Tasked with shaping the minds of future generations, educators and administrators work in a dynamic, rewarding field. Teachers develop curricula and adhere to lesson plans within the classroom; however, educators who are passionate about leading change and reform in the field often pursue a doctoral degree in education (Ed.D.). An Ed.D. is an ideal academic pathway that prepares graduates for roles in school administrations or other leadership roles in higher education, K–12 schools, nonprofit organizations, and government organizations.
The BLS projects an 8% increase in elementary, middle school, and high school principal jobs through 2026.
Now is a terrific time to pursue a degree in educational leadership, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% increase in elementary, middle school, and high school principal jobs through 2026. The BLS also projects a 10% increase in the number of deans, registrars, and other postsecondary administrators due to rising student enrollment. Additionally, the number of postsecondary teachers is expected to increase by a faster-than-average rate of 15%. This anticipated job growth in education makes pursuing a doctorate in education — and a career in educational leadership — more attractive than ever.
Should I Get a Doctorate in Education?
Prospective doctoral students in education have several options to pursue their degree. For some, a traditional brick-and-mortar program is the right choice. On-campus doctoral programs may attract students straight from an undergraduate or graduate program, and those who are confident that their future career requires a doctoral degree. Online programs, on the other hand, are just as rigorous as their on-campus counterparts, but feature the flexibility that working professionals need. The online coursework is typically self-paced and asynchronous, letting students attend to other commitments alongside their education, including child care duties, family responsibilities, or full- or part-time jobs. Perhaps most importantly, earning an online doctoral degree leads to the same credentials and job opportunities as a traditional on-campus program.
Earning a doctorate in education prepares graduates to be effective organizational leaders in the field. Students become expert problem solvers who find practical solutions to the challenges of modern education. Most positions in teaching and administration in education require at least a bachelor’s degree, while preference is often given to candidates with an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree. Ed.D. graduates have a competitive edge in a competitive field, and are well-positioned for leadership positions. Furthermore, doctoral programs provide students with several employment resources such as internships, networking events, and job-placement assistance programs
What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Education?
Graduates of an Ed.D. program have many exciting and challenging career paths available. Equipped with strong skills in communication, inquiry, decision-making, and management, graduates are prepared for leadership and administrative roles in a range of contexts. They can work in elementary, secondary, and postsecondary public school and private schools; they may lead postsecondary institutions such as colleges and universities; or they may find positions in corporations, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies. Educational leadership roles are often tasked with budget and financial management, directing hiring and human resources process, or overseeing general operations and policies of a school or organization.
- School Principal
School principals oversee and monitor the operations of elementary, middle, and high schools. They develop educational programming and curriculum, train and hire teachers and staff, manage finances and budget, and enforce disciplinary action. A principal creates a positive learning environment for staff, faculty, and students. Many principals start as teachers, then go on to earn their doctorate in education.
Median Annual Salary: $94,390
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Training and Development Manager
Training and development managers create professional development programming at schools, organizations, and companies. They develop programs like online learning courses and in-person workshops. They may also create and select curricula, recommend instructional techniques and learning materials, evaluate participants’ needs, and assess the effectiveness the programming. It is common for training and development managers to study education, human resources, or business administration.
Median Annual Salary: $108,250
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Postsecondary Education Administrator
Postsecondary administrators such as provosts and deans oversee the academics and faculty at colleges and universities. Administrators work within admissions, student services, student life, the registrar’s office, and more, collaborating with senior administrators and other staff to find better ways to support faculty and students. Administrators often begin their careers as professors.
Median Annual Salary: $92,360
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Postsecondary Teachers
Postsecondary teachers — also known as adjunct and tenured professors — instruct students at levels beyond high school. They may teach at technical, vocational, and professional schools; junior and community colleges; or universities in both public and private settings. These instructors create curricula, develop learning outcomes, and assess student progress and understanding. Postsecondary teachers also conduct research, publish scholarly articles and books, advise students, and attend conferences.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
- Executive Director and Chief Learning Officers
Executive directors are senior leaders at nonprofit organizations and businesses. Working closely with a board of directors, they make decisions that impact daily operations such as hiring and human resources, finances and budget management, fundraising, policies, and programming. CLOs, meanwhile, are senior-level leaders that focus specifically on training, learning, and development programs for an organization’s staff. CLOs advise executive directors on effective coaching and training techniques.
Median Annual Salary: $104,700
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
How to Choose a Doctorate in Education Program
There are several factors to consider as you search for the right Ed.D. program. Of course, having clarity around your academic needs and interests are primary; you should ensure the programs you apply for can adequately prepare you for your intended career. From there, decide how much you expect to juggle personal and professional commitments while pursuing doctoral studies, and whether attending full- or part-time is the best fit.
You may also need to decide if earning your degree through a traditional, on-campus degree is a good fit for your style and pace of learning; an online degree may be more suitable if you are a working professional or have family responsibilities, or simply need more flexibility in your schedule. Moreover, the self-paced and asynchronous elements of web-based doctorate in education online programs require a high degree of self-motivation and self-discipline. Regardless of your choice, note that both online and on-campus programs feature the same rigorous curricula and lead to the same credentials and job opportunities.
Another factor to consider is the time it will take to complete your degree. Most doctoral programs in education are between 54 and 64 credits, which includes research and a dissertation and takes approximately three years to complete on a full-time basis. Students who study part time may take up to five years to earn their doctorate degree. As you think about your specific career ambitions, consider the different concentrations and/or areas of emphasis available at a school. Popular Ed.D. specializations include curriculum and instruction, educational administration, and special education. Many Ed.D. programs also combine hands-on learning experiences with traditional coursework, so learn about any in-person requirements that are required. Some programs mandate that doctoral candidates complete face-to-face residencies, while other schools simply encourage students to participate.
What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. and Ed.D.?
If you are considering a leadership role within education, an Ed.D. is the right step. However, the specific types of jobs you may be qualified for depends on the type of doctoral degree you complete. In other words, an Ed.D. should not be confused with a Ph.D.
There are some key differences between these two educational tracks. A Ph.D. is an advanced doctoral degree with an emphasis on research methodology and the theories and philosophies within education. This type of program typically takes five to seven years to complete, and includes writing and presenting a dissertation. Graduates of Ph.D. programs traditionally pursue careers in academia.
An Ed.D., on the other hand, is an advanced doctoral degree that addresses the organizational, leadership, and educational challenges of modern education. This degree emphasizes problem solving, best-practice strategies, and practical solutions. Graduates of Ed.D. programs usually take on leadership and administrative roles at the institutional level.
Programmatic Accreditation for Doctorate in Education Programs
The accreditation process is an extensive review of a programs or school. Accreditation demonstrates an educational institution’s ability to meet rigorous standards and commit to continual academic improvement. Attending an accredited school is important for many reasons, and a school’s accreditation may impact unforseen components of a degree. For example, you will only be eligible for federal financial aid if you attend a nationally or regionally accredited school.
If you want to transfer your credits, you will likely only be able to do so if you earned them from an accredited college or program. U.S. colleges and universities may receive regional accreditation status from one of six accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. When looking into accreditation status, consider choosing programs that are accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the Higher Learning Commission, or the Distance Education Accrediting Commission.
Doctorate in Education Program Admissions
Applying to a doctorate in education program is an exciting step, and there are several factors to consider. For example, decide how many schools to which you’d like to apply. Ed.D. admissions are competitive, and the best way to increase your chances of getting accepted into a program is to apply to a variety of schools. As a general rule, you may want to find roughly ten programs that match your academic goals and interests, and then apply to as many as possible. It is a good idea to start researching schools as early as one year in advance of application submission due dates. Talk with students, professors, and admissions counselors at each school that interests you. You will likely find a top choice among your list, but it is a good idea to have a few backup schools that you will still be happy to attend if your first choice does not work out.
- Degree: Education doctoral applicants must hold a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university. The degree does not necessarily need to be in a related field, however it should include a minimum of 30 semester hours of advanced coursework.
- Professional Experience: Most Ed.D. programs expect applicants to have three to five years of professional experience in education. Education doctoral candidates are most often practicing educators or administrators with established careers in the field.
- Minimum GPA: Many schools hold doctoral applicants to very high academic standards, including a minimum GPA of 3.0; however, stricter programs may require a minimum of 3.5. Some schools substitute high standardized test scores for GPA requirements.
- License: There are no specific licensure requirements to enroll in a doctorate of education program; however, since most applicants are practicing teachers, they typically hold educator licensure in the state where they work.
- Application: An application typically requires you to create an online account, fill out information about your background, and submit a personal statement and resume. The online college application is found on a school’s website.
- Transcripts: Applicants must submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended to apply for an advanced degree. Paper transcripts in sealed envelopes or digital PDF versions can be mailed or emailed directly to the school’s graduate admissions office.
- Letters of Recommendation: Applicants usually submit one to three letters of recommendation from professors, managers, or supervisors. The letters address why you are a promising doctoral candidate.
- Test Scores: Not all schools look at standardized test scores; however, some schools want to see the results of the GRE. There could be a minimum combined verbal and quantitative combined score requirement, but it depends on the school in which you are applying.
- Application Fee: Application fees can be anywhere between $40–$70. Fees are sometimes waived for alumni, employees, service members, veterans, and military spouses. Some schools waive an upfront application fee, and then reassess the fee during enrollment.
What Else Can I Expect From a Doctorate in Education Program?
Ed.D. programs prepare educational leaders and practitioners; however, different schools offer different specializations and areas of emphasis. The details of your doctorate in education — including the concentrations, specializations, internship, residencies, plans of study, and specific coursework — depend on the program in which you enroll. Carefully research your school’s coursework requirements to ensure you are fully prepared.
Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Education
|Higher Education||An Ed.D. in higher education focuses on postsecondary institutions, colleges, and universities. Students in this concentration conduct research and analyze challenges related to higher education administration. Topics include trends in higher education, education finance, educational law, instructional leadership, adult learning, and student development.||Leadership or administrator position in colleges or universities, academic dean or provost, college president, college professor|
|Special Education||An Ed.D. in special education develops the skills to successfully teach students with unique talents and mental, physical, behavioral, and learning disabilities. Students in this concentration discuss ethical practice, policies, program development, student assessment, and technology as they relate to improving instruction in the special education classroom.||Special education instructor; gifted student instructor; school administrator; leadership or administration position in school districts, colleges, or universities; college professor|
|Curriculum and Instruction||An Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction builds on the foundation of classroom teaching. Students in this concentration discuss innovation and research surrounding the design of strong curriculum and professional development programming at the elementary, middle, secondary, or postsecondary level.||Leadership or administrator position in school districts, colleges, or universities; education specialist; curriculum specialist; instructional supervisor; college professor|
|Educational or Organizational Administration and Leadership||An Ed.D. in educational leadership combines classroom theory and real-world application to prepare graduates to be competent, effective, and influential administrators. Within this concentration, doctoral candidates may focus on early childhood, higher education, community settings, or other educational environments.||Leadership or administrator position in school districts, colleges, or universities; education specialist; curriculum specialist; instructional supervisor; college professor|
|Educational Technology||An Ed.D. in educational technology develops innovative ways of using technology to enhance student learning environments. Students in this concentration learn to think critically and identify emerging technology and future trends to make strong decisions related to nurturing a digitally equipped classroom.||Education technology specialist; instructional supervisor; leadership or administrator position school districts, colleges, or universities; college professor|
Courses in a Doctorate in Education Program
All Ed.D. programs prepare graduates for leadership roles; however, your specific doctoral coursework may vary depending on the program and concentration you pursue and the school in which you enroll. A few sample courses are listed below.
- Diverse Learners
Courses in diverse learners explore academic, cultural, socioeconomic, and emotional diversity. In this course, doctoral students learn to value diversity and apply strategies to enhance learning environments. Topics include special education, English as a second language, equitable access to high-quality learning, and differentiated instruction.
- Leadership Theory and Research
Leadership courses introduce students to the concepts, definitions, and analyses of educational leadership. Topics cover contemporary theories, research methodologies, emerging perspectives, and the future of educational leadership. Students also gain an understanding of the different leadership processes, such as group, organizational, individual, and dyadic.
- Educational Systems
This course covers the dynamics, nature, and implementation of politics, legislation, and practice within the educational system. Doctoral candidates analyze leadership strategies within micro and macro systems and structures, and organizations within public and private classrooms, schools, and districts. The curriculum emphasizes educators as change agents and instructional innovators.
- Social Change, Justice, and Educational Equity
Coursework in social change and justice examines oppression and justice within education. Doctoral candidates explore and analyze contemporary educational research and connect issues in social justice to problems in education. Topics include pedagogical strategies, independent and collaborative learning, the climate for social change, the use of service learning, and learner-centered curriculum models.
- Thesis Proposal, Data Collection, Analysis, and Presentation
No doctoral program in education would be complete without coursework that helps students propose, prepare, and present their final thesis projects and dissertations. These courses support the thesis proposal, submission, and presentation of a project in which doctoral candidates refine their data collection skills, engage in data analysis, edit proposals, expand literature reviews, and construct presentation strategies.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Education?
Most Ed.D. programs are between 54 and 64 credit hours, which includes 14-16 doctoral seminars in core courses, specialization coursework, and an internship or residency. The final 12-15 credits are reserved for research and dissertation work. The specific plan of study varies according to the school and program you choose, while the length of time it takes to complete depends whether you attend full- or part-time.
The average Ed.D. program takes three years of full-time study to complete, including two years of coursework and one year of research and dissertation. Individuals who study on a part-time basis may complete their programs in five to seven years. One way to speed up the time it takes to complete the program is to transfer some previously earned credits. Some programs allow doctoral candidates to apply a portion of their master’s degree credits towards their doctoral degrees, which shortens the overall time in the program.
How Much Is a Doctorate in Education?
The cost of a doctorate in education is an important consideration. Higher education can be expensive and usually requires more than just tuition payments. Students should take into account the cost of books and other learning material, the cost of housing, and commuting or parking expenses if you are regularly visiting campus. You should also consider in-state versus out-of-state tuition rates. Most colleges and universities charge a higher tuition rate to out-of-state students; however, some exceptions are made for online students.
While online learners may pay in-state tuition, distance learners may have to pay extra technology fees. Earning a doctorate in education degree can cost between $350 to $1,200 per credit, so total tuition may land between $20,000 and $80,000. Some schools charge per course — rather than per credit — and those costs may range from $1,000 to $4,500 per course. Financial aid — such as loans, grants, and scholarships — is available to doctoral students, and usually a mix of all three will be required to pay for your degree. Keep in mind that some schools do not offer financial aid to students who enroll in fewer than 6 credits at a time, or take an exceptionally long time to complete their program.
Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Education Prepares For
- Principal Licensure
In most states, public school principals must be licensed or certified by a state agency or government. Most states require at least three years of teaching experience and a minimum of a master’s degree, while some states mandate a doctorate in education. While an Ed.D. prepares you to pass a licensure exam, specific licensure and/or certification requirements vary from state to state.
- Superintendent Licensure
Some states have specific licenses for district-level administrative officer positions like superintendents, assistant superintendents, and directors. This credential demonstrates a strong educational leadership background, the ability to supervise school operations, and to develop and communicate district-wide goals, policies, budgets, and long-term plans to the board of education. Specific licensure and/or certification requirements vary from state to state.
- School Business Administrator Licensure
Some schools have a specific licensure for school business administrators, also known as chief financial officers of a school district. This certificate/licensure authorizes a professional to make decisions regarding financial accounting and reporting, budget planning, insurance, and risk administration. Specific licensure and/or certification requirements vary from state to state.
Resources for Doctorate in Education Students
The U.S. Department of Education offers many resources for graduate students, including information on financial aid such as student loans, scholarships, and grants, as well as lists of accredited schools and programs.
The mission of Teach to Lead is to expand teacher leadership to improve student outcomes. The program develops educational leaders by providing several helpful resources such as professional collaborations, leaderships labs, and grants.
AACTE is the leading association of university-based teacher education preparation programs. AACTE supports the Innovation Exchange, a unique initiative that offers educators progressive programming in pedagogy, workforce development, research, and more.
UCEA is a membership organization of higher education institutions, deans, departmental heads, and faculty. The organization develops school leadership preparation programs and enhances the practice of educational leadership by disseminating high-quality research.
Established in 1994, AAE is a national nonprofit organization of professional educators that focuses on student achievement. AAE members benefit from professional resources, scholarships, and liability insurance.
Professional Organizations in Education
Professional education organizations offer current students, graduates, and leadership professionals a great deal of support in their careers. Associations foster a sense of collegiality across the field of education. Collaborating and working together within a professional organization enables school leaders and administrators to develop a collective voice and advocate for better teaching and learning environments for their teachers and students. Members of professional organizations benefit from access to members-only events and conferences, networking opportunities, professional development and continuing education programs, annual conferences, employment resources, career services, job boards, and special publications and journals.