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Doctorate in Education (EdD) vs. PhD in Education: Become an Education Leader

A woman teaching a classroom full of adults

Those interested in pursuing a terminal degree in education may be weighing their options: Doctor of Education vs. PhD. Though both degrees require years of classes and research and can lead to jobs in higher education, there are key differences in their approach that set them apart. When it comes to an EdD vs. a PhD, it’s important to know how the two compare.

In general, EdD degree programs are rooted in practice, and graduates gain a deep understanding of education as a field and profession, with the know-how to go into leadership in various educational settings. The PhD track is more research-oriented, to help graduates prepare for both the classroom and research aspects of teaching at a postsecondary institution. It’s a distinction that isn’t always clear, and there’s certainly some overlap between the two degrees in function and form, but they have distinct goals for their graduates.

Explore the Courses Offered

When done right, the EdD degree will focus on education itself. EdD candidates will find themselves learning about different educational and leadership styles, but also how education fits into the larger world. They’ll learn about policy at the local, state, national, and international level. They’ll discuss problems that affect not just education but society itself, which then work their way into the classroom. And ultimately, they’ll learn how to spearhead change throughout the educational system. EdD graduates will know how to make strategic partnerships and forge meaningful relationships in the professional world.

PhD students, on the other hand, will focus much more on research methods and data collection. They might start their first year or two with some classes similar to those in an EdD program, but they ultimately will focus on their specific research, which is typically a more narrowly focused dissertation than those required for the EdD. Often, students choose their specific area of research and then spend much of their time collecting, analyzing, and interpreting data so that they can draw informed conclusions. While an EdD looks at systemic progress and trends, PhD work typically is less broad and examines education theory and methods with the end goal of applying them directly in the classroom.

Skills Gained: EdD vs. PhD

With the PhD program focused on research, those who earn such a degree find themselves well-versed in academia and academic research, ready to get a job as a professor and begin a career of teaching and research. They’ll be experts in their specific area of focus, perhaps continuing their research with students or other professors.

EdD earners will have some research background, but it will focus primarily on real-world examples. For example, they may focus on implementing a new curriculum at a school and seeing how students respond. EdD graduates will also benefit from classes focused on leadership and strategic planning, as they’ll come away with a more business-minded viewpoint of education, seeing both the big picture and how policy can impact each individual classroom and student.

Career Opportunities: EdD vs. PhD

One consideration when comparing EdD and PhD programs involves what happens after graduation. The most common path for PhD recipients is to go right back into postsecondary education, with the hope of becoming a tenured professor at a college or university. Gaining an EdD degree opens a variety of doors within the educational world.

Explore EdD Options

Educators who study for and earn an EdD degree can choose to pursue a variety of paths throughout education. Most commonly, they’ll go into elementary, secondary, or postsecondary administration, such as in the role of a college dean or school district superintendent. EdD graduates from a school such as American University could also get a job as a college professor or run an education-based nonprofit organization.

These positions have a range of salaries, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). College deans ($94,340) and school principals ($95,000) have similar median salaries, which are more than nonprofit directors ($69,000), but less than training and development managers ($111,000). Specific job duties will vary from setting to setting, but they all have several things in common: a strong connection to education and leadership, requiring a candidate comfortable with a position of authority and responsibility. The BLS also predicts each of these careers will have job market growth rates above the national average of 7 percent between 2016 and 2026, with some growing by as much as 15 percent during that time.

Impact Postsecondary Education with a PhD

With a PhD in education, the right fit is typically back in a postsecondary educational environment, becoming a professor for the next group of teachers and/or conducting related research. This allows graduates to have a direct impact on future educators, helping them to incorporate the latest research and findings into their own work.

According to the BLS, the median salary for a postsecondary educator is $78,470, though the median salary for education teachers specifically is $64,780. The BLS projects the job market for education teachers will grow by 10 percent between 2016 and 2016, which is above the national average but below the average for all postsecondary teachers (15 percent).

Learn More About a Doctorate in Education (EdD)

EdD vs. PhD? If after learning the facts, you’ve chosen to pursue your Doctor of Education, consider applying to American University. American University’s Online Doctor of Education program is innovative, award-winning, and based in Washington, DC, the perfect city to learn about educational leadership and policy. Check out how a terminal education degree from American University can help educators advance in their field and affect countless lives.


American University, EdD in Education Policy and Leadership

Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate, Frequently Asked Questions

Inside Higher Ed, “PhD vs. EdD”

Toma, J. Douglas, “Legitimacy, Differentiation, and the Promise of the EdD in Higher Education”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Education Administrators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Postsecondary Teachers

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