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Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.: What’s The Difference?

Doctoral degrees are the pinnacle of achievement in higher education. They’re also particularly valuable if you want to become a leader in the education field. Whether you aspire to teach college, head a K-12 school system or become an organizational leader, you may be at a crossroads between choosing a Doctor of Education (Ed.D). or a Ph.D. in Education.

You’re probably wondering what the practical difference is between the Ed.D. and the Ph.D., as well as the career paths each prepares you for. We’re here to help answer those questions and more as we dive into the specifics of the Ed.D. vs. a Ph.D.

Ed.D.: The Professional Degree in Education

A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) is a professional degree designed for practitioners who want to pursue roles as education or mission-driven leaders.

The Ed.D. degree originates over 100 years ago at Harvard University. Since its inception it has evolved into a multifaceted and nuanced program offered in varying forms at universities across the world. As this degree has grown, it is especially prevalent in online education. 

According to labor market analytics firm EMSI, Ed.D. degrees earned through online programs grew 238% from 2012 to 2020. 

As the popularity of the Ed.D. grows and its availability increases, many students are weighing the pros and cons of getting their Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. We’ve put together three lists to help you decipher the advantages, career paths and top considerations for potential Ed.D. students.

Top 3 Ed.D. Advantages 

Leadership training. 
Ed.D. programs offer leadership and management training that is pivotal in creating thriving organizations and satisfied employees across industries.

Real-world application. 
Ed.D. degrees are focused on preparing professionals to solve real-world problems in education and other mission-driven organizations.

Flexible career options. 
An Ed.D. provides flexible career options, both in the field of education or as a leader in a mission-driven organization.

5 Popular Ed.D Career Paths

  1. School Principal: Principals act as the leader of K-12 schools, managing teachers and staff to set school goals and ensure students are meeting learning objectives. If you currently work in K-12 education, getting your Ed.D. is a great way to advance your career and increase your earning potential, as principals earn a median salary of $109,970.
  2. Superintendent: Superintendents are responsible for all school programs within their district. They work with school boards to create and carry out policies that will improve students’ learning outcomes. An Ed.D. degree is an ideal fit for this high-earning career, as superintendents can earn a median salary of $165,967 per year.
  3. College Professor: If you want to teach education full time at the college level, you will most likely need a doctoral degree. Professionals with Ed.D. degrees, especially those with industry experience, are a great fit for professional education programs at universities. College professors in the field of education earn an average base salary of $99,749.
  4. Higher Education Administrator: Administrators in higher education can work in a variety of departments and specialities. These professionals often oversee faculty, staff, curriculum, budgets and facilities within their department or college. Higher education administrators earn a median pay of $97,500 per year with projected job growth of 4% by 2029.
  5. Nonprofit Executive Director: These professionals develop goals, strategies and operational plans for nonprofit organizations. An Ed.D. with a focus in organizational leadership can prepare you for these roles that involve donor education, motivation and people management. Executive directors earn a median salary of $78,253, with the top 10% earning over $114,053.

3 Big Considerations for Prospective Ed.D. Students

No universal standard across programs. 
Ed.D. curriculum is not standardized, meaning each Ed.D. program may be different in its focus. It’s important to thoroughly research each Ed.D. program to ensure the curriculum aligns with your goals.

Not ideal for academia.
An Ed.D. degree may not be the right fit if you want to pursue a career in academia with a heavy research focus. Most tier one research universities seek out candidates with Ph.D. degrees who want to conduct and publish research on the university’s behalf. 

Just as rigorous as Ph.D. programs.
Ed.D. programs are not easier than Ph.D. programs.
If you’re considering an Ed.D. because you see it as a less intensive option than a Ph.D., that is a misconception. Be prepared for a rigorous academic program no matter which degree path you choose.


Earning a doctorate is challenging and rewarding, but do you know what to really expect? Download this free guide for tips and insights to help you prepare for success.


Ph.D.: The Academic & Research Degree in Education

A Ph.D. in Education is a terminal degree that’s best suited for individuals who want a career in academia or research at the university level. Students in a Ph.D. program take a more theoretical approach to learning, which involves publishing original research to contribute to the field of education. A Ph.D. trains you to interpret existing knowledge, identify areas for exploration, and use critical analysis to move the discipline forward.

Let’s look at the advantages, career paths and considerations for pursuing a Ph.D. in Education so you can compare this degree option to the Ed.D. degree. 

Top 3 Ph.D. Advantages 

Stand out for academia and research positions.
Gaining subject mastery and finely honed research skills can help you stand out for jobs at top tier research universities, research institutions or government agencies.

Advance education theory.
Advance theory on a topic you’re passionate about while gaining professional credibility in that specialty. This may include advancing theory in areas such as cognitive learning theory, behaviorism learning theory, or connectivism learning theory, among others. 

Contribute to research.
Collaborate directly with faculty and researchers to contribute original research in the field. This could include addressing issues such as the gender gap in STEM programs, mandating school standards, or standardized testing as an indicator of future success.

5 Popular Ph.D. Career Paths


  1. University Professor: A Ph.D. degree will help you compete for jobs at universities of all sizes. If you want to participate in research while also teaching, a Ph.D. is a great fit. College professors in the field of education earn an average base salary of $99,749.
  2. Academic Researcher: Getting your Ph.D. in education can also qualify you to work solely as a researcher in a university setting. Many educational researchers use their subject matter expertise to design and test academic programs that assist schools and universities with curriculum and measuring student progress. An academic researcher can expect to make an average $60,480 per year, while some make as much as $144,500.
  3. Education Policy Analyst: These professionals have a desire to shape the future of education by identifying and researching educational challenges and proposing data-backed policy solutions. The average salary for an education policy analyst is $63,129.
  4. Academic Dean: Academic deans are the head of their respective academic unit within a university. A Ph.D. in Education can prepare you to lead the education department and shape the curriculum and student experience.  The median salary for an academic dean is $72,528.
  5. Government Education Researcher: A Ph.D. in Education can qualify you to work with various government agencies, from local to federal, to conduct research that helps improve education quality. The average education researcher at the federal level can expect to earn $125,157. 

3 Big Considerations for Prospective Ph.D. Students

Less flexible scheduling.
Ph.D. programs may not accommodate part-time study and may require in-residence study and research. While some online programs are available, if you’re looking to compete for top jobs at research universities, a full-time Ph.D. program is likely your best option.

Longer duration to complete.
Ph.D.s in Education usually require 90 credit hours to complete, compared to approximately 60 credit hours for an Ed.D. This means your degree will take longer to earn and will likely cost more than an Ed.D.

Less competitive wages.
Ph.D. degrees most often lead to careers in academia, which often pay less than the variety of public, private and nonprofit sector jobs you can pursue with an Ed.D.

Making The Right Degree Choice For Your Career Goals

Choosing the right doctoral degree is key to your success as a future educator or organizational leader. If you want to pursue a degree that is ideal for working professionals while learning to apply research to real-world problems, an Ed.D. can take your career to the next level.

Franklin University offers an online Ed.D. program that can be completed in as few as 3 years. The no-fear dissertation process helps you define your dissertation topic and integrate it into your coursework, so you can finish faster. Franklin also offers three different focus areas in Organizational Leadership, PK-12 Leadership and Higher Education Leadership, so you can specialize in the career path you're most passionate about.

Learn more about Franklin’s Ed.D. program and how it can help you advance your career.

Free Guide:
How to Complete Your Doctoral Journey
Discover common pitfalls and the 5 key metrics that will help you finish your doctorate degree.