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PhD vs. Ed.D. - What’s the Difference?

Updated on March 29, 2023

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.

Both a PhD and Ed.D. are terminal degrees that can help you affect the future of education, but understanding the differences and similarities can help you make the right educational investment. 


PhD vs. Ed.D.: What Are They?

The main difference between an Ed.D. vs. a 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 a 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 degree 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, an Ed.D. applies existing knowledge to solve problems within an organization. This enables them to exercise leadership and make data-informed decisions based on concepts like social assessments and organizational theory.


PhD vs. Ed.D.: How Are They Similar?

Both an Ed.D. 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.

An Ed.D. 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 degrees 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.


Marketability and Popularity

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24.1 million people in the United States have a master’s degree as their highest degree. The number of people with doctoral degrees is 4.7 million. These numbers total 14.4% of the U.S. population.

Total post-graduate degree enrollment increased by 10% between fall 2009 and fall 2020 — the most recent data due to the pandemic. By 2030, the total number of students enrolled in post-graduate programs is expected to increase to 3.3 million students, 6% higher than 2020 figures.

What’s more, according to a 2022 survey conducted by Public Agenda, 86% of Americans feel that earning a college education can help individuals further their careers.


Ed.D vs. PhD: How Are They Different?

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 similarities between these options is key.


Ideal Candidates

While an Ed.D. and a PhD are similar in some ways, each degree has a slightly different ideal candidate.


The Ideal Ed.D. Candidate

A person best 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 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


The Ideal PhD Candidate

A PhD candidate is traditionally focused on conducting research that drives changes. They may not necessarily be interested in implementing change but in 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 the 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



While neither an Ed.D. or a PhD in education is better than the other, each degree offers unique benefits based on your career goals and other factors.


Benefits of Pursuing a Doctor of Education Degree

An Ed.D. 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 



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


Typical Coursework for a Doctor of Education

  • Requires two 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 


Typical Coursework for a PhD in Education

  • Requires four to six 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


Jobs and Salaries

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, and there may also be additional influencing factors, such as years of experience and job location. 


Typical Doctor of Education Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the 2021 salary statistics for educational leadership positions that Ed.D. graduates can pursue:

  • Education administrators, postsecondary: $111,260
  • Education administrators, kindergarten through secondary: $102,650
  • Clinical, counseling and school psychologists: $99,640
  • Social and community service managers: $76,790


Typical PhD in Education Salary

PhD graduates tend to remain in research and higher education. The salary site Payscale reports that graduates with a PhD in Education made a median annual salary of approximately $89,000 as of March 2023.


Your Next Step Toward an Advanced Degree in Education

Deciding whether an Ed.D., PhD or another advanced degree is right for you depends on your career goals. 

Marymount University’s Online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program can be instrumental in helping you achieve those goals. The fully online program is designed to allow you to cultivate knowledge and skills at your own pace, with a curriculum rooted in social justice, ethics and equity. Find out how Marymount can prepare you for a career with true impact.

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