Advantages of a Doctorate Degree for Principals

Josh Young
Josh Young
High school principal; Ed.D. in Educational Leadership, Carson-Newman University, TN
A graduate wearing a cap and gown while standing in front of a group of fellow graduates.

“Dr. Young”, as I hear more commonly down the hallways of my school now, is not something I asked to be advertised or expected everyone to call me. Originally, I did not think it to be as big of a deal as it is. My thought process was that if I could do it, anyone could. According to the United States Census Bureau (2019), only 4.5 million of Americans held a doctorate degree in any field in 2018. My wife piggy-backed off of those statistics by sharing with me, “it is a big deal!” There are many advantages of a doctorate degree for school principals, including benefits and career opportunities that will be elaborated on. However, the starting point is knowing what is a doctorate degree, after which one can start considering if it is worth pursuing or not.

What is a Doctorate Degree?

According to a Franklin University study, a doctorate degree is: the most advanced degree you can earn, symbolizing that you have mastered a specific area of study, or field of profession. The degree requires a significant level of research and articulation. Those who earn the degree must have researched a subject or topic thoroughly, conducted new research and analysis, and provided a new interpretation or solution into the field.

A doctorate may be obtained in a variety of fields including medicine, business, arts, theology/divinity, and education, to name a few. An educator seeking out a doctorate may obtain a doctorate of education (Ed.D.) or doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.). Each educational doctorate has advantages but directed for each person to decide depending on the specific field he/she wants to study.

A doctorate is also an opportunity for one to better his/her life for the individual and the ones around him/her. A doctorate may open doors for a person in the field he/she is in. It may also give a person an opportunity to impart goodness and opportunities onto others by sharing what it took in his/her life to get to the place he/she is at now. This part of the doctorate degree means a lot to me, as it may give others hope.

Benefits of Doctoral Programs for Principals

Doctoral programs provide many benefits for principals that complete them. Perseverance is a major benefit for principals in doctoral programs as they learn to juggle running a school, earning the degree, and their personal lives. Persevering through this balance during the time of earning a degree encourages principals to better themselves and their education craft.

Research skills are also gained through doctoral programs as principals utilize quantitative, qualitative, or mixed methods (both quantitative and qualitative) data to answer research questions in a dissertation. The quantitative and/or qualitative research/data gives principals opportunities to better themselves in school data dissection, such as ACT data, state test score data, graduation data, etc.

Many principals also use dissertation data as a benefit for their own schools by researching areas that will benefit their schools. Personally, I researched relationship-building classroom management styles and their impacts on student behavior in classrooms (Young, 2018). I used a qualitative approach, which gave me the opportunity to interview teachers, hold focus groups, and conduct teacher questionnaires. This process gave me an opportunity to gather several perspectives while narrowing down a few. This helped me realize even more that every teacher is different and every teacher’s perspective on relationship building can be different. This helped me also in building relationships with faculty/students at my school so that I can better serve them.

Career Opportunities

As principals grow from their doctoral programs and dissertations’ research, many career opportunities open. College professor positions and adjunct professor positions are opportunities for doctorate degree holders. This opportunity is available for principals without having to leave their current positions. Professor/adjunct professor positions provide extra pay for principals. These positions also allow principals to teach students on a regular basis that is not the normal case in principal roles.

Another career opportunity is director of schools. Many director positions require a doctorate degree or encourage a doctorate degree. Doctoral research is good to have on a potential director’s resume when questions or samples are asked by/for during interviews. District supervisor positions, educational consultant positions, educational journal writing opportunities, and state department of education positions are also career opportunities doctoral-holding principals may seek out.

Additional Advantages

Career opportunities are major advantages for doctorate degree-holding principals, but there are many other advantages that follow. Pay increases are initial advantages for principals. Pay increases range from initial bonus pay to annual pay increases (for example: $4,000 per year added onto one’s salary). Many school districts retroactively pay doctoral degree holders, meaning if one earns a degree in December and is recognized by the state/district, the recipient will receive doctoral pay from the beginning of the school year.

Another advantage is professional development opportunities. Some doctorate holders are asked to present on their dissertation topics at conferences, schools, and/or district meetings. These opportunities may come from connections made through doctoral programs or from the university from which one earned a doctoral degree. Professional development opportunities may be beneficial for additional positives on a resume, extra compensation for individuals, and/or great chances for ones to share their research/passions. Some school districts or universities offer to pay for doctoral degrees for employees/students that either receive degrees, certifications, or do research in high-need areas. This is a major advantage as a doctoral degree in education can cost thousands of dollars.

What to Consider Before Pursuing a Doctorate Degree

There are many advantages and benefits for principals that earn a doctorate degree, but there are things to consider before pursuing a doctorate. The time commitment is a major component one must consider, as hours/days of each week and two to four years are needed to obtain the degree. The time commitment is not only for the person pursuing the degree, but also for the person’s family, as it means more time away from them. As a principal, balancing time between school and home is vital. By pursuing a doctorate, balance is even more key for the doctoral candidate.

A financial commitment is also important to consider. Some doctoral students use student loans to pay for the program initially. Researching pay back options, monthly payments that would work for your financial situation, and how long it takes to pay back are areas to consider before pursuing the degree.

Degree type is also important for a principal to consider before committing to a doctoral degree. Choosing a doctorate of education (Ed.D.) or doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.) is important as an Ed.D. focuses primarily on educational factions while a Ph.D. expands to multiple avenues in education/outside of education. Also, one must decide what specific focus area he/she will pursue. For example, an Ed.D. candidate may choose a focus in Educational Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, or Reading/Reading Intervention, to name a few focus areas.


The advantages and benefits of a doctoral degree for principals are ongoing. I have experienced some of these advantages and benefits, but the greatest is the opportunity it has given me. I preach to my high schoolers that a high school diploma is an opportunity, not just a piece of paper. The doctorate degree has given me the opportunity to be the first in my family with not only a college degree, but the most advanced degree there is. When I think about it, it gives me hope because the world may say it should not be possible because of where I came from.

The great reality is it is not where you start, but where you finish. I believe it gives my two girls and my students hope that they do not have to settle for less and can do whatever they set their minds to. What a great opportunity a doctorate is for so many reasons that are not advertised. If you are considering, I encourage you to just do it!

American Counts Staff (2019). About 13.1 percent have a master’s, professional degree, or doctorate. United States Census Bureau.
What is a doctorate: everything you need to know. Franklin University.
Young, J. (2018). Teacher perceptions of a relationship-building classroom management style and its impact on student behavior.

*Updated February, 2021
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