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If you aspire to a position as a leader in education, achieving a PhD in Education Administration, Educational Leadership, or Organizational Leadership ranks as an essential qualification. A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD) in one of these fields prepares you to guide an institution in fulfilling its educational mission.

Besides managing an institution's facilities in general, an education administrator sets and maintains academic standards through the hiring, retention and development of faculty members. If you prefer to attain a senior position in education research and policy, you also will need to gain the skills and experience in research, analysis, and leadership that a doctoral degree in Educational Administration provides.

Take the Time to Choose the Right Doctorate Program

Finding the right doctorate program requires time for:

  • In-depth research into doctoral degree programs
  • Serious thought about your dreams and your realities

You need to form a clear understanding of your personal and career goals in seeking a doctoral degree. You also need to weigh your current life priorities while planning your future.

  • Consider the amount of time that you can devote to this study and the sacrifices that this effort could require in your personal life and current position.
  • Would the advantages of attending a university and having direct contact with faculty and other students compensate for time away from your family and your job?
  • Would you benefit from the convenience and greater flexibility of an online degree program?

What Are the Typical Doctoral Degrees in Educational Administration?

PhD programs are oriented more toward theory and research than other doctorate degrees. A PhD in Educational Administration program best suits students who aim for a career:

  • Administering a school, a school district or a statewide education system
  • Shaping education policy
  • Conducting research in Educational Administration policy and practice
  • Teaching at a college or university

EdD programs are designed for working professionals in education and organizational leadership. They help professionals gain a greater understanding of:

  • Human learning
  • Educational institutions
  • The interaction of society with education, finance, and government
  • The means for conducting research and applying it

EdD programs in Educational Administration usually require a master's degree and at least several years of work experience in education. PhDs, on the other hand, don't always require work experience.

The EdS in Educational Administration or Leadership

Also considered a terminal degree, though not quite a doctorate, an Education Specialist (EdS) degree helps an educator who plans to:

  • Seek a leadership positions at a school or for a school district
  • Work in administration at a junior college or small college
  • Continue study at the doctoral level

An EdS degree is not always considered preparation for a PhD in Educational Administration, which means that credits earned in such a program might not be transferable towards a doctorate. Such credit transfers would require approval of a doctoral advisory committee.

As in other branches of education, the PhD degree tends to hold a more exalted status than the EdD because of its greater emphasis on research and theory over professional application.

Even PhD programs, however, have shifted to requiring more teamwork on doctoral projects and multidisciplinary study, with less prominence for individual, esoteric scholarship. This contributes to a greater development of abilities in collaboration, communication and explaining concepts to a varied audience.

What Are the Specializations in Educational Administration?

A doctoral student seeking a PhD in Educational Administration could specialize in:

  • Higher Educational Administration and policy analysis
  • Student development and affairs
  • Historical and philosophical foundations of higher education
  • Finance and economics of higher education

Educational Leadership and Organizational Leadership

Two related fields in which doctorate and terminal degrees are available are educational leadership and organizational leadership.

A PhD or, more often, an EdD or EdS in Educational Leadership prepares graduates for careers in top administrative positions at educational institutions. As suggested by the fact that doctorates in this field are typically EdSs and EdDs rather than PhDs, educational leadership is geared more for those with a professional future in mind. While any doctorate program develops impressive research skills in its candidates, an EdD in Educational Leadership employs those skills to solve current issues within the field, leaving the academic research and theory building to holders of a PhD in Education Administration.

Another field in which graduates are awarded EdDs or EdSs, Organizational Leadership is akin to a management degree. This broader approach to leadership skills develops many of the same qualities that business or educational administration degrees would, but without the quantitative or institution of learning emphases, respectively. While both are considered terminal degrees, an EdD in Organizational Leadership may be more appealing to employers than just an EdS in Organizational Leadership--both set you apart from the rest, though.

Deciding on Your Doctorate

To help in narrowing down the graduate schools, PhD programs and specialty areas in Educational Administration, identify the type of administrative role that you want to fill. For example, do you want...

  • To work in K-12 schools, a community college, or a university?
  • To focus on one field, such as special education or English language learners?
  • To help shape education policy as a consultant, in public service, or with a non-profit?

Most graduate schools will make you decide up front, and switching programs mid-stream is often difficult (or impossible at the more competitive schools). The lesson here is to choose wisely. Weigh all of your options before committing to a program and take advantage of every resource you have at your disposal.

On campus or online? Things to Take into Account

As you do your research into PhD programs in educational administration and leadership, think about the following points when deciding whether you want an education on a traditional college campus or via the Internet from an online graduate degree program.

Campus Programs

If you are a working professional and have a family, access to a college or university doctoral program with a respected faculty near your home would be a dream come true. You wouldn't have to move, commute long distances, or spend too much time away from your family to attend. This isn't always the case, though, which is where online graduate schools come in--more on those in a moment.

Campus-based programs offer the opportunity for assistantships and other positions to offset the cost of your education and give you a more personal, face-to-face exposure to leading scholars and fellow doctoral students. This kind of networking is important for any career, but when it comes to educational and other leadership positions, it can make all the difference.

Does your learning style lead you to thrive in traditional group or classroom settings? Do you require the discipline of scheduled classes and assignments to learn most effectively? If so, then a campus program probably best matches your needs. It's often difficult to concentrate at home because of family distractions (or for that matter an acutely comfortable couch and a good book). There's something to be said for strict schedules; nothing motivates you like a deadline.

Campus education programs provide the kind of hands-on experience that many learners thrive on. Face-to-face contact can be especially important when developing leadership and teaching skills. It's one thing to get the theory down; it's quite another to stand in front of a group and perform it. Those who are seeking organizational leadership positions (i.e., those outside of education) will undoubtedly find an educational benefit in being able to interact face-to-face with their peers, but there may not be any benefit when hiring time comes around. On the other hand, if you're looking to get a leadership position at a campus-based educational institution, a more traditional program might be more attractive to prospective employers.

Online Programs

If you find commuting to a campus too time consuming and expensive for your lifestyle, then a distance doctorate degree program is right up your alley. Traditional schools increasingly have created online doctoral degree programs to attract students who need convenient access, whether that be because it's a fairly long commute or an impossible one, requiring pulling up roots and moving across the country.

If you work and think independently, prefer keeping your own schedule, or have a career and family to work around, an online doctoral degree program gives you the flexibility to attend class when the time is right for you. This greater flexibility will help you make time for coursework and classes. What's the benefit of sticking with your current job? A full-time career will almost always pay better than an on-campus assistantship, and you won't have to apply for a new job when you graduate. You should go for the promotion and the raise, though.

While online graduate schools may have lacked the prestigious faculty of campus-based programs in their infancy, quite a number of strictly distance-learning institutions are attracting extremely knowledgeable and experienced staff members. Not only that, but many top-tier universities have started online programs letting you take advantage of the already-present professors. Due to the nature of doctorate programs, it's extremely important to do a little faculty research--you'll be needing a mentor.

How to Apply for a Doctoral Degree in Educational Administration

As you conduct your research into the best type of degree program and the best school to meet your needs, identify the absolute requirements that any doctoral program must have for you to consider it. These should include:

Accreditation by a recognized organizations:

  • Accreditation assures you that the school's programs and faculty offer the quality of education that you need to meet your goals
  • It also will help ensure that your prospective employers or clients will recognize your education credentials as worthy of their trust

To learn more about the accreditation of schools that you are considering, visit the Web site of the regional accrediting organization for your target school.

Crunch Time: Other Things to Do

  • Learn about the quality of the faculty and the specific scholars with whom you want to study
  • Study the history of you PhD program of choice at your leading schools, including their achievements, awards and other academic recognition
  • Evaluate the graduation rate for students of the PhD programs

A Web site such as WorldWideLearn.com can help you compare multiple campus-based and online doctoral programs. You can even arrange to have schools contact you once you identify the programs that most appeal to you.

Understand the requirements that you must fulfill for each school. Learn about the qualifying exams, such as the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), and the scores required for admission.

Before you have your heart set on one campus or online PhD program in Educational Administration, be sure that you know the number of open positions for that program. You might need to adjust your sights and choose the programs that have the most opportunities.

Now, Hit the Books (or Click the Mouse)

All that you have achieved in your academic and professional career has prepared to take the next step toward a PhD in Educational Administration. Evaluate your goals, your resources and your priorities and start your search for the school and program that will bring fulfillment.



  • Boston College, Higher Educational Administration
  • eHow.com, How to Earn a Ph.D. in Higher Educational Administration
  • Connexions, Development of the Professional Doctorate in Educational Administration/Leadership, by Rosemary Papa and Ric Brown
  • BrightHub.com, Online Doctoral Degrees and International Trends in Doctoral Education, by Thomas Trzyna
  • University of Alabama Graduate School, EdS degrees
  • Vanderbilt Peabody College, Leadership, Policy and Organizations--Doctoral Level Concentrations

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