Master’s vs. Doctorate Educational Leadership Degree

Dr. Benjamin Washington
Dr. Benjamin Washington
High School Assistant Principal; Ed.D. Educational Leadership
A female principal stands in front of a bus, talking with a student.

In the field of education, there are various career roles that are outside of the classroom. Teachers who have spent time in the classroom can decide to become curriculum specialists, guidance counselors, or school administrators. Those who want to pursue a career in educational administration must obtain a specific certification to do so.

Educational leadership is one area of research, training, and practice that helps serve the needs of students and advance the educator in their careers. There are two specific degrees that an educator can obtain in pursuit of an educational leadership degree. One degree that can be obtained is the master’s in educational leadership, and the other is the doctorate in educational leadership.

To understand how these degrees impact the school, teachers, and students, it is important to know just what educational leadership is.

What is Educational Leadership?

Educational leadership is how educational leaders collaborate with others to ensure student success. These efforts come from combining instructional leadership, school personnel, and student needs to bring forth the best outcome for the student and the school. Educational leaders come in many forms, whether it be a teacher, guidance counselor, school principal, or district level administrator; all of these are examples of educational leaders.

To further develop these skills, obtaining a master’s degree in educational leadership is a great idea. The skills, perspectives, and professional development involved in a master’s educational leadership program will give the practitioner knowledge of facilitating educational leadership in the school setting. This makes a direct impact on students, teachers, and the school. Focusing on educational leadership holistically will bring forth changes in academics, school culture, and communication systems.

What does a Master’s Educational Leadership Program Focus On?

A master’s degree program is a graduate-level program that optimizes the practitioner’s knowledge, pedagogy, and practical skills. Classes in an in-person or online master’s in educational leadership program focus on research and assessment, school and community relations, curriculum and instructional leadership, and school law. These various topics prepare the educator to facilitate educational leadership on a school-wide level.

Most master’s educational leadership programs come with a certification or licensure for the principalship. Although this is true for most programs, it is essential to check the college or university and their degree’s curriculum to ensure that certification is included. After completing the degree program, most educators will be on the path to becoming a building-level administrator. This can be in the form of an assistant principal or principal. For those who wish to go further with their academic and career pursuits, a doctorate in educational leadership is the next option.

How Does a Doctorate Educational Leadership Program Differ from and Expand Upon a Master’s Program?

A doctorate in educational leadership differs from a master’s in that it prepares the student to learn about educational leadership at the highest academic and practical level. Educational leadership doctoral programs online or in-person allow the leader to think and utilize skills on a broader level for systematic change.

Educational leadership programs at the doctoral level can come in doctor of philosophy or doctor of education; Ph.D. or Ed.D. Generally, a Ph.D. focuses more on academic research while an Ed.D. focuses on practical and problem-solving skills that impact students and teachers daily. A doctorate in educational leadership expands on what the leader learned in their master’s program.

Examples of classes in an Ed.D. in educational leadership program are superintendents and executive leadership, data-driven leadership, research design and data analysis, organizational development and change, and diversity and global development. Both doctoral programs come with a culminating project in completing a dissertation or capstone project.

It is important to know that obtaining a doctorate in educational leadership can prepare the student to take administrator and leadership roles in the K-12 or higher education setting. For principals who aspire to be an assistant superintendent or superintendent, an Ed.D. educational leadership with a concentration in superintendency is the best route.

Aspiring higher education administrators such as deans, provost, vice presidents, and presidents should pursue a Ph.D. or Ed.D. with a concentration in higher education. Furthermore, it is important to know that colleges and universities will hire leaders with either a Ph.D. or Ed.D.

Understanding the pathway for you comes from knowing the benefits of each degree.

Master’s vs. Doctorate: Benefits of Each

Both graduate-level programs have their benefits to the degree pursuer. Teachers and instructional leaders who aspire to be building-level administrators such as principals, will need to complete their master’s degree in educational leadership. District-level positions are also available with a masters such as directors of elementary or secondary education and executive directors of student services.

It is possible to be a superintendent with a master’s, but having a doctorate will make the candidate more knowledgeable and marketable when running a school district. The benefit of both degrees is that it helps the degree holder find pathways to lead from where they are and move forward. Whether it is the school building, district office, or the university setting, completing a master’s or doctorate in educational leadership is very beneficial.

How Do I Decide Which is Right for Me?

Deciding which degree is right for you comes from knowing your short and long-term goals for your career. Writing down and establishing a three-to-five-year plan is a great way to organize your future and your goals for career advancement. Understanding your personal needs in family life, career goals, and the learning format is vital to making a final decision.

Regardless of the degree program, a master’s and doctorate in educational leadership creates opportunities positively impact the lives of students, the school, and the communities they serve. For the educational leader having the knowledge, communication skills, and a deeper understanding of how schools and educational institutions work is an asset to their organization and their professional development. Obtaining a master’s or doctorate in educational leadership is a way to positively impact others while creating systemic change in education for the future.

Ready to collaborate with others to ensure student success? Explore our available educational leadership programs and start your next journey today!

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