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What Exactly is an Ed.D. Degree?

If you’re an educational professional, you may have considered advancing your learning (and credentials) by earning a terminal degree in your field. For some people who hold a master's degree but want to further their expertise, pursuing a doctorate may seem like the next logical step. However, you have one big decision to make when considering your degree—pursue a Ph.D. or an Ed.D.

What are the key differentiators between these two degrees? How do you choose which doctorate (and program) is right for you?

Don’t stress. We’re here to help you make sense of the differences.

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

Both a Ph.D. in Education and an Ed.D. focus on higher learning. However, this is the only common thread that these two doctoral programs share. The greatest difference between the two degrees is the practical focus of an Ed.D. compared to the philosophical approach of the Ph.D. For example, most professionals who earn an Ed.D. typically hold an administrative position. Conversely, those with a Ph.D. in education are more likely to teach or conduct research:

  • A Ph.D. in Education (Doctor of Philosophy in Education) will focus more on recognizing challenges in the greater learning climate and finding a solution to this general concern or obstacle.
  • Conversely, an Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) program’s work will identify new opportunities (or address age-old educational concerns) on a micro, rather than macro, level. Research and dissertation work will subsequently offer a practical application to the challenge—or challenges—with real-life implementation or plans of execution.

Wondering which degree is right for you? Here are a few questions to ask yourself when considering the type of doctorate to pursue.

graphic describes the difference between PH.D and ED.E and the questions to consider

5 Key Reasons to Choose an Ed.D. Program Over a Ph.D. Program

While Ed.D. course curricula vary depending on the college or university you attend, at their core, most programs will encompass much of the same foundational work. No matter the school, there are a myriad of strengths that come with an Ed.D. They include:

  • A Focus on Leadership. Most Ed.D. programs are focused specifically on preparing students for administrative leadership roles. As we mentioned above, this includes (but is not limited to) leadership in higher educational institutions, school districts, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and private sector positions.
  • Practical Applications. You won’t ponder abstract concepts in an Ed.D. program. Examining theoretical ideas is the emphasis in a Ph.D. in education, while Ed.D. curricula are designed to allow students to focus their dissertation work on solutions specific to problems they want to solve. Frequently, doctoral students in these programs will choose to narrow their studies to something that is directly applicable to their current job or a role they are aspiring to obtain (post degree completion).
  • Study & Work. Work & Study. According to a study featured on Inside Higher Ed, most Ed.D. programs are not fully funded. While this may seem like a detriment, the majority of students are working full-time in tandem with their program work. This makes for a well-rounded learning experience with active professionals who are balancing school with their work and family responsibilities. Choosing a degree program and school that caters to working adults can be an invaluable asset. Curriculum and degree completion terms that allow for work and a personal life during your doctoral studies are key.
  • Professional Classmates. Speaking of working full time during your degree program—whether studying online or on-campus, having classmates who work in the industry only further enhances the classroom experience. In Ed.D. programs, it’s more likely than not that your program colleagues will already hold significant administrative or professional positions in a wide array of fields. This presents an important opportunity as students learn from each other’s experiences in their respective niches. It also allows for organic career networking opportunities that will most-likely continue on after graduation.

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.

Which Terminal Degree is Right for You?

A Ph.D. is a great option if you’d like to pursue a research position or teach. In the world of education, a Ph.D. is best for educators who have a specific field of interest or research topic. Those with a Doctor of Philosophy in Education can include sociologists, school psychologists, and counselors. Your work will most likely focus on researching and contributing to new information in the field of education—but without a hands-on application. And of course, those with a Ph.D. can also teach at the collegiate (and sometimes secondary school) level—though the latter is less common.

Why Earn an Ed.D.:

If your career goals aren't limited to teaching or research, then an Ed.D. is a better choice for your terminal degree. Practical application of your coursework and research can be applied to your current job (or the job you want to be promoted to). An Ed.D. is an excellent choice for those pursuing leadership roles in education. This includes administrative positions in public K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and sometimes private sector jobs in healthcare, government, or business.

Interested in a leadership role or problem-solving in a tangible way? It sounds like the Ed.D. might be right for you. Let’s take a deeper dive into what the Ed.D. is all about.

Types of Ed.D. Degrees

Now that you know the benefits of holding an Ed.D. degree, let’s take a look at the different specialties that exist under the greater doctoral umbrella. Specializing within the Ed.D. degree can help you focus your doctoral work on changes you’d like to implement in your current role or break into a niche in a position you’re aspiring to obtain.

graphic describes the types of specialized ED.D degrees

Curriculum offerings will vary greatly from school to school. So, if you’re interested in focusing your doctoral work in one of these specialties, do your research. Review the courses offered, pool of teaching faculty, texts used, alumni network, and any noteworthy research or professionals associated with the college of university. This will help you sort the great from the no-so-good.

Why Choose an Online Ed.D. Program

Most Ed.D. students will pursue their degree while working full time and balancing family responsibilities. On average, most adult students will take five years to complete their Ed.D.. Depending on your course load, if you take classes during the summer, and the amount of time it takes to complete your dissertation or capstone project work, the doctorate can be finished in as few as three years or as many as seven. Most schools mandate that all work must be completed within a seven-year window.

Fortunately, most Ed.D. programs are designed for working professionals. Opting for an online Ed.D. program might be your best option if you plan to continue working while completing your degree. Worried about the reputation of a degree earning solely online? Don’t.

Across the U.S., online degrees are rapidly growing in popularity. According to a study through the Babson Survey Research Group, more than 71 percent of leaders in the academic community are rating web-based learning as equal to or even superior than traditional face-to-face instruction. As of 2014, 5.8 million students (roughly 30 percent of all college students) were enrolled in distance learning courses.

Online education is here to stay. But, as this type of learning continues to gain momentum—and positive accolades—it’s important to obtain the right information in order to assess what makes a good online degree program (and what doesn’t).

Finding the Right Program for You

If you’ve decided that an Ed.D. is right for you, be sure to research programs carefully before enrolling. Don’t pick the first school that appears in your Google search. And don’t just go for the most popular name you’ve heard in the industry. A doctoral program is a very personal choice—so be sure the college or university offers the best online experience possible.

Here are a few tips on how to sort through the various Ed.D. programs.

graphic describes the questions to consider when vetting an online Ed.D. degree program

In the end, it’s best to opt for a regionally accredited, nonprofit or public institution. Be sure there are other part-time adult learners in the enrollment mix. You don’t want to be the only one working on a doctoral degree while holding a full-time job along with juggling family commitments. And if you know you want to specialize, then be sure the school offers the specific Ed.D. you’re interested in. A general program may not be what you want. The faculty at Franklin who teach and advise these programs continue learning and training as well by completing a four-course sequence developed and administered by Franklin’s international Institute for Innovation Instruction to ensure they are able to cater to the unique needs of doctoral students. After considering cost, flexibility with transfer credit, and the validity of the school’s online learning portal, you’ll be well on your way to choosing the right program.

Good luck!

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