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

Updated: February 1, 2023

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

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

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

Overview of EdD Specializations

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

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

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

Structure of EdD Programs

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

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

Online EdD Programs

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

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

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

Admissions Considerations for EdD Programs

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

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

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