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

Updated: February 1, 2024

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

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

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

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

Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) Degree Programs

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

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

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

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Degree Programs

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

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

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

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

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

Ed.D. vs Ed.S. Degree Programs

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

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