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FAQ: What is an embedded dissertation in EdD programs?

Answer: EdD programs with an embedded dissertation integrate students’ work on their dissertation into dedicated classes that students complete as part of their EdD program’s curriculum. In EdD programs that use an embed dissertation model, students progress through the stages of their dissertation work–from proposal development to the writing of each dissertation chapter–with the support of a structured class environment, including instructor guidance, assignment deadlines, and peer feedback. In doing so, these programs differ from traditional EdD programs where students typically embark on their dissertation work independently, and only after they complete most or all of their academic coursework.

The EdD dissertation represents the culmination of everything students have learned in their doctoral program, and is an opportunity for them to investigate a research question that is of professional significance to them. Dissertations are also quite time-consuming and challenging, requiring months of independent research, data analysis, and intensive writing. The lack of structure and classroom support that is inherent to the traditional dissertation completion process (where students complete their research outside of classes and only consult their faculty mentors periodically) can prove challenging for some students. In fact, many students who pursue an EdD never complete their dissertation and end up finishing their program at the “all-but-dissertation” (ABD) stage due to the challenges they face while trying to complete their dissertation.

To address this and to give EdD students helpful structure and support during their dissertation, some EdD programs embed each stage of the dissertation process into their formal courses. Such programs are designed to have students begin working on their dissertation from the beginning of their enrollment. While the way in which dissertation work is embedded into a program’s curriculum varies by program, in general students take research or dissertation-related courses during each term of their program, during which time they work on their research question and early dissertation chapters (e.g., Introduction, Literature Review, Research Methodologies) as class assignments. The advantage of these programs is that students have extra layers of support and feedback from class instructors and peers to supplement the guidance provided by their dissertation chair and committee.

Furthermore, the structure provided by an embedded dissertation, where students have concrete milestones to reach each term, can be immensely helpful to certain students who might otherwise struggle with the highly independent nature of traditional doctoral research projects.


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Curriculum for EdD Programs with an Embedded Dissertation

For programs that use an embedded dissertation model, how much dissertation work students complete during their courses varies by EdD program. Some programs embed a student’s entire dissertation work into courses so that they are able to complete their coursework and dissertation at the same time (in such cases, students even defend their dissertation as part of their coursework). Other programs embed the first three chapters of a student’s dissertation into coursework, and then students complete the research and analysis phase of their dissertation in the final year of their program after they have completed their courses.

The embedded dissertation model is different from traditional EdD programs where students typically complete their coursework (and potentially a qualifying examination) before determining their research focus and starting their research. However, EdD programs with an embedded dissertation cover the same research and leadership concepts that their more traditional counterparts do.

The key difference between EdD programs with an embedded dissertation and those without is that programs with an embedded dissertation have students apply what they have learned in their classes directly and immediately to work on their dissertation. Therefore, students must identify potential dissertation topics early in their doctoral studies. In fact, some programs expect students to already have potential topics in mind before they start their program. That way, as students complete assignments that relate to the program’s course content, they are also working on their dissertation requirements at the same time.

In contrast, programs that do not embed dissertation work into courses might assign students different kinds of projects during their classes, projects that may relate to what students ultimately research for their dissertation, but which are not formally components of the dissertation.

The following are examples of dissertation-focused courses that EdD programs with an embedded dissertation might feature as part of their curriculum. Please keep in mind that, as mentioned previously, EdD programs with embedded dissertations vary in their course content, not only according to students’ chosen specialization, but also in terms of how they integrate dissertation work into select courses. As a result, the example courses provided below are for informational purposes only.

Note: Included in this list are also descriptions of dissertation workshops, which are a feature that some, but not all, online EdD programs may have; these workshops may be hosted remotely or held on-campus as short in-person residencies/intensives.

Example Courses for Embedded Dissertation EdD Programs

  • Evidence-Based Practice–Qualitative Research Methods: This course covers essential qualitative research methods and their application to evidence-based, practice-oriented education leadership research. Students learn how to design qualitative research studies and utilize methodologies such as surveys and interviews, case studies, and literature reviews to gather relevant data. Students apply this knowledge to their own research interests as they determine the types of research questions they would like to investigate for their dissertation, and the primary research methodologies they must employ in their dissertation work.
  • Evidence-Based Practice–Quantitative Research Methods: This course covers foundational and advanced quantitative research methods and their applications in practice-oriented research seeking to improve education leadership and organizational outcomes. Students learn how to design quantitative research studies and implement techniques such as large-scale surveys and the gathering and manipulation of numerical data to identify key trends. Students discuss these research methodologies in the context of their own research interests, with a mind towards determining the research question they wish to pursue in their dissertation and the quantitative research methods they will need to answer this question.
  • Technology for Research: In this course, students explore the different technologies that enable them to conduct their educational research for their dissertation more efficiently and thoroughly. Students learn about different types of data sets and the technology platforms they can use to organize, segment, illustrate, and analyze their data to understand important trends.
  • Applied Statistics for Educational Leaders: This course gives students advanced training in statistical data gathering, organization, and analysis. Students apply the methods they have learned to data sets relating to their dissertation research question, in order to arrive at concrete insights from the data they have amassed.
  • Dissertation Planning Workshop: During this course, which maybe conducted as a short (e.g., two-week) intensive course, students meet with their faculty advisor and committee to discuss their dissertation question and to map out a plan for working on the first three chapters of their dissertation. Students also engage in intensive writing workshops wherein they start drafts of the first three chapters of their dissertation and elicit feedback from instructors and peers.
  • Dissertation Proposal Workshop: During this course, students meet with their faculty advisor and committee to discuss the first three chapters of their dissertation and to prepare and practice their dissertation proposal defense.

Online EdD Programs with Embedded Dissertations

Demand for online EdD programs has risen in recent years due to the desire for many students to continue working while earning their doctoral degree, and to have maximum scheduling flexibility when completing their courses. As a practitioner’s doctorate, the EdD lends itself particularly well to the online education model, for students can take what they learn in their online classes and apply it directly to their work at their school or organization. Online EdD programs have numerous advantages, such as saving students time they would otherwise spend commuting to campus, and allowing them to attend a program of their choice even if it is outside of their region of residence.

However, online EdD students might find the independent research process for their dissertation more challenging than do campus-based students who have access to a physical library, in-person faculty meetings, research specialists, writing tutors, and other campus resources. For this reason, increasing numbers of online EdD programs have begun adopting embedded dissertations so that their students can benefit from a structured sense of community during their remote work on their dissertation.

Examples of such programs that have an embedded dissertation include but are not limited to:

  • Bethel University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership: This program features four research courses that help students both develop advanced research skills and apply these skills to their individual dissertation topic and research processes. In addition to their faculty advisor and committee, students receive support and guidance through three campus residencies. In particular, the third campus residency focuses on giving students individualized support and feedback on chapters 1-3 of their dissertations. (For more information about this program, please read our exclusive interview with Program Director Dr. Jessica Daniels.)
  • Maryville University’s Online EdD in Higher Education Leadership: This program can be completed in as few as 32 months, with students completing their dissertation chapters simultaneously with their core courses. From the beginning of their enrollment in the program, students receive guidance and advising from a faculty member. Students are also required to attend a residency wherein they receive further support and feedback on their dissertation, though they have the option to attend this residency on-campus or virtually.
  • Northwest Nazarene University’s Online EdD in Educational Leadership: This program not only requires students to complete parts of their dissertation throughout their research courses, but also has a two-week summer residency that includes an intensive dissertation writing and research workshop. This program follows an accelerated model, allowing students to complete their courses and dissertation in 26 months of study. (For more information about this program, please read our exclusive interview with Program Director Dr. Heidi Curtis.)
  • Southern Nazarene University’s Online EdD in Administration and Leadership: This program follows an accelerated model that is designed to have students complete their entire doctoral degree within 32 months. Students complete chapters 1, 2, and 3 of their dissertation during their core research courses, and also have the option to attend two dissertation-focused campus residencies for their proposal defense and final defense. (For more information about this program, please read our exclusive interview with Director of Graduate Programs Dr. Stephoni Case.)
  • The University of Wisconsin’s Online EdD in Student Affairs Administration: This program features a Dissertation Planning course, a Writing Retreat on campus, and a Dissertation Seminar where students have the support of an instructor as well as their faculty advisor and committee. This program also boasts strong faculty advising from the beginning of students’ enrollment in the program, and students are guided through the process of formulating their dissertation research question at the beginning of their first year. (For more information about this program, please read our exclusive interview with Program Director Dr. Becki Elkins.)
  • Trevecca Nazarene University’s Online EdD in Leadership and Professional Practice: This program has a core set of Research courses that cover qualitative and quantitative methodologies, research-based technology, and applied statistics. Students build the components of their dissertation throughout their Research courses, which are complemented by more content-specific courses in Leadership and Professional Practice. (For more information about this program, please read our exclusive interview with Program Director Dr. Ryan Longnecker.)
  • University of Dayton’s Online EdD in Leadership for Organizations: This program has students begin work on their dissertation from their first day of enrollment, enabling them to apply their course content directly to work on their dissertation research question and formal chapter development. As they work on their dissertation, students receive ongoing guidance from faculty members. Students also attend two immersions on the University of Dayton campus in Ohio, where they meet with faculty advisors who support them in their research work and offer valuable feedback on their dissertation.

Note: Embedded dissertations are just one way in which EdD programs are adapting to the research needs and learning preferences of their students. Other programs may allow students to complete an applied research project that does not require the traditional five-chapter structure of a dissertation or “dissertation-in-practice.” For more information on such programs, please read our FAQ about online EdD programs that do not require a dissertation.


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FAQ: What is the Difference between an EdD in Nursing Education and a DNP in Nursing Education?

Answer: Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing Education and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Nursing Education programs represent two different types of terminal degree programs with similar, yet distinct, goals and aims. Both types of programs provide Registered Nurses (RNs) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) with advanced academic training in the theories and practices of nursing education. However, an EdD is an education degree with a focus in nursing education, while a DNP is a clinical degree in nursing with courses in nursing education.

While there are similarities between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education, there are also differences that are important for nurses to understand when exploring these degree programs. In general, EdD programs are offered by Schools of Education and are thus positioned primarily to equip teachers, educational researchers, administrators, and other experienced professionals, including nurses and professionals working in healthcare, with the most up-to-date pedagogical tools, educational methodologies, and curriculum design strategies to become educational leaders in organizations. In contrast, DNP programs are practice-based clinical doctoral programs offered by nursing schools and are designed for nurses, including RNs, Nurse Practitioners (NPs), and other APRNs, who want to advance into leadership positions in their field. Thus, DNP programs with an emphasis in nursing education are clinical DNP programs that include courses in nursing education designed to teach nurses how to teach in clinical and/or academic settings.

DNP programs are designed to prepare RNs to train nursing students in clinical and academic settings using the latest innovations in pedagogy and teaching technologies in nursing education, and train RNs how to design and assess nurse training curricula. EdD programs, on the hand, are designed for RNs who want to explore and conduct research on how to improve nursing training and pedagogy. Therefore, most EdD programs require students to conduct an original research project and complete a dissertation, a dissertation in practice, or a doctoral capstone project in nursing education. While DNP programs also require students to conduct research and complete a scholarly project, they do not typically require students to complete a dissertation.

There are also differences in terms of the academic and professional prerequisites for EdD and DNP programs. The majority of EdD programs require a master’s degree for admission and typically EdD programs in Nursing Education require students to have earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. (There are EdD programs with an emphasis in Health Professions that may accept RNs who have a non-nursing master’s degree.) For DNP programs, there are several pathways with many nursing schools offering BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP programs.

Regardless of their differences, EdD and DNP programs in nursing education can prepare RNs for a range of nurse educator roles. These include academic and clinical faculty positions at hospitals, nursing schools, universities, and medical centers, as well as administrative roles in the field of nursing education. To learn more about EdD and DNP programs, continue reading below.

Doctor of Education (EdD) in Nursing vs. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in Nursing Education Programs

The major differences between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education stem from the fact that the EdD degree is grounded in the field of education and the DNP degree emerged from the field of nursing. As a result, EdD programs in nursing education are more likely to be housed in schools and colleges of education, like the online Doctor of Education in Nursing Education program that is offered by Teachers College at Columbia University, while DNP programs are based almost exclusively in schools, colleges, or departments of nursing. Thus, while schools that offer DNP programs receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and must adhere to specific standards for the academic training in nursing in order to maintain their accreditation, EdD programs do not go through the same accreditation process.

It should be noted that EdD programs in Nursing Education may choose to follow curricular guidelines established by the CCNE and/or one of the several other professional nursing organizations and accrediting agencies. As Dr. Kathleen O’Connell, the Director of the Online EdD in Nursing Education program at Teachers College Columbia University, noted in an interview with OnlineEdDPrograms.com:

“We aligned our curriculum’s learning outcomes with the core competencies set forth by the National League of Nursing (NLN). Our courses are designed to teach students how to apply higher education theories to the creation and management of effective learning environments in health care contexts. We have students who want to teach in an academic, higher education setting, as well as students who are interested in staff development at hospitals, medical centers, and community health centers. We expect our graduates to be able to apply theories and innovative teaching strategies from nursing and higher education to enact an effective nurse educator role.”

Dr. O’Connell emphasized that, “The major difference between the DNP and the EdD is that the DNP was established to be a clinical degree, the highest clinical degree in nursing that you could get.” To put the differences between the two types of degrees in historical context, she explained:

“There was a shortage of faculty in nursing higher education. Schools of nursing initially came up with the DNP in nursing education, which still had a clinical emphasis with a smattering of education courses to teach students how to create a syllabus and teach a class. In contrast, the EdD in Nursing Education is specifically about nursing education. It requires people to do research in areas of nursing education and how to improve it. While there are people who have DNPs and are in faculty positions, the majority of DNP programs prepare students for advanced clinical work and non-pedagogical nursing leadership. The EdD in Nursing Education is specifically for those individuals who want to be leaders in nursing education.”

There are some structural differences between EdD and DNP programs as well. While crediting requirements vary by school and by program, EdD programs typically require 60 credits of coursework, which is more than the 33 to 45 credits that MSN-to-DNP programs commonly require. This translates to a completion time of one to two years for DNP programs and two to three years for EdD programs.

Finally, to graduate from a DNP program, RNs are required to have at least 1,000 hours of post-BSN clinical hours, of which a minimum of 500 hours must be completed as part of the DNP program. EdD programs with a nurse educator specialization typically require one or more practicums in which students receive hands-on training in teaching in academic and/or clinical settings. However, the number of hours and the clinical settings in which those hours are accrued are not necessarily the same for students in EdD programs versus DNP programs.


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Side-By-Side Comparison of EdD in Nursing Education vs. DNP Nurse Educator Programs

The table below highlights the similarities and differences between EdD and DNP programs in nursing education. It is meant to provide an overview of some of the key characteristics associated with these programs. Program details are drawn from research into EdD and DNP programs offered by accredited, non-profit schools, colleges, and universities.

For the sake of clarity and equivalence, the programs used for this comparison are MSN-to-DNP and MSN-to-EdD programs. BSN-to-DNP programs have different admissions and academic requirements, more extensive curricula, and longer completion times than programs designed for RNs who have already completed their MSN degree.

 EdD in Nursing Education ProgramsDNP in Nursing Education Programs
(MSN to DNP)
Admission Requirements:MSN degree + RN licenseMSN degree + RN license
Credit Hours:50 to 70 semester credits33 to 45 semester credits
Completion Time:Three to five yearsOne to three years
Sample Courses:
  • Teaching & Learning Methods
  • Educational Administration
  • Research Methods in Health & Behavior Studies
  • Nursing Theory in Nursing Education
  • Curriculum Development
  • Clinical Teaching in Nursing Education
  • Assessment & Learning Evaluation Methods
  • Ethics & the Role of the Nurse Educator
  • Advanced Research Methods & Literature Reviews
  • Innovation & Technology in Nursing Education
  • Legal Issues in Nursing Education
  • Health Systems Policy
  • Healthcare Research Methods
  • Curriculum Design & Learning Outcomes
  • Healthcare Data & Statistical Analysis
  • Learning Assessment
  • Technology & Simulation in Nursing Education
  • Organizational Dynamics in Higher Education
  • Strategic Leadership
  • Health Policy
  • Healthcare Finance
  • Nursing Informatics
  • Population Health & Public Health Policy
  • Collaborative Healthcare Practice
Culminating Experience:Applied capstone project, research project, or doctoral dissertationApplied capstone project
Clinical Hours:N/AMinimum of 500 clinical hours (students must complete a total of 1000 post-baccalaureate clinical hours and are given credit for 500 hours if earned during their MSN program)
Programmatic Accreditation:N/ACCNE or ACEN

Additional EdD and DNP Specializations

Another useful way to illustrate the conceptual differences between DNP and EdD programs is to look at the various specializations that these programs offer. DNP programs, as noted above, are housed within nursing schools, and are specifically designed to provide doctoral training to nurses. Thus, in addition to nurse educator DNP programs, there are DNP programs with specializations in Executive Leadership, Health Policy, Informatics, Public Health, and various APRN specializations, including Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP), Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). Nurse Educator/Nursing Education is just one of many areas within nursing that DNP students can choose as a specialty.

In contrast, there are EdD programs that are designed for professionals in a wide range of fields, including several non-nursing healthcare areas of practice. There are, for example, EdD programs in Healthcare Administration, Health and Human Performance, Organizational Leadership for Behavioral Health, and Human Services Administration. For more detailed information on these types of programs, refer to our Online EdD Programs in Healthcare Professions: Health, Healthcare Administration, and Nursing Education page.

Finally, as the focus of EdD programs is on education leadership first and foremost, there are also numerous EdD specializations designed for educators in fields outside of the healthcare professions. These include: Adult Education; Community College Leadership; Curriculum Development and Instruction; Diversity and Multiculturalism; Early Childhood Education; Education Administration and Leadership; Education Policy; Education Technology and e-Learning; Entrepreneurship in Education; Higher Education Leadership; K-12 Leadership; Organizational Leadership; and Special Education.


FAQ: Are there Online EdD Programs with an All But Dissertation (ABD) Option?

Answer: Yes. Online All But Dissertation (ABD) Ed.D. programs, also known as Doctor of Education Completion programs, are designed to help students who are ABD status to finish their doctorate degree. A student becomes ABD status when he or she has finished all of the coursework in an Ed.D. program, but has not finished his or her dissertation. Online EdD programs with an ABD option provide an accelerated course of study that focuses primarily on dissertation research and writing skills. They also feature intensive faculty support for students on their dissertation so that they can stay on track with their dissertation completion timeline.

The dissertation remains a cornerstone of almost all Ed.D. programs, and gives students a valuable opportunity to apply the research theories, concepts, and skills they have learned to a topic of deep personal and professional interest to them. However, the dissertation is also a particularly challenging pursuit requiring a great deal of independent research and writing, often without the structure and support of a classroom environment. Students of both traditional and online Ed.D. programs who are unable to finish their dissertation after having completed their doctoral degree coursework end up with the designation of ABD, instead of formally receiving their Ed.D. This can happen when personal or professional obligations conflict with their dissertation work, or when students’ research does not progress as planned.

To help ABD students complete their dissertation and therefore earn their doctorate, Ed.D. programs with an option for ABD students (also known as Doctor of Education Completion programs) provide an accelerated, research-focused curriculum and intensive faculty support to ensure students have the structure and mentorship they need to get their dissertation back on the right track. In order to qualify for admission, students of Doctor of Education Completion Programs must have completed most or all of their doctoral coursework in their previous Ed.D. program. This means that ABD programs are often about one half to one third of the typical course credits compared to a full Ed.D. program, ranging from approximately 20 to 30 credits.

While still relatively in the minority, there are a growing number of online Ed.D. programs with an ABD option, as schools and colleges of education see the increasing need to support ABD students. A list of online All But Dissertation Ed.D. programs is provided below:

  • Gwynedd Mercy University’s All But Dissertation (ABD) Doctorate in Education: This 18-month program builds off of students’ previous coursework to help them lead schools, school districts, educational policies, and non-profit educational programming both in the U.S. and abroad. Students can specialize in one of four tracks, which are Leadership in PreK-12 Schools and School Districts, Leadership in Higher Education, Leadership in Special Education, and Teaching & Learning in Higher Education. Students receive a faculty dissertation advisor from the beginning of their enrollment, and also attend several campus residencies for additional support.
  • Edgewood College’s Online Doctoral Completion Program (Hybrid Program): This program combines dissertation-specific coursework, curricular and extracurricular research and writing guidance, one-on-one faculty advising, and peer-to-peer support. Students can complete their coursework, which includes classes in advanced research methodologies, Institutional Review Board (IRB) proposals, and guided dissertation writing, over 18-14 months and take both in-person and online classes in a blended format.
  • Manhattanville College’s Doctorate in Education’s Dissertation Completion (ABD) Pathway: This program is a new online option with synchronous instruction (live real-time classes) that emulates the individualized faculty mentorship of their on-campus Dissertation Completion Pathway program. This program has students take a series of seminars that are specifically designed to help them with each chapter of their dissertation. For example, the first seminar students take guides them through writing their literature review, while the last seminar supports their writing of their Findings and Discussion chapters. Students also attend one campus residency in July.
  • Bay Path University’s Online Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership & Organizational Studies’ ABD Track: This program has students take classes in visionary leadership, organizational development and change, and entrepreneurial thinking before taking focused courses in action research and numerous dissertation seminars. Action research dissertations are distinct from traditional dissertations in that they focus on a specific organizational or community learning challenge, and discuss research that can be directly applied to solving, preventing, or otherwise mitigating this issue.
  • Northcentral University’s (NCU) Online Doctorate of Education’s Dissertation Completion Pathway: This program acknowledges students’ past academic work and provides individualized support and guidance as students complete their dissertation. Students and their faculty mentors agree on weekly objectives and meet on a weekly basis to discuss deliverables. NCU offers two specializations in its program–Educational Leadership and Instructional Design.

Note: In addition to the non-profit colleges and universities listed above, there are three for-profit institutions that offer online Ed.D. programs with an ABD option. These include Walden University, Trident at AIU, and the American College of Education.

Admission Requirements for All But Dissertation Ed.D. Programs

As online All But Dissertation Ed.D. programs can vary in terms of their curricula and dissertation requirements, their criteria for admission can also differ. Students should reach out to the ABD program that interests them to determine whether their completed Ed.D. coursework and any previous work they have conducted on their dissertation meet the requirements for admission to this program.

On a related note, there are ABD programs that require students to have completed all of their Ed.D. coursework prior to admission. Additionally, there are programs that accept students who are not formally ABD status, but who have completed the majority of Ed.D. coursework in their previous program. Students who are admitted under these circumstances are typically required to complete additional courses as part of their Ed.D. completion program.

In general, ABD programs expect applicants to submit the following in order to be considered for admission:

  • Undergraduate and graduate transcripts, including most importantly the transcript of courses the applicant completed from his or her previous Ed.D. program. ABD programs may also have a minimum GPA requirement of 3.0 or higher.
  • Two or more letters of recommendation written by academic and/or professional references.
  • A dissertation prospectus or draft that demonstrates the applicant’s strong understanding of the issue under his or her investigation, the purpose and general methodologies of the study, and a preliminary plan for conducting research, gathering data, and analyzing data to arrive at insights.
  • A writing sample that represents the applicant’s ability to complete and potentially publish doctoral-level education research.
  • A personal statement that discusses the applicant’s leadership goals and experiences, academic and professional strengths, and objectives for the program specifically.
  • A comprehensive professional resume that illustrates a track record of professional excellence and leadership in educational or organizational settings.
  • Some ABD Ed.D. programs/Doctorate of Education Completion programs also require students to complete an interview with the coordinator of the Ed.D. program.

FAQ: Are there any online EdD programs that do not require a dissertation?

Answer: Yes – Several schools that offer Doctor of Education degrees online do not require students to complete a traditional dissertation. However, these programs typically include another type of capstone requirement, such as an applied project or a “dissertation-in-practice.”

At this time, the majority of online Ed.D. programs require students to complete a dissertation in order to earn their doctorate. There are, however, options for those who do not wish to write a traditional research-based thesis. Several programs now offer students the opportunity to develop and implement a more action-oriented capstone project or dissertation-in-practice. While these projects also require a considerable amount of research and writing, they differ from traditional dissertations, focusing more on producing direct solutions to existing problems in education or organizational leadership, instead of furthering theory in the field.

A traditional dissertation has a formal five-chapter structure and aims to contribute to the existing scholarly literature on a topic in education development or leadership. The dissertation-in-practice, on the other hand, is an applied dissertation that still maintains the formal structure of the traditional dissertation, but focuses more on specific education challenges that students experience in their place of work. In contrast, the applied project is distinct from a dissertation in that it does not abide by the formal five-chapter dissertation structure, and has a more applied objective that relates to investigating or solving an educational practice or learning outcomes problem. In most cases, students who choose an applied project are tasked with examining an education challenge at their current place of employment (or one that is present regionally), and making an improvement to strategies or methods used in their organization or district.

Students should note that regardless of the option they choose, all three culminating experiences require rigorous research and writing. To learn more about the differences between these three capstone experiences, and to see a list of online programs that include an applied project option, continue reading below. (Note: At this time, the majority of online Ed.D. programs require students to complete some sort of a capstone experience whether it is a traditional research dissertation, a dissertation-in-practice, or an applied doctoral project.)


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Ed.D. Dissertation and Dissertation-In-Practice vs. Applied Project

While each is an extensive undertaking, intended to represent the culmination of one’s doctoral studies, a traditional Ed.D. dissertation, a dissertation-in-practice, and an applied capstone project are all similar to and distinct from each other depending on how you compare them. Additionally, for Ed.D. students, one option is not inherently better than the other; therefore, it is important to understand the similarities and differences and to choose an option that best aligns with a student’s educational and professional goals.

For students who are worried about the time it may take to complete a traditional dissertation, many Ed.D. programs are now better incorporating dissertation work into the curriculum. From the beginning of students’ enrollment, these programs have a structured environment in which students conduct their research, write their dissertation chapters, and consult with instructors for their dissertation work. This is a fairly recent change from the way dissertations have historically been completed in doctoral programs, where the student embarks on his or her dissertation work after he or she completes all of the program coursework.

The dissertation is an original research study, in which students use qualitative and/or quantitative research methods to examine and analyze a specific issue related to education. The goal of this project is to contribute new insights on a particular topic in the field, making a positive impact on established methods or theories by advancing existing research.

Students typically begin the dissertation process by formulating a specific research question to investigate. After reviewing past research on the subject, they then design and conduct a study of their own and analyze the results. The final product is a five-chapter document detailing the entire dissertation process, including students’ research methodology and conclusions drawn from their findings. Overall, students can expect to spend a significant portion of their Ed.D. studies planning for and completing their dissertation. Most programs include multiple courses related to dissertation research and development, and allow for one or more years of independent study to finish the project. The entire process is typically overseen by a dissertation committee comprised of program faculty, who provide mentorship and make sure students reach certain deadlines along the way. In most cases, students must present their initial research proposal to this committee for approval, as well as explain their findings during a formal dissertation defense at the end of their studies. For Ed.D. students, a traditional dissertation is very similar to what students in a Ph.D. program complete.

Unlike a Ph.D. in Education, the Doctor of Education degree is more focused on practice than scholarly research. Indeed, with the establishment of the Carnegie Project for the Education Doctorate (CPED) as a guiding organization in the area of Ed.D. curriculum development, a growing number of Ed.D. programs have joined CPED and expressed their commitment to the scholar-practitioner model. As such, many Ed.D. programs are beginning to offer alternative dissertation options that more closely align with the Ed.D.’s role as a practitioner’s degree. Therefore, students who prefer to focus on practical skills and real-world applications over intensive academic inquiry should look for programs that offer a dissertation-in-practice and/or an applied project option.

The dissertation-in-practice is, in many ways, a compromise on the historical requirement that students must complete a dissertation in order to earn their doctorate, and the central mission of the Ed.D. degree to train students to be advanced scholar-practitioners (i.e. educational leaders who use research to solve education problems and challenges in their place of practice). Instead of focusing on furthering scholarly understanding of a particular issue in education, the goal of a dissertation-in-practice is to address a specific problem of practice (as such, a dissertation-in-practice is often referred to as an applied dissertation). Students who elect to complete a dissertation-in-practice identify a research question pertaining to a specific problem they wish to solve in their own place of work, or an educational issue that is affecting their region (e.g. school district or community).

Students completing a dissertation-in-practice utilize qualitative and/or quantitative research methodologies to investigate their research question, and to gather data that will provide insights on addressing, preventing, or mitigating their chosen education problem. They also generally follow the same process that students completing traditional dissertations follow, which includes forming a faculty research committee, submitting and presenting a research proposal, writing their paper, and presenting their final conclusions to their committee. In general, dissertations-in-practice also follow the same formal five-chapter structure as a traditional dissertation, but the implications of students’ research are much more aligned with the goal of directly improving learning outcomes or enacting positive change in organizations and systems of education.

An Ed.D. capstone project, on the other hand, is quite different from a traditional dissertation or even a dissertation-in-practice. While an applied project may have a similar scope or address a similar question as a dissertation-in-practice, instead of creating a traditional five-chapter dissertation, students typically have a much more concrete deliverable, designed to be implemented immediately with the goal of improving performance or learning outcomes in a particular setting. This can take many different forms, such as a new curriculum plan for students, a staff training program, a piece of learning software, a district-wide technology strategy, potential policy changes, or recommendations for other organizational improvements that may help solve a current educational issue.

As with a dissertation, students typically complete this project under the guidance of faculty mentors. They must submit their initial proposal for approval, as well as defend the final product in front of their project committee. Most Ed.D. programs that have an applied project option also include a number of credits or courses directly related to capstone development, as well as certain deadlines students must meet during the process. In the end, these projects are generally just as rigorous as a traditional dissertation, requiring a similar time commitment as well as substantial research and writing.

Note: For the most detailed information on a program’s dissertation or capstone requirement–as well as how the program may define a traditional dissertation vs. a dissertation-in-practice vs. a capstone project–it is always best to contact the program directly.

Online Ed.D. Programs: No Dissertation Required

Below is a list of online Doctor of Education programs that include an applied project rather than a dissertation as their capstone requirement. Students interested in earning their Ed.D. without completing a dissertation have a variety of degree options to choose from, with specializations ranging from P-12 Educational Administration to Global Sport Leadership. Keep in mind, the requirements and goal of each program’s capstone project or culminating experience may vary, depending largely on the degree’s particular area of focus within education or organizational leadership.

Below are the schools that currently offer Ed.D. programs online which do not require a dissertation (either a traditional dissertation or a dissertation in practice):

  • A.T. Still University: Doctor of Education in Health Professions (Doctoral Research Project)
  • Boston College: Executive Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Higher Education (Professional Capstone Project)
  • Bradley University: Doctor of Education – Higher Education Administration (Action Research Project and an Applied Internship)
  • Cornerstone University: Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership and Development (Organizational Leadership and Development Project)
  • East Tennessee State University: Doctor of Education in Global Sport Leadership (Doctoral Capstone Project)
  • Liberty University: Doctor of Education in Curriculum & Instruction (Capstone Project)
  • Liberty University: Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Capstone Project)
  • Marymount University: Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Organizational Innovation (Doctoral Project/Final Research Paper)
  • Morehead State University: Doctor of Education with specializations in Adult and Higher Education Leadership, P-12 Administrative Leadership, and Educational Technology Leadership (Doctoral Capstone Project)
  • National Louis University: Ed.D. in Higher Education Leadership (Doctoral Capstone)
  • National University: Doctor of Education in Organizational Innovation (Culminating Project)
  • Nebraska Methodist College: Doctor of Education in Education and Leadership in Healthcare (Capstone Project)
  • New York University: Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation (Capstone Project)
  • The University of Louisiana at Monroe: Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Capstone Project or Three Publishable Research Articles)
  • The University of Southern Mississippi: Doctor of Education in P-12 Educational Administration (Four-chapter Capstone Project)
  • The University of Southern Mississippi: Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration (Field-based Capstone Project)
  • University of Miami: Doctor of Education in Applied Learning Sciences (Group Project and Individual Paper)
  • University of Virginia: Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (Capstone Project)
  • Vanderbilt University: Doctor of Education in Leadership and Learning in Organizations (Group Capstone Project)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University: Ed.D. in Leadership (Collaborative Group Study Capstone)
  • West Texas A&M University: Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership (Two Publication-worthy Research Articles)
  • Wilmington University: Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership (Applied Inquiry Project)

When researching potential programs, students should decide which type of capstone experience best fits their academic and professional goals. Ultimately, it is important to choose a degree that both aligns with one’s particular learning style and provides them with the type of training needed to advance in their field of interest. To learn more about any of the Ed.D. programs listed above, as well as their specific capstone requirements, students should visit the school’s website or contact an admissions representative.


FAQ: Are there any online EdS to EdD degree programs?

Answer: Yes – Several schools offer online programs specifically for students who already possess an Educational Specialist degree and want to earn a Doctor of Education. Online EdS to EdD programs are currently available at four institutions: Kennesaw State University, Northwest Nazarene University, University of Arkansas, and William Carey University. In addition to these programs, which explicitly require an EdS for admission, there are many other traditional EdD programs offered online that allow students to transfer credits from an EdS toward completion of their doctorate. This typically satisfies a significant portion of the EdD requirements, making it possible to graduate in less time than those entering with only a master’s degree.

The EdS and EdD are both post-master’s degrees in the field of education. However, they differ quite a bit when it comes to their overall focus and requirements. An EdS requires around half as many post-masters credits as a doctorate (typically around 30, instead of the 60 or so needed for an EdD) and is intended primarily for those looking to gain specific job skills related to career advancement. For example, many professionals pursue an EdS to gain the qualifications necessary for a certain position, certification, or licensure, such as those needed to become a principal or superintendent. While the EdD is also a practitioner’s degree, focused on preparing educators for advanced roles in academic leadership, it involves additional coursework in theory and research, as well as a substantial dissertation project. (For more about the differences between these two credentials, check out our FAQ on EdD vs. EdS degree programs.)

The majority of online EdD programs only require a master’s degree for admission (or in some rare cases, accept a bachelor’s degree along with sufficient graduate credits or professional experience). There are, however, some programs designed specifically for students who have completed an Educational Specialist degree and are now looking to earn the additional doctoral credits necessary to get an EdD. These EdS to EdD pathways generally require less credits than full EdD programs, as students will have already completed certain post-master’s requirements as part of their EdS. However, a major component that EdS holders will need to complete in order to earn their doctorate is a dissertation (or applied research project, for programs that have that option), which can take a considerable amount of time depending on the scope and focus of their research.

To learn more about online EdS to EdD programs available from schools in the U.S., as well as other options for students who possess an EdS and want to pursue their doctorate, continue reading below.

Schools with Online EdS to EdD Programs

As mentioned above, only four schools in the United States offer dedicated EdS to EdD programs online at this time. Kennesaw State University in Georgia has an online Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership track that requires an Educational Specialist degree for admission and focuses on four main areas: Certification in Teacher Leadership, Advanced Teacher Leadership, Research, and Dissertation. Students must complete a minimum of 48 post-EdS credit hours in order to earn their doctorate, including one in-person residency project. Along with granting an EdD, this program prepares students to take the Teacher Leadership GACE (Georgia Assessments for the Certification of Educators) exam, as well as earns them the initial certification in Teacher Leadership offered through the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (Ga-PSC).

Similarly, Northwest Nazarene University in Idaho offers a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership online designed for EdS holders that includes an emphasis in K-12 Education. The program requires a total of 36 doctoral credits, and can be completed in just 26 months with a two-week on-campus residency session. The University of Arkansas also has an online EdS to EdD program in Educational Leadership, which consists of 42 credit hours and takes around three years to finish. While the majority of coursework is delivered online, students must attend three intensive doctoral seminars on the U of A campus over the course of their studies. These in-person sessions give students the opportunity to meet and collaborate with classmates and faculty face to face, as well as receive help with their dissertation and attend lectures given by scholars and practitioners in the field.

Finally, those with an EdS can pursue a Doctor of Education in P-12 Educational Leadership through entirely online study at William Carey University in Mississippi. The EdD requires 33 credit hours of doctoral coursework and research, along with 30 hours transferred from an accredited EdS program. Students must complete a 15-credit Advanced Leadership Core, comprised of courses in Data Analysis for Instructional and Performance Improvement Using Technology Tools, Professional Educational Development for Adult Learners, Developing the Culture of Learning, Developing Advocacy for the School and Community, and Using Conflict Resolution and Mediation. The curriculum also includes two required research courses (Descriptive Statistics and Survey Design, and Advanced Applied Research), as well as 12 credits dedicated to applied research in educational administration.

Online EdD Programs that Accept EdS Transfer Credits

Along with the dedicated EdS to EdD pathways discussed above, many schools offer online program options that allow students who have earned an Educational Specialist or equivalent degree to apply some of their post-master’s credits toward completion of an EdD. For example, Central Michigan University has a Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership students can pursue in one of four concentrations: K-12 Leadership, K-12 Curriculum, Higher Education Leadership, or Educational Technology. While the EdD requires a total of 63 credit hours, those with an EdS from an approved institution may be able to transfer up to 27 credits toward their doctorate. Students entering the online EdD programs at Appalachian State University, Belhaven University, or Regent University with an EdS can similarly waive a portion of the total credit requirements, depending on faculty approval.

Some schools even offer clearly defined EdS to EdD bridge options as part of their more traditional online Doctor of Education programs. At the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut, students can pursue a doctorate online in Education Leadership with a specialization in International Education. While the full program requires a total of 62 credits, there is a 42-credit option for those who have completed a post-master’s Sixth-Year certificate program or Educational Specialist degree. Murray State University in Kentucky offers a similar pathway for EdS graduates, allowing them to waive up to half of the credit hours needed to earn their online Doctor of Education in P-20 and Community Leadership.

Note: These are only some of the options for students with an EdS looking to complete their doctorate online. Those interested in an online EdD program not mentioned on this page can always reach out to an admissions representative to inquire about their policies regarding transfer credits. It is possible that other programs may allow students to apply some or most of their EdS credits toward an EdD degree.


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FAQ: Are there any fully online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs?

Answer: Yes — There are Doctor of Education programs that can be completed entirely online with no residency/campus visit requirements. While many online EdD programs require one or more on-campus sessions, a wide range of schools offer fully online degree options, as well as programs with optional in-person components.

Online EdD programs often include a certain number of mandatory in-person residencies, where students travel to campus for anywhere from one or two days to an entire week to participate in orientations, workshops, and other educational activities. However, there are many colleges and universities across the country that offer EdD programs which do not require students to visit campus at any point during their studies. These fully online programs can be a great option for working professionals unable to take time off for residencies or students who may not be able to travel to campus for other reasons.

While in-person instruction can be used to enhance online learning, students are typically responsible for the costs associated with required on-campus sessions. Therefore, students considering online programs outside of their commuting distance, such as one offered by a school based out of state, should check with an admissions advisor about any on-campus requirements before applying. This will help them make an informed decision about whether they would like to pursue a program that is fully online or one that requires limited face-to-face instruction.

To learn more about fully online EdD programs currently available from schools in the U.S., as well as programs with minimal campus requirements, continue reading below.


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Fully Online EdD Programs with No Residency Requirements

Students interested in pursuing their EdD entirely online have a variety of options to choose from. In these programs, all of the coursework is delivered online through either synchronous or asynchronous instruction. While students may need to log in at specific times to watch live lectures or participate in class discussions, they are never required to visit campus for in-person learning activities or other degree related matters (e.g., to sit for exams or defend their dissertation). Fully online programs are available in nearly every EdD specialization, from PreK-12th Grade or Higher Education Leadership, to Education Technology, Nursing Education, Organizational Leadership, Sports Management, and more.

For example, at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, students can pursue a Doctorate of Education in Educational Leadership and Management entirely online in one of nine different concentrations: Athletic Administration, Creativity and Innovation, Educational Administration, Educational Policy, Global and International Education, Higher Education, Human Resource Management, Learning Technologies, or Special Education Leadership. Similarly, Concordia University Chicago offers fully online EdD tracks in specializations such as Higher Education Leadership and Organizational Leadership. These EdD programs are all 100 percent online, with no campus-based residency requirements.

Other schools offer EdD programs that can be completed through entirely online study, but have optional campus components students can choose to attend, if they so desire. One such school is Maryville University in Missouri, which offers a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership online, with the option to attend two dissertation research residencies either online or on campus. Likewise, the University of North Georgia has a fully online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership and Practice with an optional on-campus orientation. At City University of Seattle, students can pursue a Doctor of Education in Leadership entirely online in a number of different concentrations; however, the school strongly encourages EdD candidates to attend several optional in-person residencies throughout their studies to help with dissertation development.

Below are more examples of schools that offer fully online EdD programs with no residency requirements. While some of these include optional on-campus experiences, all of them can be completed through entirely online study*.

  • Abilene Christian University – Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership
  • Arizona State University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation
  • Aurora University – Doctor of Education with Specializations in Instructional Leadership: Coaching and Mentoring, Leadership in Adult Learning and Higher Education
  • A.T. Still University of Health Sciences – Doctor of Education in Health Professions
  • Boise State University – Doctor of Education in Educational Technology
  • California University of Pennsylvania – Doctor of Education in Education Administration and Leadership
  • Concordia University Chicago – Doctorate in Leadership (Ed.D.) Higher Education Leadership, Ed.D. in Leadership – Organizational Leadership
  • Drexel University – Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management (Ed.D.)
  • Fairleigh Dickinson University – Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Higher Education
  • Franklin University – Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership
  • Lamar University – Doctorate in Educational Leadership – Global Educational Leadership
  • Liberty University – Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction
  • Marymount University – Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership and Organizational Innovation
  • Maryville University – Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership
  • National University – EdD in Organizational Innovation
  • Northcentral University – Doctor of Education, Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Doctor of Education in Instructional Design
  • Sam Houston State University – Doctor of Education in Developmental Education Administration, Doctor of Education in Instructional Systems Design and Technology
  • St. Thomas University – Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation
  • The University of Southern Mississippi – Doctor of Education in Educational Administration (P-12), Doctor of Education in Higher Education Administration
  • The University of West Alabama – EdD in Rural Education
  • University of the Cumberlands – Doctorate in Educational Leadership
  • University of Virginia – Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction
  • University of West Florida – Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction, EdD in Instructional Design and Technology
  • William Carey University – Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership

There are currently colleges in 41 states and the District of Columbia that offer online EdD programs. For students who do not live within commuting distance to a campus-based program, pursuing an EdD online may be the only option without having to relocate. Additionally, those interested in earning an EdD online in a specific specialization may need to explore out-of-state options in order to find a program that offers that area of focus. Many of the fully online programs listed above accept students from most, if not all, states in the U.S. However, some programs are unable to or do not accept online students from every state. Therefore, students should always check with an admissions advisor before applying to an out-of-state program to ensure they accept students from their state of residence.


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Online EdD Programs with Limited Campus Requirements

While the programs mentioned above are all fully online with no campus visit requirements, some online EdD programs include one or more in-person components (often called residencies or intensives) which will require students to travel to campus or another location during their studies. OnlineEdDPrograms.com defines a program as “online” only if it requires three or fewer campus visits per year. When researching online degrees, students should be sure to closely examine any and all possible campus-based requirements. While not common, there are some programs comprised of entirely online courses that use the term “fully online,” but include a mandatory orientation or require students to visit campus for their comprehensive/qualifying examination and/or dissertation defense.

There are a number of different ways schools integrate campus visits into the curriculum. Online EdD programs offered by schools such as Appalachian State University, University of Southern California, and University of West Georgia can be completed almost entirely online; however, students are required to attend an in-person orientation prior to starting their studies. Other programs have one or more summer residencies, where students visit campus during the summer semester (sometimes for as long as a week) to participate in various campus-based events or activities. Examples of programs with summer residency requirements include Florida State University, Gratz College, Northern Illinois University, Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, University of Findlay, University of Massachusetts Lowell, University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, and Western Kentucky University.

Finally, some schools make online students come to campus at certain points throughout their studies for important degree related events, such as their comprehensive or qualifying exam, dissertation proposal, or dissertation defense. For instance, students pursuing a Doctor of Education in Education Policy, Organization, and Leadership online from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign must visit campus twice during the program, once for a preliminary exam and again to defend their dissertation. Similarly, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s online Doctor of Education in Kinesiology includes three campus sessions, requiring students to travel to campus for an orientation, an oral comprehensive exam, and their dissertation defense. Belhaven University, Rowan University, and Teachers College, Columbia University all offer EdDs online with similar campus requirements based around different stages of dissertation development. Other schools, such as Indiana University, may require students to attend annual conferences or other departmental happenings.

As noted above, campus-based activities can be a great way to enhance online learning, providing students with an opportunity to meet their instructors and classmates in person and participate in hands-on training exercises. For students who value face-to-face interactions, but who want or need the flexibility of an online degree, programs with limited campus visits may be a great alternative to traditional campus-based or hybrid programs. However, these online programs require certain time and travel obligations, as well as additional expenses on top of tuition costs and universities fees. As such, students should be sure to weigh the pros and cons of required in-person sessions when researching programs, in order to choose one that best fits their particular scheduling needs and learning style.

*Disclaimer: Programs requirements, including in-person instructional activities, can change over time as schools review and update their curricula. Therefore, students should check with their programs of interest to determine if they have any on-campus requirements before applying.


FAQ: Are there any online EdD programs that do not require a master’s degree for admission?

Answer: Yes — There are Doctor of Education (EdD) programs students can pursue online with only a bachelor’s degree. At this time, three schools offer online EdD programs that do not require master’s degrees: Southwestern College, University of Southern California (USC), and Vanderbilt University. However, these programs require additional qualifications for admission, such as substantial work experience or previously earned graduate credits. They also may take longer to complete than traditional EdD programs, which are designed for students who have already earned a master’s degree.

While most online EdD programs require a master’s degree for admission, there are a few options available for students who only possess a bachelor’s and want to jump directly into pursuing their doctorate. These particular programs are aimed at educators with significant professional experience, who see earning an EdD as more beneficial than pursuing a master’s at this point in their careers. In fact, as mentioned above, programs that accept students with only bachelor’s degrees often have specific admission requirements related to work experience, to ensure applicants are both in the proper place professionally for an EdD and ready for the rigors of doctoral study. Programs may also call for standardized test scores (e.g., GRE, GMAT, MAT) above a certain threshold, or require students to have already earned a significant number of graduate credits to transfer toward their EdD.

To learn more about the three online EdD programs that do not require master’s degrees, as well as their specific admission requirements for students who only possess a bachelor’s, continue reading below.


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Online EdD Programs: No Master’s Required

At Southwestern College, students with a bachelor’s degree and sufficient work experience can apply for the school’s online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership program, which offers both a licensure track in building or district leadership, and non-licensure tracks in teacher or higher education leadership. The program is open to bachelor’s-prepared educators who will have a minimum of five years teaching experience by the end of their studies. Bachelor’s applicants must also submit GRE scores of 150 or higher on both the verbal and quantitative sections in order to be considered for admission. Once accepted, students entering with a bachelor’s degree can expect to complete their EdD in five years of continuous enrollment. In comparison, those with a master’s and five years of experience by program’s end can typically finish the degree in three years, and are not required to submit GRE scores.

The University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education also offers a Doctor of Education online for students with bachelor’s degrees who possess substantial work and leadership experience. Specifically, their Organizational Change and Leadership program is open to applicants who have led a team or organization, and whose “academic background, professional goals, personal commitment, and communication skills meet the demands of a rigorous graduate education program.” Students entering the program without a master’s degree must complete additional coursework to earn their doctorate, taking a total of 60 units over four years. Whereas, those who have earned their master’s only need to fulfill 43 units of coursework in order to finish the EdD, which generally takes around three years of study. All applicants must also demonstrate a high level of writing ability, either by submitting GRE or GMAT test scores, or completing an online writing assessment administered by the school.

Finally, bachelor’s-prepared students who already possess some graduate-level credits can pursue a Doctor of Education in Leadership and Learning in Organizations online through Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College. Offered by the school’s Department of Leadership, Policy, and Organizations, this EdD program consists of a 54-credit curriculum, but requires a total of 84 credit hours to graduate. In order to fulfill the degree requirements, students must transfer 30 credits of graduate-level study toward their EdD. Both those with a master’s degree and students with a bachelor’s who have earned at least 30 graduate credits are eligible to apply. However, applicants must also show evidence of successful leadership experience, as well as verbal and quantitative proficiency, either through standardized test scores or another indicator. Vanderbilt’s online EdD in Leadership and Learning in Organizations is designed to be completed in roughly three to four years.

To learn more about general admission criteria for Doctor of Education programs, check out our Online EdD Program Admission Requirements page.


FAQ: How long does it take to complete an online Doctor of Education (EdD) program?

Answer: The time it takes to complete an EdD online will vary by program, as well as if students enroll on a full- or part-time basis. Most full-time EdD programs are designed to be completed in around three years. However, that number can change based on whether or not a student has transfer credits, and students are often allowed to take longer to complete their degree, if necessary. Those pursuing an EdD part time might take anywhere from four to seven years to finish their doctorate, depending on their particular course schedule.

The actual length of an online EdD program will depend on several factors, varying by school, specialization, and academic calendar. Most require students to complete around 60 credit hours, which, on a full-time schedule, generally amounts to two years of coursework and one year of dedicated dissertation research/writing. However, the subject and scope of one’s dissertation can affect how long it takes to finish an EdD program, with some students requiring more time to conduct research or analyze data. While most full-time programs are intended to be completed in roughly three years, schools often allow students to take up to seven years to finish their degree, if needed. (Note: The maximum time to completion varies by program.)

While the majority of EdD programs are designed to span three years of full-time enrollment, there are a limited number of programs that can be completed in 24 to 32 months. For these, students typically start working on their dissertation much earlier, with some programs even having students start the dissertation process at the beginning of their studies. In addition, these programs often require students to takes courses year-round in order to graduate in less than three years.

There are also EdD programs that accept students who have not yet earned a master’s degree. These programs, which typically require significant work experience in addition to a bachelor’s degree, often take four years or longer to complete.

Another thing to consider when looking at the length of an EdD program is the amount of transfer credits students can apply toward their doctorate. Some schools let students who have earned relevant post-master’s credits apply a certain portion toward their EdD requirements, meaning they may be able to complete their degree in less time. Programs may also allow students who already possess an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree to transfer those credits toward completion of an EdD, significantly reducing the amount of time it takes to earn an EdD. Students with post-master’s credits or an EdS should contact representatives at prospective programs before applying to determine if their credits will transfer.

Full-Time vs. Part-Time Online EdD Programs

The main factor impacting how long it takes to earn an EdD is whether students enroll in their program on a full- or part-time basis. As mentioned before, full-time online EdD programs generally require three years to complete, sometimes less. Full-time students often take two courses per term (or semester), which, combined with the independent research involved with their dissertation, can take up a significant portion of their schedule each week. By taking a heavier course load, these students are able to graduate in a shorter amount of time than those pursuing their degree part time. However, it may be difficult to maintain a full-time job or other obligations while devoting some much time to one’s studies on a weekly basis.

In a part-time program, students take fewer courses at a time, spreading their studies out over a longer period. Due to this, part-time students typically take four to five years to complete their degree, with some needing as long as seven. The benefit to enrolling on a part-time basis is students have more time outside of school for work, family, or other responsibilities. This makes part-time programs a particularly good option for working professionals, who need or want to continue full-time employment while pursuing their degree. When deciding between a full- or part-time EdD program, students should consider if they would rather finish their degree sooner, or take a lighter course load and be better positioned to manage both school and a full-time career.

Additional Considerations for Online EdD Programs

Many EdD programs use a cohort model, where students progress through their studies with a set group of classmates, taking the same courses in the same order. The cohort model has several benefits and is pretty common for online doctoral programs. To start, students often form tighter bonds with their classmates as they share the same positive and negative experiences throughout their studies. Due to this, a student’s cohort often becomes their professional network post-graduation. In a cohort, students also take a set schedule of courses (with the exception of a few electives, depending on the program), which means they do not have to worry about whether the courses they need in order to graduate will be offered when they need to take them.

The cohort model does have one major drawback, however, especially for programs with limited start dates (e.g., one start per year or every two years). Because these programs use a set schedule of courses, specific courses may only be offered during certain terms or even years. Therefore, if students need to miss a term for some reason, they may have to wait a year or longer before that course is offered again. Students should take this into consideration when researching online EdD programs, particularly if they already know they will need to take time off during their studies.


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FAQ: Are there any schools that offer faith-based Doctor of Education (EdD) programs online?

Answer: Yes, a wide range of religiously affiliated colleges and universities offer Doctor of Education programs online, both in specializations related to religious studies and more standard degree concentrations. While the majority are Christian schools of various denominations (e.g., Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist), there is also one Jewish college with an EdD students can pursue online with minimal on-campus requirements. Programs at these institutions generally combine traditional EdD coursework with a certain amount of faith-based study, whether that is full courses dedicated to religious practice or an overall curriculum built upon religious values.

Christian schools such as Grand Canyon University, Concordia University, Bethel University, College of Saint Mary, Abilene Christian University, Liberty University, and more, as well as the Jewish institution Gratz College in Pennsylvania, all have online EdD programs available for students interested in receiving a faith-based education. At these schools, there are even several programs dedicated specifically to religious education or leadership, such as the online Doctorate of Education in Leadership with a concentration in Jewish Education from Gratz, or Liberty University’s online Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership with an emphasis on Ministry Leadership.

To learn more about the different religious institutions that offer EdD programs online, as well as available concentrations in faith-based leadership or education, continue reading below.


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Religious Schools with Online EdD Programs

Students have a number of options to choose from when it comes to pursuing an EdD online from a faith-based college or university. While most of these schools are affiliated with Christianity in some form, as mentioned above, there is one Jewish institution that offers an online EdD program in several degree concentrations.

Below is a list of faith-based schools in the United States with EdD programs students can pursue online, along with their particular religious affiliation:

  • Abilene Christian University – Churches of Christ
  • Alverno College – Roman Catholic
  • Baylor University – Baptist
  • Bethel University – Baptist
  • Carson-Newman University – Baptist
  • College of Saint Mary – Catholic
  • Concordia University-Chicago – Lutheran
  • Concordia University-Saint Paul – Lutheran
  • Concordia University Wisconsin – Lutheran
  • Creighton University – Jesuit
  • D’Youville College – Roman Catholic
  • George Fox University – Christian
  • Grand Canyon University – Christian
  • Gratz College – Judaism
  • Liberty University – Baptist
  • Lipscomb University – Churches of Christ
  • Marymount University – Catholic
  • Nebraska Methodist College – Methodist
  • Northwest Nazarene University – Church of the Nazarene
  • Regent University – Christian
  • Rivier University – Catholic
  • Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota – Lasallian Catholic
  • Southeastern University – Assemblies of God
  • Southern Nazarene University – Church of the Nazarene
  • Southern Wesleyan University – Wesleyan Church
  • St. Thomas University – Catholic
  • Trevecca Nazarene University – Church of the Nazarene
  • Union University – Baptist
  • University of Dayton – Catholic, Marianist
  • University of Findlay – Christian

In most cases, these schools offer fairly standard EdD programs, with specializations and curricula students might find at any institution. However, students pursuing their degree at one of these faith-based institutions can generally expect the instruction or coursework to include some emphasis on faith or religious practices, particularly as they relate to the program’s area of focus.

For example, Concordia University – Chicago, a Lutheran school, offers EdDs online in a wide range of specializations, from Early Childhood or Special Education to Sports Leadership, Organizational Leadership, and Education Technology. While their programs do not include explicit courses focused on religion, Concordia states that students are required to “reflect on their beliefs and practices” throughout their studies, developing “competency and servant leadership within the context of integrity and Christian values.”

Faith-Based Online EdD Programs

There are also several schools that offer online EdD programs specifically focused on leadership or education in religious contexts. Regent University in Virginia, for example, has a Doctor of Education with a concentration in Christian Education Leadership students can pursue online. Curriculum in the program combines coursework in areas such as data-driven decision making, advanced research design, staff development, and financial management, with more faith-based courses such as Christian Worldview for Educators, Kingdom Education, Christian Education-Philosophy, Starting and Operating Christian Schools, and Student Discipleship in Christian Education.

Also based in Virginia, Liberty University offers an online Doctor of Education in Christian Leadership with an emphasis on Ministry Leadership through its Rawlings School of Divinity. The program is designed to equip students with the management skills and biblical foundation they need to effectively lead in the church or other ministry organizations. Similarly, Grand Canyon University in Arizona has an online Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership program with an optional concentration in Christian Ministry. Students in this degree track take a variety of courses related to leading others in the delivery of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, studying such topics as Theology of Leadership, Ethical Dilemmas and Stewardship, Christian Ministry and Culture, Practical Considerations in Christian Ministry, Leading Across Cultures, and Disciple Making in the Leadership Context.

Finally, Gratz College offers a Doctorate of Education in Leadership online with three concentrations to choose from, including one in Jewish Education. Along with required core courses in areas such as Leading an Educational Organization, Strategic Planning for Educational Leadership, Needs Assessment, and Methods of Inquiry, students in the Jewish Education track complete an additional seven-course curriculum consisting of the following classes: Leadership in Jewish Education; History and Philosophy of Jewish Education; Landscape of Jewish Education in North America; Program Development, Curriculum, and Assessment; Ethical and Legal Issues in Jewish Education; Current Trends in Jewish Education; and Planning, Budgeting, and Finance in Schools.


FAQ: Are there any online EdD programs that do not require the GRE or MAT for admission?

Answer: Yes – Many online Doctor of Education (EdD) programs do not require students to submit GRE, MAT, or other standardized test scores (e.g., GMAT) as part of the application process. Other programs that ask for the GRE/MAT may allow students to waive the requirement if they meet certain conditions, such as a minimum cumulative GPA in their master’s program or specific work experience. There are online EdD programs, however, that do require test scores from all applicants. As such, prospective students should be sure to carefully review admission requirements, or speak directly with an admissions counselor, before applying.

EdD programs are typically quite rigorous, requiring a considerable commitment from students in both time and effort. Applicants to these programs must be able to show they are ready for doctoral-level study, including intensive courses and a lengthy dissertation process. Due to this, programs generally have a number of requirements students must meet in order to be considered for admission. These typically include a master’s degree, relevant work experience, a writing sample, and multiple letters of recommendation.

Keep in mind, admission requirements vary by program. Additionally, the majority of online EdD programs have a selective admissions policy, meaning that even if students meet or exceed all the criteria for admission, they still might not be offered a spot in the program. Prospective applicants should always check with admissions staff from their programs of interest for the most up-to-date and comprehensive information regarding admission requirements and the application process.

Admission Requirements for Online EdD Programs

As mentioned above, the specific admission criteria for an online EdD program will vary from school to school. Most, however, require students to fill out and submit a detailed application form, along with a small fee. In addition to that, the following requirements are fairly standard:

  • Master’s Degree: Nearly all online EdD programs require that applicants hold a master’s degree from a nationally or regionally accredited college or university. Most require a master’s in education or a related field, but there are EdD programs that accept any master’s degree for admission. While rare, there are also some programs that admit students who only hold a bachelor’s degree. In these programs, applicants without a master’s degree typically must complete 20-25 additional credits of master’s-level coursework before beginning doctoral courses. (Note: While not common, there are also some online EdD programs that require an EdS for admission.)
  • Official Postsecondary Transcripts: Students typically must submit official transcripts of all their past undergraduate and graduate coursework as part of their application package. Most EdD programs require applicants to have maintained an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher either throughout their studies or during a specific portion of their postsecondary education (e.g., the most recent two years).
  • Resume: Online EdD programs generally ask for a current resume or curriculum vitae (C.V.) outlining applicants’ background in education or related fields. Depending on the program, students may need to possess a specific type or amount of work experience in order to be considered for admission (e.g., three or more years in an educational leadership role).
  • Personal Statement: In their personal statement essay, students are given the chance to explain why they would be a good fit for the program, detailing their motivations and relevant past academic and professional experience. Some programs may have specific questions or prompts for applicants to answer, such as describing a problem related to their practice that they are interested in addressing through research or their dissertation.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Finally, most online EdD programs ask for three or more letters of recommendation that speak to the applicant’s qualifications and competency to conduct doctoral-level work. While this requirement varies by program, most typically require a letter from either (or both) a professor from the applicant’s master’s program who can attest to their academic abilities, and/or a school/organization administrator who they have worked with closely in a professional setting.

Further admission requirements for an online EdD program may include additional writing samples, teaching certification, a background check, or an interview, typically conducted via Skype, telephone, or another video conferencing application. Applicants whose primary language is not English may also need to submit TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) scores as proof of English proficiency.

As mentioned before, programs also often have specific GPA requirements students must meet to be considered for admission. In most cases, this is a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 in both their bachelor’s and master’s programs.

Keep in mind, there are online EdD programs that require applicants to submit GRE or other standardized test scores as a way to provide further evidence of their verbal and quantitative skills. Those that ask for these scores typically stipulate that the exam must have been taken within a certain timeframe, such as the last five years, in order to be considered. Programs may also have a certain minimum score students must achieve. There are also EdD programs that do not explicitly require standardized test scores, but recommend or strongly encourage students to submit them along with their other application materials to support their overall case for enrollment.

Some EdD programs that require standardized test scores may allow students to forgo this requirement by applying for a GRE or MAT waiver. In these cases, applicants typically must meet certain criteria in order to be eligible for the waiver, such as a minimum graduate GPA over 3.5 or 3.75. For example, the University of West Florida’s online EdD program in Curriculum and Instruction allows students to waive the test requirement if they have a master’s degree with a GPA of 3.75 or higher.


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Examples of Online Doctor of Education GRE/MAT Requirements

In order to give students a better understanding of typical standardized testing requirements, below are some examples of online EdD programs in various specializations, along with their criteria when it comes to GRE/MAT scores:

  • Arizona State University: Online Doctor of Education in Leadership and Innovation –GRE not required
  • Drexel University: Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership and Management – GRE not required
  • Fordham University: Online Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy (K-12) – GRE required
  • Gwynedd Marcy University: Online Doctorate in Education Leadership – GRE required (students may be able to waive the GRE with a minimum graduate GPA of 3.5 or higher)
  • Johns Hopkins University: Online Doctor of Education – GRE recommended, not required
  • Northeastern University: Online Doctor of Education – GRE not required
  • Southern Wesleyan University: Online Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Assessment – MAT required (students may submit GRE scores in lieu of scores from the MAT)
  • Texas A&M University: Online Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction (P-12) – GRE required
  • University of Florida: Online Doctorate of Education in Special Education – GRE required
  • Wilmington University: Online Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership – GRE not required