How to Get a PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading

Literacy and reading are essential skills for participating in modern society. People rely on literacy to communicate, acquire knowledge, and develop their potential–to say nothing of reading a map, following instructions, basic financial transactions, and many other daily tasks that we take for granted. Yet according to the National Institute for Literacy, more than 20 percent of adults read at or below a 5th-grade level. The National Adult Literacy Survey estimates that “over 40 million American adults have significant literacy needs.”

A doctoral degree in Education with a specialization in literacy and reading qualifies you to tackle the illiteracy problem head-on. Literacy doctoral graduates work to improve literacy education and public policy through positions as researchers, educators, and administrative leaders.

Completing the highest academic qualification in literacy and reading education takes planning and a clear sense of your career objectives. This guide helps you focus your goals and prepare for a PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading education.

A Guide to the PhD in Literacy and Reading

Literacy education emerged as a distinct academic discipline in the 1960s, when the federal government began funding research on reading and reading instruction. Since then, academic scholars have advanced new theories of language acquisition and developed new pedagogical approaches to put these theories into practice.

This guide to graduate literacy and reading programs can help you focus your career goals and plan a path to achieving them. Check out’s Guide to Majors to find more information about literacy as an academic discipline.

PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading?

You can find two degree options at the doctoral level: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Education (EdD). The two doctorates are equal in rigor and prestige but different in purpose:

  1. The PhD in Literacy and Reading is a traditional social science doctorate. The degree emphasizes original research in literacy theory and pedagogy, and leads to careers in academic research and teaching.
  2. The EdD in Literacy and Reading is a professional practice doctorate. The dissertation focuses on the application of existing scholarship to the practice of literacy education. Graduates often go on to positions as literacy educators, administrators, and policy makers.

The right program for you typically depends on your career ambitions. For more information about doctoral degrees, visit’s Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs resource page.


A doctoral degree offers the opportunity to pursue specialized research in literacy and reading. You may choose to focus your scholarship on a particular issue, area, or constituency of literacy education.

Common specializations in literacy and reading include:

  • Child literacy and language acquisition
  • Multilingual literacy and second language acquisition
  • Adult literacy
  • Reading education
  • Literacy assessment
  • Socio-cultural issues of literacy
  • Classroom practice and intervention strategies
  • Professional development for literacy educators
  • Literacy theory Technology in literacy education

Both the PhD and EdD offer a great deal of latitude in determining your area of specialization. Let your intellectual curiosity guide you as you explore possible areas of scholarly inquiry.

Career Track

A PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading opens doors to a range of leadership positions in teacher education, education administration, education research, and policymaking.

Academic careers emphasize teaching and research. Advance literacy scholarship and train the next generation of literacy educators as a university professor, college dean, researcher, or research librarian.

Professional careers in literacy & reading focus on developing literacy education through the application of theoretical scholarship. Careers include:

  • Reading specialist
  • Literacy testing coordinator
  • Literacy curriculum designer
  • Literacy researcher for government or nonprofit
  • Literacy policymaker

How to Apply for the PhD in Literacy and Reading

A clear sense of your academic and career goals can help you navigate the application process, from finding the right school to building relationships with faculty and peers.

Finding the right online or campus doctorate degree program in literacy and reading is an exercise in matching your unique profile to a school’s unique array of resources. Take the research process step by step, and you cover all your bases. You can find links to useful online resources for each step below.

Step One: Develop a List of Accredited PhD or EdD Programs

Survey the landscape of education doctorates to develop a general picture of your options. There are campus and online formats, PhD and EdD degrees in literacy & reading, general and specialized programs, and more. Make sure that all the schools you include on your list are accredited. Accreditation by an independent, nationally recognized authority establishes the value of your degree and your eligibility for some financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of approved accreditation agencies. Learn more about the accreditation process at


Online directories and accrediting agency member lists offer good starting points for your research. features a database of accredited online doctoral programs. Browse a list of university partners or search Degrees by Subject to find an online or campus PhD or EdD programs in literacy and reading. The site enforces a high quality standard for all its education partners, taking into account accreditation and other factors.

The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education(NCATE) is a major accreditor of education degree programs. Search NCATE-accredited programs in literacy & reading, which meet standards set by the International Reading Association.

Step Two: Online or Campus Format?

Your preferred delivery format–online or campus–can instantly focus your school search. Today’s online programs offer an education on par with traditional campus degrees, utilizing the latest in interactive media and educational technology. Consider which program type best suits your learning style, life circumstances, and career objectives.

The online PhD or EdD in Literacy and Readingis a good choice for working professionals. The flexibility of the asynchronous format is ideal for returning students balancing education with work and family responsibilities. The independent, self-directed nature of online learning also appeals to many adult learners at the doctoral level. But perhaps most important, the format encourages a productive cross-fertilization of academic learning and applied practice. If you’re already working in education and pursuing a professional practice doctorate, an online doctorate could be the perfect choice.

Campus instruction is the traditional format of the PhD program in literacy andreading. Campus doctorates offer the advantage of access to campus resources, from faculty mentors to research facilities. The campus PhD remains the preferred route for aspiring academics, whose careers depend on strong relationships with faculty mentors and access to teaching and research assistantships.

More and more schools are also developing hybrid programs, which combine online instruction and temporary periods of campus residency.


Explore your program format options at The Online Degree Programs and Campus Education sections help you find programs with the delivery format that best meets your needs. For campus programs, search Degrees by Location.

Step Three: Explore Academic Programs

Each school on your list features a unique approach to the PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading. To gauge which program matches your academic and career objectives, take into account these factors:

  • Faculty research fields
  • Specializations
  • Curriculum and course requirements
  • Special programs (publications, academic associations, internships, conferences, etc.)

Since faculty mentorship plays such an important role in PhD and EdD programs, it’s important to find professors whose background and research interests match your own.

Resources facilitates your academic program research by matching you with schools who meet your specifications. Fill out an online form indicating your academic program criteria, and school representatives will contact you directly to answer any questions and put you in touch with faculty in your field. The system saves you time, allowing you to cover more ground in your program research.

School Web sites provide a basic picture of program resources, with information such as faculty bios and publications, course requirements and reading lists, and special programs.

Academic journals can help you identify who is doing exciting work and which schools sponsor scholarship in your field. Major journals in literacy and reading include:

  • SSSR Journal
  • American Educational Research Journal (AERA publication)
  • Review of Educational Research (AERA publication)
  • Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy (IRA publication)
  • Reading Research Quarterly Online (IRA publication)
  • Journal of Literacy Research (National Reading Conference)
  • Literacy Today
  • Reading and Writing Quarterly

Step Four: Evaluate Program Quality

Finally, develop a list of six or more schools that meet your quality standards without overreaching your competitiveness as an applicant. You should apply to at least one “dream school” and one “safety school,” taking into account factors such as your undergraduate GPA and test scores.

Gauge program quality by considering:

  • Reputation
  • Selectivity
  • Graduation Rate
  • Job Placement Statistics
  • Career Support Resources
  • Student Body Profile

These metrics can help you bring a critical eye to your school search, ensuring that you get the best value from your educational investment.


Rankings offer a quick picture of reputation and selectivity. U.S. News & World Report‘s Best Education Schools provides a general ranking of graduate programs in education. For a more rigorous assessment of research doctorates, Center for Measuring University Performance publishes an annual guide to top-ranked research universities.

School data sheets include information about graduation rates, job placement history of recent doctoral graduates, and selectivity.

Apply to a PhD or EdD in Literacy and Education

Once you’ve set your sights on a shortlist of schools, you’re ready to complete the application process. The following steps can take you through the logistics of preparing applications.

1. Complete Prerequisites

Most schools require the following prerequisites for graduate study:

  • A bachelor’s or master’s degree in education or a related field. If your degree is in another area, you may have to complete some basic courses in education before you enroll.
  • Standardized tests such as the GRE or TOEFL (for non-native speakers of English)
  • Teaching or administrative experience (for professional practice doctorates)

2. Assemble and Submit Application Materials

Fill out an application and collect the following supporting materials:

  • Faculty or professional letters of recommendation (usually three)
  • Academic transcripts
  • Test scores
  • Personal statement of research interests and professional objectives

3. Secure Financial Aid

Most PhD and some EdD programs offer financial assistance to doctoral students, but you may have to supplement from other sources as well. School packages may include teaching and research assistantships, scholarships and grants, research funding, and tuition waivers. Supplement these sources by applying for:

  • Private scholarships and fellowships
  • Employer funding and sponsorships
  • Federal loans
  • Private loans’s Education Resources Guide offers additional guidance on test preparation, prerequisite courses, financial aid, and more.

Build Relationships in the Literacy Community

With your applications in the (e)mail, you’re well on your way to becoming a literacy scholar. Take the opportunity to reach out to the academic community by:

  1. Subscribing to academic journals listed above. You can get an inside look at research trends and get to know the names in your field.
  2. Attending conferences in your field to rub elbows with your future peers.
  3. Joining professional associations such as the International Reading Association, the National Institute of Literacy, or the Society of the Scientific Study of Reading. Consult this list of professional literacy organizations for more options.

A PhD or EdD in Literacy and Reading is more than a prestigious credential. It’s also a catalyst for your intellectual curiosity and scholarship. Whether you pursue a campus or online PhD, you should encounter a vibrant community of scholars who share your passion for literacy and reading education. Plan your educational journey today, and you’re sure to make the most of these opportunities as you pursue your doctorate.


  • American Educational Research Association (AERA)
  • George Mason University Graduate School of Education, Literacy and Reading PhD
  • International Reading Association (IRA)
  • International Reading Association, Accreditation of Teacher Education
  • National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), NCATE Accredited Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education
  • National Institute for Literacy
  • National Institute for Literacy, Fast Facts on Literacy
  • Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, Ed.D. Program in Literacy Education
  • Society of the Scientific Study of Reading (SSSR)
  • The Center for Measuring University Performance
  • The University of Connecticut, The Literacy Web at the University of Connecticut
  • U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
  • U.S. News & World Report, Best Education Schools
  • University of Georgia College of Education, Language and Literacy Education Graduate Organization (LLEGO)
  • University of Minnesota, PhD in Literacy Education
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