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In the field of education, a doctorate or PhD places you in a respected position. Whether you dream of undertaking important educational research or helping to train more great teachers in a university setting, a doctorate or PhD in education is critical. PhDs and EdDs also come in handy for those looking to direct a college or university, private K-12 school, public school, school system, or government education agency.

When choosing a PhD or other doctorate degree program in education, it should come as no surprise that you need to do your homework. There as many available degrees as there are careers to put them to good use--and picking the right one to commit to beforehand is key. Before you sign on that dotted line, you need to consider whether a campus-based program would suit you better or worse than an online doctoral program.

Available doctorates in education

The PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy) and the EdD (Doctorate of Education) are the two terminal degrees -- that is, the highest degrees available -- in the field of education. They're equivalent in many ways, but are quite different in their focus of study and intended use.

  • A PhD in Education focuses strongly on theory and research.
  • An EdD focuses on best practices in teaching and school administration.

Some schools also offer an EdS (Education Specialist) degree, which is intermediate between a master's degree and a PhD or EdD. Although the EdS course of study teaches theory, it focuses primarily on hands-on aspects of teaching. Because EdS classes don't transfer easily into doctoral programs, the EdS is considered a terminal degree.

Most popular careers with a doctorate in education

The PhD, EdD, and EdS generally lead to three very different career tracks.

  • PhD. Most people with a PhD in Education teach high-level undergraduate or graduate courses at a college or university, and also participate in important educational research projects. A PhD is also almost universally required for college and university presidents
  • EdD. Consider an EdD if you want an administrative or leadership career in a private school, public school system, or state department of education
  • EdS. With an EdS, you'll most likely teach K-12, but the degree will advance your classroom teaching certification level--and thus your salary

Do as much preliminary research as possible before choosing which degree to pursue. Visit people with education doctorates working in the career you'd like to enter, and talk to HR specialists at universities and companies where you'd like to work.

Online PhD programs: Consider the possibilities

Consider some of the pros and cons of online doctorates (which include online PhD programs, online EdD programs, and online EdS programs).

  • Money Savings. The per-credit cost of traditional and online PhD degree programs is often nearly identical, but with an online doctorate you can live and eat at home.
  • Convenience and Flexibility. Job or family responsibilities may make it difficult to attend traditional classes. Online classes enable you to schedule learning, testing, and communicating with your instructors and fellow doctoral candidates at times that are convenient for you.
  • Proximity. Major metropolitan areas have many colleges and universities offering doctorates in education. If you live near one of these programs, you can choose between traditional or online classes. If you live in a small town, an online degree may be your only option.
  • Personal Learning Style. Know yourself. Do you need regular, frequent face-to-face interaction with your instructors and peers in order to learn? Does history suggest that you may not be disciplined enough to do online coursework every night after the kids are in bed? A "yes" answer to either of these questions means that a traditional classroom program may help your success.
  • Employer Recognition. There's a greater likelihood of your employer recognizing your doctorate degree if it comes from an accredited school.

Available classroom and online PhD programs

You can choose from a wide range of specialties for your doctorate in education. They're all available in traditional classroom settings, but it's in your best interest to investigate online PhD programs, online EdD programs, and online EdS programs as well.

  • Adult Education: PhD
  • Corporate Training: PhD, EdD
  • Curriculum Design: PhD, EdD
  • Education (General), Comparative Education, International Education: PhD, EdD
  • Educational Administration, Educational Leadership, Organizational Leadership: PhD, EdD, EdS
  • Educational Technology: PhD, EdD, EdS
  • ESL (English as a Second Language): PhD, EdD
  • Higher Education, Leadership for Higher Education, Higher Education & Organizational Change: PhD, EdD
  • K-12 Education: PhD, EdD
  • Special Education: PhD

What to expect once you've earned your PhD in education

Your earnings with a doctorate in education depend on many factors. What position will you end up in when you've finished your degree? If you teach, where and what will you teach? If you work for a school system or state education agency, where is it located? In general, people with doctorates earn much more than those with lesser degrees. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a doctorate also makes you much less likely to be laid off or to go for long periods without work.

If a leadership-level career in education appeals to you and you can commit to the time, effort, and cost involved in earning a doctorate in education, do your research to find a school and program that are perfect for you. The rewards are well worth it.

Sources

Business Week, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damast
Business Week, Briding the Business Faculty Gap, by Alison Damast
U.S. Census Bureau, The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings
WorldWideLearn, Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Beyond Supply and Demand: Assessing the PhD Job Market, by Elka Jones

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