What doctorate should you get if your bachelor’s and master’s degrees are in education? There have traditionally been two options for doctoral students in this field: the Ed.D. and the Ph.D. While the Ph.D. is a common presence in many academic disciplines, the Ed.D. is specific to education.
Is there a real difference between these two tracks? The short answer is “yes,” but it is subtle and requires us to look at the typical academic requirements as well as the career prospects of each one.
The Ed.D. is often characterized as a professional practice degree, i.e. a credential designed for the practical use of educators such as principals and other administrators. To this end, its students are perhaps more likely to focus their dissertations on surveys of educators and topics in educational administration.
“The Ed.D. is often characterized as a professional practice degree.”
That was one conclusion of a comprehensive Ed.D.-versus-Ph.D. analysis in a 1994 edition of the Journal of Experimental Education, although the study’s authors also concluded that there wasn’t much separation between the two programs overall. Since then, however, some distinctive differences have emerged, including:
- Demographics: Ed.D. students are often already K-12 principals (most of whom have a master’s degree as their degree) or working educators, whereas Ph.D. students may be entering straight from a master’s program.
- Goals: An Ed.D may be the ticket to a leadership role not only in schools or academia, but in educational policy organizations and government agencies, too.
- Curriculum: The Ed.D. has become closely associated with the fields of education administration and executive leadership, which may be available as specialization options in some programs.
As in other disciplines, the education Ph.D. is intended mostly for students interested in academic careers. For example, a Ph.D. is a common credential for postsecondary faculty, due to its research-intensive design.
It may be the best option for a long-term research focus, but could prove less versatile than an Ed.D. in terms of its benefits for education practice.
Start an accelerated Ed.D. at Gwynedd Mercy University
A flexible, online accelerated executive doctorate in education leadership (Ed.D.) is available from Gwynedd Mercy University. Student Marie Kim stated that her favorite feature of the program was the “personalized attention from the advisors,” and Lisa Russo cited the “flexibility with work and family life.” Find out more on the program overview page.