Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. for Educators

Emily Coleman & Graduate Program
Emily Coleman & Graduate Program
English language development teacher for a cyber charter school; Ph.D. candidate in Strategic Leadership and Administrative Studies with Education concentration
A stack of books and a laptop sit on a library desk between a graduation cap and diploma.

Whether an educator is enrolled in a degree program or just going to work every day, they are always learning new skills to improve their teaching or to problem solve within their classrooms.

Throughout their time in the field, educators may become very interested in a specific area of study within the education world. Once they realize that they want to become experts in this area of study, they may want to continue their education and begin Ph. D. or Ed.D. programs.

When research universities in the U.S. first began awarding degrees, they initially focused on the sciences and later, the arts. Demand for professional doctoral degrees outside of the ancient fields of law and medicine grew in the late 19th century, leading universities to begin offering Ph.D. programs.

In 1893, the Teachers College at Columbia University awarded the first Ph.D. in the field of education. As educators began seeking advanced degrees in their field, some universities sought to provide these students with a more applied education, as opposed to the more-common research-focused Ph.Ds.

This led to the creation of Ed.D. programs. Harvard University granted the first Ed.D. degrees in 1921. Over the course of the 20th century, more universities began offering Ed.D. programs, while others continued to award a Ph.D. in education.

Today’s doctoral students can choose between a research-focused Ph.D. and a more practice-focused Ed.D. program.

Similarities Between These Programs

Both Ph.D. in education and Ed.D. programs are designed to provide a rigorous education system and reflect the interdisciplinary nature of the education field. Doctoral students in education will develop a strong knowledge base and learn about the latest developments in education theory, regardless of the type of degree they pursue.

In both Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs, students are exposed to a range of research methods. Students might also be required to take a class such as research design that helps them focus on their dissertations. Graduates who earn either degree will have an understanding of the latest research in education and will have developed the skills to analyze these findings.

To earn either degree, doctoral candidates must demonstrate the ability to make an original contribution to the study of education. Both Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees are highly respected in the field and open the door to many advancement opportunities.

What is a Ph.D. Degree?

A Ph.D. program in education is a Doctor of Philosophy and the highest academic degree possible. A Ph.D. degree can be obtained across almost all fields of study after completing rigorous coursework.

A Ph.D. program for educators focuses on research, theories, and educational techniques. This program includes coursework on how to become a great researcher, including qualitative and quantitative studies.

A Ph.D. program also includes courses related to ethics, leadership theories, equity and inclusion, and so many more. In addition to those courses, a student will have specialty courses related directly to the program they choose. Educators who decide to get a Ph.D. in special education will have several programs related to that topic. Once, they get to the dissertation phase, their research will be concentrated on an area in special education.

The dissertation is the culmination of any Ph.D. program. This is the original research and findings of the Ph.D. student. The dissertation can take more than a year to complete. Many steps go into completing and defending a dissertation; that is why a person should make sure that they are genuinely passionate about the subject area because they will be digging deep into the research and finding what they can add to the field.

How Does it Differ from an Ed.D?

Depending on an educator’s goal, they may decide that they want to focus on the actual practice rather than the research related to education. If this is the case, they will want to enroll in an Ed.D. degree. An Ed.D is a Doctor of Education. Just like a person with a Ph.D., they will also be referred to as “doctor.”

An Ed.D can typically be completed in about two years, whereas a Ph.D. generally takes four years. Both programs require research, but an Ed.D focuses on implementing theories into practice in the K-12 or college setting.

What are the Benefits of a Ph.D. and Ed.D.?

In addition to becoming an expert in your field by obtaining your Ph.D. or Ed.D., many more benefits will come along once you complete your program. Not only will you now be called “Dr.”, you will open the doors to many new opportunities.


You may see a salary increase. Some jobs will increase a person’s salary depending on their educational degrees. You may move into a new salary bracket by reaching the highest academic degree possible.

Career/Professional Opportunities

A Ph.D. or Ed.D will provide the educational requirements for specific careers. You can become a superintendent of schools, a director of special education, a provost or vice provost of student services, and the list goes on. You may be asked to write a book based on your research done during the Ph.D. dissertation phase. Before you begin the degree, during, or after, research new jobs and see where your new qualifications might take you.

Professional Development

School districts and universities are always looking to host professional development workshops or series for their employees or outside guests. Having a Ph.D or Ed.D. shows that you are an expert in a particular field.

You will be asked to present and teach others what you have learned or found in your research. These are usually paid opportunities. The more that you present, the higher your compensation will be.


Finally, deciding to pursue your Ph.D. or Ed.D. will allow you to spend time on a topic you are genuinely passionate about. You will immerse yourself in the research and theories, and become an expert. You will have the time to experiment with your ideas and thoughts in the area. Finally, you will have the opportunity to share your findings with other experts in the field.

Prestige and Credibility

Obtaining your Ph.D. is an amazing goal that not many people in the world reach. You deserve to be proud of yourself and celebrate. You will be looked up to for advice in your field, and you need to recognize yourself as the expert you have become.

Are you interested in pursuing a doctorate in education? Check out our available doctoral graduate programs and take your next step today!

*Updated June 2022
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