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

What's the difference between an Ed.D., a Ph.D., and an Ed.S.? Learn how to find the right program to reach your goals.
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  • An Ed.D., Ph.D., and Ed.S. are all post-master's degrees in education.
  • Each program offers different lengths, focuses, and degree requirements.
  • While an Ed.D. and Ed.S. emphasize practice, a Ph.D. emphasizes research.
  • The type of education degree shapes career opportunities.

Education programs offer multiple degrees at the graduate level. Grad students can earn a master's in education, a master of arts, or a master of science degree. And beyond the master's level, grad students can become education specialists with an Ed.S. degree or earn a doctorate in education with an Ed.D. or a Ph.D.

But what's the difference between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D.? And how does an Ed.S differ from the doctorate of education programs? Before pursuing a graduate degree in education, make sure you understand the differences between the three degrees — and which one is right for you.

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

Sorting out the differences between a Ph.D. and Ed.D. can confuse prospective students. Throw in the Ed.S., and it can become even less clear.

All three degrees are post-master's programs — meaning grad students typically need a master's degree to enter an Ed.D., Ed.S., or Ph.D. program. However, an Ed.S. degree is not technically a doctorate.

What does that mean in practice? While an Ed.S. prepares graduates for leadership roles in education, it generally does not lead to jobs that require a doctorate, like college professor.

The three degrees focus on different areas of education. The Ed.D. and Ed.S. are both professional degrees, meaning they emphasize practice.

The Ph.D. is an academic degree with a research focus. This distinction explains the different career paths with an Ed.D. or Ed.S. vs. a Ph.D.

Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. and Ed.D.? Both degrees award a doctorate 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 careers in education. They take practical courses on organizational theory, fiscal management in education, and program assessment. 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. typically takes three years, while a Ph.D. usually requires 4-6 years.
  • Degree Requirements: Both an Ed.D. and Ph.D. typically require a dissertation; however, the Ed.D. dissertation generally focuses on applied research topics.

Ed.S. vs. Ed.D.

What's the difference between an Ed.S. and Ed.D. program? The two options have a similar focus but differ in terms of length. While graduate students can complete an Ed.S. in as little as one year, most Ed.D. programs require three years.

Students in Ed.S. and Ed.D. programs may take similar courses and choose from similar specialization options. However, an Ed.D. typically requires a doctoral dissertation, while the Ed.S. does not.

  • Focus: Both an Ed.D. and an Ed.S. emphasize practice, with multiple specialization options.
  • Length: While an Ed.D. takes three years, Ed.S. programs typically 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.

Breaking Down the Difference: 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.

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. Serves professionals with a master's degree in education but wish to heighten their skills and salary potential in a specialty.
Career Paths More suitable for students aspiring to nonteaching occupations, such as executive roles in academia or research. May appeal to students aspiring to pursue positions in postsecondary academia, 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?

Prospective doctoral students often compare the Ed.D. and Ph.D. when choosing graduate programs. Is an Ed.D. considered a "better" doctorate than a Ph.D.? Is a Ph.D. "more advanced" than an Ed.D.?

The answer depends on your goals. An Ed.D., which emphasizes practice, makes more sense for educators pursuing principal or superintendent roles. A Ph.D., which emphasizes research, leads to academic opportunities as a professor, researcher, or academic administrator.

Prospective students should consider which doctorate matches their interests and professional goals when choosing a doctoral program.

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.

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.
  • If you want to pursue academic roles in higher education, you'll typically need a Ph.D., while an Ed.D. can lead to administrative positions in higher education.

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 often represent a more affordable choice since 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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