Just the other day a colleague asked for advice about whether to study for an Ed.D. or for a Ph.D. in education. The question of “What is the difference?” between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. is common, and although many of us attempt to answer the question, the truth is that there is no exact answer. That being true, there are some clear distinctions between why one might apply for an Ed.D. instead of a Ph.D., and vice versa.
Ed.D. at a Glance
A Doctor of Education (Ed.D) program is designed for scholar-practitioners, those who want to get their hands in and tool the earth of education. A scholar-practitioner is a student who is working in the field, learning the theory, reading the research in the literature, and designing solutions to problems to inform their current practice. Applicants for an Ed.D. program are expected to be working in the field of education. Usually, the problem of practice addressed in an Ed.D. student’s dissertation will be a current issue, as expressed in the literature, and most likely will be a problem that the student has experienced in their own work. Ideally, the research findings will inform the means through which the student will positively impact and make change to their problem of practice. After completing the dissertation, the scholar-practitioner will implement the findings in practice, in addition to sharing the findings publicly to help guide other practitioners.
My own choice to study for an Ed.D. was driven by my deep concern with the inequity that occurs in education within the U.S. At the time I made the decision, I was teaching students who were graduating high school with reading, writing, and arithmetic challenges akin to that of a first grader. I knew that this issue is systemic in the U.S. and I felt in my bones the need to learn how to be an expert educator, one who can support and motivate all students through higher education. And I wanted to take that learning and train other educators about how to do this, how to be courageous, innovative, and teach to all minds with passion and care. And that is what I’ve used my learning and research findings to do.
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On the other hand, applicants for a Ph.D. program might not be expected to have worked, or be working currently, in the field of education. It is not uncommon for a Ph.D. applicant’s trajectory to have been a direct journey from their bachelor’s program to their master’s program, through to their Doctoral studies, without embarking on a career in between. Some Ph.D. programs will require that students be published prior to the start of their doctoral degree, and will not allow them access to the application until they do. Some programs will expect that their students’ primary goal be to continue to publish while studying for their doctorate at the same time. Ph.D. students are also studying to help become positive change agents in the field of education.
The work of a doctoral program and the career options available after graduation are often similar. The actual program of study and dissertation process is usually the same between an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. in education. Those who possess either degree can certainly teach, work, or lead in education, and publish. It is true that some educational institutions might be more preferential to one degree over the other. If an aspiring student has a dream institution that they want to work for one day, they should give that institution a call and ask whether one degree is preferred over another. If an aspiring student has a dream position that they want to obtain, they should reach out to those in that position for guidance and advice.
Although the discussion of the difference between an Ed.D. and Ph.D. in education can feel like a battle of two egos, it is important to really consider which is right for you. Researching programs and asking colleagues challenges an applicant to think deeply about their goals and how studying for and earning a doctorate in education can help accomplish those goals. In the end, studying for and subsequently earning a doctorate is a commendable feat, which is why less than 5% of the U.S. and world population advance to that level.
For more information on pursuing your Ed.D. degree from Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.