time basis.
Online and Hybrid Programs
Arizona State University (ASU) is home to an online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Leadership & Innovation that requires 90 credit hours to complete. The degree is designed for currently licensed and practicing teachers and administrators who are interested in fostering innovation and developing leadership skills. Courses include Collaborative Approaches to Data-Informed Decision Making; Systems Change and Leadership; and Strategies for Inquiry. Students also complete a doctoral dissertation that is action-research based. Throughout the program, students receive peer and student support through the program’s “Leader-Scholar Communities.” Admission is open to those with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field. Students must have a 3.0 minimum GPA to be considered for the program. ASU also offers several Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree programs in curriculum and instruction, educational leadership, global education, and learning design and technologies.
The online Doctor of Education (EdD) in Curriculum & Instruction with a specialization in Teachers, Schools, and Society (TSS) at the University of Florida is designed for practicing educators who wish to develop their abilities to drive positive change from the classroom setting to the school environment as a whole. As a professional practice program, this doctoral degree is meant for those who wish to develop lifelong teaching practice at the K-12 level. The cohort-based curriculum links theory and research in a practice context through courses such as Foundations of Research in Curriculum and Instruction; Professional Development for Teacher Learning; and Issues in School Reform. A capstone dissertation, which is group-based, helps students apply knowledge gained through the curriculum to real-world problems of practice. At least 60 credit hours are required to earn the degree for those who already have a master’s, and 90 credit hours for those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. Though most courses are entirely online, students should anticipate completing a week-long on-campus experience once per summer during the first three summers of enrollment.
The University of Southern California (USC) offers a hybrid Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Change and Leadership. This program focuses on driving systematic change in educational organizations and is designed for those who are in, or who are seeking to transition to, leadership positions in K-12 systems, colleges and universities, and other education-focused institutions. The program is structured to allow students to work full-time while completing degree requirements and has a strong focus on motivating and supervising others in educational settings. Students with a master’s degree may be eligible for advanced standing, which allows completion of the EdD in 43 credit hours; those who do not have a master’s degree should expect to complete at least 60 credit hours. Students must attend an annual immersion weekend on the school campus to maintain enrollment in the program. Required courses include Framing Educational Leadership in a Global Context; Education Performance Problems-The Role of Learning; and Using Communication to Facilitate Organizational Change. The USC Rossier School of Education is consistently ranked as one of the best schools of education in the US.
Employment Opportunities for a Doctor of Education
- Adult and Continuing Education Teacher
- Chief Academic Officer
- Chief Learning Officer
- Curriculum and Instruction Specialist
- Director of Research
- Educational Technology Specialist
- Reading Specialist
- School Administrator
- School Counselor
- Social and Community Service Director
- Training and Development Manager
- University Professor
- Vice Principal
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: How do teachers get tenure?
Answer: Tenure requirements vary by state and by district. Some states have laws governing tenure, while others do not. In most districts tenure is granted after a probationary period of three years. To get tenure after that period, your performance must be deemed satisfactory. Tenure is typically awarded by the district’s school board.
Question: What states need teachers?
Answer: States that are especially short of certified teachers include Texas, Utah, Florida, Arizona, Maryland, Missouri, Mississippi, Kansas, and Georgia. Some of these have statewide shortages, while others need more teachers in specific locations.
Question: How does a doctoral degree in education benefit a teaching career?
Answer: Teachers who hold an EdD can command higher salaries in K-12 public schools and are also better prepared to move into administrative positions. A doctoral degree in education also qualifies teachers to work and teach in postsecondary schools, government, and non-profit agencies.
Question: Can I get an online doctorate in education?
Answer: Yes, because many EdD programs are aimed at working professionals, there are an abundance of programs that are offered in online or hybrid formats. More important than whether the EdD is online or on-campus is whether the program will qualify you for the credential and/or career you are seeking.
Question: What is the difference between a PhD and EdD degree?
Answer: A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education is typically more focused on research than the Doctor of Education (EdD), though EdDs normally also have a research component. PhDs in Education are usually a better choice for a faculty career at the postsecondary level, while EdDs tend to prepare graduates for administrative leadership positions. Another difference is that PhDs in Education tend to fund the tuition in exchange for research or teaching assistantships, while EdDs do not. On the other hand, EdD students usually hold full-time jobs while attending the degree program part time, allowing them to self-fund their programs, while PhD students usually attend school full time.
Question: What can I do with a doctorate in education?
Answer: Most graduates of EdD programs are working professionals who want to advance their careers as advanced administrators or leaders in education. The jobs that doctorate in education holders qualify for vary widely and primarily depend on the specialization of the degree. Graduates with an EdD in Educational Technology, for example, may go on to become leaders in educational or instructional technology while graduates with an EdD in Higher Education Administration may become deans in a college or university setting.
1. US News & World Report Best Education Schools, 2023-24: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/edu-rankings