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FAQ: What is an EdD degree? Is an EdD a terminal degree?

Answer: An EdD program is a Doctor of Education degree that prepares students to apply education design and organizational leadership principles, as well as action-focused research methodologies, to improving education programs and systems in a wide variety of professional environments. While traditionally geared towards educators, recently the EdD has expanded to be more versatile with programs designed for advanced professionals who would like to apply an education-focused lens to improving operations in non-academic settings as well, such as businesses and corporations, health care organizations, and the military.

A Doctor of Education (EdD) degree is a terminal doctoral program in education designed for educators and professionals interested in leading educational and organizational leadership programs in academic and professional settings. It is an applied, terminal doctoral program that focuses on using research to improve educational outcomes in PK-12, higher education, and adult education settings, including schools, school districts, colleges and universities, and professional workplaces where education is central to an organization’s success (for example, in employee development at a corporation, or in medical staff training or patient education in health care settings).

The EdD prepares scholar-practitioners to solve problems in their places of employment with advanced knowledge of the latest evidence-based practices and pedagogical systems. In addition, students learn how to employ quantitative and qualitative research methodologies to identifying, examining, and developing viable solutions to problems in education. The EdD differs from the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education (which is also a terminal degree in Education), which typically focuses more on academic research in the field of education that is broader in scope, in that EdD students are expected to apply their research to an actual problem they are facing in their place of employment. For more information about how these programs differ, read our FAQ on EdD vs. PhD programs.

Overview of EdD Specializations

While many students who pursue an EdD work in academic and educational systems (i.e., PK-12 schools and school districts, colleges and universities), increasing numbers of professionals outside of the education sector who are interested in gaining advanced knowledge of organizational leadership within their industry are pursuing EdD programs. This includes professionals working at for-profit companies, for nonprofit organizations, and/or in government, healthcare, and military settings. As demand for EdD programs has grown, more schools have begun to offer specializations in specific areas of education or organizational leadership, such as curriculum and instruction, instructional design, entrepreneurship, education policy, nursing leadership, and other fields.

Below is a list of common EdD specialization options offered at accredited schools of education nationwide.

  • Adult Education: This specialization prepares students to lead education programming for the adult learner. Courses cover topics such as adult learning theory, cognitive coaching, and diversity and inclusion in adult and continuing education.
  • Community College Leadership: This specialization focuses on the key aspects of leading a community college successfully, including program development and administration, funding and financial planning, partnership building, and college policy development.
  • Curriculum Development and Instruction: This specialization focuses on the theory and principles of effective curriculum development and instructional design. In addition to covering the principles of teaching and learning, this specialization will often include courses in online learning technologies and how they are reshaping curriculum design and instructional methodologies.
  • Diversity and Multiculturalism: This specialization prepares students to lead diversity and multicultural initiatives in their place of work, and to take an education-based approach to promoting social justice in academic and industry settings.
  • Early Childhood Education: This specialization focuses on program development and leadership for students in their early childhood years.
  • Education Administration and Leadership: This specialization is often a good option for educators who want to step into leadership roles in their place of work, such as superintendent positions, principalships, deans, vice presidents, and presidents. Students learn about the financial, political, legal/ethical, and administrative aspects of leading an educational institution.
  • Education Policy: This specialization equips students with the knowledge and skills to lead policy development and change in a variety of academic and government settings.
  • Education Technology and E-Learning: This specialization focuses on the growing use of education technologies in primary, secondary, and higher education settings, and how education leaders can integrate technology into their education programming and systems.
  • Entrepreneurship in Education: This specialization generally features courses that view education program development and student learning through an entrepreneurial lens. Innovative ways of designing and honing education programs, and of identifying funding opportunities to finance important programs, are some of the topics discussed.
  • Healthcare Professions: This specialization is typically ideal for individuals who are nurses, doctors, and other healthcare professionals who wish to step into higher leadership roles in their place of work, or into an instructional role at an educational institution. Topics covered in courses range from team management in medical settings and nursing curriculum development to hospital finance, policy development, and crisis management.
  • Higher Education Leadership: This specialization equips students with the knowledge and skills to lead in higher education settings as department chairs, program directors, deans, presidents, and vice presidents. Students learn about the structure of higher education institutions, the key challenges and opportunities for leadership in these environments, and student affairs.
  • PK-12 Leadership: This specialization is ideal for educators and other professionals who want to step into an administrator role in PK-12 settings, whether that may be as a principal, a superintendent, or a director of academic programming.
  • Organizational Leadership: This specialization is typically geared towards a wider range of professionals who come from backgrounds inside or outside of academic settings where professionals can employ organizational leadership and education principles to improve outcomes. Courses in this specialization often cover topics in team leadership, organizational change theory, and diversity and multiculturalism.
  • Special Education: This specialization prepares students to engage in special education program development, evaluation, and improvement. Students discuss learning theories, contemporary issues in special education, and the foundations of special education program design.

Structure of EdD Programs

While the number of course credits that an EdD degree requires varies depending on the selected program, in general students are required to complete between 50 and 70 post-masters credit hours. Students can typically earn their EdD within three to four years of full-time study, though some schools may offer part-time options that allow students to spread their degree out over a longer period of time. The majority of EdD programs require students to complete a doctoral capstone, which may take the form of a traditional dissertation or thesis, a dissertation in practice, or an applied capstone project. There are now online EdD programs that do not require a dissertation which allow students to complete a doctoral capstone project instead of a dissertation.

While some programs are designed for students to complete their coursework before embarking on their capstone, other programs embed a student’s capstone/dissertation work into their courses with the goal of having students complete the majority of their capstone before they finish with their coursework. The embedded dissertation model aims to improve the percentage of students who finish their degree by ensuring students are well supported while working on their doctoral capstone.

Online EdD Programs

As the EdD is a practitioner’s degree, it is generally designed with working professionals in mind, with evening classes that accommodate students’ full-time work schedules, and/or online program delivery that greatly increases scheduling flexibility for students. Online EdD programs are particularly advantageous for numerous reasons, including:

  • Greater access to programs and specialization options, especially for students who do not live near a college or university that offers an EdD program.
  • Increased flexibility and time management as students are not required to commute to campus for weekly lectures and discussion sessions.
  • The ability to take classes from anywhere with an Internet connection and access to the program’s learning management system/platform.
  • Greater diversity of class cohorts which can lead to more meaningful and impactful discussions as students work with classmates from across the country who bring their unique backgrounds and perspectives to solving challenges in administration and leadership.

For more information, be see to check out our resource on the Structure of Online EdD Programs.

Admissions Considerations for EdD Programs

As with most doctoral programs, the majority of EdD programs requires applicants to hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution of higher education. (There are a handful of online EdD programs that do not require a master’s degree for admission.) Depending on the EdD program’s specialization, applicants to the program may be required to hold a master’s degree in education or a related field, and/or have professional experience as educators. However, EdD programs with less traditional specialization options, such as those in nursing leadership, entrepreneurship, and organizational leadership, typically admit students from a variety of different academic and professional backgrounds. In general, applicants to EdD programs are expected to submit the following:

  • Transcripts of all post-secondary academic work. Some programs will have a minimum GPA requirement.
  • A personal statement explaining one’s background and career goals, as well as how one will be an excellent fit for the program, its student community, and its mission.
  • Several (typically three or more) letters of recommendation. Programs vary in terms of whether they prefer academic recommendations only, or a mix of academic and professional recommendations. Students should check with the admissions office of the programs to which they are applying for the latest information.
  • A resume or curriculum vitae detailing one’s professional experiences.
  • The GRE is required for some, but not all EdD Programs. (OnlineEdDPrograms.com has compiled a list of online EdD programs that do not require the GRE.)
  • Applicants whose first language is not English may be required to submit TOEFL exam scores.

Check out our resource section for more information on admission requirements for online EdD programs.


FAQ: What is the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate (CPED)?

Answer: Established in 2007, the Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate is a collection of colleges and schools of education who are attempting to reassess and improve the structure of EdD programs. Their membership currently includes over 100 institutions in the United States and Canada, all working together to redesign the Doctor of Education to better serve advanced practitioners in the field. The primary goal of CPED is to promote its three-part framework for EdD redesign, which includes “a new definition of the EdD, a set of guiding principles for program development, and a set of design-concepts that serve as program building blocks.” While member schools are expected to adhere to this framework and restructure their EdD programs accordingly, the CPED does not grant any type of accreditation to these institutions or their degree offerings.

The Carnegie Project on the Education Doctorate is comprised of a wide range of postsecondary institutions who are looking to develop and implement changes to their current EdD programs. Working together, these member schools have performed a critical examination of the doctorate in education and created a set of guiding principles intended to refocus the degree on rigorous practitioner preparation. Colleges that join the consortium agree to adopt and institute this framework, making changes to improve their EdD curriculum with support from the CPED community and membership resources, such as collaborative meetings and access to the peer-reviewed, open source journal, “Impacting Education: Journal for Transforming Professional Practice.”

In our exclusive interview with Dr. Nancy Hastings, Assistant Dean of the College of Education at the University of West Florida (UWF) and Chair of the Department of Instructional Design and Technology, she describes how one of the central missions of CPED is to nurture and advocate for the distinction between the EdD and the PhD in Education.

“An Ed.D. is for the practitioner—the person who is looking to be the leader in their organization. The chief learning officer or performance consultant, those are people who are going to stay in practice,” Dr. Hastings explains. As a result, the kind of research that an EdD student should complete is necessarily different from the kind typically associated with a PhD dissertation. “[Students of EdD programs are] not ever going to do another traditional dissertation type research study in their lives because that is not who they are,” she adds. “They are going to do action research in their settings, addressing actual problems of practice that are impacting their work… and that aligns with the CPED framework that is all about distinguishing Ed.D. research and Ph.D. research and recognizing that the Ed.D. is a professional doctorate. It’s not meant to be a research doctorate, or the stepchild of the Ph.D. It is equal yet different.”

CPED only accepts non-profit institutions with current accreditation from a U.S. regional accrediting body, who can demonstrate commitment to ongoing enhancement of EdD education and a willingness to implement the CPED Framework in their EdD program. Some examples of CPED members include Arizona State University, Boston College, the California State University System, Drexel University, Florida State University, Johns Hopkins University, Northeastern University, Seattle University, Southern New Hampshire University, Texas A&M University, and The Ohio State University.

To learn more about CPED’s mission and its framework for EdD improvement, continue reading below.

The CPED Framework for EdD Redesign

In effort to help improve EdD program content and outcomes, members of CPED developed a framework for EdD redesign that consists of three components. The first is a unified description of the degree that clearly outlines its goal of producing advanced practitioners in the field. According to CPED, “The professional doctorate in education prepares educators for the application of appropriate and specific practices, the generation of new knowledge, and for the stewardship of the profession.” This new definition serves as somewhat of a mission statement for the consortium, summarizing the general consensus of members’ stance on the EdD and serving as the overall objective for program development.

From there, CPED outlined six guiding principles for schools to follow as they reassess and redesign their EdD programs. These guidelines (found on the CPED website) stipulate that the professional doctorate in education:

  1. Is framed around questions of equity, ethics, and social justice to bring about solutions to complex problems of practice.
  2. Prepares leaders who can construct and apply knowledge to make a positive difference in the lives of individuals, families, organizations, and communities.
  3. Provides opportunities for candidates to develop and demonstrate collaboration and communication skills to work with diverse communities and to build partnerships.
  4. Provides field-based opportunities to analyze programs of practice and use multiple frames to develop meaningful solutions.
  5. Is grounded in and develops a professional knowledge base that integrates both practical and research knowledge, that links theory with systemic and systematic inquiry.
  6. Emphasizes the generation, transformation, and use of professional knowledge and practice.

Finally, CPED members came up with a set of seven design concepts based around these principles, each representing an integral factor in the preparation of educational leaders. These are fundamental ideas or elements to be used as building blocks when designing or reconstructing a program, as opposed to a rigid or prescriptive model that schools must adhere to, allowing each institution to apply them in a manner that best aligns with their individual program goals. With that in mind, the consortium believes an effective EdD program should be built upon or include the following concepts (which have been paraphrased from the CPED website):

  • Scholarly Practitioners – Professionals who employ practical skills and knowledge to address problems of practice, using practical research and applied theories as tools for change.
  • Signature Pedagogy – A pervasive set of practices used to prepare scholarly practitioners to think, perform, and act with integrity, which challenges assumptions, engages in action, and requires ongoing assessment and accountability.
  • Inquiry as Practice – The process of posing significant questions that focus on complex problems of practice and the ability to gather and analyze situations, literature, and data with a critical lens.
  • Laboratories of Practice – Settings where theory and practice inform and enrich each other, that address complex problems of practice where ideas can be implemented, measured, and analyzed for the impact made.
  • Mentoring and Advising – Instructional coaching guided by equity and justice, mutual respect, dynamic learning, cohort and individualized attention, rigorous practices, and integration.
  • Problem of Practice – Specific issues embedded in the work of a professional practitioner, the address of which has the potential to result in improved understanding, experience, and outcomes.
  • Dissertation in Practice – A scholarly endeavor that impacts a complex problem of practice.

Choosing an EdD Program

As mentioned above, CPED does not directly accredit EdD programs, and member schools may be in different phases of implementing the framework and its guidelines. In general, students should choose an EdD that provides the curriculum and structure needed to help them best achieve their academic and career goals, independent of whether the program comes from a CPED school. With that said, membership is definitely another factor one might consider when researching options for their doctorate.

If students are unclear about how a particular institution has implemented the framework or where they are in the process, it is best to reach out to a school representative for more information. This is a great opportunity to learn how a prospective EdD program has evolved over time and where the school sees that program going in the future. Pursuing an EdD is a significant time and financial commitment, therefore, students should be certain that the program they choose is the ideal match for their personal and professional needs both now and in years to come.


FAQ: What is an EdD in organizational leadership?

Answer: Doctor of Education (EdD) programs in organizational leadership focus on the theories and strategies behind effective management of organizations and their members. This particular approach to leadership is generally concerned with setting large-scale goals for an organization, department, or project, then motivating the individuals involved to excel and successfully reach those objectives. Unlike other EdD specializations, which typically focus on preparing students for leadership roles in education, organizational leadership is more broad, giving graduates skills they can apply in nearly any setting, from academia to business or government.

The study of organizational leadership deals with both micro and macro levels of management. Professionals in the field must consider what is best for the organization as a whole, as well as the employees or members within, driving everyone toward a common goal while fostering individual success and development. In order to do this well, leaders need a diverse skill set, with expertise in areas such as communication, assessment, problem solving, conflict management, strategic decision making, resource allocation, and more. To gain these skills, many pursue an EdD in the field, which can qualify them for top-level management or administration positions in almost any organization.

Many schools offer organizational leadership as a degree concentration in Doctor of Education (EdD) programs, but it may also be available as a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at the doctoral level. Both are terminal degrees, preparing graduates with the most advanced knowledge and skills in the field. However, these two degrees differ when it comes to their overall focus and intended career paths.

The EdD is primarily a practitioner’s degree, designed for working professionals interested in taking on active leadership roles in organizations. Students in these programs are typically looking for skills they can immediately apply in the workplace, either to perform better in their current management positions or gain the qualifications necessary to further their careers in administration. The PhD, on the other hand, is more research focused, aimed at those who want to teach in the field at the collegiate level or pursue other scholarly work. Graduates of these programs generally move into careers that involve educating the next generation of leaders or adding to existing theory through original research, as opposed to more direct organizational management roles.

Doctor of Education (EdD) Programs in Organizational Leadership

Most EdD programs in organizational leadership require around 40 to 70 credit hours and take anywhere from three to five years to complete. Curriculum is generally focused on advanced topics related to management theory and practice, giving students concrete skills they can apply to leadership roles in a variety of settings. Some examples of potential course subjects include:

Leadership TheoryOrganizational Development
EthicsStrategic Assessment
Change ManagementResearch Based Decision Making
Systematic Instructional DesignAdult Learning Strategies
Legal Issues in LeadershipFinance
Resource ManagementHuman Resources
Inclusive LeadershipOrganizational Communication
Conflict ManagementAdvocacy and Social Justice
Professional DevelopmentSystems Thinking
Organizational Structure

There are a variety of different organizational leadership EdD programs available to students, each with their own unique focus and curriculum. Some even offer students the chance to specialize in a certain area of administration, such as Human Resource Development, Conflict Management, or Entrepreneurship. Others may concentrate more heavily on educational aspects of the field, preparing students for careers that involve designing or managing instructional programs for or within organizations. In these particular programs, coursework generally leans more toward topics related to adult learning, instructional design, models of teaching, and educational assessment.

Careers in Organizational Leadership

With an EdD in Organizational Leadership, students can pursue a wide range of high-level management positions, both in and outside of academia. While they might work in educational leadership, as principals or other administrators, graduates are not tied to careers in education, unlike those who earn a more traditional EdD in fields such as K-12 or Higher Education Administration. Majoring in organizational leadership prepares graduates to oversee operations or instructional efforts in nearly any setting, from schools to private businesses, nonprofits, healthcare, government, and more.

Some potential career paths for EdD graduates include Human Resources Manager/Director, Corporate Director, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Development Officer (CDO), Management Consultant, Policy Analyst, Training and Development Manager, Postsecondary Education Administrator, College Professor, Operations Research Analyst, or Social and Community Service Manager.

To learn more about this degree concentration and browse online EdD programs in the field, check out our Organizational Leadership specialization page.


FAQ: What is the difference between campus, online, and hybrid EdD programs?

Answer: While the curriculum and overall degree requirements are often identical for campus, online, and hybrid Doctor of Education (EdD) programs, these three formats differ significantly when it comes to how students receive instruction. In a campus program, students attend live lectures or seminars in traditional classroom settings, learning from professors in person and interacting with classmates face-to-face. Students in an online program, on the other hand, access the majority of their course materials via the web, logging onto a virtual classroom to view lectures, complete assignments, and communicate with professors or peers. Hybrid or blended programs offer a combination of both in person and online instruction, with students completing some requirements on campus and others at a distance.

There are a wide range of options available to students interested in pursuing a Doctor of Education degree, whether they prefer in-person instruction, flexible online coursework, or a mix of both. As program length and content is generally similar in each format (among programs in the same concentration), the type one chooses will depend largely on their particular learning style, schedule constraints, and proximity to schools offering degree options in their area of interest. To learn more about campus-based, online, and hybrid EdD programs, as well as their individual pros and cons, continue reading below.

Campus EdD Programs

Most students are already familiar with campus-based degree programs, as these have been around the longest and continue to be the most common form of postsecondary education. In this more traditional type of program, students travel to a college campus to attend classes in a physical classroom, interacting with professors and peers in person, then completing assignments or readings at home. Since students must be on campus at specific times during the week for lectures or seminars, this format offers very little flexibility when it comes to scheduling. However, in an on-campus EdD program, courses are usually offered during the evenings or on weekends to accommodate working professionals pursuing their doctorate.

Campus-based programs are a good fit for students who benefit from face-to-face instruction, learning best when presented with materials in a traditional classroom setting and receiving immediate feedback from professors. Those who require more structure to their studies, a set schedule to keep them on track on a weekly basis, may also find this format better suits their educational needs. A major drawback to campus programs, however, is that students generally need to live close to their school in order to attend class each week. Otherwise, assuming they live with commuting distance, students have to take additional time out of their day to travel to campus, which adds transportation costs to earning their degree. This may not be an issue for those who plan to relocate for their doctoral studies.

Online EdD Programs

Students in an online EdD program can expect to complete the majority (if not all) of their degree without setting foot on campus. Instead of physically going to school to attend classes, they typically watch lectures, participate in class discussions, and access all other course materials online through a learning management system (LMS), which is software used to deliver and manage web-based courses. There are two main types of instructional methods used by online programs: synchronous and asynchronous. In a program that uses synchronous instruction, students must be online at set times to watch and participate in live class sessions, often using video conferencing or text chat to engage with classmates and the instructor as the lecture is happening. Asynchronous instruction, on the other hand, relies mainly on prerecorded lectures, meaning students can watch them at any time it best fits their schedule.

Keep in mind, some online EdD programs include mandatory campus-based residencies or immersions, intended to supplement students’ online studies with in-person learning activities. These sessions can span anywhere from a weekend to one week at time, and give students the chance to meet and work with their classmates and faculty members face to face. To help prospective students better understand any campus requirements that may be included in an online course of study, OnlineEdDPrograms.com only defines a program as online if it requires three or fewer campus visits per year. This does not include any internship opportunities or requirements which may also be part of these programs. (Note: Programs that require more than three campus visits per year are classified as hybrid or campus-based programs.)

The major benefit to pursuing an EdD online is flexibility. Students can typically attend class or access course materials from anywhere, provided they have internet access and a working computer (or tablet or mobile device, depending on the program). This eliminates the need to commute to campus on a weekly basis for classes, saving students valuable time they can devote to their career or other obligations. In fact, an online program may be the only option for some with busy schedules outside of school, such as those trying to maintain a full-time job while pursuing their studies, or students with families who may be unable to attend class during the evening or weekend. Online study also increases access to program options, giving students who live far from schools offering degrees in their area of interest the chance to pursue a doctorate that fits their professional goals without needing to relocate.

An online EdD program may not be the best option for all students, however, especially those who value face-toface interactions or prefer the structure provided by traditional campus-based instruction. In general, online study requires more self-motivation and self-discipline from students in order for them to keep up with course materials and assignments. While students are able to view lectures and complete assignments on their own schedule, online programs still have deadlines that must be met throughout the term. With that said, many online programs have systems in place to ensure students are participating on a weekly basis and not falling behind on their studies.


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Hybrid EdD Programs

There are many different forms of hybrid (or blended) degree programs. Typically, this is a term used for programs that utilize online coursework, but also require students to visit campus on a regular basis for in-person classes or activities. While this may mean the program includes a balanced mix of campus and online instruction, it generally refers to those that combine mainly online study with a number of on-campus sessions spread throughout the year (more than a “fully” online program with residencies). On OnlineEdDPrograms.com, we define hybrid programs as those that are primarily online focused but still include more than three campus visits per year.

This type of EdD program can be a good alternative for students who want both the flexibility offered by online learning and the opportunity to engage in more face-to-face interaction with their professors and peers. Hybrid programs often combine the best aspects of both campus-based and online education, allowing students to complete most of their credits at a distance, then enhancing this with periodic residencies or other in-person experiences. However, this also means students must be prepared to travel to campus when required, making more frequent trips to campus than they would in an online program with little or no on-campus requirements.

Note: Some programs may use the term hybrid if they offer a mix of on-campus and online courses.

Campus vs. Online vs. Hybrid EdD Programs

In many ways, EdD programs in each of these three formats are very similar. Most require around three years to complete, including roughly 60 credits of coursework and a doctoral research project (i.e., dissertation). Students can also find the same or very similar specializations offered in all three formats, sometimes at the same institution. Programs offered in different formats at the same school are typically identical when it comes to curriculum, course content, and requirements, just delivered in different ways. Students can expect to graduate with the same degree as their peers, whether they completed courses on campus or online.

The main difference when it comes to campus, online, and hybrid EdD programs is course delivery. Students pursuing their degree on campus must physically attend class on a weekly basis at a set time, while online students can access courses from anywhere with an internet connection, logging on to view prerecorded lectures or participate in live class sessions (depending on the program). As such, online programs offer significantly more flexibility for students with already busy schedules, who cannot afford the time or are otherwise unable to commute to campus each week for classes. Hybrid EdD programs, as discussed above, include a mix of both instruction types, and are a great option for those who want the flexibility of online coursework, but are also willing to travel to campus more regularly for face-to-face learning experiences.


FAQ: What is the difference between an EdD and an EdS degree?

Answer: While Doctor of Education (EdD) and Educational Specialist (EdS) programs may cover similar topics and even be offered in the same concentrations, these two degrees are quite different when it comes to their requirements and intent. The EdD is a doctorate, designed for working professionals who want to take on the highest leadership roles in educational settings. It typically involves substantial research work and contributing new knowledge to the field in the form of a dissertation. The EdS is also a postgraduate degree (typically post-master’s), however, it is not a doctorate. Students pursue this degree, which requires roughly half the number of credits as an EdD, in order to gain particular skills for a particular type of job (e.g., principal, superintendent, director of educational technology).

The EdD and EdS are both post-master’s degrees, primarily intended for educators looking to advance in their current careers or move into leadership positions. The differences between them can be compared to those between a master’s degree and a post-baccalaureate graduate certificate program. Much like a master’s degree, the EdD takes longer to obtain and includes a capstone (e.g. dissertation). Students gain advanced knowledge and skills in their area of focus, as well as a strong foundation in both theory and research. An EdS, like a graduate certificate, is more focused, providing specific education and training without a final capstone. Students can finish an EdS in less time, often doing so in order to develop qualifications for a certain license or position.

One other distinction between EdS and EdD programs that is important to note is their curricular focus. In general, EdS programs are designed for K-12 educators looking to advance their careers in primary and secondary schools and school systems. While there are EdD programs that are also designed for K-12 educators, there are also EdD programs for students interested in higher education administration, community college and adult education, student affairs leadership, and organizational leadership.

The learn more about EdS and EdD degree programs, as well as the differences between these two credentials, continue reading below.


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Educational Specialist (EdS) Degree Programs

The EdS is unique to the field of education, a postgraduate degree somewhere between a master’s and a doctorate. These programs are a great option for professionals who already possess a master’s degree and want to advance in their careers, but would prefer not to pursue an EdD or PhD due to the research requirements/dissertation, time commitment, or cost. Students in EdS programs are typically seeking very specific job skills related to a certain position they are trying to obtain, such as principal or superintendent. In fact, many EdS programs are based around certification preparation, with students pursuing the degree in order to gain the qualifications they need for licensure.

In terms of coursework, earning an EdS is roughly equivalent to completing a second master’s degree and requires approximately 30 credit hours. Students can expect to complete one of these programs in one to two years of study, depending on their specialization and the specific path they take to earn the degree. While there are standalone EdS programs, as mentioned below, some students start by originally pursuing an EdD and then stopping partway through, before they fulfill the requirements for their doctorate. In these cases, some programs may grant students an EdS for the credits they have already earned, or students may be able to transfer their post-master’s credits towards the completion of an EdS at another institution.

EdS programs are available in a number of specializations, but are typically designed for PK-12 or K-12 educators interested in educational leadership or administration, curriculum and instruction, special education, educational technology, or school psychology. As mentioned earlier, many programs also focus on specific careers, offering concentrations dedicated to superintendency or principalship, which prepare students for licensure in those positions. It is important to note, however, that licensing requirements vary by state. Additionally, while an EdS may be adequate or even required for top administrative roles at some schools, it may not be at others. In most cases, students pursue an EdS to advance their career, gain new skills, and qualify for better pay in a relatively short amount of time, without having to complete a full doctorate program and dissertation. These are often teachers who want to become principals or program directors, but lack certain qualifications necessary to do so.

Doctor of Education (EdD) Degree Programs

The EdD is a doctoral degree and a terminal degree in the field of education. It is one of the two doctoral degrees one can earn through collegiate study and focuses mainly on advanced practice. (The other is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education, which focuses more on research and theory. To learn more, see our FAQ on EdD vs. PhD in Education programs.) Students typically pursue an EdD in order to gain the real-world problem-solving skills and proven strategies needed to excel in educational leadership positions. For the most part, these programs are designed for working educators and administrators looking to take on top positions in their field and implement positive change in their current or future organizations.

An EdD generally requires approximately 60 post-master’s credit hours and takes around three years to complete. The majority of EdD programs require a master’s degree for admission; however, there are a limited number of programs that offer tracks for students with a bachelor’s degree and significant work experience. There are also some EdD programs that accept EdS credits or require the degree for admission, allowing students who have already earned significant post-master’s credits to transfer them toward completion of their doctorate. Programs are available in a wide range of specializations, including higher education leadership, PK/K-12 educational administration, early childhood education, curriculum and instruction, adult education, educational technology, special education, organizational leadership, and more.

Curriculum varies by concentration; however, most EdD programs combine coursework in theory and research with practical skill development in areas such as organizational management, finance and budgeting, curriculum design and assessment, professional development, instructional methods, educational technology, and law. Students also spend a significant portion of their studies working on a dissertation, an original research project in which they identify and attempt to address an issue currently facing their field, current organization, or education in general. (Note: The majority of EdD programs require a dissertation; however, there are a few that replace the dissertation requirement with an applied project.)

Depending on their area of focus, graduates of EdD programs can go on to work in a wide range of positions and settings. Unlike PhD graduates, who almost exclusively work in research or academia, those with EdDs might pursue high-level administrative or educational leadership roles in schools, colleges, universities, school districts, nonprofits, the government, or related private sector organizations. Some also end up taking on teaching positions at the collegiate level, overseeing courses in their particular area of expertise. Students who earn an EdD in Organizational Leadership have an even wider range of options to choose from, as their degree prepares them for upper management roles both in and outside of education.

Note: Some EdD programs grant students an EdS after they complete their academic coursework, before they start their dissertation. Students who complete their course credits but decide not to complete a thesis may also be able to earn an EdS, depending on the program.


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EdD vs EdS Degree Programs

The primary difference between an EdD and EdS comes down to their overall length and focus. The EdD is a full doctoral degree, which requires a substantial time commitment (three or more years) and completion of an original dissertation project. Students learn both practical job skills in their area of focus (e.g., higher education leadership, educational technology, adult education…), as well as more broad knowledge, such as advanced research skills and a theoretical foundation in leadership and education.

An EdS, on the other hand, is more focused on earning specific skills and knowledge in one area, to allow students to quickly gain the qualifications they need to advance in a certain vocation. While it is a post-master’s degree, the EdS is not a doctorate, does not require a dissertation, and can be completed in as little as one to two years, in most cases. EdD and EdS students may study many of the same topics and even qualify for the some of the same positions (e.g., principal, superintendent); however, the EdD is ultimately a degree of higher standing, allowing graduates to take on university-level faculty and teaching roles or top leadership positions in their organizations.


FAQ: What is the difference between an EdD and a PhD in Education?

Answer: While Doctor of Education (EdD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education programs may cover many similar topics related to education and learning theory, the primary difference between them lies in their overall focus and intended career outcomes. The EdD is fundamentally a practitioner’s degree, intended for working professionals interested in taking on leadership roles in both academic/educational and organizational settings. PhDs in Education, on the other hand, are more research-oriented, designed for those looking to pursue scholarly work or teach in collegiate settings.

Students of EdD programs apply the knowledge and skills they obtain in their doctoral program directly to improving education outcomes, and engage in research that solves concrete educational challenges in their workplace. In contrast, PhD programs in Education prepare students to advance the field of education at large, through research that provides insights into the discipline. It is important to note that both the EdD and the PhD emphasize the importance of research, but for different aims. While the EdD focuses on action-oriented research–that is, research that provides insights into a problem of practice that educators face in their work settings–the PhD focuses on pursuing research for academic publication and for pushing the overall discipline of education forward by advancing current thought and paradigms within the field.

Another way to view the difference between the EdD and the PhD is the types of careers they prepare students for. Whereas the EdD focuses on real-world application, equipping students with the knowledge and tools they need to effectively lead in educational settings, a PhD in Education is ideally suited for students who want to devote their careers to scholarship and/or teaching at institutions of higher education. While these degrees may touch on many of the same topics, such as learning theory, educational policy, and advanced research methods, they typically attract different students and lead to different careers.

Doctor of Education (EdD) Programs

The Doctor of Education is generally considered an advanced practitioner’s degree. It is designed for educators who want to have a farther-reaching impact on student and/or adult learning outcomes through program-level or institutional leadership, as well as professionals seeking concrete problem-solving skills and advanced leadership strategies that they can apply to their organization. To accommodate students’ diverse career goals, EdD programs are available in a number of different specializations, including higher education leadership, PK/K-12 educational administration, early childhood education, curriculum and instruction, adult education, educational technology, special education, organizational leadership, and more.

The curriculum for these programs will vary by specialization–for example, while an EdD program in Curriculum and Instruction may emphasize best practices for instructional design and course evaluation, an EdD in PK/K-12 Education Administration may have courses that focus more on the roles and responsibilities of principals and/or superintendents. Regardless of students’ chosen specialization, however, in general EdD programs will include courses in the history and central theories of education, as well as the research methodologies that underpin action research in education.

EdD programs are designed to combine theoretical study with practical knowledge that students can directly use in their place of employment. Depending on the specialization, students simultaneously learn about educational leadership, finance and budgeting, curriculum design and assessment, professional development, instructional methods, educational technology, and legal issues in education from a concrete, on-the-ground perspective, while also reading literature about these topics and looking at challenges in these areas through a scholarly lens.

Educators who pursue an EdD are typically equipped to step into leadership roles at the school and school district levels. Graduates might also work in administration, as principals, directors, superintendents, deans, or school presidents, or take on management positions in curriculum design or instructional coaching. Depending on their particular specialization, they could also become executive directors of youth or childcare facilities, oversee adult learning or vocational training centers, or work in student affairs and career services mentoring college students. Some EdD graduates go on to teach in their area of focus, instructing at a college or university after gaining several years of professional experience.

While traditionally EdD students are working educators or administrators, in recent years there has been an expansion of the appeal of EdD programs to individuals who wish to apply education principles and practice-oriented research to improving outcomes within their current organization. As a result, there has been a concurrent expansion of EdD specializations in areas such as organizational leadership, health care leadership, nursing education, and entrepreneurship. Graduates of these programs may apply their knowledge and qualifications to improving organizational outcomes at nonprofits, in the military, for government agencies, or at related private sector organizations. For example, graduates of an EdD in Nursing Education may go on to develop curricula for bachelor of nursing or master’s in nursing programs, or optimize training programs in a hospital setting.

Note: The Carnegie Project for the Education Doctorate (CPED) was formed to evaluate and redesign of EdD degree to ensure that programs are designed to meet the needs of leaders in contemporary educational and organizational settings. To learn more, check out our FAQ on the CPED.


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Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education Programs

As opposed to the more applied EdD, a Doctor of Philosophy in Education is primarily concerned with conducting, publishing, and disseminating unique research in the field of education. Students in these programs collect and analyze data related to specific areas of education, and then use their findings to advance theory in the field, generate new instructional strategies, or otherwise enhance the teaching profession or educational system as a whole. In general, those pursuing a PhD are full-time doctoral students, fully committed to their research and associated academic endeavors (e.g., teaching or assisting with courses within their department).

PhD programs generally take a more theoretical, study-based approach to coursework. Students can expect to spend the majority of their time designing and conducting research projects and interpreting the results. When it comes to degree specializations, schools might offer education-related PhDs in areas such as education policy, literacy, program assessment, educational technology, human development, or learning and teaching, or concentrations in specific fields, such as special education, educational administration, adult learning, or early childhood education. Typically, specializations within PhD programs are closely aligned with the research interests of the program’s faculty, and students interested in PhD programs are often expected to research faculty at their programs of interest before applying.

Courses in a PhD program typically focus on topics that will help students in their research pursuits, including not only qualitative and quantitative research methods, but also advanced approaches to inquiry, research design, data analysis, and writing, as well as historical and emerging theories related to their area of focus. Students also take several courses dedicated to completion of their dissertation (see below for more information).

In general, students earn a PhD in Education with the intention of building careers in academia or research. Graduates typically become postsecondary educators or researchers, working or teaching in colleges, universities, or other research institutions. As mentioned before, their ultimate goal is often to develop original research in a given subject and add their findings to the existing literature on the topic. This might mean having their work published in an academic journal or similar scholarly outlet and presenting it at national (or even international) conferences. Depending on the subject matter, their findings may then be used to teach future generations of educators, or help make improvements to current systems of education.

Doctorate in Education: EdD versus PhD

As detailed above, there are several key differences between an EdD and a PhD in Education. Overall, the EdD is much more applied, focused on preparing graduates with practical job skills they can immediately use in professional settings. Students typically pursue the EdD for career advancement, either to move into leadership roles or improve in their current position. The PhD, on the other hand, is more theoretical, with a greater emphasis on research and inquiry. These programs are typically for students who want to stay in academia, using their advanced knowledge to teach others and further thought in the field of education.

There are a few other factors to consider when deciding which degree to pursue. Students should note that most PhD programs are campus-based, meaning they will need to live in close proximity to their school in order attend lectures, participate in research projects, and otherwise assist with departmental duties. In contrast, EdD programs can be pursued online or on campus, with a wide range of options available for fully online study (or with minimal campus requirements).

EdD and PhD programs also differ in their typical time to completion and their admission requirements. An EdD degree program generally takes around three to four years to complete and, in most cases, requires a master’s degree for admission. (There are a few programs that will accept students who only have a bachelor’s degree.) PhD programs typically take longer to complete, usually four to five years, but students can often enter with only a bachelor’s degree. Students with a master’s degree may be able to earn a PhD in less time.

Finally, as the EdD is a practitioner’s degree, students of this type of doctoral program are often working professionals, and therefore many EdD programs are designed to accommodate full-time work schedules. In other words, in addition to offering their courses online, many EdD programs allow students to pursue a part-time course of study, extending their enrollment over longer than four years in some cases, so that students can better balance their coursework with their personal and professional obligations. In contrast, students of PhD programs in Education generally pursue a full-time course of study, dividing their time between courses, independent research, meeting with their faculty mentor, and fulfilling teaching assistant or research assistant roles.

The EdD Capstone versus the PhD Dissertation

Returning to the key point mentioned above, both the EdD and the PhD in Education emphasize the importance of research. As a result, it is fitting that both doctorate degrees require a final research project–traditionally a five-chapter dissertation–as students’ culminating experience. However, the EdD capstone and the PhD dissertation differ dramatically in their objectives. In fact, many EdD programs call their dissertation a “dissertation-in-practice” in order to emphasize this difference. In addition, there are several online EdD programs that do not require a traditional dissertation, instead allowing students to complete a research project or publish research articles in lieu of a dissertation.

The EdD dissertation is fundamentally the application of scholarly research methodologies to investigating and seeking to solve a real, education-related problem of practice often within the student’s work setting. EdD students generally select a topic that is relevant to their profession, their immediate workplace, and their personal interests, and they craft a research question that they subsequently answer by employing a variety of quantitative and qualitative research methodologies. The final deliverable maybe a traditional five-chapter dissertation, or for programs that allow students to complete a project, the deliverable may take the form of a curriculum plan, an on-boarding or staff training program, or an informational website or piece of educational software.

For EdD students who come from traditional academic settings, a problem of practice might concern barriers to educational attainment for particular populations at a given school, or the need for a curriculum redesign that incorporates new ways that students interact with technology. For EdD students who come from less traditional work backgrounds (such as those in health care or the corporate sphere), a problem of practice might be the identification of a disconnect between nursing training and nurses’ clinical experiences (and identifiable opportunities to address this disconnect), or the need for a corporate crisis management or employee development plan.

In contrast, the dissertation for the PhD in Education is very much a traditional dissertation, in that it focuses, not on a question derived from a problem of practice, but rather a question that is more steeped in theory and broader cultural, social, and/or political significance. For example, a PhD student focusing in education may craft his or her dissertation around a question about the impact of social justice movements on history pedagogy in institutions of higher education, or how social media has changed the ways in which the brain receives and processes information, and how that in turn affects learning. Unlike questions that EdD students investigate, which typically concern their direct sphere of influence, PhD students examine questions that do not impact their immediate context, but which contribute to the discipline overall.

In summary, students considering an EdD versus a PhD in Education should carefully consider their professional goals and the reasons for which they desired to pursue a doctorate in education. Both the EdD and the PhD are rigorous doctoral programs that require a considerable time and financial commitment, but they can both prepare students for advanced leadership roles inside and outside of academia.