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What is the difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D.?

 Three women questioning which program

When I entered graduate school, no one explained to me the difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. I ended up in a program that lead to a Ph.D. but one of my friends ended up in a program that culminated in an Ed.D. It wasn’t until after we completed our coursework that we became aware of the difference. What is the difference? The major difference between a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. is that a Ph.D. has a greater emphasis on conducting research and an Ed.D. has a greater emphasis on putting research into practice.

What is the difference between what a Ph.D. and an Ed.D. makes?

There is a difference between the number of months in a year an Ed.D. works and a Ph.D. works which impacts salaries. The average salary for a 11-month Ed.D. administrator is $95,410 and for an 9-month Ph.D. professor is $79,540. Regardless, the U.S. News and World Report reported on lifetime earnings for college degrees. They showed that earning your doctorate can pay off no matter which path you choose. A doctoral degree can earn you $3.65 million over your lifetime which is nearly one million dollars more than master’s degree holders. Similarly, doctoral degree holders see an unemployment rate of only 1.5% compared to the national unemployment rate of 3.6%.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, the average earning by position are:

PositionEducation levelMedian salary
Education AdministratorEd.D. (or Ph.D.)$95,410
SuperintendentMaster’s, Ed.D., or Ph.D.$163,933
Assistant ProfessorPh.D. (or Ed.D.)$61,410
ProfessorPh.D. (or Ed.D.)$79,540
Academic ResearcherPh.D.$76,273
Academic DeanPh.D. (or Ed.D.)$112,304
ProvostPh.D. (or Ed.D.)$150,359

Should I pursue a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. degree?

First, kudos for considering an advanced degree! You will be at the top of your industry as only about 2% of those with a bachelor’s degree ever attain a doctoral degree. Whether you should pursue a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. depends. Both degrees are considered terminal degrees and earn you the title of doctor.In general, doctorates are grouped by academic or research doctorates (Ph.D.) and professional doctorates (Ed.D.). If you are interested in pursuing a role in academia and conducting research, a Ph.D. degree is usually preferred or even required. If you are more interested in serving a leadership role in a community, government, or nonprofit organization an Ed.D. may serve you better. Whatever degree you choose know that earning a doctoral level degree is a major accomplishment with years of study and practice supporting it.

Deciding between these two degrees can be difficult. In the end, the degree you choose can define your career.  “In order to ensure you choose the path that best aligns with your future career goals, it’s important to take the time to first understand the differences in program curriculum and future career opportunities that relate to each degree” (O’Conner, 2019).

What Is a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. is a doctorate in philosophy. A Ph.D. program prepares you to understand theory, interpret research, identify gaps for further exploration, and gives you the skills and tools needed to conduct studies. With a Ph.D., you identify a line of research and ultimately become an authority on a topic of interest. To earn a Ph.D., you must (1) complete a research study and (2) extend the body of knowledge of that topic.

What Is an Ed.D.?

An Ed.D. is a doctorate in education and prepares you for a career in educational leadership. You begin by learning how to interpret research and then apply that research to real-world situations. This is often referred to as research-to-practice. An Ed.D. degree prepares you to understand theory, improve your leadership skills, and to advance change in schools or other organizations.

Which is better a Ph.D. or an Ed.D.?

Which degree is ‘better’ will depend on what you plan to do. One university describes the distinction between the two as Ph.D. recipients are expert in creating knowledge while Ed.D. recipients are expert on using knowledge. Think about these four would-you-rather questions and decide which of these appeals to you:

  • Would you rather create new knowledge or use that knowledge?
  • Would you rather conduct research or apply it?
  • Would you rather identify issues or solve them?

You should think about your career goals and the time needed to complete an advance course of study. You should think about what degree will help you attain the next steps you plan to take in your career. You should also think about what kind of research makes the most sense for meeting your goal. I’ve created a table of some of the key differences for you to consider when making a decision between the two:

Career path = professional leadershipCareer path = academia and research
Average salary – administrator $95,410Average salary – professor $79,540
The main focus is to apply knowledge to industry to solve new and emerging problemsThe main focus is to develop advanced research skills and create new knowledge to share with others
Less program optionsMore program options
Admissions testing is usually focused on the field of studyAdmissions testing is usually focused on academic skills
An applicant’s resume should emphasize skills and experience in the fieldAn applicant’s resume should emphasize academic achievements
An applicant’s letters of recommendation are often an important deciding factor in determining admissionAn applicant’s letters of recommendation are highly important for those considering your candidature
Typically, 60-120 semester creditsTypically, 90-120 semester credits
Completion ranges from 3-7 yearsCompletion ranges from 5-10 years
Course work emphasized discipline specific content and practical applicationCourse work emphasizes research and theory
Usually earned by successfully completing credentialing exams and or a doctoral project focused on formulating solutions to the issues or challenges faced by professionals in the fieldUsually earned with the completion of a research study that is written up as a doctoral dissertation and defended orally
Focuses on practical work experience and sharing knowledgeFocuses on research and publications that fill a gap in the knowledge base for your field
Preparation for a leadership position in your chosen fieldPreparation for a future faculty teaching or research position

What can you do with a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. degree?

While many employers will consider either degree when hiring, the differences in focus for the two degrees make certain career options more appealing to the earner.  Below is a table to compare typical roles for a Ph.D. and an Ed.D.

Elementary and Secondary School Education Administrators and Central Office Positions: Superintendents are the top executives of a school district. They manage academic programs, spending, and the staffing of all educational facilities within their districtPostsecondary Teachers/Professors: Professors instruct students at a college or university level. When they’re not teaching, they’re usually focused on conducting research, attending conferences, and publishing scholarly papers and books. Often their role includes service to their institute and the community.
Top Executives: A chief or top executive is a senior-level professional who drives and develops strategies that help their organization meet their organizational or business goals.Academic Researcher: Researchers conduct research. They often have opportunities to create their own centers or institutes, hire staff to help carry out their work, and secure funding for that work.
Instructional Coordinators: Instructional coordinators create and manage school curricula, technology, and other educational materials. They can also help teachers implement effective classroom learning strategies and measure the effectiveness of what’s being taught and how. 

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