Degree Research

EdD vs. PhD: Choosing the Right Doctoral Program for You

By The SHARE Team

So you’ve completed your MEd and you want to further your expertise and advance your credentials. How do you decide which doctoral program is right for you? While both an EdD and a PhD focus on higher learning in the field of education, varying curriculum requirements, a different focus in studies, and differing career opportunities are what set them apart.

It’s important to understand the nature of each program and be sure you’re following the specialized career path that’s ideal for your goals. 

Differences between an EdD and a PhD

The main difference between an EdD and a PhD is the practical vs. philosophical approach of the two programs respectively. 

EdD is rooted in practice

A doctorate in education is best suited for experienced educators pursuing hands-on leadership roles in colleges, governments, and school districts. An EdD program is designed to be more project-based, with a focus on practical applications. Rather than developing new research, existing research is used to identify new opportunities for the implementation of practical applications and plans of execution.

PhD is rooted in theory

A doctorate of philosophy in education, on the other hand, is a better option for those wishing to further their knowledge as an educator while conducting research to improve the professional education system as a whole. More theoretical in nature, emphasis is on the development of educational theory through research and generating new or reformulating existing knowledge. A PhD program is designed to recognize challenges in the larger learning environment and conduct research to make observations and develop conclusions for solutions. 

Overview of EdD and PhD programs 

EdD and PhD programs have their similarities:

  • A focus on the improvement of learning systems
  • A set number of credit hours
  • Requirement of research in an intended field 
  • Defense of a dissertation by peers
  • Final year dedicated to dissertation completion

The first few years of study in either program are similar in the coursework required but, as involvement in the program continues, the depth of differences becomes more apparent. 

EdD curriculum

The overall learning objectives within the EdD curriculum include the practical application of problem-solving to the system of learning within the education system.

Fundamental to the curriculum is the application of theory, training in identifying and eliminating discrimination, being an advocate for social justice, and developing training in understanding situations from varying perspectives. 

Time is spent on qualitative, exploratory research collecting data and conducting interviews, observations, or focus groups to construct hypotheses and develop strategies in clarifying and solving problems of practice.

Students learn problem-solving skills for addressing the daily challenges that education leaders face as well as solutions in the management of business organizations.

Practice-based, students within the program don’t just research but learn ways to implement their research to positively influence a community or organization’s decision-making process. Projects consist of workshops and research in the community, such as implementing a program within the classroom and reporting the findings.

EdD programs typically take three to four years to complete. However, as many students in EdD programs also work while receiving their education, various circumstances can extend the completion time to four to five years. 

PhD curriculum

The learning objections within a PhD program focus on research methodology and examining theoretical and philosophical ideas within a specialized area of interest without hands-on application.

More devoted to research than practical application, students within the program learn to conduct research to reshape their field of expertise, alter political agendas, or train the next generation of scholars to approach education from a new angle.

Coursework will vary from program to program as it is designed to provide an opportunity to specialize in a specific field of interest. Students review research, evaluate gaps in the literature on the subject, and generate new knowledge based on theory or hypotheses.

They raise questions and develop theories through testable and applicable research.

A PhD program often takes four to six years to complete, including the dissertation or thesis necessary for graduation. 

What does an ideal candidate for each program look like?  

Both education doctoral candidates have a desire to promote a positive change in education. But how they wish to activate that change is decidedly different.

EdD candidates 

EdDs have proven leadership experience and are looking to assume higher education positions or administrative positions within learning institutions, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and within the private sector.

They hope to create and manage education curriculums, help implement effective learning strategies, and measure the effectiveness of what’s being taught and how.

Candidates recognize the problems facing districts or business organizations and are determined to find a practical way to address it. 

PhD candidates

PhD candidates are interested in a more theoretical, study-based approach to learning with the goal of mastering a specialized subject or add unique findings to a body of existing literature.

They tend to focus on being published in well-respected journals, presenting at national conferences, and learning how to teach future educators.

Candidates hope to hold more study-based roles rather than managing or overseeing others. 

What are some common career paths for EdDs and PhDs?

EdD career path

Professionals with an EdD learn to lead in a way that is transferable to the front of the classroom or within various industries.

They have a strong capability for identifying a problem, examining issues from multiple perspectives, and offering relevant insights for practical solutions.

EdD career options are diverse.

A majority of EdD graduates are senior-level professionals driving and developing strategies to help organizations meet critical business goals.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, common job titles and median salaries include:

  • Education administrators (elementary and secondary school): $98,750
  • Education administrators (postsecondary): $111,210
  • Trainers and development managers: $121,730
  • Social and community service managers: $71,670
  • Education administrators (preschool and childcare center/program): $53,990
  • Chief learning officer: $200,140

PhD career path

Professionals with a PhD have investigative minds and lead by conducting original research to drive change in the field of education, alter political agendas or train the next generation of education scholars.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, common job titles and median salaries include:

  • Education administrators (elementary and secondary school): $98,750
  • Education administrators (postsecondary): $111,210
  • Survey researcher: $63,240
  • Sociologist: $90,290
  • Educational psychologist: $85,340

The big picture

When career goals aren’t limited to teaching or research, an EdD is the optimal choice for a doctoral degree.

With opportunities to hone leadership skills and solve problems with practical applications, an EdD prepares professionals for careers as leaders in educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and more. 

EdD programs are designed for working professionals. 

Most EdD students will complete their doctoral degree while working and balancing a family. Earning a degree while simultaneously working full time can lead to a well-rounded learning experience. For instance, there are opportunities to apply coursework within a current career. Also. most other classmates will be working professionals able to provide insight and analysis to real-world situations.

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