Whether you want to work at a college, high school, or nonprofit organization, an online Ph.D. in educational leadership is exactly what you need to succeed.

Without education, they say, we have nothing. But without good leaders, our educational systems won’t be able to stand the test of time—nor can they rise up to meet the unique challenges that they might face. 

That’s true no matter what setting you might work in, regardless of whether it’s in higher education, PreK-12, or even in a corporate, military, or nonprofit setting. 

Admissions Requirements for a Doctoral Program in Educational Leadership

When you are applying for a Ph.D. in educational leadership, admissions requirements will vary depending on the type of program as well as the institutional requirements where you are applying. 

In most cases, you will need to have a bachelor’s, or more often, a master’s degree from a regionally accredited university. You will need a GPA of 3.0 or better on a 4.0 scale. Some universities may require you to have several years of prior experience in education or to be able to demonstrate past or future leadership potential. 

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

    Founded by a prominent Baptist minister named Jerry Falwell, Liberty University was created with the goal of providing premier Christian education in more than 280 different fields. One of these fields is education. In fact, Liberty is home to a Ph.D. in higher education administration that consistently makes it to the top of national rankings. 

    This program requires 60 credit hours of study and takes most learners just three years to complete. Courses are flexible and offered in convenient eight-week chunks. You’ll not only gain the skills that you need to advance your training in education, but you’ll also hone your leadership skills through practical application and research.

    Core classes include Teaching the College Student and Policy Analysis. Tuition is affordable, with rates frozen for the past four years to ensure that prices are low and attainable. 

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  2. MERIT: 94

    Although all undergraduates at Texas Tech are required to live on campus until they have completed 30 hours of coursework, that is simply not the case with students studying at the doctoral level. In fact, Texas Tech offers numerous programs entirely online for students who can’t—or don’t wish to—come to campus. 

    Offered 100% online, the educational leadership program at Texas Tech is an Ed.D. that prepares executive school leaders. It requires 60 credit hours of coursework, including 48 hours of coursework and 12 hours of dissertation research. To be eligible to apply, you must hold a current and active professional role in a PreK-12 school district. 

    The curriculum of this program is delivered in a blended format, with distance courses offered in the fall and spring and one weekly intensive each summer. To apply, you must have a master’s degree along with a resume, statement of interest, recommendations, and GRE scores.

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  3. MERIT: 93

    With more than 600 student organizations and 18 NCAA Division I sports teams, there are plenty of ways to get involved at Florida State University. However, some of the best opportunities to immerse yourself in your education are through your studies. At Florida State, there are numerous online programs that are not only high-quality but interactive. 

    The online Ed.D in educational leadership and policy at Florida State was actually the university’s first online doctoral program. It prepares mid-career leaders and practitioners in education who are knowledgeable about research and organizational systems while being attuned and dedicated to ensuring equity. 

    The degree consists of 69 credit hours and is housed in the College of Education. It is ranked as one of the Best Online Programs for Graduate Education by U.S. News & World Report. To be eligible for admission, you will need a graduate degree with a minimum of a 3.5 GPA along with GRE test scores.

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  4. MERIT: 90

    The University of Utah is perhaps best known for its location. From world-class skiing to five national parks in Salt Lake City alone, this campus sits among a huge natural playground. However, you don’t have to study on-campus to benefit from the university’s many offerings. There are countless online programs here as well. 

    One of these is the Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership and policy. It includes two unique concentrations in either K12 or higher education. All students will take coursework in topics like organizations, critical studies in education, and educational policy. Each candidate is also required to complete a two-semester research apprenticeship as well as independent research. 

    This program is unique in that assistantships are available to all qualified full-time students. Through these assistantships, learners will work 20 hours per week and receive a stipend in addition to a full tuition waiver.

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  5. MERIT: 89

    300 campus clubs. Over 175 different well-ranked majors. A student-to-faculty ratio of just 18:1. Do those figures impress you? They should, as they’re all testament to the high quality of education you can receive at East Carolina University. However, there’s more that this university has to offer learners, too, both inside and outside of the classroom.

    The Ed.D. in educational leadership comes with two distinct concentrations: K12 administration and higher education administration. Both can be completed in just three years with the completion of 60 credit hours. Courses are delivered in a hybrid model, with classes offered both online as well as on-campus. 

    Class sizes are kept small in this program. Most students will take two classes per semester and courses are capped with cohorts between 15 and 18 students. Tuition is affordable, starting at just $250 per credit hour. 

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  6. MERIT: 89

    At the University of North Texas, more than half of all full-time undergraduate students receive some kind of need-based financial aid. That’s an impressive percentage, especially when you consider that the average need-based award is more than $8,700! And when it comes to affordability at the doctoral level, UNT doesn’t miss the mark, either. There are several scholarships just for students in the online doctoral programs in educational leadership. 

    This university offers both an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in educational leadership, both of which have embedded superintendent certificates. All courses are offered in a blended format with a unique cohort model that allows learners to move through their courses together as a group.

    To apply, you will need to have completed 24 credit hours in education at the graduate level along with a full master’s degree in education or another area. You will also be required to submit a teaching certificate and have at least two years of teaching experience by the end of the program.

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  7. MERIT: 89

    With more than 150 degrees in eight colleges, there are plenty of career pathways to choose from at Colorado State University-Fort Collins. Earning a Ph.D. in higher education will not only provide you with the skills you need to lead and manage a higher education institution, but it will also prepare you to succeed as an administrative leader.

    This program has a retention rate of more than 95%. This is dramatically higher than the national average of 50% and due in part to the program’s convenient online format. Students can complete their coursework while remaining in full-time employment. In addition, the program has a unique cohort structure that allows learners to start, move through, and complete their courses with the same group of people. 

    This kind of cohort model fosters collaboration and a familial sort of networking, making it possible for students to enhance their personal and professional connections. Faculty members, too, are an active part of the learning process. They provide frequent feedback in a variety of formats. The degree can be completed in just five years.

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  8. MERIT: 88

    Just four hours from the actual Grand Canyon itself, Grand Canyon University also has a larger-than-life reputation. With dozens of programs in numerous colleges and schools (as well as online), this proprietary institution is one of the best. The Doctorate of Education in educational leadership is offered entirely online and features numerous specializations—including a popular concentration in K-12 Leadership. 

    This program allows learners to complete their studies online or in a mixture of evening courses. As a student in this program, you will progress through your classes with a small cohort, working together to discover the latest trends in K-12 education. The curriculum focuses on six core domains: leadership, culture, change, globalization and world view, scholarship and research, and K-12 leadership emphasis. 

    With 60 credits required, the program includes classes that last eight weeks on average. You can transfer in up to nine doctoral credits and with tuition rates starting at just $670 per credit hour, you really can’t beat the flexibility and affordability of this program. 

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  9. MERIT: 87

    Founded as the Storrs Agricultural School, the University of Connecticut first opened its doors in sleepy Storrs, CT with the goal of providing agricultural programs. Today, however, the university offers many other graduate and doctoral programs, including the Ed.D in educational leadership.

    This program has a unique cohort model through which students will take classes with 7 to 14 of their peers. They will work together, collaborating as professional and academic communities, through every aspect of the curriculum, from coursework to capstones. In addition, there are significant opportunities for learners to present their research and to network with prior cohorts.

    A part-time 41-credit program, the degree is divided into three distinct phases. In the first phase, students build their competencies in research and writing. In the second, they advance their knowledge of theory, and in the third, they begin and complete their capstone research projects.

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  10. MERIT: 87

    The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is ranked as one of the Best Colleges for Veterans by U.S. News & World Report. But you don’t have to be in the military to benefit from this university’s impressive lineup of majors. 

    The Ph.D. in educational studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has a unique specialization in educational leadership and higher education. This program is perfect for aspiring educators and higher education administrators. It includes several opportunities for in-depth learning along with practicums and other scholarly learning experiences. 45 semester hours are required. 

    While most of the required courses in this degree can be completed online, several must be completed as one-week residencies during the summer. These residencies allow students to focus on special topics of their own interest and also allow for interaction with industry experts. 

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  11. MERIT: 87

    As a student at the University of Arkansas, you will have access to a wide array of support services. These include nonremedial tutoring, a women’s center, health insurance, library resources, and many more. However, you don’t need to study on-campus in order to benefit from these many resources—they are also available to online learners.

    The online Doctor of Education in educational leadership at the University of Arkansas offers professional preparation for aspiring principals, administrators, superintendents, and other educational leaders. While all coursework can be completed entirely online, the degree does include one on-campus seminar per semester. 

    This program consists of 42 credit hours and takes most students three years to complete. When you enroll in this program, you will be placed in an online cohort that meets in person several times over the course of the degree. It is ranked as one of the Best Online Programs for Graduate Education by U.S. News & World Report

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  12. MERIT: 86

    Choose to study at Northcentral University, and you’ll benefit from a unique one-to-one teaching model. What does this mean? It means that you’ll be paired with a member of the 100% doctoral faculty in each and every one of your classes, receiving personalized feedback and flexibility as you move through your courses. This kind of support and faculty attention is unparalleled—and unprecedented.

    The Doctor of Education in educational leadership at Northcentral University is perfect for aspiring education administrators at all levels. It consists of eighteen courses or 54 credit hours, that takes most students just under four years to complete. 

    It’s a highly affordable degree, with six students given a full-tuition scholarship each year. Courses are uniquely offered in a classroom size of one, and with new classes that start every Monday, there’s no reason not to get a jump start on your education with Northcentral right now!

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  13. MERIT: 85

    The University of Kentucky is located in Lexington, KY – the so-called “Horse Capital of the World.” While there’s plenty to do in Lexington (and no, you don’t need to be an equestrian to enjoy the city, either), there are equally just as many opportunities for distance learning, too. 

    The Ph.D. in educational leadership is offered fully online, offering all the benefits of learning at a flagship university with the convenience of distance learning. It’s perfect for students who are interested in becoming research scientists, university faculty members, or educational policy experts. With 42 required hours of coursework and four hours of residency, the degree admits new cohorts each fall. 

    Core classes include Research in Education Leadership and the Politics of Educational Leadership. It takes most students four to five years to complete and includes pathways for specialization after the first few years of study. 

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  14. MERIT: 84

    Volunteerism and service are at the core of all programs at Central Michigan University. Here,  students are encouraged to get involved, with a large CMU Volunteer Center that helps set students up with community service opportunities. This service-minded approach to learning is just one reason why the Ph.D. in educational leadership here is one of the best. 

    At just $726 per credit hour, the Doctor of Education in educational leadership prepares learners for success at the highest levels of administration. It offers concentration areas in higher education and K-12 education, allowing students to develop the skills they need in any setting. Beyond those two pathways, students can further specialize their training in topics like K-12 curriculum and educational technology.

    With a curriculum that’s delivered to hybrid cohorts, this program is immersive and transformative. You will take classes with the same group of students from start to finish, with all classes offered predominantly online with two face-to-face meetings per cohort. 

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  15. MERIT: 83

    At Ball State University, providing students with immersion in real-world learning experiences is one of the main goals of the faculty. Not only do students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and cutting-edge technology, but they are also considered a leader when it comes to integrating technology into the curriculum. 

    Interested in combining your knowledge of technology with your skills in teaching and leadership? You might want to consider the Doctorate of Education in educational administration and supervision at Ball State. This program is flexible and integrative, including intensive research requirements as well as master’s courses like Educational Decision Making and School Law.

    When you apply to Ball State, you may be eligible for reduced tuition rates or financial aid. There are also several doctoral assistantships available that offer a tuition remission along with a stipend. Offered in a blended format, this program requires 90 graduate credits for completion.

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  16. MERIT: 83

    The University of Missouri-Columbia is perhaps best known for its on-campus botanical garden, which is home to more than 40,000 plants and serves as a living laboratory for many of the university’s programs. Luckily, you don’t have to have a green thumb in order to study online—all you need is a passion for lifelong learning.

    The online doctorate in educational leadership at the University of Missouri is offered in a blended format with a couple of campus visits required. It consists of 46 credit hours of study and is perfect for aspiring school and university administrators. Coursework includes Studies in Educational Policy, Organizational Analysis, and Leadership Theory. 

    A major bonus of studying online with the University of Missouri is the rock-bottom tuition rates. Not only are tuition rates low already, but as an online learner, you’ll pay in-state rates regardless of where you actually live.

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  17. MERIT: 83

    New Mexico State University has an impressive set of five separate locations. While the main campus is located in Las Cruces, just 50 miles from the Mexican border, the university maintains locations all over the state as well as an easily accessible campus online.

    New Mexico State University’s doctoral program in educational leadership is offered completely online. It is hands-on, requiring students to complete a dissertation as well as several advanced internships. Other core courses include Concepts of Leadership in Education and Higher Education Law. 

    To apply, you will need to submit a letter of intent along with a current resume and a writing sample. A statement of support from your employer, an interview agreement form, and three letters of reference are also required. 

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  18. MERIT: 80

    Illinois State University is located in Normal, IL, but this school is far from “normal” or “average” in any way. It’s ranked a Top Public School by U.S. News & World Report and has a reputation for student success and quality academics.

    The doctoral degree in educational administration and foundations at Illinois State is research-intensive, with courses designed to provide students with extensive insight on how P-12 leaders can use current thinking to improve their practices. Upon enrollment, each student is assigned a faculty advisor to help with the creation of a course planning document. 

    Core classes include Administrative Theory in Education, Research Design in Education, and Moral and Political Foundations of Education Policy. To be eligible for admission, you must have already earned a master’s degree in a related discipline and have a minimum 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale. 

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  19. MERIT: 80

    Ranked one of the top Regional Universities in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report, the University of Northern Iowa offers some of the best programs in business, communication, social sciences, and of course, education.

    The Doctor of Education in educational leadership comes with a variety of tracks: principal, superintendent, and special education director. These pathways allow you to hone your skills in a certain area and to become as prepared as possible for specific careers.

    All students will complete 48 credit hours, moving through their classes in cohorts of 40 students each. Most learners can graduate in just three years, taking two courses per semester in a hybrid and fully online environment. 

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  20. MERIT: 80

    With a student-to-faculty ratio of 17:1, it’s easy to get to know your teachers and fellow classmates at Lamar University. Even when you choose to study online, you’ll benefit from small class sizes and flexible course scheduling. 

    The doctoral program in educational leadership at Lamar is offered 100% online and enables learners to meet their current work obligations. It begins in the summer and can be completed in just eight semesters (including the summers in between). You’ll engage in cutting-edge research so that you can make the greatest overall impact on your local and global communities. 

    With 60 total required credit hours, the program has several start dates per year. If you aren’t interested in pursuing a full doctorate, Lamar also offers an opportunity for members of global education leadership groups to earn professional development hours with this program. 

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  21. MERIT: 78

    At the University of the Cumberlands, each student is required to complete at least 40 hours of community service before graduation. Also known as the leadership and community service program, this initiative prepares students for lives of leadership. This commitment to service and excellence is just one reason why the University of the Cumberlands can offer one of the top programs in educational leadership.

    The online doctorate in educational leadership at the University of the Cumberlands includes unique concentration areas in criminal justice, education, health science, information systems, and several others. It can be completed entirely online with the addition of optional on-campus classes, if desired (these are offered on Saturdays). 

    Designed to help professional educators make valuable, cutting-edge contributions in academic leadership, the degree includes numerous opportunities for research, public service, and professional activities. 

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  22. MERIT: 78

    At Marshall University, you will have access to robust student support services, including a writing center, tutoring, a textbook loan program, counseling, and even health and wellness initiatives. These services aren’t limited to on-campus learners, either—in fact, online students enjoy the same benefits.

    The online Doctor of Education in leadership studies at Marshall University is a terminal degree that is perfect for individuals aspiring to leadership positions in their local communities. It includes a core content in fundamental leadership practices that is complemented by studies in policy making, legal and financial issues, and ethics.

    With 45 graduate hours required, the degree includes a minimum of 18 hours of major coursework, 18 hours of research and support, and nine hours of dissertation work. 

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  23. MERIT: 78

    A nationally-recognized research university, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell doesn’t just prepare students for graduation. It also equips them with the skills they need to be “work-ready, life-ready, and world-ready.” Nowhere is this truer than in the online learning environment.

    The Ed.D in leadership in schooling at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell is  designed to provide professional educators with a seamless pathway to a terminal degree. Graduates go on to leadership roles in K-12 settings as well as to roles in higher education. There are additional concentration options for students who are interested in pursuing STEM education leadership, too. 

    All students begin this program as members of a cohort, allowing learners to work together with the same group of students throughout their studies. Classes are taken two-at-a-time for each semester, with all classes completed over a three-year period. 

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  24. MERIT: 78

    Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the University of North Georgia affords on-campus learners countless opportunities to explore the great outdoors. But you don’t need to be an outdoorsman to study at this school. In fact, the university offers dozens of majors completely online, making high-quality education accessible to distance learners all over the country.

    The Doctor of Education at the University of North Georgia includes a superb major in higher education leadership and practice. With a research and higher education core of 30 credit hours, the degree includes an additional 15 credit hours of leadership courses. All cohorts begin in the fall semester, with an optional on-campus orientation available. 

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  25. MERIT: 77

    Although it has its roots as a top teacher preparation college—which it still proudly is—Rowan University has transformed over the years into a leading research institution. As a result, this school offers programs in education that are not only designed for aspiring educators, but provide you with the skills in research and analysis that you need to be successful in any field. 

    The Doctor of Education in educational leadership at Rowan University prepares leaders who are skilled at reflective decision making and collaborative work. It includes unique tracks in areas like higher education, P-12, nurse education, and community college leadership initiative. 

    All classes in this program are offered entirely online, with three in-person residency meetings required. There are hybrid delivery modes offered for some courses, too.

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  26. MERIT: 77

    Famous alumni of East Tennessee State University include Kenny Chesney and Michelle Livengood, the former senior VP of Krispy Kreme. You don’t have to like country music—or doughnuts—to be impressed by the high-quality programs at East Tennessee, though. 

    The online doctoral program in higher education leadership at East Tennessee State allows learners to develop their skills in educational leadership through the study and practical applications of educational theory, foundations, research, and fieldwork. It includes core courses such as The Adult Learner and Leadership for Lifelong Learning. 

    To be eligible for admissions, you will need to hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree with a minimum of a 2.5 undergraduate GPA. you will also need to supply GRE test scores, a personal essay, a resume, and four letters of recommendation.

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  27. MERIT: 76

    One of the fastest-growing Christian universities in the nation, Regent University is also ranked as one of the Top Performers on Social Mobility by U.S. News & World Report. Not only does it provide high-quality educational programs, but it does an excellent job at getting those programs to traditionally disadvantaged students.

    These programs are offered online as well as on-campus, with one of the most popular online programs being the Ed.D in advanced educational leadership. This program allows learners to enhance their leadership potential through an eight-week course sessions and a total of 66 credit hours. 

    The curriculum is presented through a unique Christian worldview and has produced more than 850 Teachers of the Year. Core courses include Information Research and Resources and Christian Worldview for Educators.

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  28. MERIT: 76

    The University of Memphis has a student-to-faculty ratio of just 15:1, with students studying closely with faculty and a diverse group of peers in popular majors in the health professions, business, and liberal arts. 

    Graduates of the Doctor of Education in Instruction and Curriculum Leadership-Instructional Design and Technology will be prepared for a wide variety of careers, including those as directors of curriculum and instruction, professors of higher education, instructional designers, and more. 

    The program consists of 54 credit hours and allows each student to study within a cohort. You will take classes that range from anywhere between seven and fourteen weeks. 

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  29. MERIT: 76

    With more than 74 undergraduate majors and 15 graduate degree programs, Minnesota State University Moorhead is well-regarded for its 31 separate areas of teacher licensure preparation. An educational haven for aspiring teachers, this school is also home to an exceptional online PhD in educational leadership.

    The Doctor of Education in educational leadership at Minnesota State University Moorhead is designed for aspiring administrators at the postsecondary and PK-12 levels. It includes two summer residencies, but all other courses can be completed 100% online. With an accelerated completion option, this degree can be completed in just three years through a combination of online, cohort-based courses and interactive mentoring. 

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  30. MERIT: 75

    Valdosta, GA is known for its mild climate, friendly communities, and gorgeous natural beauty. However, it’s also home to one of the best colleges in the nation—Valdosta State University. This school is home to a top Ed.D. in leadership that requires 55 credit hours of study and is available entirely online. 

    This degree includes unique cognates in areas such as technology leadership, higher education leadership, curriculum leadership, organizational leadership, and special education leadership. These cognates help provide students with a framework through which to complete their research, along with a unique set of skills for a specific career. 

    To apply, you must hold a master’s degree from a regionally-accredited institution and possess a minimum GPA of 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. GRE scores are also required, as are three recommendations and a biographical career goal statement.

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What is the outlook and potential pay for a Doctoral program in Educational Leadership?

Although you likely decided to earn a Ph.D. in educational leadership because it is a topic that you are passionate about, it’s also nice to know that a job will be waiting for you when you graduate (and ideally, that’s a job that pays decently!). 

You’re in luck. A doctorate in educational leadership can enhance your career opportunities for sure. The average pay and job growth for these careers vary, since they are found in a wide array of organizations and in several unique industries. However, on average, you can expect to receive a salary of $48,000 to $132,000 or more per year. 

These jobs are in high demand, too. As the population grows, there is an increased demand for strong leaders who can oversee our existing and new educational systems. The average growth rate for jobs in educational leadership is around 10 to 15%, according to PayScale.

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

The lingo can be confusing. If you know you want to work in an educational setting but aren’t sure whether an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. is right for you, here’s how to break it down. 

A Ph.D., or Doctorate of Philosophy, is best for students who aspire toward careers in academia. These degrees are generally geared toward research and will allow you to complete your dissertation and research in a specific field of study. 

An Ed.D., or Doctorate in Education, is better for candidates who are interested in leadership roles that are more hands-on. For example, if you want to apply for jobs at government agencies for nonprofits (or even business), you will be well-suited for one of these degrees. 

While a Ph.D. generally contains more credit hours—thereby requiring more time to complete the degree—it may allow you to focus your education on unique specializations like language and literacy, cognitive development, or policy.

What are some jobs for people who graduate from Doctoral programs in Educational Leadership?

When you graduate with your Ph.D. in educational leadership, don’t worry—there are plenty of job opportunities available to you. You aren’t limited to working in a higher education setting, either. 

Although many graduates go on to work as college instructors or higher education administrators, an equally large amount pursue job titles such as education administrators, training and development managers, chief learning officers, or chief academic officers. You could even go on to a career working directly in research or in postsecondary education. The options are endless.

Does my Doctoral program need to be accredited?

Accreditation is important for any program, but especially for an online degree. There are various accreditation agencies that recognize schools offering doctorates in educational leadership, including the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. 

Ensuring that your school and program are accredited is important not just for your own peace of mind, but to make sure that you are receiving a quality education. It also determines your eligibility for financial aid and can make or break your job-seeking success. 

Should I pursue a specialization option? 

That depends. Choosing a specialization while you are enrolled will depend more on your ultimate career goals than anything else. For example, if you know that you want to work in higher education administration, it might make sense for you to choose a program that allows you to focus your research and coursework in this area. 

Similarly, a program that emphasizes K-12 education and development might be best for aspiring public school administrators.

Will practicum hours be required? 

In most cases, no. You will not be required to complete practicum hours. This varies by institution, however—some programs may require you to complete some of your research or hands-on learning off-site. While Ed.D. programs tend to require student teaching or practicums, a Ph.D. is more likely to require research projects like capstones or dissertations.

Can I earn a Doctoral program in Educational Leadership entirely online?

You can! In fact, an online Ph.D. in educational leadership can be better if you’re already working full-time or have other life commitments. Not only will you have access to the same classes and resources, but courses are often taught by the same talented faculty who teach on-campus, too. 

If you’re interested in pursuing higher education, then you should check out the 5 Best Online PhDs in Healthcare Management and What Is a Doctorate Degree?