As the highest degree available in the field of education, a doctorate offers unparalleled opportunities in higher education, academia and research. While only a master's degree is required for certain professions in higher education administration, a doctorate can open the door to a number of essential positions for professionals who want to lead and oversee colleges, curriculum and students.

Students who pursue a doctoral degree in education have the option of earning a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in education. While Ph.D. programs in education focus on research and developing new education theories, Ed.D. programs focus on the practical applications of existing theory. Graduates with a Ph.D. in education tend to work as researchers and professors, while those with an Ed.D. commonly pursue positions in school administration or curriculum development.

Regardless of which academic path you choose, either degree can help you gain an understanding of the human mind and the ways in which we learn. The skills and concepts studied while earning an advanced degree in education can help graduates better teach their students, effectively administer and organize school districts and develop effective curriculum materials.

Frequently Asked Questions

It's possible to find doctor of education programs that can be completed entirely online, requiring no visits to campus from enrollment to graduation. Unlike education master's degrees, which often include internships or practicum sections that must be conducted in person, programs that lead to a doctorate in education tend to focus on readings, seminars, research projects and other elements that translate well to learning in the virtual classroom. Hybrid programs, which combine online work and traditional classroom instruction, may be available as well.

Some positions at the top of the education field require candidates to hold a Ph.D. in education or other doctoral degree, so earning your doctorate may be an essential step if you have your sights set on high-level jobs. The coursework required to complete a doctoral program teaches you advanced concepts in education leadership and research that can be invaluable to anyone addressing the complex issues that can arise when administrating, coordinating, designing and studying education systems.

It's important to make sure the college or university where you earn your doctorate is accredited, which means that its programs and instruction have been reviewed by an independent agency and found to meet an accepted standard of quality. The first type of accreditation to look for covers the whole institution and is awarded by regional organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Individual education study plans can be additionally accredited at the program level by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP).


Doctorate in Education Program Overview

The specific path you can take from enrollment to graduation in an Ed.D. or Ph.D. program depends on the curriculum put forth by your chosen school, but it's generally the case that classes at the doctorate level contain small groups of dedicated students pursuing lofty academic goals. Many courses are taught seminar-style, and the expectation of independent study, reading and research is a common feature.

In addition, students seeking a Ph.D. must also prepare and give a dissertation. Note that campus visits may be necessary even in some online doctoral programs — your dissertation advisor may encourage you to meet in person at the campus research library, for example — but many programs don't require them. Before signing up, students should research the particulars of their program to learn exactly what can be expected of them once they enroll.

Earning an Online Doctorate Degree in Education

How long does an online doctorate in education program take?

The exact amount of time you spend as a doctoral student depends on the curriculum set in place by your chosen institution, but most programs that lead to a doctorate in education take between three and four years of full-time study to complete. Students who attend their programs part time can usually spend more time in school overall.

Some institutions offer accelerated doctorate degrees in education that require intensive study but can be completed in a shorter period of time. A majority of students in accelerated programs graduate in three years or less.

What are the requirements to start an online doctorate degree in education?

Students interested in earning an online Ed.D. or Ph.D. in education must first earn their bachelor's and master's degree from an accredited university. Many programs, although not all, require previous intensive study of education. Beyond that requirement, most colleges that offer these doctoral programs impose a minimum GPA of 3.0 or higher for new applicants.

Schools may also require applicable work experience in education, human resources or social services. Many programs also require an up-to-date curriculum vitae (CV), and a valid teaching license may be required in certain specialties.

Why earn a doctorate in education online?

Attending college online can be a great way to earn a doctorate, primarily because working professionals typically can't take three or four years off from their careers to earn the education necessary to advance through the ranks of their profession.

Studying in the virtual classroom offers you the flexibility of setting your own daily schedule, allowing you to attend courses and complete assignments in the time you have available. Most online doctorate in education programs adhere to the same curriculum as their campus-based counterparts, and are taught by the same faculty in many cases.

Degree Timeline

Early study

The first two years of your doctoral program typically contain the highest concentration of seminar and workshop classes, aiming to provide a solid foundation of knowledge to draw from when conducting later research.

Choose a specialization and take elective courses

Many post-graduate programs in education take a specialized approach, and students planning to study a specialty are usually expected to have chosen it before their early study is complete. Specializations may need to be declared before enrolling, in some cases.

Internships and residencies

Not all doctoral programs in education require an internship or other hands-on element, but those that do tend to schedule them for the later semesters of study. This portion of your education consists of supervised work in the field and may offer paid compensation.

Dissertation/capstone project

Dissertations and capstone projects serve as a vivid demonstration of the knowledge and skills you've learned over the course of your program. Ph.D. students typically compose and defend a dissertation, while Ed.D. students often complete capstone projects.

Doctorate in Education Concentrations

Both Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs typically offer specializations, which can help students focus their degree and concentrate their studies on their specific career goals and tend to vary from one institution to another. Here's a short list of specializations you might consider:

  • Educational policy, leadership and management. Aspiring superintendents and State Board of Education members are the most likely to choose this concentration, which teaches the finer points of running educational systems.
  • Higher education leadership. If you're thinking of going after a position as a departmental dean or other high-level official at a college or university, focusing on higher education leadership can lay the groundwork for your qualifications.
  • Educational technology and design. Technology has become inseparable from the educational experience, and this concentration with the tools you need to write technology policy for schools and research new developments.
  • Learning, instruction and innovation. The styles of learning and instruction in practice today are diverse and numerous. Studying how they're employed in a range of settings can help you research and design new educational strategies.
  • Organizational research and assessment. Educators and administrators need effective ways to assess whether their approaches are working, and choosing this concentration gives you the knowledge you need to provide those assessments.

Career Outlook

What Can You Do with a Doctorate in Education?

A range of top-tier careers in education may be available to candidates with a doctoral degree. Here's a short list of possible careers for doctoral graduates:

Doctorate in Education Salaries by State

State NameAverage SalaryAnnual Job OpeningsProjected Job Growth Potential
New Jersey$154,4302107.7%
New York$140,8701,70014.5%
North Dakota$125,980403.1%
Rhode Island$121,110605.1%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Doctorate in Education Certifications

Principal Certification

School principals often have a lot to handle, and earning school principal certification can prove to potential employers that you have the skills necessary to keep an elementary or secondary institution running smoothly.

Requirements: Varies by state, but most states require either a bachelor's or master's degree with a focus on educational leadership.

Exam Format: Varies by state.

How long does the certification last?: Varies by state.

Education Administrator Certification

The administration teams at schools and school districts feature a range of different positions. Earning a school administrator certification can help you find your niche and understand how these teams work together to achieve results.

Requirements: Varies by state, but it usually requires a college degree and some formal training in education administration.

Exam Format: Varies by state.

How long does the certification last?: Varies by state.

Superintendent Certification

Keeping tabs on classroom conditions, instructional effectiveness, student outcomes and more for an entire school district can be a big task. Becoming certified as a superintendent can help you meet the challenges with confidence.

Requirements: Varies by state, but a master's or doctoral degree in education is typically required.

Exam Format: Varies by state.

How long does the certification last?: Varies by state.

Curriculum Director Certification

It takes a deep knowledge of curriculum standards and implementation methods to craft an effective instructional approach, and this certification can demonstrate your commitment to improving student outcomes through curriculum management.

Requirements: Varies by state; a master's degree or doctorate may be required in some cases, while a bachelor's degree can suffice in others.

Exam Format: Varies by state.

How long does the certification last?: Varies by state.

Professional Associations for Doctorate in Education

Professional associations can put you in touch with a network of other professionals in your field and provide a range of benefits to your career. Here's a short list of associations you might consider joining to complement your doctorate in education:

Principals of schools that focus on grades K-8 can join this association for access to member discounts, monthly professional development webinars, an exclusive career center and more.
This association features five membership categories and welcomes a diverse membership that includes teachers, superintendents, professors and others alongside its core of high school principals.
Founded in the 1930s as the American Association of School Administrators, membership in AASA provides a subscription to School Administrator magazine and invitations to national meetings and conferences.
Subscriptions to industry journals, member discounts on proprietary published books and networking opportunities both online and in person are available to members of this research association.