Ph.D. vs. Ed.D.: Key Differences

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A university diploma wrapped in a red ribbon.


Professionals who want to understand the education world better with an eye on advancement in administration may find an advanced degree is a helpful step. When deciding whether to pursue advanced studies, these aspiring students have a few options. It’s worth comparing the merits of a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in education to determine which choice best suits an education professional’s interests, goals and focus.

What Is the Difference Between a Ph.D. and Ed.D.?

The Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. division is demonstrated in the degree programs’ approaches to instruction. Inside Higher Ed described the difference between Ed.D. and Ph.D. courses in terms of practical, administration-focused work placed against philosophical, research-based studies. While Ed.D. students work on projects that reflect their status as current or prospective leaders, Ph.D. students develop and test theories that may impact the educational world at large.

Candidates for doctorate-level degrees in education can choose their path by deciding how they intend to make a mark on the academic world. Ed.D. recipients may get a chance to enact change in one school or district, using administrative power to improve conditions with what they’ve learned in their studies. Ph.D. graduates are more likely to posit underlying concepts rather than implement them. The term “Ph.D.” contains the word “philosophy” when it’s spelled out, and that dedication to thought and theory defines the Ph.D. in education.

What Can You Do With an Ed.D.?

Perhaps the most important difference between Ed.D. and Ph.D. studies is the career paths open to graduates. Individuals who intend to take on senior-level administration positions in a school, college or university may gravitate toward Ed.D. programs. Everything from course concentrations to final projects and study schedules is designed to help prospective leaders succeed.

Students earning Ed.D. degrees can receive a detailed overview of current best practices in their levels of administration. Dealing with the ethical decisions, political realities and challenging logistics of educational administration calls for knowledge and experience that individuals who’ve risen through the teaching ranks may not readily discern. Ed.D. programs impart these facts.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D.?

Despite their shared focus on advanced academic studies, Ed.D. and Ph.D. programs point to distinct futures.

Ph.D. studies may better suit applicants who want to become full-time researchers or instruct others in pedagogy. In addition, Ph.D. graduates may spend years building up a catalog of meaningful research for others to build on.

Ed.D. Salary

The difference between Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. salaries comes down to the roles students take after graduation. Some recipients of each degree earn more or less than their peers depending on their career paths and tenure in given fields.

According to May 2021 salary data from PayScale, the average annual salary for Ed.D. graduates is approximately $79,000 for all positions. Some of the roles these individuals may take on are similar to the professor jobs that may go to Ph.D. holders, but others are more attuned to the administrative focus of an Ed.D. For example, graduates may become academic deans, who earn an average of around $94,000. Ed.D. holders who rise through the ranks to become provosts make about $151,000.

Ph.D. Salary

While progress in the academic world is largely defined by an individual’s positive impact on future generations, professionals in the field are likely interested in how their advanced degrees may affect their long-term earning power. Doctorate-level studies come after years of work in undergraduate and master’s programs, making it reasonable for graduates to expect starting salaries with new degrees to reflect that investment.

According to May 2021 salary data from PayScale, the median annual salary for professionals with a Ph.D. in education is approximately $85,000. Whether individuals meet or exceed that figure depends on how far they progress in academic departments. While assistant professors earn a median of $70,000 and professors earn a median of $88,000, Ph.D. graduates who make it to executive director status earn a median of $80,000, with some making as much as $173,000.

Which Degree Is Right for Me: Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.?

For those considering a doctoral degree in education, choosing which degree is right for them comes down to which one meets their personal goals. A Ph.D. in education is more likely to lead to a career as an academic, conducting research to shape the future of education and teaching the next generation of thought leaders as a university professor. An Ed.D. is more likely to mean a career focused on practically applying educational theories at the local or district level, working toward academic opportunity, equity and ethical education for all.

Ideal Degree Programs

Individuals with master’s degrees who want more training in education can find that experience through a Ph.D. or Ed.D. Students will make that choice based on their professional status, their aspirations and the topics that are of greatest interest to them. When it’s time to apply to programs, applicants can increase their chances of career success by finding top-rated, relevant programs, such as the Bradley University online Ed.D.

Taught by experts with up-to-date knowledge of administration, Bradley University’s Ed.D program can offer necessary expertise for academic professionals with leadership aspirations. Applicants can focus on leadership at the community college and university levels. By completing a comprehensive, practical doctoral research requirement, these students gain insights into the way the academic world functions and prepare for career advancement.

Recommended Readings

Discover What It Takes to Work as an Academic Dean at a College or University

Education in the C-Suite: How to Become a Chief Learning Officer

A Look at the 4 Online Ed.D. Foundational Courses


Bradley University, Online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) Program

Inside Higher Education, Ph.D. vs. Ed.D.

PayScale, Doctor of Education (EdD) Degree

PayScale, Doctorate (PhD), Education Degree