Doctorate in Education Program Guide

Find out what it's like to pursue a doctorate in education, from tuition costs and learning outcomes to career paths and earning potential.
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Evan Thompson is an education and careers writer with BestColleges. He was previously a journalist with bylines in the Seattle Times, Tacoma News Tribune, and Everett Herald. His beats have included education, sports, business, outdoors, and lifestyl...
Updated on April 18, 2024
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Margaret Weinhold is an associate editor for BestColleges, where she focuses on core content. She is passionate about increasing visibility and accessibility around higher education. Margaret holds a BA in English from the University of Virginia....
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Dr. Krystin McCauley Watkins — an esteemed educator, instructional designer, and educational leader — holds a doctor of education in curriculum & instruction: educational technology from the University of South Carolina. Dr. Watkins is renowned for h...
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Educators do their best, but sometimes the system isn't perfect. Problems fall through the cracks and create more problems. There may be an issue you have a dream of fixing one day.

A doctorate in education (Ed.D. or Ph.D.) can help you do that.

A Ph.D. in education helps you gain in-depth working knowledge of educational theories, research, and practices. You'll be able to work with leading researchers and faculty and build a strong network of fellow educators.

Earning an Ed.D. in education can prepare you for leadership roles such as a school principal, university president, or superintendent. Some programs prepare graduates for other community leadership roles. It can also prepare you to become doctoral faculty within an Ed.D. program itself.

If you don't know which you want to pursue, or you want to know the difference between an Ed.D. and Ph.D., we're here to help. The sections below cover what you need to know about getting a doctorate in education.

Popular Online Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Can You Expect From a Doctorate in Education?

A doctorate in education is rigorous. It's an advanced degree with challenging coursework and dissertation research. It offers a variety of valuable experiences and outcomes, from developing leadership skills to pursuing specialized career paths.

Degree Types

Ph.D. in Education

A Ph.D. program typically prepares students for advanced research in education. It's a research-oriented degree that emphasizes scholarly research, theoretical frameworks and contributing to the knowledge base in education.

Ed.D. in Education

An Ed.D. program often focuses on developing skills and knowledge for academic leadership roles. It's a professional practice-oriented degree that applies research and theory to real-world educational contexts.

Common Curricula

The curriculum of a doctorate in education depends on if it's a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. program.

Specializations will also impact curricula — educational psychology covers different topics than education policy would.

Both Ph.D. programs and Ed.D. programs usually cover advanced theories, research, and practical applications in education. Coursework may explore educational leadership, research methods, curriculum development, educational policy, and instructional design.

Some programs may offer courses that lead to teaching licensure or certification. But not all do. Non-certification programs are typically for people pursuing non-teaching positions, such as educational research, administration, or faculty roles in higher education. A non-licensure program may emphasize areas like educational policy analysis or program evaluation.

Program Formats

A doctorate in education degree has several program formats. Each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. They include:


  • Benefits: Face-to-face interaction with faculty and peers, access to campus resources and facilities
  • Drawbacks: Limited flexibility for working professionals, potential relocation or commuting challenges


  • Benefits: Flexibility to study at your own pace and location, ideal for working professionals, reduced travel and relocation expenses.
  • Drawbacks: Limited in-person interaction, potential challenges with self-motivation and time management

Hybrid (In-Person and Online)

  • Benefits: Blend of face-to-face interaction and online flexibility, suitable for those seeking some on-campus experience while maintaining flexibility
  • Drawbacks: May require periodic travel or scheduled on-campus sessions, potential for challenges balancing work and study commitments

Full-Time Study

  • Benefits: Allows for faster program completion, immersive learning experience, potential for full-time research or assistantship opportunities
  • Drawbacks: Requires significant time commitment, may be challenging for those balancing work or personal obligations

Part-Time Study

  • Benefits: Allows for flexibility to balance work and study, accommodates personal commitments
  • Drawbacks: Longer program completion time, potential challenges with maintaining motivation and focus

Program Costs

The tuition for a doctorate in education can vary based on several factors. The institution can play a significant role in determining the cost. Prestigious universities often have higher tuition rates compared to less renowned institutions.

Average Annual Tuition and Fees: Online vs. On-Campus Programs

Online Doctorate in Education


On-Campus Doctorate in Education


Source: NCES DataLab

The program format also impacts tuition. Online programs sometimes have lower tuition due to reduced campus infrastructure costs. Full-time students generally pay higher tuition rates than part-time students due to campus-specific fees and higher course loads..

Other associated costs include textbooks, technology fees, research expenses and potentially housing and travel expenses for in-person programs.

Admission Requirements

Most doctorate in education programs require a master's degree. Beyond that, Ph.D. in education requirements can vary. Some programs may prefer several years of related work experience. Others look for candidates who have leadership skills in an educational setting or teacher certifications. Or, it can be a combination of all the above.

The following are typical general admission requirements for a doctorate in education program:

  • Master's Degree: Most programs require applicants to hold a master's degree in education or a related field. Applicants typically need a strong foundation in educational theory and research. Most programs also require a minimum grade point average of 3.0.
  • Recommendation Letters: Programs often request 1-3 letters of recommendation from people who can speak to your capabilities. Ideally, they should have knowledge of your academic abilities, work experience, leadership potential, and commitment to the field of education.
  • Resume or Curriculum Vitae: A resume or curriculum vitae (CV) highlights your educational background, work experience, research involvement, publications, and other relevant achievements.
  • Purpose Statement: A purpose statement is a written essay about your passion and alignment with the program. Here, you'll explain your motivations for pursuing a doctorate in education, research interest and career goals.
  • Test Scores: Some but not all Ph.D. programs require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and meet score expectations. Fewer Ed.D. programs require it, but some still do.

Doctorate in Education Concentrations

Educational Administration

Educational administration prepares students for leadership roles in educational settings. Key skills taught in the concentration include strategic planning, organizational management, policy analysis, and ethical decision-making.

Career paths may include roles as principals, superintendents, district administrators, or educational consultants.

Higher Education

A higher education concentration develops skills and knowledge for leadership roles in colleges and universities. Learning outcomes include gaining expertise in higher education policy, administration, research, and pedagogy. Possible career paths include roles as higher education administrators, faculty members, policy analysts, or researchers.

Curriculum Instruction

Curriculum instruction involves the design, strategies and assessment of curricula. Gaining expertise in curriculum development, instructional leadership, and research are common points of focus in this concentration. Career paths include curriculum specialists, instructional coordinators, and educational consultants.

Educational Leadership

Educational leadership focuses on leadership skills and knowledge specific to educational settings. Students learn about topics like strategic planning, organizational management, policy analysis, and educational equity. Career paths include K-12 administration, district leadership, and educational consulting.

Human Resource Development

Human resource development (HRD) prepares students to lead, design, and implement effective training and development programs in organizations. Learning outcomes include advanced knowledge in adult learning theories, organizational development, and strategic HRD. Career paths may include HRD consultant, training manager, or professor in HRD-related fields.

What Can You Do With an Online Doctorate in Education?

A doctorate in education provides many career options. One path you can take is entering academia as a professor. You could also pursue leadership roles in K-12 institutions. For example, you could become a principal or superintendent, or a higher education leader. Other careers include educational consulting, policy analysis and research.

With a doctorate in education, you can make a meaningful impact in various settings. Common examples include schools, colleges, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and research institutions.

According to April 2024 Payscale data, the average base salary for someone with a doctorate in education is $88,000.

Academic Careers for Doctorate in Education Graduates
Job Title Average Salary
School Superintendent $137,871
Chief Academic Officer $111,895
Academic Dean $99,453
High School Principal $94,337
Professor (Postsecondary/Higher Education) $87,549
Education Director $83,696
Source: Payscale (As of April 2024)
Non-Academic Careers for Doctorate in Education Graduates
Job Title Average Salary
Executive Director $113,816
Chief Operating Officer $138,171
Chief Executive Officer $148,288
Director of Operations $94,643
Instructional Designer $66,622
Source: Payscale (As of April 2024)

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorates in Education

Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. in Education: What is the difference?

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Students of both an Ed.D. or Ph.D. are prepared with the skills to impact education positively, but from different perspectives. An Ed.D. focuses on practical application in education and prepares students for educational leadership, such as a principal, superintendent, or college president. A Ph.D. is a research-focused degree.

Can you get an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. in education online?

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Yes, there are many online programs for an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. in education. Schools like the University of Arizona, Drexel University and Walden University offer online doctorates in education. Each program typically has a main focus. For example, Arizona State University's online doctor of education is in leadership and innovation.

How many years does it take to get a doctorate in education?

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How many years it takes to get a doctorate in education varies by program, required credits, and whether you're a full-time or part-time student. The average time to complete an Ed.D. is three years. Whether you already have a master's degree or have completed doctorate coursework can also affect completion time.

Do all doctorate in education programs require a master's degree?

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Many doctorate in education programs require a master's degree, but some will allow you to earn a master's degree as part of the Ph.D. curriculum. These programs may make accommodations for students with a bachelor's who want to jump directly into a doctoral program.

Is getting an online doctorate in education worth it?

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An online doctorate in education can be worth it for several reasons. A Ph.D. and Ed.D. are the highest level of education a person can earn in the field. NCES data shows online education doctoral programs are cheaper than in-person programs. Online programs also provide flexibility and convenience.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed January 25, 2024. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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