Ed.D. vs. PhD: Which is Right For You?

Distinctions Between a Doctor of Education (EdD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree
Distinctions Between a Doctor of Education (EdD) and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree

Learn more about Marymount's online Doctorate in Education program.

A Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Education each shapes the educational world in different ways. These degrees can chart different career paths in academia, the private sector, and civil service.

A Doctor of Education and a PhD in Education each offers students ample opportunities for leadership, learning, and research. However, each comes with distinctions and unique advantages.

What is the difference between a PhD and an Ed.D.? Both are terminal degrees, but how do you know which is the right investment for you?


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Doctor of Education vs PhD in Education—What Are They?

The main difference between an Ed.D. vs PhD is the end focus of the graduate’s career. An Ed.D. has a practical emphasis that may go outside of academia. A PhD in education is the more scholarly concentration of the two, more often than not, culminating in research-based studies.

A PhD in Education

A PhD usually pursues a teaching career in academia and does first-hand research to help inform best practices. This allows candidates primary exploration of their field.

A PhD is likely to take on the role of an academic in higher education.  PhD candidates are likely to publish original research in academic journals and present research papers at conferences.

A Doctor of Education

A Doctor of Education degree tends to be more focused on the practical application of education within an organization. An Ed.D. is the more hands-on of the two, with more direct leadership opportunities. While many Doctor of Education graduates teach, conduct research, and take on administrative roles in higher education, this degree may also culminate in non-academic settings, such as the private sector.

For those pursuing a career in education, government, the nonprofit sector, or business, an Ed.D. degree may be ideal. Instead of fielding new research, a Doctor of Education applies existing knowledge to solving problems within an organization. This enables them to exercise leadership and make data-informed decisions

Doctor of Education vs PhD in Education—How Are They Similar?

Both a Doctor of Education and a PhD can open doors to career advancement. This brings the potential for promotion and greater compensation in comparison to that of a bachelor’s or master’s degree. In fact, employers and students are demanding advanced degrees more than ever. 

Marketability and Popularity

According to the US Census Bureau, 21 million people in the United States have a master’s as their highest degree. The number of people with doctoral degrees is 4.5 million. These numbers total 13.1% of the US population.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, total post-graduate degree enrollment increased 39% between 2000 and 2017. By 2028, the total number of students enrolled in post-graduate programs is expected to increase to 3.1 million students.

What’s more, according to the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of postgraduate degree holders believe their education was key in opening professional doors.

Shared Qualities of a Doctor of Education and a PhD in Education

A Doctor of Education and a PhD in Education have key aspects in common. Each degree develops leadership within a candidate and equips them to understand both research and statistics.

  • Both a Doctor of Education and a PhD are terminal (as high as a student can go in that academic path).
  • Both focus on ways to enhance professional knowledge in different environments.
  • Both benefit the candidate, making them more marketable and affording greater compensation.
  • Both provide great benefits to the graduate’s employer.
  • Both enable candidates to pursue careers in administration and supervision, training and development, and curriculum and instruction in addition to teaching.

Who Is the Ideal Candidate for a Doctor of Education? A PhD in Education? 

Both a Doctor of Education and a PhD in Education are rigorous and authoritative degrees that focus on professional knowledge, innovation and problem-solving. Both advanced degrees are in the same field. But when you’re ready to advance your career, understanding the differences and the similarities between these options is key.

Each degree does have a slightly different ideal candidate.

Ideal Candidate for Doctor of Education

A person most suited to an Ed.D. degree is searching for a more concrete, real-world approach to education. An Ed.D. candidate will often already be working in education or a related field full-time and want to pursue their Ed.D. degree to enhance their leadership skills and professional knowledge.

They may work for an educational institution or perhaps work in a university setting. Other roles may include the nonprofit sector or a business focused on professional development or training, a government agency, or even civil service.

An Ed.D. Degree may be more suited to students who want:

  • To effect transformation within an organization, the private sector, or government
  • To apply or add to existing scholarly studies to effect change 
  • To have an existing job they would like to keep while pursuing an advanced degree
  • To implement established best practices in the real world 

Ideal Candidate for a PhD in Education

A PhD candidate is traditionally focused on conducting research that drives changes. They are not necessarily interested in implementing change but conducting leading-edge research. Their work can influence education and public policy.

PhD students need to master their subject area and extend scholarly knowledge on that subject. This might focus on policy in education, leadership in education, child cognitive development, literacy, or sociology of education.

A PhD in Education may make sense for students who want to:

  • Delve deeply into a research subject
  • Inform best practices that others implement
  • Devote their career to higher education
  • Publish their findings in scholarly journals

What Are the Advantages of Pursuing a Doctor of Education Degree vs PhD in Education?

While neither a Doctor of Education nor a PhD in education is better, each degree offers its own advantages. Each will appeal to different individuals depending on their present circumstances and long-term career goals.

Benefits of Pursuing a Doctor of Education Degree

A Doctor of Education candidate can enjoy:

  • Implementing best practices in education and evaluating measurable change within an organization
  • Going beyond academia into the private sector, non-profit organizations, school districts, or government to lead and transform environments
  • Remaining competitive in the dynamic field of education
  • Maintaining a strong influence on educational practices within their work sphere
  • Shaping not only educational research but educational process and policy

Benefits of Pursuing a PhD in Education

A PhD candidate can enjoy:

  • Performing exploration and research into what intrigues them about their field
  • Knowing that their research has the potential to shape best practices in their field
  • Remaining competitive in their chosen field  

How Does the Required Coursework Differ to Obtain a Doctor of Education Versus a PhD in Education? 

The coursework for a degree varies between two and six years of study and between 60 and 90 credit hours.

Coursework for a Doctor of Education typically:

  • Requires 2 years of study
  • Is primarily conducted within a classroom (face to face or virtual)
  • Works heavily with applying theory to real-life situations while evaluating solutions from different and innovative perspectives
  • May require a thesis but not writing and defending a dissertation
  • Requires around 60 hours of coursework
  • Focuses on the practical application of innovative solutions to improve the workplace 

Coursework for PhD in Education typically:

  • Requires 4 to 6 years of study
  • Works heavily with data, encompassing the scientific method, statistics, and research
  • Encompasses writing and defending a dissertation
  • Requires around 90 hours of coursework
  • Focuses on research more than practice

What Kinds of Jobs and Salaries Does a Doctor of Education Afford? A PhD in Education?

While some commonalities in career trajectory exist, these degrees see many graduates landing in different careers. The salary depends on the career path a graduate chooses, the Bureau of Labor Statistics posted the national annual average as of 2018 for some key positions that you can find below.  

The average salary for typical Doctor of Education career paths is:

  • Education administrators, postsecondary: $111,210
  • Education administrators, elementary and secondary school: $98,750
  • Clinical, counseling and school psychologist: $85,340
  • Social and community service managers: $71,670

PhD graduates tend to remain in research and higher education. For example, the average salary for a typical PhD who has chosen sociology as their career paths is: $90,290.

Your Next Step Toward an Advanced Degree in Education

Deciding whether a Doctor of Education, PhD or another advanced degree is right for you depends on your career goals.

Are you ready to begin charting your course in doctoral studies? Learn more about launching your educational pathway with an Ed.D. degree at Marymount University Online.


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