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When you’re considering furthering your training by earning a terminal online Ph.D. in education, you might wonder whether it’s worth the time, money, and effort required to do so. 

The short answer? 

Absolutely. Not only is a Ph.D. in education the utmost level of attainment you can reach in this field, but it also allows you to achieve maximum upward mobility in your career. One of the most well-respected credentials in education, it can make you eligible for a wide range of opportunities in educational leadership

Not only that, but your courses will train you on how to use research-based methods to solve problems, making you more effective in your career. You can also tailor your studies by selecting a pathway in which you are interested, allowing you to truly customize your learning toward something about which you are passionate. 

Admissions Requirements for a Ph.D. in Education

While admissions requirements for a Ph.D. in education will vary widely depending on the institution to which you apply, there are several constants that you will likely notice among all of the schools you consider.

For example, you will need to have a bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution, usually with a GPA of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale. You may be asked to have some work experience or a teacher’s certificate, along with passing scores on the GRE or GMAT examination. You might need to submit a reflective essay, a research paper, a resume, or letters of recommendation, too. 

What Are the Best Educational Leadership Degrees?

Online College Plan uses data from the National Center for Education Statistics to determine the best programs. We factor in how robust the school’s online education is, how well that school delivers on its promises, how affordable the program is, and how selective the school as a whole. For more information, see our methodology page.

  1. MERIT: 100

    A top research institution, Texas A&M University offers unique programs, like the only veterinary medicine program in the entire state of Texas. The online Ed.D. in curriculum and instruction is one such one-of-a-kind program, preparing leaders for work in P-12 private and public education settings.

    This degree requires a total of 64 semester credit hours, all of which can be completed in an online delivery format. Students learn in a structured cohort environment, with most learners completing their studies in just four years. You’ll benefit from supportive group work along with 300 hours of professional internships while you are enrolled.

    To be eligible for admission, you must have earned a master’s degree and have at least five years of teaching experience. You will need three professional references detailing your teaching expertise, interpersonal and leadership skills, and qualifications, along with GRE scores and writing samples.

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  2. MERIT: 98.85

    The University of Florida is considered a top 10 comprehensive learning institution. It originally opened its doors on a land grant foundation and maintains its commitment to research and academic excellence to this very day. 

    This mission carries on in the job-embedded Ed.D, an online doctorate program at the University of Florida. This program allows students to learn online while continuing their current employment. With a major in curriculum and instruction, the degree features a one-of-a-kind specialization in teacher, school, and society that is ideal for the practicing educator. 

    A cohort-based program, it includes classes that link theory and research while also supporting aspiring educators in their pursuit of knowledge. It culminates in qualifying examinations and a final dissertation and includes several week-long summer institutes at the University of Florida’s main campus.

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  3. MERIT: 98.40

    Pennsylvania State University is widely recognized for all it’s superb online programs. The World Campus is home to some of the country’s best degrees in business, engineering, and finance—and of course, its online graduate programs in education are ranked as some of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report

    The doctorate program in education at Penn State has a choice of three emphasis areas: teacher leader, school leader with certification, and school leader without certification. The program is offered by the College of Education, which is regularly ranked among the best graduate schools in the country.

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  4. MERIT: 97.61

    Liberty University is often considered a pioneer in distance education, having offered online programs since 1985. With a large student population of both domestic and international students seeking degrees with a Christian worldview, this school is one of the most popular in the state of Virginia.

    The 54-credit hour online Doctor of Education at Liberty takes most students just three years to complete. It includes 100% online, 8-week courses, into which you can transfer up to 15 credits. The program is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education and costs just $595 per credit hour. 

    This highly customizable program includes unique areas of specialization. These are curriculum instruction (with additional emphasis in elementary education, middle grades education, secondary education, and special education) and educational leadership. 

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  5. MERIT: 89.63

    Texas Tech University has a proud commitment to research, with faculty and students alike carrying out thousands of hours of original study each year on campus in Lubbock, TX. Distance learners receive access to the same exemplary level of scholarship with the many online programs at Texas Tech.

    With 60 minimum credit hours required, the Ed.D. in higher education administration at Texas Tech comes with two potential areas of emphasis. You can choose to specialize in community college administration or in higher education college/university administration. The only online program among other Texas public universities in this major, the degree is offered in a blended delivery format. 

    Although all classes can be completed online, each student is required to attend an on-campus orientation session along with three professional development sessions in the summer. To be eligible for admission, you must have a full-time professional experience in a public or private higher education institution or agency.

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  6. MERIT: 87.64

    Graduate studies are important at the University of Southern California, where the number of graduate students far outnumber the undergraduate population. The university is home to multiple highly ranked graduate schools include the Gould School of Law and, of course, the Rossier School of Education.

    The Doctor of Education in Organizational Change and Leadership is offered fully online and is perfect for both current and emerging leaders. It is a three-year program that examines the ways in which learning occurs both formally and informally. It also takes into consideration the strategies that can be used to facilitate organizational change.  

    The degree includes one on-campus immersion weekend per year. Each student must complete a dissertation before graduation as well. Financial aid is available in most cases for students who require assistance.

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  7. MERIT: 84.52

    With a campus in downtown Lincoln, NE, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to a variety of graduate schools, including a College of Engineering and a remarkable College of Education and Human Sciences. The University of Nebraska-lincoln is home to both a Ph.D. in educational studies along with an Ed.D. in educational administration, both of which are available entirely online. 

    These degrees come with unique specializations in educational leadership and higher education, allowing learners to tailor their training toward the environments of their choosing. Courses are offered online and on-campus. You’ll work closely with a faculty advisor to create a plan of study and complete your pathway toward degree completion.

    To apply, you must submit a set of transcripts along with entrance exams like the GRE. You will need to submit a resume, three recommendation letters, three samples of research or writing, and a statement of goals.

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  8. MERIT: 83.40

    Enroll at Indiana University-Bloomington, and you will forever be known as a “Hoosier.” Truth be told, nobody truly knows what a “Hoosier” actually is, but there are unrivaled levels of school spirit when it comes to this university. You’ll notice that spirit even when studying online. 

    Indian University-Bloomington offers countless degrees in a fully-online format. The School of Education alone has dozens of online degrees, with the Ed.D. in literacy, culture, and language option one of the most popular. Available fully online, this 60-credit hour program is perfect for language practitioners who aspire toward leadership positions in their field. It’s great for working professionals and is structured in a cohort model. 

    In this program, you’ll take classes like Theoretical Issues in the Study of Language and Literacies and complete internship and research seminar hours, too. To be eligible for admission, you must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75 out of 4.00.

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  9. MERIT: 83.03

    There are hundreds of ways you can get involved as a student at the University of Arkansas. From the Office of Student Activities to two radio stations and countless NCAA Division I athletics teams, this school offers plenty of ways to fight the boredom. However, chances are that if you are enrolled in the doctorate program in education, you’re going to be anything but bored. This program is rigorous and hands-on. 

    The Ed.D. in educational leadership at the University of Arkansas is designed for aspiring building-level administrators supervisors and government agency officials who are interested in career advancement. Although the program requires three intensive weekend seminars on campus, all other requirements can be completed fully online. 

    The degree requires 42 credit hours of study and can be completed in just three years, with participation in a dissertation project. The degree is ranked season of the Best Online Graduate Education Programs by U.S. News & World Report.

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  10. MERIT: 82.17

    North Carolina State University at Raleigh has plenty of eclectic ways for students to get involved. The largest four-year college in the state it is home to more than 580 clubs and organizations along with several NCAA Division I athletics teams. But you don’t have to study on campus in order to benefit from these myriad offerings. The university offers dozens of programs completely online. 

    When you earn a doctorate degree in education from North Carolina State University, you’ll receive an internationally respected credential from one of the top universities in the country. With a focus on education administration and supervision, this program is perfect for aspiring school administrators. 

    The degree is offered in a cohort format and prepares district-level school leaders who are talented and compassionate. A 54 credit hour program, it requires three letters of reference, MAT or GRE test scores, a professional resume, a personal statement, and a transcript from each college you have attended for admission.

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  11. MERIT: 81.80

    The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities may be divided into two separate cities, Minneapolis and St. Paul, but there’s nothing divided about the student body at this school. In fact, at all sporting events, student fans are rallied by Goldy Gopher, the beloved school mascot. This spirit of community carries on in the online Ph.D. in education at UM, where students join together in close-knit cohorts to move through their courses.

    The Ph.D. in education at the University of Minnesota has a unique concentration in comparative and international development education. This area focuses on the application and production of research to address various cultural, political, and economic contexts. Students work in a cohort fashion and enjoy lifelong professional relationships with their faculty and peers.

    The degree consists of 72 credit hours of study. Most learners can complete the program in just three to five years of full-time work. 

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  12. MERIT: 81.63

    The University of South Carolina is home to many well-regarded graduate schools, including the Darla Moore school and of course, the College of Education. This school is known for its research centers and actively involves students of all levels and interests in significant amounts of scholarly research. These opportunities are available to online learners, too, with more than 1000 online courses offered each year. 

    The Doctor of Education in curriculum and instruction features concentrations in curriculum studies, educational technology, and STEM education. GRE or MAT scores are not required for admissions, making this an accessible degree for most students. In this 100% online program, you will develop the capabilities necessary to lead and research issues related to the foundations of education.

    Not only that, but this degree is highly affordable. You’ll pay around $515 per credit hour, leading to a low overall program cost. Financial aid is available, too. 

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  13. MERIT: 81.51

    The University of Alabama is home to a unique elephant mascot known as Big Al. This is a fitting title for this character, who cheers on all Alabama Crimson Tide sports teams that compete in the NCAA Division I Southerneaster Conference.

    Life at the University of Alabama moves beyond the sports arenas, however. The university is also home to dozens of high-quality academic programs. The interdisciplinary Ed.D. is unique because it is designed specifically for aspiring nursing educators. The degree equips students with the research base and curricular knowledge they need to be successful in a community college or university setting. 

    Since the degree is designed for students who work full-time, courses are offered in a convenient format, blending online classes with four weekend meetings each semester. You must have an RN licensure in order to apply. Once you do, you will be admitted to a cohort-based program where you pay just $420 per credit hour. 

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  14. MERIT: 81.17

    With centers for learning in Italy, the United Kingdom, Panama, Spain, and countless other domestic and international destinations, Florida State is a sprawling public school with a massive global reach. In addition to these distant centers of study, the school is also home to a vast online campus that caters specifically to nontraditional students.

    When you enroll in the online doctorate in education at Florida State, you’ll benefit from a rigorous curriculum with all the support of a compassionate intellectual community. The university has a small school atmosphere with big scholar access to research. The program emphasizes theory and research in education, drawing from a variety of other disciplines.

    To apply, you will need a master’s or specialist degree with a minimum GPA of at least 3.0, along with a bachelor’s degree with the same minimum average. You will also need to supply the GRE test scores.

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  15. MERIT: 81.08

    East Carolina University is home to several notable alumni, including Linda and Vince McMahon, founders of World Wrestling Entertainment, and Academy Award-winning actress Sandra Bullock. Will you be the next in the long list of talented and renowned East Carolina alumni?

    The doctorate in education has a focus area in educational leadership and prepares aspiring senior-level leaders. It is applicable for individuals with an interest in elementary and secondary education as well as those who wish to work in higher education. All requirements, including the dissertation, can be completed in just three years. 

    When you enroll in this program, you will study within an international cohort. Courses generally start during the summer and take three years total to complete (for a total of 6- credit hours). Courses are delivered in a hybrid format, with only 15 of 18 students admitted to each cohort. Tuition is affordable, too, with rates starting at just $250 per credit hour.

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  16. MERIT: 80.53

    With a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1, New Mexico State University offers close-knit classes guided by attentive (and talented) faculty members. The educational leadership doctoral program at New Mexico State is incredibly flexible, rated as one of the best in the country. 

    Offered at an “extensive research university,” this program includes areas of focus in PK-12 educational administration, community college administration, and university administration. It’s available as a doctor of education and a doctor of philosophy, requiring anywhere from 63 to 78 credit hours for degree completion. 

    To apply, you will need to have a master’s degree and submit transcripts from any school you have attended. You will also need to submit a portfolio directly to the department. 

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  17. MERIT: 80.28

    Study at the University of North Texas, close to the cities of Dallas and Fort Worth, and you’ll have more than 100 different majors to choose from. The online Ph.D./Ed.D in higher education at this school is one of the best, providing you with extensive opportunities to become knowledgeable about educational research and theory. 

    If you’re also interested in conducting your own original research, then this is the program for you. Faculty here have published more than two dozen books and over 100 journal articles, with research areas including higher education policy, institutional effectiveness, and other areas. The university is also home to multiple research centers and opportunities, like the Bill J. Priest Center for Community College Education and the Higher Education Development Initiative. 

    To apply for admission, you will need to submit GRE or GMAT scores along with an acceptable graduate GPA. you will also need to submit an admissions essay and evidence of prior work experience in education.

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  18. MERIT: 79.94

    A doctoral degree doesn’t have to be expensive, and Indiana State proves that. With low tuition rates and high financial aid awards, this school is one of the most affordable of its kind. In fact, nearly 72% of all undergraduates receive some kind of need-based financial aid! 

    Financial aid is available to most graduate students, too. Of the many graduate programs offered at Indiana State University, the doctor of philosophy in educational administration is one of the most popular. This degree has a specialization in leadership in higher education and prepares learners for positions of leadership in both two- and four-year colleges.

    Designed specifically for working professionals, it requires 45 credit hours of courses plus 18 dissertation hours. It can be completed in just two academic years.  

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  19. MERIT: 79.94

    Graduate education is at the forefront at Ball State University, where there are more than 100 majors for master’s candidates alone. These programs are offered in award-winning schools like the Miller College of Business and the Teachers College. 

    The Doctor of Philosophy in educational studies at Ball State addresses all potential changes and methods of delivery in public education, educational research, and teacher education. The program blends seamlessly with numerous graduate certificates, including those in computer education, college and university teaching, and diversity studies. 

    Upon graduation from this program, all students find positions in their areas of interest. Students have access to some of the best academic research opportunities at a teacher’s college, which is one of the highest-ranked in the country. Additional tracks are available in educational technology and cultural and educational policy studies.

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  20. MERIT: 78.98

    Sam Houston State University is named after Texas’ greatest hero—Sam Houston himself. Today, the university continues to pay homage to its historical roots by offering excellent academic programs that surpass expectations. Ranked one of the Top Public Schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, Sam Houston offers an exceptional online doctorate program in education.

    The doctorate in developmental education administration at Sam Houston State consists of sixty credit hours and offers summer enrollment. It is a highly immersive and interdisciplinary program, providing students with networking opportunities with federal, state, and local education organizations and agencies. 

    Students receive access to ongoing mentoring and advising via internet communication. Core courses include Outcome Assessment in DVD, Academic Writing and Research, and Teaching Strategies for Developmental Mathematics, to name a few. 

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  21. MERIT: 78.16

    Located in one of the chilliest–and windiest!—cities in the contiguous United States, the University at Buffalo is a state university that has a top-ranked faculty, Division 1A athletics, and cultural richness. Luckily, you don’t need to brave the cold to study here. The University at Buffalo offers many fully-online programs. 

    The Ph.D. in curriculum, instruction, and the science of learning at the University of Buffalo is offered entirely online. It is a multidisciplinary program that addresses some of the most modern and practical problems in education by allowing students to dive into a diverse body of research. It’s unique in that students can create their own customized program to adapt to their own career and research interests.

    The degree includes five concentrations—English education, elementary education, mathematics education, science education, and literacy and reading education. If you’re not sure which path you want to follow, you can also choose to pursue an interdisciplinary general track, too. Most students will take four to five years to complete their studies, completing 62 doctoral credits.

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  22. MERIT: 77.89

    Kennesaw State University is ranked as one of the Most Innovative Schools by U.S. News & World Report, receiving high marks for its exceptional levels of faculty involvement, peer collaboration, and academic research. This school offers learners small class sizes with an average student-to-faculty ratio of 20:1, with many programs—like the Ph.D. in education—even smaller.

    The doctorate in educational leadership is a 45 credit hour program that is considered a terminal degree. It builds your understanding of key educational concepts while teaching you to expertly utilize transformational leadership skills. The curriculum features a common core in research along with concentration courses such as Educational Planning and Performance for Educational Executives. 

    Later, you’ll move on to 12 credit hours of electives. These explore all areas of education, from the media to economics and even transitions. Finally, you will need to complete a dissertation with original research and formal reflections on how this work can apply to your own career.

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  23. MERIT: 77.85

    If you’re able to stop by the campus of Central Michigan University at least once, you won’t regret it. This university hosts dozens of events each year, including a cardboard boat race during Homecoming and Native American Heritage Month. This event is just one example of how the university stays true to its roots—and provides an exceptional living and learning environment for all of its students.

    This commitment is carried forth to the online campus, too. The Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership is offered entirely online, preparing learners for the highest levels of administration. Emphasis areas are offered in higher education as well as K-12 leadership, allowing students to accomplish their goals no matter what they are. 

    Courses are offered in hybrid courses, meaning each student follows a set of courses with the same group of students from start to finish. Courses are primarily online with two face-to-face meetings each summer with the cohort. 

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  24. MERIT: 77.52

    Arizona State University-Tempe has one of the largest undergraduate populations in the nation, home to nearly 43,000 degree-seeking students. This university is well-known for its highly ranked graduate programs, including those offered in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Here, one of the most advanced degrees available is the Doctor of Education in leadership And innovation. 

    Designed for perfection educator-leaders, the program is appropriate for professionals in a variety of settings. Classes are fifteen weeks per class, leading to a total of 20 classes and 90 credit hours. You’ll be able to choose from concentration areas in prekindergarten-grade 12 change leadership; higher education change leadership; and systems, professional, and reimagined change leadership. 

    Ranked eleventh in the world for education by the Academic Ranking of World Universities, Arizona State is also highly ranked by U.S. News & World Report. You can apply at two different times per year—either in the spring or in the fall.

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  25. MERIT: 77.23

    The University of the Cumberlands is ranked as one of the country’s Top Performers on Social Mobility by U.S. News & World Report. If you’ve never heard of this accolade before, it’s simple: this school does an excellent job of making sure students from all backgrounds receive equal access to affordable and exceptional higher education.

    Designed for learners who want to enhance their specialty knowledge and become effective leaders, the 60 credit-hour online Ed.D. is best for working professionals. It can be completed in fewer than three years and includes unique specialty areas like English, math, nursing, religion, information systems, and several others.

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  26. MERIT: 76.88

    Become a student at the University of West Georgia, and you’ll benefit from a variety of support services. From nonremedial tutoring to placement services and even career workshops, you’ll feel completely taken care of when you decide to study here. That’s true even if you choose to study from afar.

    The online Ed.D. in school improvement at the University of West Georgia is an interdisciplinary program that consists of 60 credit hours. All courses are offered asynchronously with a wide array of instructional technologies, with students asked to come to campus for one two-day orientation during the first summer. Most students can complete this degree in just three years. 

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  27. MERIT: 76.83

    Want to gain hands-on experience while you are enrolled in your doctoral program? There is no better place to do this than at the University of Houston. Here, you will have some of the best opportunities to find and engage in internships, research opportunities, and extracurricular activities—even if you are studying online. 

    At just $448 per credit hour, the Ed.D. in professional leadership at the University of Houston is not only high-quality and immersive, but it’s also affordable. This 51-credit hour program can be completed entirely online and provides educators with key research and other skills. 

    To be eligible for admission, you must have a graduate GPA of 3.0. You will also need to submit GRE test scores. You may apply at several points each year. 

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  28. MERIT: 76.82

    The University of Colorado Denver/Anschutz Medical Campus is ranked as one of the best when it comes to medical programs, but this university isn’t only about biology, anatomy, and pharmacy. It’s also home to one of the best doctorate degrees in education. The Doctor of Education in leadership for educational equity has a concentration in higher education that enables current leaders in higher education to complete their doctoral degrees while still remaining at work.

    Core topics of study include law and ethics, finance and strategic resource allocations, power and privilege, and more. Courses are collaborative and take most students roughly three years to complete. The program is unique in that all students receive access to support services and executive coaching for up to 12 months after graduation.

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  29. MERIT: 76.08

    At the University of Wyoming, major university prestige and research opportunities meet small-school advantages like dedicated faculty, small class sizes, and world-class facilities. Although this school is ranked as one of the best in the country by U.S. News & World Report, it maintains an average student-to-faculty ratio of just 15:1. 

    The doctoral program in education at the University of Wyoming is available as both a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. All students will take classes in curriculum, assessment, multicultural education, and more. You will also be given the opportunity to choose an area of interest on which to focus your coursework and dissertation, too.  

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  30. MERIT: 75.87

    The University of Memphis offers more than 50 majors for master’s students alone, making this school one of the best when it comes to doctoral offerings. The doctorate of education in higher and adult education at this school as a unique concentration in higher education for candidates seeking senior-level positions at colleges and universities. 

    Courses are scheduled in the evenings, during the weekends, or fully online to help meet the needs of the working adult. A residency is required, with several options available in how you can complete this. Students are required to take comprehensive doctoral examinations and to complete a final dissertation, too.

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What are some jobs for people with a Ph.D. in Education?

When you earn a Ph.D. in Education, you’ll take coursework that can impact your future earnings and lead to top-ranked positions in companies, private schools, and universities. You could work as a training and development manager, academic dean, provost, associate professor, superintendent of schools, or some other kind of education administrator. 

One of these degrees will add some serious clout to your resume. This can boost your job search and open up new opportunities in the public and private sectors. 

What is the outlook and potential pay for a Ph.D. in Education?

A Ph.D. in Education can seriously improve your annual earnings. Most senior positions in education administration require an advanced degree, so median salaries can be anywhere between $75,000 and $150,000—or more!

What is the difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D?

There are essentially two types of doctoral programs in education. One is a Ph.D., which focuses more on research and how educational data can impact actual practice. An Ed.D, on the other hand, focuses on educational leadership and the direct application of principles in the classroom. 

Within those two disciplines, you can break down the differences even more intricately. You can study in various areas, specializing your training in topics like educational policy, adult education, higher education, special education, or even psychology, just to name a few. 

How long will it take to earn a degree in Education?

Regardless of whether you decide to pursue an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. in education, keep in mind that you’re going to want to set aside a few years on your calendar. While it’s certainly possible to earn one of these degrees in less than two years, this will require full-time study and more often than not, this is not possible. In that case, you can take four to seven years to complete your studies.

What will my classes be like?

Studying online presents a ton of benefits. Not only will you be able to experience the same caliber of education that’s offered to students learning on campus, but you’ll also be able to coordinate your studies based on your other life commitments. If you’re working full time or have a family to care for, that’s crucial.

Classes are generally offered either asynchronously—with no set meeting times—or synchronously. Some programs require occasional brief residencies on campus, but these are typically limited and reserved for summer weekends only.

What is a dissertation?

Almost every program that we ranked on this list requires the completion of a dissertation. Typically required in a doctoral degree, a dissertation is a unique and original scholarly contribution including significant amounts of research. These are generally quite long and in-depth. You will work on your dissertation for much of the time in which you are enrolled in your doctoral program.

Do I need to have experience in education?

That depends on the institution to which you apply. While some programs require a background in education (measured by a teaching certification, several years of work experience, or another quantifier), others have none of these requirements. Often, work experience requirements can be met with related paid or volunteer work in fields like teaching, nonprofit employment, or management, too.

When is a Ph.D. in Education worth it?

Almost always. If you’re currently an educator, administrator, or scholar, a Ph.D. in education can not only advance your training and allow you to pursue your passions in education, but it can provide a necessary boost in your career. 

Not only that, but you’ll gain greater career flexibility and security. You won’t feel locked in to a specific job because doctorate degree holders have the lowest unemployment rates in the country, compared to other levels of degree holders. 

Beyond the benefits that are easily listed on paper, there are also numerous intangible benefits to earning a Ph.D. in education. A doctorate will allow you to attain the highest level of understanding in your field, allowing you to improve the world around you and contribute your own findings with unique research and practices in your field.

Whatever your line of work or particular passions might be, a Ph.D. in education is a smart professional choice. 

If you’re interested in pursuing higher education, then you should check out The 10 Best Careers for the Future and The 20 Best Masters in Educational Technology!