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

Updated: February 1, 2024

Answer: An EdS, or Education Specialist degree, is a post-graduate degree designed to prepare educators for impactful leadership positions at the school and school district levels. The EdS degree can be an ideal option for students who want to empower themselves with more advanced skills in curriculum development, educational technology, program evaluation, and/or special education leadership, among other areas, but who do not want to commit the level of time, tuition, and research intensiveness that an EdD (or PhD in Education) requires. Many EdS programs also provide the training needed to qualify individuals for principal, superintendent, or educational administrator licensure in their state of residence. There are also some EdD programs that require candidates to have earned their EdS in order to qualify for admission.

The Education Specialist (EdS) degree is a type of program that is uniquely suited to individuals who want to step into leadership positions in primary and secondary education settings, and whose goals may not require them to devote the considerable time and effort that earning a Doctor of Education (EdD) entails. While an EdD program can prepare students to step into more advanced leadership positions in a broad range of settings (e.g., roles in PK-12 educational administration, higher education leadership, adult learning, student affairs administration, corporate and organizational leadership, etc.), the EdS degree is usually specific to educators who want to be more impactful in K-12 (or PK-12) settings through advanced training in areas such as educational leadership, educational technology, curriculum and instruction, early childhood education, special education, and more.

In general, while the minimum degree requirement for educators to pursue their principal or superintendent license is typically a master’s degree*, EdS programs provide educators with graduate level training in school leadership without having to complete a second master’s program. As a result, many individuals who are seeking an educational leadership license are interested in the EdS degree, because the EdS provides students with the requisite curriculum content and professional training to help them step confidently into more administrative, program development, and educational leadership roles. (In contrast to EdS programs, some EdD programs with courses in P-12 education may prepare students for certification; however, in general, many EdD programs are not designed to prepare students for licensure).

EdS degrees are typically comprised of 30 post-master’s credits, and include coursework in areas such as curriculum development, diversity and social justice in education, program evaluation, instructional technology, and special education. Unlike EdD programs, which require approximately twice the number of credits and the completion of a dissertation (or research intensive project), EdS programs are mainly comprised of courses, without the intensive research component (with that said, some EdS programs require the completion of a final capstone project, paper, internship, or comprehensive examination). The relatively small number of course credits for an EdS, combined with the fact that it does not require a dissertation, often means that students can complete their EdS in between one and two years (relative to the three or four years that an EdD typically takes).

Note: An EdS is not a terminal degree in the field of education, as students can pursue either an EdD or PhD in Education, both of which require a dissertation. For more information on how EdS programs differ from EdD programs, check out our FAQ on EdD versus EdS degree programs.

Curriculum Details for Education Specialist Programs

In general, EdS programs are comprised of a minimum of 30 course credits. Depending on the program in which they enroll, students may be able to choose from a number of specializations, craft their own focus from a variety of courses, or they may take a prescribed course sequence in a specific area of education leadership. Examples of common specializations for EdS programs include but are not limited to:

  • Educational Leadership and Administration
  • School Leadership – Principal Licensure
  • Superintendency
  • Instructional Leadership
  • Curriculum and Instruction
  • Special Education
  • Instructional Technology
  • School Counseling
  • Reading

As the above sample specializations illustrate, EdS degrees are highly focused on helping educators improve educational programs and outcomes at their current place of work. Therefore, while an EdD program might have students from sectors other than education, such as professionals in health care, political advocacy, or the corporate sphere, EdS programs tend to have students exclusively from academic settings, and typically in the K-12 sphere.

Example Courses in EdS Programs

EdS programs are designed to give educators the tools to evaluate educational programs and systems, pinpoint areas for improvement, and implement strategies to enhance learning outcomes and better support their students. Going beyond teaching and curriculum implementation to design curricula, develop and improve programs, and create innovative solutions to education challenges requires that students build key research and leadership skills. The courses below provide some illustration of the kinds of research, skills, methods, and best practices that EdS students might learn over the course of their program.

  • Curriculum Design and Evaluation: The essential principles, methods, and best practices of designing and implementing an effective curriculum. Students also learn how to evaluate learning outcomes from an implemented curriculum, and to make improvements and modifications accordingly.
  • Diversity and Social Justice in Education: The importance of ensuring that all students in a given school and/or school district have equal access to learning opportunities and support. The role that diversity, multiculturalism, and equal educational accessibility play in the establishment and maintenance of social justice in society.
  • Foundational Theories and Methods of Educational Leadership: Students in this course examine both historical and contemporary scholarly literature around the meaning of leadership in educational settings, as well as the fundamental theories that underpin effective educational leadership across diverse K-12 settings. Students also discuss the applicability of this research to their current place of work.
  • Instructional Technology in School Reform: The latest educational technologies and how they can be leveraged both inside and outside of the classroom to improve students’ learning outcomes. The role that remote learning and learning management systems can play in assignments, examinations, and interactive educational activities.
  • Community Building in Learning Environments: How educators can build productive partnerships and connections between other educators, students, parents, and other members of the community. How building a sense of cohesive community and organizational identity within academic settings can increase students’ sense of belonging, the readiness with which they seek out support systems, and their overall academic performance.
  • Problem Solving in Educational Organizations: An in-depth look at some of the most pressing issues facing secondary school systems, and how to take a multifaceted and team-based approach to solving these challenges.
  • Research and Program Evaluation for Educational Leaders: The different types of advanced research methodologies that can be used to assess and improve educational systems at the classroom, school-wide, and district levels. How to conduct qualitative and quantitative research, analyze data, and arrive at insights that can drive key educational solutions.
  • School Improvement Planning: How to create a comprehensive school improvement plan through a combination of program development, community building, effective school or district-wide communication, resource allocation and budgeting, and the establishment of key partnerships.
  • Capstone Project: Students take what they have learned over the course of the curriculum and apply it to a personalized project of their own choosing that seeks to improve a particular educational environment.

*Licensing requirements for principals and superintendents vary by state. For the most up-to-date information on the education requirements, professional experience and credentialing requirements, and testing requirements in your state of residence, contact your state’s Board of Education or teacher credentialing body.