Question: 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.