Pursuing a Doctorate in Education

A career in education requires both field experience and the proper amount of education. For those who want to stay ahead of current affairs and the best educational practices, deep roots in the academic community are often great assets. Individuals who want to advance into high-level educational positions will usually need a doctorate or PhD in education in order to be successful.

Most top-level educators and school system officials have upper level degrees in relevant fields in addition to years of experience. Anyone who wants to make education a career should seriously consider completing a doctoral program. The knowledge in conjunction with the credentials will aid the graduate in attaining quality positions and internships that will lead to even greater opportunities.


The Design of an EdD Program

A Doctorate of Education is also known as an EdD program. The course of study is meant to prepare scholars and future leaders for teaching posts, policy analysis and other professional education experiences. Graduates possess the knowledge and research skills needed to significantly impact the education field for the better. They can accurately assess the effectiveness of various types of educational settings, events and programs.

With this ability, they are in a great position to suggest changes and take action to improve the existing system. Those who complete the coursework often move on to university positions either as teachers or researchers. Others may find work in the non-profit sector or as elected regional officials. Whether in the public or private sector, degree holders are prepared for a variety of prospective posts.

Degree Options and Specializations

The educational field is diverse and filled with a range of niche areas. As a result, there are many paths to a doctorate in education. There are a variety or specializations and courses that can prepare scholars for almost any situation. Deciding what is best for a single student comes down to what that individual wants out of his or her career. The first decision that needs to be made is whether to complete an EdD or a PhD.


The EdD focuses on the practical applications of research and theoretical knowledge. This is a great option for those who want to work directly in the field as policy makers, superintendents, curriculum directors and researchers. Though students will spend a significant amount of time on theory and educational practices, they will also focus on how systems work as a whole and how to implement effective policy shifts.

PhD in Education

A Doctorate of Philosophy in Education or PhD program follows a more theory-centric structure. The research methods taught are meant to add to existing bodies of knowledge. This type of course is better for individuals who wish to teach in universities or who want to be educational theorists. Of course, there are plenty of PhDs who can be found in policy maker capacities.

On-Campus and Online Doctorate in Education Options

Today, students have a broad range of choice when it comes to traditional classroom or online study options. Both have significant advantages and disadvantages. On-campus instruction has the benefit of face-to-face interactions and immediate question responses. However, online options tend to be cheaper and can circumvent physical barriers with forums and video lessons.


Some programs demand that students pick a specialization immediately while others allow a year or two of general study first. Would-be scholars can choose from many specializations based on whatever subjects are the most exciting and interesting to them:

  • Leadership in Education
  • Adult Learning
  • Psychology in Education
  • Special Education
  • Information and Technology
  • Early and Childhood Education
  • Leadership in Community Colleges
  • Upper Level Education

Standard Requirements and Prerequisites

Depending on the institution and course of study, students will have a set of minimum requirements that must be completed before applying. While some universities are flexible, others will refuse to consider candidates that do not meet these stated standards. All candidates should note that the average course of study requires a commit of just over 12 years.

Qualifying Criteria

Prospective doctoral students should consult with schools and programs regarding what is explicitly required of eligible candidates. This is a list of common qualifying criteria:

  • Master’s Degree: For the vast majority of PhD in education programs, students are required to have a master’s degree or an equivalent certification. To see what else may be accepted, check with a university counselor or website.
  • Competitive GRE: Most schools will make their average Graduate Record Examination public either on the university website or on a third party site. While the GRE score is not the most important aspect of an application, it is imperative to have a competitive score.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Recommendations from internship supervisors, professors and past employers can really make a candidate stand out to an admissions council. Doctoral programs tend to be relatively small, so it is important for prospective students to establish a unique persona and strong academic merit.
  • Writing Sample: A high level writing sample will demonstrate strong research abilities and analytic talents. A master’s thesis or particularly well-written research paper will often be sufficient for this element of the application.

Coursework Structure

The exact classes and schedules of a degree program will vary from institution to institution. Most courses will require a minimum of 60 credits or units of study before completion. Additionally, many programs will have three basic stages.

  • Stage One: The first stage includes general requirements and core classes. There is typically a laboratory or practical element to some courses. Furthermore, students must pass a sequence of written tests named “comprehensives.” This is a type of warm up for more advanced future courses.
  • Stage Two: The second stage will be a step up in difficulty and depth of study or focus. Advanced seminars, courses and research are often core themes of this period. At this point, students will begin to solidify their dissertation research and plans.
  • Stage Three: The third stage is focused on the scholar’s dissertation and independent research. Upon completion of his or her thesis, the prospective graduate must defend it orally in front of peers and a panel of academic counselors.

Common Courses

Rigorous research training, the development of high-level skill sets and learning key knowledge are the pillars of a doctorate in this field. When used together, these traits will help graduates make a significant and positive impact on educational excellence. These common courses help foster this professional mastery:

  • Educational Leadership: In this course, students get an introduction to defining educational objectives and current issues within the chosen concentration. Coursework focuses on the purpose of education and creative solutions.
  • Advanced Leadership: Scholars get an overview of key concepts and methods needed to successfully navigate policymaking and large system oversight. It further aids doctoral candidates in translating educational programs across various populations and communities.
  • Advanced Theory and Research: This course will look closely at how programs are implementation in government agencies and school systems. The class will analyze the macro and micro effects of various existing and past policies.
  • Curriculum and Reform: This area of study highlights the design of learning materials and how they align with cognition, assessment and development theories. The assignments help students observe the impact of diversity and multicultural influences on the learning process.

Professional Trajectories and Expectations

Educational leaders have nearly limitless options for fulfilling and/or lucrative career paths. From organization and management to policymaking and fieldwork, doctoral degree holders can pursue whatever niche area they find most interesting. For example, those who specialize in health or psychology may find work in the medical field or mental health facilities.


A student profession trajectory usually depends on the concentration of their doctorate. Some common coursework concentrations are:

  • Special Education Instruction
  • Analysis of Qualitative Research
  • Educational, Leadership and Administrative Policymaking
  • Curriculum Research, Design and Implementation
  • Educational Psychology
  • Nursing Education
  • Adult Instruction

Graduates often choose what rotations or internships to complete so they can gain experience relevant to their academic emphasis.

Career Paths

For those who wish to become teachers or professors, they will often be eligible for tenure tracks at universities and respectable educational institutions. However, with the ability to breakdown complex systems and create effective and creative solutions, degree holders can find employment in several sectors. Whatever they choose, graduates are prepared to inspire great change in established systems that will benefit future students and society as a whole. Possible positions include:

  • Adult Education Expert at public, corporate or private institutions
  • Educational Program Director for corporate, university or non-profit agencies
  • Special Education Professor at public or private school systems
  • Health and/or Physical Education Professor in a university or hospital system
  • Director of Educational and Research Programs in private, public, corporate or non-profit sectors
  • Academic or Educational Counselor for students of all ages, administration or faculty in private, public and university systems
  • Online Learning Curriculum Director for profit, non-profit and other educational systems

Before committing to a program or academic institution, prospective doctoral candidates should do a fair amount of research regarding the program and financial aid. Without the right mindset and support, candidate will find it difficult to complete this course of study. But with the right scholarships combined with realistic expectations, any student will find success in their EdD program and in their professional experiences as well.

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Doctorate in Education

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Updated Sep 14 2016 About encyclopedia.com content Print Topic