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When planning to pursue an advanced degree in educational leadership, you may reach a crossroads regarding your graduate school path: should you pursue an EdD or a PhD? 

Determining which one is a better fit will depend on your goals and the career opportunities you wish to receive. While both degrees prepare graduates for a variety of exciting potential career path opportunities; they are different degrees with unique requirements and benefits. 

How does an EdD vs PhD compare? Read on to learn about the key differences and requirements.

EdD vs PhD: Bird’s Eye Perspective

Broadly speaking, an EdD degree focuses on applying research and theory to solve real-world problems in education, whereas a PhD program prioritizes original research and the creation of new knowledge within the field of education and education leadership. Despite this high-level description, there are nuances to each degree.

What is an EdD? 

A Doctorate of Education is typically more practice-oriented. This program is designed to solve practical problems in public and private educational settings. 

Individuals with an EdD degree generally want to apply the knowledge gained through their coursework to actual practice. Students begin with a problem area and then work to learn the skills necessary to resolve complex issues. 

EdD candidates may already have experience working in a wide range of educational-related fields, including: 

  • K-12 education
  • Higher education
  • Nonprofits
  • Government
  • Healthcare 
  • Military 

What this program looks like will depend on the university and the student’s previous educational history. For example, the California School of Education (CSOE) at Alliant International University offers a Doctorate in Educational Leadership degree program. Many wonder, what is an educational leadership program and what does it focus on? It focuses on educational theory and applicable research, using a cohort-based Professional Learning Community model. This program provides a deep understanding of the philosophical and social foundations of worldwide educational systems, multiculturalism, and emerging trends in education. 

This degree will typically take 2-3 years to complete and will include both core classwork and a dissertation process. Common classes may include: 

  • Leadership and Learning Organizations
  • Research Writing Workshop
  • Educational Leadership Seminar
  • Integrative Technology Systems in Colleges
  • Current Issues and Trends in Education
  • Financial and Business Management of the College
  • Psychology of Schooling: the Adult Learner
  • Research Design
  • Law, Ethics and Equity in Higher Education
  • Educational Philosophy in a Global Society
  • Student and Personnel Services in Higher Education
  • Qualitative Research Methods
  • Quantitative Research Methods
  • Statistics Laboratory
  • Foundations in Multicultural and Global Education
  • Leading the Adult Learner
  • Policy Making and Politics in Higher Education
  • Dissertation Plan, Proposal & Preparation

Once finished, students will be equipped to assess the political, societal, economic, legal, and cultural factors affecting learning organizations, while mastering and articulating effective theories and principles for teaching and leading adult learners. Ideally, graduates will embody personal and professional ethics, integrity, justice, and fairness. Leadership in schools requires these key traits throughout your career development.

Potential Career Pathways for EdD Graduates 

If you’re wondering what you can do with a doctorate in educational leadership, EdD graduates may have dozens of potential career pathways available to them upon completing their doctorate. What path they select will naturally depend on their unique interests, skills, and experience. That said, most options will fall into one of three broad categories: 

  • Lower educational leadership roles
    • Postsecondary teacher
    • School principal
    • Superintendent
    • District administrator
  • Higher education pathway
    • Chief academic officer
    • Educational administrator
    • College dean
    • University provost
    • University president
  • Corporate and nonprofit and professionals 
    • Chief learning officer
    • Training and development manager 
    • Instructional designer
    • E-learning specialist
    • HR development specialist
    • Organizational development consultant

What is a PhD? 

A PhD in Education is a Doctor of Philosophy degree designed for individuals that want to remain within academia or focus on research at the university level. 

As noted above, this is more focused on research and theory than practice. The coursework seeks to identify gaps in current knowledge while furthering the field of education via research-based activities. Ideal candidates will have a strong background in academics while possessing excellent critical thinking, analytical, and writing skills.

Compared to an EdD, a PhD tends to be a much more rigorous program, taking 5-7 years to complete due to the volume of classwork, original research, and theory students must master. 

Potential Career Pathways for PhD Graduates 

Because this is a more research-oriented pathway, the potential careers tend to be more limited in nature. Even so, there still are plenty of opportunities, including: 

  • University professor
  • Educational researcher
  • Curriculum developer
  • Educational consultant
  • Policy analyst
  • Education program director
  • Educational administrator
  • Grant writer

EdD vs PhD Comparison 

To summarize the EdD vs PhD discussion, consider the following the breakdown in the five key areas:

EdD vs PhD
  EdD PhD
Focus Practical application Theoretical research
Ideal for Educational administration or leadership Academia or research
Time to complete 3-4 years to complete 4-7 years to complete
Cost The average cost is less The average cost is more
Potential careers  Administration, leadership, policymaking, higher education Research, teaching, consulting 

So, which option is right for you?

Choose Alliant International University for Your EdD 

At the scholastic junction of EdD and PhD, most students will find that an EdD is the route most traveled. This degree focuses on the practical rather than the theoretical, and it typically presents a broader array of professional opportunities.

Eager to make a meaningful impact on the world of education? 

At Alliant International University, our online EdD in Educational Leadership and Management program equips students with the essential tools, technology, and teaching required to shape the educational experience for future generations.  

Discover the potential of an EdD degree by reaching out today.


Alliant International University. “EdD in Educational Leadership and Management.”… Accessed April 16th, 2023. 

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