The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that jobs in postsecondary education administration, a popular position for professionals with a doctorate in higher education, will grow 10% by 2026. This is a faster growth rate than the average for the economy as a whole. This surge in demand is likely a result of increasing student enrollment in colleges and universities today. As these numbers continue to grow, now is an excellent time to earn your credentials and position yourself for success with a doctorate in higher education.

In the following sections, we cover important considerations for pursuing a graduate degree. This information will help you determine which higher education doctorate is right for you and what kind of time and financial commitment are required to complete your degree. Additionally, we include a list of valuable professional organizations in the field and useful online resources for doctoral students. After some careful consideration, you may determine that this growing career path is the best fit for your educational needs and career goals.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Higher Education?

The doctorate in higher education allows you to study and acquire skills that translate across industries. In addition to becoming a leader who can positively influence educational policy and practice, this degree develops advanced problem-solving skills, quantitative and qualitative research methods, and advanced communication skills. Doctoral degree holders also have more opportunities for advanced positions, which often require graduate-level education.

Working professionals who wish to earn the doctorate in higher education to change career paths may prefer an online program, while on-campus programs might be better suited for students coming straight from their undergraduate programs who know they want to go directly into a credentialed position that requires a doctorate.

While in your program, form connections with your classmates. A developed network of colleagues becomes a valuable resource post-graduation as you search for internships or jobs. Maintain these connections even beyond entering the workforce; as you grow in your career, your professional network will increasingly become a major component of your success.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Higher Education?

With your doctorate in higher education, you will have the credentials to work in several areas of the education field. Those with an Ed.D. are qualified for administrative positions, such as school principals, superintendents, and instructional coordinators. In these jobs, you must be a problem solver and a leader who manages large groups of people. Graduates with a Ph.D. in higher education tend to be more research-oriented, focused on the production of original research, publishing their work with academic presses, and developing theories about teaching and learning. In both degree tracks, you must be interested in learning and developing new ways to affect positive change in classrooms, institutions, and local communities.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Professionals in these positions oversee big picture operations, including student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities. Their duties vary per college, as some focus on admissions, student life on campus, or work for the registrar's office. Positions may be in either public or private schools.

Median Annual Salary: $92,360*

Postsecondary Teachers

Teachers with a doctorate in higher education typically work at four-year colleges and universities. While those with a master's degree may be eligible for similar teaching positions, those with a Ph.D. are more likely to secure tenure-track or higher paying jobs because of their amount of teaching experience, expertise in their specialty area, or history of academic publications.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000*

Operations Research Analysts

Colleges and universities plan, budget, and organize information to best serve their students. Those with doctorates in higher education are equipped to make executive decisions about departmental funding and curriculum development. They may also work to develop or change university policies regarding student life or academic trajectories.

Median Annual Salary: $81,390*

High School Principals

The skills one acquires in a doctoral program in higher education are easily transferable to administrative and leadership positions in public and private high schools and other learning institutions. Comparable to administrative roles at colleges and universities, high school principals manage school activities, staff, and teaching personnel. They must also be skilled planners, manage school budgets, and maintain curriculum standards.

Median Annual Salary: $94,390*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Higher Education

Depending on the program, postgraduate degrees take full-time students three to seven years to complete. If your program requires you to write and conduct research for a dissertation, it may take even longer. Doctoral programs can be a major financial burden, and many schools only accept the number of students to whom they can offer full funding, which typically includes tuition costs and a monthly stipend. Sometimes, doctoral students must pay out-of-pocket for tuition and other mandatory expenses, like books and supplies. Fellowships and grants are available for students pursuing doctorates in higher education, and while many schools automatically consider you for fellowship positions based on your application, grants usually require a separate application.

Some students find that they save time and money by pursuing their degrees online, as attending classes from home can reduce transportation costs. Additionally, the required learning materials for online courses may be available electronically for free. Online degrees may also offer a part-time option, which gives many students the opportunity to work other jobs and make money while earning their doctorate. Students working remotely from home may find their familiar environment more conducive to studying.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D.?

The Ph.D in education and the Ed.D. are similar in that they focus on higher learning in educational fields. However, the Ph.D. is for students who wish to become teachers and remain active instructors in their respective fields as a career. You will study how to be an effective educator in higher education, conduct research in your specialty areas, and work as a professor at universities and colleges. The Ed.D. helps prepare you for careers in administrative roles at colleges, universities, and school districts to help improve curricula and help schools experience positive academic and social growth. For those interested in the philosophy of teaching and learning, the Ph.D. in education is right for you. If you foresee yourself in administrative careers where you influence educational policies and help schools, colleges, and universities implement the best instructional practices of the day, you should apply for the Ed.D.

Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Higher Education

When searching for a school, it is important that you only consider those that have both institutional and programmatic accreditation from a recognized agency. Accreditation ensures that the institution and its programs meet an acceptable academic standard of quality and can provide its students with a proper education. If you attend a non-accredited school, it is unlikely that the credentials you earn will do anything to advance your career. Furthermore, the quality of your education and, by default, the skills you acquire, will be substandard. Programmatic accreditation in the field of education comes from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Schools with regional accreditation, which is the most prestigious, may not always seek out programmatic accreditation. A regionally accredited school with programmatic accreditation indicates that it goes above and beyond to further distinguish itself from other regionally accredited programs. In most cases, regional accreditation is enough assurance that your school offers a quality education and can provide valuable, career-advancing credentials.

Doctorate in Higher Education Program Admissions

The admissions process varies for each school. In most cases, your application goes directly to the office of admissions. Schools typically have preliminary screening criteria in place for this initial step, wherein the office of admissions evaluates your application based on your GPA, academic records, and standardized test scores. Applications that meet the minimum desired requirements move on to their designated academic department. Here, an admissions committee made up of professors read your application materials and determine which candidates are best suited for the program.

The admissions process may also vary between online programs and traditional on-campus programs. While online programs may have a limited number of students it can handle per year, scheduling and class size are usually not a significant concern. Admissions teams for on-campus programs must be conscious of those factors, but they are also at the mercy of scheduling logistics and how much physical classroom space is available.


  • Degree: A master's degree is usually not required for admission to a Ph.D. program. However, many schools require students entering after their undergraduate program to take master's-level coursework before proceeding to doctoral work. Your previous school work does not have to be in higher education specifically, but a degree in a related field may improve your chances of being admitted to the Ph.D. program.
  • Professional Experience: In most cases, you do not have to have prior relevant work experience for admission, unless this is a nonnegotiable requirement for your prospective department. If any of the stated requirements are unclear, contact the department for clarification before applying.
  • Minimum GPA: Schools evaluate your test scores, letters of recommendation, grades, and resume for admission. Therefore, most schools do not advertise a minimum GPA requirement for doctoral applications. However, applicants with a 3.0 GPA or higher are usually competitive.
  • License: Unless it is specified by your prospective department, you do not need a particular license or certification to be admitted to a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Doctoral degree applications often require multiple pieces of writing, including a CV or resume, a statement of purpose, and a personal statement. Be sure to give yourself ample time to write, including time for any necessary edits and proofreading.
  • Transcripts: All doctoral programs in higher education will require a copy of your official transcripts. In most cases, you must request sealed transcripts from your previous institutions. Some schools charge a fee, usually about $10 per official copy. You must call or email your previous institution directly to submit a request. Schools typically need up to five business days to mail your transcripts.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Your application will state how many letters of recommendation you need. Plan on asking for letters from previous teachers or individuals who can speak to the quality of your character, knowledge of the education field, and the likelihood of being a contributing scholar or professional in higher education. You should give your recommendation writers at least six weeks notice before the letters are due.
  • Test Scores: Almost all accredited doctorate programs in higher education will require you to take the GRE. While schools usually do not advertise a minimum GRE score for admission, they may provide a median score for recently accepted students.
  • Application Fee: Unlike undergraduate applications, application fees for doctoral programs typically cannot be waived. On rare occasions, graduate schools may offer fee waivers for students with demonstrated financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Higher Education?

Many higher education doctorate programs offer several concentrations to choose from. With each focus comes designated elective courses or individual tracks within the standard curriculum that help tailor your degree trajectory.

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Higher Education
Concentration Description Careers
Leadership and Policy A concentration in leadership and policy builds your communication skills, commitment to the engagement of diversity, and ability to lead higher education institutions. You will take classes in the politics, sociology, and history of education and complete three semesters of research practicums. This concentration teaches you how to improve learning conditions for children and adults through the systematic application of course topics and theory. Possible careers include enrollment management, housing and auxiliary services, higher education administration, superintendency, college professor, and private education services entrepreneur.
Culture, Community, and Education You will study the racial, ethnic, and linguistic components of complex issues facing students and learning institutions today. This concentration focuses on disadvantaged youth and the factors that influence their educations, such as their communities, families, and learning environments. You will also investigate cross-cultural concerns such as immigration, multiculturalism, and citizenship. Options include K-12 teacher, college professor, school administrator, and superintendent.
Human Development With this concentration, you explore human learning and development throughout the course of human lifespans. Students take classes in cognition, sociology, and psychology and learn how these important topics relate to sociocultural contexts. From language to early childhood development, this concentration offers the chance for students to develop further refined specialty areas geared toward their research. Career paths include K-12 teacher, college professor, school administrator, superintendent, private educational services, and specialty education services and tutoring.
Policy Analysis You will receive extensive training in quantitative research methods, focused on educational policy improvement and change. Most programs require students to complete at least one research apprenticeship that focuses on disciplinary study and the development of one's own research agenda. Options include higher education administration, college professor, nonprofit organizations for education and policy change, educational consulting firms, and government positions in education.
Urban Education This concentration helps you learn leadership skills useful in urban school systems. Some schools may also offer a more research-intensive version of this concentration wherein students learn how to improve urban education through research and policy change. You will study the importance of equality and diversity in educational environments and learn to contribute to the common good through education research and practice. Some options are educational administrators, academic advisor or planner, social policy researcher, fiscal officer, superintendent, school administrator, and specialty education services and tutoring.

Courses in a Doctoral Program in Higher Education

Since the research interests of a department's faculty members and its resources dictate the curriculum at each school, required courses and electives will vary between programs. Below is a sample curriculum of common foundational and elective courses often found in doctoral programs in higher education.

Foundations of Educational Research

Whether you pursue the Ph.D. or Ed.D., understanding how to conduct thorough and ethical research is important to your success as a student and scholar. This foundational course typically covers the standard practices for philosophical and theoretical research in the education field. Additionally, digital research through social media platforms is an increasingly popular subject and part of progressive research methods courses.

Finance in Higher Education

This course is especially helpful for those planning to work in higher education administration. Knowing how to manage finances is a crucial skill in most leadership roles, including federal, state, and local revenue distribution and audit preparation. You will need to understand how to work with small departmental budgets or work with a committee to manage multimillion dollar endowments, depending on your career trajectory.

Qualitative Research

These courses teach the anthropological and sociological sides of academic research. Students receive an introduction to in-person fieldwork methods, ethnographic interviewing, and the management and preservation of field data. These courses usually entail extensive use of digital audio and video recording devices, content editing software, and an introduction to archival storage methods.

Dissertation Preparation

These courses are often one-on-one with a professor or advisor with whom you will design your dissertation research and topic. You must work with an advisor who understands their academic goals, can officially represent your major or minor department, and is an expert in the specific topic or area your dissertation investigates.

Analyzing Education Literature

These courses require substantial amounts of reading per week and teach you to engage with course material, research, and arguments. In doing so, you learn how to analyze, critique, and interpret scholarly writing in your field. The primary goal is to learn critical thinking techniques and how to develop valid and engaging arguments and solutions of your own.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Higher Education?

Earning a doctorate in higher education requires approximately 90 credit hours and takes between three and five years. Depending on your program, you may be required to complete a traditional dissertation, based on original research, or a final project. In either case, dissertations and final projects typically require intensive study and field or lab research. Depending on your dissertation topic, funding, access to resources, and overall availability, it may take you close to seven years to complete a Ph.D. program.

Unlike many undergraduate programs, doctoral programs often have a prescribed number of credits that full-time students may take each semester. Taking classes beyond that specified number requires special approval from your department and the graduate school and will likely affect how much you must pay per credit. Departments impose these restrictions because of limited space in classes and scheduling.

How Much Is a Doctorate in Higher Education?

The cost of your education depends on factors like school location and whether you attend online or in-person. Additionally, doctoral funding varies between programs and could be the most salient factor to consider in your budget. You could be given assistance through a tuition waiver, monthly stipend, medical insurance, and travel stipend for academic-related trips.

For students who do not receive any assistance from their departments or outside sources, the average cost of attending a private, nonprofit school is approximately $25,160 per year, while public, in-state tuition costs approximately $11,100 per year. Students must be cognizant of expenses beyond the cost of tuition. Be sure to include the cost of living in the area of your prospective schools, as well as transportation fees and technology expenses.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Higher Education Prepares For

National Board Certification

Graduate students with three years of teaching experience may apply for National Board Certification. Certified teachers may qualify for higher pay, have access to a wider network of professional resources, and can more easily transfer their teaching license between states.

Post-graduate certificate programs

These certificates further educate college administrators, staff, and faculty, and are available in numerous specializations, such as education administration, curriculum education, leadership, and urban education. They can be completed entirely online, although some programs require an in-person internship. In general, college administrators and professors do not need certification or licensure. These programs are for those seeking additional knowledge in a specialized area, teaching K-12, or working in elementary, middle, or high school administrations.

Superintendent Certification

Early career school administrators can apply for and enroll in a superintendent training program that results in certification. In this program, you must complete a robust curriculum and capstone project within 20 months of your starting date. The complete training program costs $6,000 and is available in several major cities including Nashville, Chicago, San Diego, and Los Angeles.

Resources for Higher Education Doctorate Students

JSTOR Education

This database hosts scholarly articles from credible university presses and peer-reviewed journals. This collection of primary sources is ideal for students conducting research for a graduate-level paper or project.

Google Scholar Education

This search engine locates peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, and articles from academic publishers and other scholarly organizations.


This search engine helps professionals working at academic institutions, law firms, corporations, and government agencies locate pertinent data analytics. This site is especially helpful for researchers looking for more quantitative-based research findings.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

This is the nation's largest journalistic newsroom dedicated to covering stories and events at colleges and universities. Students and professionals alike can get real-time news, research tools, and find career opportunities through the website.

Inside Higher Ed

Another digital media company that provides news in higher education, Inside Higher Ed has also become one of the best places for job recruiters and job seekers to post and find employment.

Professional Organizations in Higher Education

Professional organizations provide valuable resources, including digital seminars, continuing education courses, career coaching services, and job boards for graduate students and young professionals. Most organizations have annual conferences that are excellent opportunities for social and professional networking.

Association for the Study of Higher Education

ASHE promotes collaboration among its members and all those who have an academic interest in higher education. Members receive professional development coaching, discounted admission to the annual conference, a subscription to the quarterly journal, and access to a job board.

American Association for Higher Education

AAHEA promotes examples of effective educational practices that matter in a democratic, multiracial society. Through annual conferences, publications, and special projects, AAHEA provides a forum for individuals to engage in constructive conversations about complex issues facing today's education system.

The American Federation of Teachers

AFT is a union of professionals that supports fairness, democracy, equal opportunity, and high-quality public education, healthcare, and public services. Members have the opportunity to advance AFT's progressive agenda through community engagement and political activism.

Council for Advancement and Support of Education

CASE is an organization for those working in institutions' alumni relations, communications, or marketing departments. CASE helps its members build stronger relationships with their alums and donors, raise funds for campus projects, and produce recruitment materials.

Association for Continuing Higher Education

With a network of over 1,200 individual members, ACHE provides professional development for its members and a forum for the exchange of ideas and research. ACHE also publishes a refereed journal featuring research in the field.