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

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A college professor addresses a class.

Professionals who want to understand the education world better — particularly those with an eye on advancement in administration — should consider an advanced degree. When deciding whether to pursue graduate studies, 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 degree best suits an education professional’s interests, goals, and focus.

In addition to helping individuals chart their academic journey, an Ed.D. vs. Ph.D. comparison can help illuminate career opportunities and salary prospects.

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

A notable difference between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. is each degree program’s approach to instruction. Generally speaking, the Ph.D. is rooted in philosophy and conducting original research, while the Ed.D. applies existing research to practical situations. 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 doctoral degrees in education can choose their path by deciding how they intend to make a mark on the academic world. Ed.D. recipients may have an opportunity to enact change in one school or district, using administrative power to improve conditions through the competencies they learned in their studies. Ph.D. graduates are more likely to posit underlying concepts rather than implement them. The term “Ph.D.” stands for Doctor of Philosophy (from the Latin philosophiae doctor), and that dedication to thought and theory defines the Ph.D. in education.

Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.: Career Paths

A major consideration when comparing an Ed.D. vs. a Ph.D. pertains to career paths. Committing to either program will require a significant investment of time and money, and students should consider the potential career opportunities that await them after graduation.

What Can You Do With an Ed.D.?

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

Students earning Ed.D. degrees can receive a detailed overview of current best practices at the administrative level. 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 provide students with that information.

With an Ed.D. degree, graduates can qualify for a number of high-level positions in academia. Some of these top roles include university president, chief learning officer, college provost, school superintendent, school principal, academic dean, professor, and director of education. Ed.D. graduates should expect to work their way up through the ranks prior to earning senior-level positions.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D.?

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

A Ph.D. education 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.

A Ph.D. in education can lead to many different careers, including university professor, academic dean, college administrator, and curriculum coordinator. Outside of academia, Ph.D. graduates can work in professional development for corporations or nonprofits, or develop education policy for government agencies.

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 will earn more or less than their peers, depending on their career paths and tenure in given fields.

According to October 2022 salary data from Payscale, the median annual salary for Ed.D. graduates was approximately $80,000. Some of the roles Ed.D. graduates 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, Ed.D. graduates may become academic deans, who earn a median of around $94,700, according to Payscale. Ed.D. holders who rise through the ranks to become provosts make a median salary of about $170,000.

When examining Ed.D. salary data, it’s important to keep in mind that experience, location, the scope of the position, and the specific employer are all factors that determine compensation. Students are encouraged to thoroughly research their career opportunities before committing.

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 also 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 Ph.D. (and Ed.D.) graduates to expect starting salaries that reflect that investment.

According to October 2022 salary data from Payscale, the median annual salary for professionals with a Ph.D. in education was approximately $87,000. Whether individuals meet or exceed that figure depends on how far they progress in academic departments. Assistant professors earned a median salary of $70,300, while full professors earned a median of $88,600. Ph.D. graduates who rose to executive director status earned a median of $81,500, with some making as much as $174,000, according to Payscale. Similar to an Ed.D., Ph.D. salary is influenced by several factors.

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 aligns with 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.

Another factor to consider is the investment in time and money it takes to earn each degree. A Ph.D. can take anywhere between four and eight years, where an Ed.D. degree can take as little as two to three years. The cost of each program varies depending on the institution, as well as whether students attend in-person courses or take them online.

Students exploring these educational pathways should research all variables before making a decision, including program cost and duration. Perhaps most importantly however, students should consider their interests and intellectual passions to determine which degree program is the best fit for them.

Ideal Degree Programs

Individuals with master’s degrees who seek additional training in education can find that experience through either an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. Students can select the ideal fit based on their professional status, their aspirations, and the topics that are of greatest interest to them. When it’s time to apply, applicants can increase their chances of career success by finding a top-rated, relevant program, such as the Bradley University online Doctor of Education.

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



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Payscale, Average Academic Dean Salary

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