Question: Are there online EdD programs with an All But Dissertation (ABD) option? Doctor of Education Completion Programs

Updated: October 10, 2023

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.
  • National University’s (NU) 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 must take three bridge courses before entering the EdD program as ABD status students. From there, students and their faculty mentors agree on weekly objectives and meet on a weekly basis to discuss dissertation deliverables. NU offers two specializations in its program–Educational Leadership and Instructional Design. (Note: This Online Doctorate of Education was previously offered by Northcentral University, which merged with National University in 2022.)

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.