Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.: What’s the Difference?

Discover the difference between an Ed.D., a Ph.D., and an Ed.S. and how to choose the right program to reach your goals.
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Updated on May 30, 2024
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Sorting out the differences between post-graduate programs in education can be confusing. For starters, there are three types: Ed.D., Ed.S., and Ph.D.

But each tends to have a specific purpose:

  • An Ed.D. is a doctorate in education. It prepares students for leadership positions, such as district superintendent or college president.
  • An Ed.S., or education specialist, can lead to leadership or specialized educational roles. These roles include curriculum or instructional design.
  • A Ph.D. degree helps students become researchers and college professors.

Of course, it's a little more complicated than that, especially once you start comparing an Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. or a Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.

But that's where we come in. We're here to help you understand the differences between the three degrees. You can then decide which one is right for you.

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What Are the Differences Between an Ed.D., Ph.D., and Ed.S.?

An Ed.D., Ph.D., and Ed.S. have some overlap. They are all post-master's programs, requiring a master's degree to enroll. They also all lead to education-related careers. But there are several distinct differences between them.

As Mark J. Drozdowski, Ed.D., succinctly puts it, "You might earn an Ed.S. on your way toward an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. If you want to become a faculty member, senior college administrator, or top policy analyst, you probably need a doctorate and not just an Ed.S."

Ph.D. vs. Ed.D.

A Ph.D. and Ed.D. are both doctorates in education. But the coursework, focus, and length differ depending on the type of doctoral program.

In an Ed.D. program, doctoral students prepare for leadership education careers. Students study organizational theory, managing money in schools, and evaluating programs. These classes provide career-focused training.

A Ph.D. program, in contrast, emphasizes research over practice. These programs incorporate more theory, research, and policy-focused courses. Students might take classes in educational research, educational psychology, and learning theory.

  • Focus: An Ed.D. focuses on education practice, while a Ph.D. focuses on research.
  • Length: An Ed.D. usually takes three years, while a Ph.D. often requires 4-6 years.
  • Degree Requirements: Both an Ed.D. and Ph.D. usually require a dissertation. The Ed.D. dissertation generally focuses on applied research topics.

Ed.S. vs. Ed.D.

The Ed.S. differs from the Ed.D. because it does not require a dissertation and is possible to finish in 1-2 years. For this reason, it is not considered a doctoral degree. Ed.D. programs require three years.

Students in Ed.S. and Ed.D. programs can take similar courses and specialize in similar areas. But, an Ed.D. usually requires a doctoral dissertation, while the Ed.S. does not.

  • Focus: Both an Ed.D. and an Ed.S. emphasize practice, with many specialization options.
  • Length: While an Ed.D. takes three years, Ed.S. programs often take 1-2 years.
  • Degree Requirements: Ed.D. students typically write and defend a dissertation. In an Ed.S. program, graduate students may complete a capstone project or thesis.

9 Differences Between Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.

In addition to the differences in focus, length, and coursework, post-master's education degrees prepare graduate students for different career paths.

Differences Between Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.
Ed.D. Ph.D. Ed.S.
Focus Focuses on building practical skills for aspiring education administrators in non-teaching roles. Features intensive, high-level research and culminates in a dissertation. Intended for master's in education graduates who want to improve their skills and earning potential.
Career Paths More suitable for students who want jobs in academia or research, not teaching. May appeal to students who want to work in colleges, consulting, or research. Prepares graduates for administrative roles in academia and instructional design.
Program Length Most programs require around 60 credits, which students complete over 2-3 years. Most programs require around 90 credits and take 3-5 years to complete. An Ed.S. typically requires 30-65 credits and takes 1-2 years.

What's the Best Doctorate in Education?

Is an Ed.D. considered a "better" doctorate than a Ph.D.? Is a Ph.D. "more advanced" than an Ed.D.? Which should you choose? The answer depends on your interests and goals.

Educators who want to become principals or superintendents should consider getting an Ed.D. degree. An Ed.D. focuses on practical skills and is more relevant in these roles. With the research-focus of a Ph.D., you can become a professor, researcher, or academic administrator.

How to Choose Between an Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. vs. Ed.S.

Choosing a doctorate in education program can be tricky, but these steps can help you find the best fit for your needs.

Drozdowski offers, "Think about your long-term goals. Ph.D. programs tend to produce scholars, while Ed.D. programs produce practitioners. If you know your career plans, you can make choices based on this distinction, not that initially choosing one path eliminates the other. Also, consider the particular strengths of the program. Does it offer the academic and career focus you seek (e.g., educational administration, curriculum and instruction, education policy)?"

"Earning a doctorate in education is a marathon, not a sprint, so choose the right program you’re comfortable seeing yourself in for many years to come," says Drozdowski.

Step 1: Start by determining your professional objectives.

  • Are you interested in administrative roles at the K-12 level? An Ed.D. or Ed.S. can help you reach those goals.
  • To work in higher education, a Ph.D. is usually required for academic jobs and an Ed.D. is good for administrative roles.

Step 2: Next, look for programs that align with your budget, schedule, and interests.

  • Start by researching specialization options at different programs.
  • Many universities offer specializations for school superintendents or higher education administrators, for example.

Step 3: Then, research delivery options, cost, and length.

  • You can find online Ed.D. programs with flexible schedules designed for working students.
  • These programs can be more affordable because doctoral students can work while pursuing their degree.

Step 4: Finally, reach out to programs to learn about graduate placements.

  • Ask about the job titles of recent graduates to get an idea of career paths with the degree. And learn about the industries and settings where graduates work.

BestColleges.com 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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