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EdD vs. PhD in Education: 7 Important Tips to Help You Choose the Right Doctoral Program

EdD versus PhD in Education

A doctoral degree is the highest level of academic achievement available in higher education. When choosing a doctoral degree in education, there are different paths to advance your career: the EdD vs. PhD. And deciding whether an EdD or a PhD is better suited for achieving your academic and professional goals can feel like a significant decision. However, with a little self-reflection and some thought about your future, the decision can be easier than you think.

Discover the differences between an EdD and PhD

An EdD is a doctorate in education that is primarily for experienced practitioners interested in using education research to solve problems of practice, assuming leadership positions, preparing the next generation of practitioners in their field, and designing and implementing programs to improve practice. A PhD is a doctorate in philosophy that is primarily designed to prepare researchers and higher education faculty.

Both degrees require extensive coursework, research, and writing. The required coursework may also be similar for both degree programs. However, there are some differences between them. For example, the two doctoral degrees have different expectations concerning dissertation study, expertise in research methods, and residency requirements.

How to choose: EdD vs PhD

Whether you wish to be an innovative educational leader or researcher/faculty member in academia, taking a closer look at the differences between the EdD and PhD degrees will help you to determine which doctorate is right for you. Here are seven helpful tips to help you get started:

1. Consider your career goals
If you are interested in pursuing a doctorate, you should consider whether you prefer to focus on teaching, research or both. If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a school administrator, college/university administrator, curriculum developer, or counselor in a leadership position, then you should consider pursuing an EdD. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a teaching or research career in academia, you should consider a PhD degree. Many people with a PhD secure jobs as college/university professors, research scholars, counselor educators, policy researchers, and more.

2. Understand the commitment
Many EdD programs have been designed to be completed part-time to accommodate the needs of working professionals. Some schools, including the Warner School, offer an "accelerated" EdD option that includes a field-based dissertation and can be completed in as little as three years of part-time study while holding a professional job in the same field. "Traditional" EdD programs may offer more flexibility but can take longer to complete.

A PhD program typically takes four to six years to complete.

3. Explore the day-to-day
For both EdD and PhD degree programs, the best way to get a feel for the program is to speak to students already enrolled in your program of interest or a departmental chair. You can also take a class before enrolling in the program to learn if a doctoral degree is right for you.

4. Compare the EdD vs. PhD coursework
While PhD and EdD students may take the same foundational research methods courses, PhD students usually take additional advanced research methods courses to develop expertise in using a rich array of traditional research methods. Additionally, PhD students are typically expected to focus on only a few specific areas early on to become experts in those areas. EdD students, on the other hand, are usually expected to develop a broad understanding of their own and related fields.

5. Compare EdD vs. PhD dissertation
EdD dissertations may involve a broader array of choices, including case studies of specific innovations, action research studies to improve specific programs or practices, research- and data-based analysis to inform important decisions, or rigorous evaluations of existing programs.

On the other hand, PhD dissertations require independent research that will contribute new knowledge to the field. This may include PhD students engaging in research apprenticeships with faculty.

6. Look at allowable transferable credits
There may be a different number of credits that you can transfer depending on your program of interest. At Warner, many EdD students already have a master’s degree, which allows them to transfer credits to achieve their EdD in as little as 54 credits. Similarly, up to 30 credits can be transferred for the PhD program, allowing students to complete their degree in as little as 60 credits.

7. Consider financial support
Explore full and partial assistantships and merit-based scholarships to help make your doctoral experience more affordable. Research or teaching assistantships support your studies while gaining valuable career experience at the same time. Assistantships provide a combination of tuition remission and a stipend in exchange for providing services supporting your school’s mission. 

Taking the next step

Staying on top of application deadlines is important. Many PhD programs accept applicants one time a year, while EdD programs can offer multiple entry points. Equally important, familiarize yourself with the admissions requirements. The best way to do that is by contacting an admissions representative, who can guide you throughout your doctoral degree search.