If you’re interested in a high-level career in education, you have two doctoral degree options that open many doors: a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). What are the differences between these degrees?
Below, we highlight key differences in curricula, educational requirements for enrollment, and typical career paths that graduates pursue. Keep reading to determine whether an EdD or PhD would be a better choice for you.
EdD vs. PhD: The Main Difference
While both degrees are at the doctoral level, the focus of each is unique. The main difference between pursuing an EdD and PhD is that an EdD is designed for candidates who want to pursue leadership positions with a real-world focus, while a PhD is designed for graduates who are seeking careers in education or research-based roles.
For example, an EdD career path would be more aligned with becoming a university dean or director of research, while those pursuing a PhD would likely choose a career as a college professor or research scholar.
What Is an EdD?
A Doctor of Education (EdD) is a practice-based professional degree that focuses on research applications and leadership roles. The first EdD degree was granted by Harvard University in 1921. The EdD degree was created to develop seasoned educators to serve as faculty at the university level. EdD candidates are solution-focused, aiming to identify and strategize ways to improve real-world problems.
Along with core coursework, many EdD programs offer opportunities to specialize in areas such as healthcare education, teaching and learning, and executive leadership. While specializations are optional when earning an EdD, they allow you to gain deeper knowledge and expertise in areas aligned with specific career goals.
To apply for an EdD program, candidates must hold a master’s degree and meet other requirements specific to each program applied to. Once the candidate is accepted into a program, earning an EdD typically requires three to five years to complete.
EdD programs often attract students who are simultaneously working professionally in the field. For example, the Doctor of Education program at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) has a flexible online curriculum, allowing students to continue working while completing their degree at a pace that fits their life.
The EdD program culminates in a dissertation (or dissertation in practice) that allows EdD candidates to tackle real-world problems or contribute original research in their field of study.
What Can I Do with an EdD?
An EdD is a degree that is valuable in any number of fields, such as higher education, healthcare, government, and nonprofit organizations. Some common EdD career paths include:
- Healthcare Educator
Some EdD programs focus on pedagogical strategies within specialized areas of expertise. For example, USAHS’s EdD program trains educators within the health sciences field. Graduates train the next generation of healthcare practitioners in nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology, athletic training, and other areas. Or they may teach and serve as mentors in healthcare administration. Teaching settings include universities, nursing schools, healthcare organizations, and more.
A provost is typically a senior-level administrator at a college or university who functions as the chief academic officer of the school. Provosts help develop institutional goals and strategies, determine fund allocation, and assist with the school’s daily operations. In 2018, the median pay for a post-secondary education administrator, such as a provost, was $94,340 per year.
A dean is an upper-level university administrator who oversees several related departments or an entire college within the university. Deans may also work in operations-related positions, including dean of student affairs or dean of admissions. The median pay for post-secondary education administrators (including deans) in 2018 was $94,340 per year.
- Top-Level Executive
An EdD degree can prepare candidates for executive roles such as that of a chief learning officer or chief academic officer within an educational institution or a business with an educational component. In these positions, an EdD can create strategies to solve business problems and help their organization develop and meet goals for business development. As of 2018, the median pay for a top-level executive was $104,980 per year.
- Curriculum Designer
Curriculum designers develop educational programs and instructional materials—in print or online—for schools, organizations, and companies. They can also help teachers and trainers implement the curriculum and evaluate learning outcomes. The median pay in 2018 for curriculum designers was $64,450.
An EdD is a degree for experienced educators who want to further their knowledge to improve the education system in its entirety. Although most EdD graduates hold jobs in the education sector, other opportunities include leadership roles in business, government, and nonprofit organizations. The most common job positions for EdD graduates, such as postsecondary education administrators, have a projected growth of 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, which is higher than the national average of 5 percent.
What Is a PhD in Education?
A PhD in Education is a Doctor of Philosophy degree designed for candidates pursuing a career in research and academia. Most PhD graduates work in a university, as a professor, researcher, or both. The PhD curriculum is typically more theory-based when compared to an EdD degree.
PhD candidates aim to become thought leaders in the field of education—conducting and publishing research on advanced theoretical topics within their specialization, as well as passing on their knowledge to the next generation of students. PhD graduates put an emphasis on research and devote their career to advancing the body of knowledge available within their field.
Earning a PhD in Education is a time-intensive process, but the PhD is the highest academic degree within the field. In 2017, the median amount of time to complete a PhD was 5.8 years.
To obtain a PhD, candidates must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and complete the GRE or an equivalent entrance exam. Depending on the field of study, candidates will then complete either a master’s degree or proceed directly to PhD coursework. During their program, candidates will write a dissertation and defend it before receiving their PhD.
What Can I Do with a PhD?
Most PhD coursework is theoretical, and the degree is a popular choice for those who aspire to become tenured at a university. The most common career options for PhD candidates include:
A professor, or postsecondary teacher, instructs college- or university-level students on advanced topics. In addition to teaching, many professors conduct research and publish papers on new topics within their field. Professors earned an average of $78,470 per year in 2018.
- Academic Researcher
An academic researcher typically performs research and teaches as a faculty member at a college or university. However, some academic research positions are solely research-based, with no teaching component.
- Senior School Administrator
PhD graduates may work at secondary schools in senior administrative roles such as a superintendent. Garnering an average salary of $98,750 in 2018, a role as a secondary school administrator is a popular choice for PhD graduates with a background in working with younger students.
- Chief Learning Officer
PhD graduates who want to work in a corporate environment rather than a university may pursue a career path as a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). Job responsibilities for CLOs include retaining top talent, implementing training and mentorship programs, and improving the internal talent available within the company. As of 2018, the median annual salary for a top-level executive was $104,980 per year.
- Medical Science Liaison (MSL)
Another option for PhD graduates wanting to work outside of academia is a career as a Medical Science Liaison, whose job responsibilities include building professional relationships with industry leaders in research-related areas. One of the key advantages of becoming a MSL is that it provides more freedom to learn, teach, and travel than traditional PhD careers.
PhD candidates typically pursue careers in academia, focusing on education or performing research in their field of study. For postsecondary educators and researchers, the projected job growth is 11 percent between 2018 and 2028. This is due to the rise in enrollment at postsecondary institutions such as colleges and universities.
EdD vs. PhD: Which Is Better?
Here are some important factors to consider when determining whether an EdD or a PhD is right for you.
1. Career goals
First, think about your career goals. If you’re interested in educating future students and publishing theory-based research, you should consider pursuing a PhD in Education. If you are more interested in applying research to real-world foundational and institutional issues, an EdD may be a better choice.
2. Day-to-day work
Consider what your day-to-day work would consist of as a graduate of each degree. With a PhD, you would likely teach classes and work with graduate students to perform research. An EdD degree may lead to a career more focused on creating educational policy and developing leadership in educational institutions.
3. Types of coursework
Completing a degree at the doctoral level is rigorous regardless of whether you choose an EdD or PhD. In PhD programs, coursework typically centers on conducting qualitative and quantitative research culminating in a dissertation. By contrast, EdD coursework focuses on leadership and education, treating research as a component rather than the main focus of the degree.
4. Online programs
If you’re already working as an educator or aren’t able to commute, online programs give you the flexibility to complete an EdD or PhD at home and at your own pace. Programs such as the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences’ Doctor of Education are delivered almost completely online, with optional on-campus immersions where you can engage in discussions, presentations, and Q&A sessions face-to-face with professors, guest speakers, and fellow students.
5. Specialization options
If you want to specialize within your degree, do some research to determine which EdD or PhD programs have options to concentrate on the area you’re interested in. While concentrations differ at each university, EdD and PhD programs have certain staples. PhD concentrations include areas such as educational psychology and special education, while popular EdD concentrations include educational leadership and teaching.
Both an EdD and PhD in Education offer excellent career options. Regardless of the decision you make, it’s essential to choose the career path that is right for you and most aligned with your career goals.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers an online EdD program designed for working clinicians and healthcare educators, with optional on-campus immersions and an optional international trip to study global health systems. Specializations include Nursing Education, Athletic Training, Teaching and Learning, and Executive Leadership. Complete coursework when and where you want and earn your advanced degree while keeping your work and life in balance.