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PhD in Education vs. EdD: What’s the Difference?

Choosing between a PhD in Education and an EdD begins with knowing what distinguishes these two doctoral degree programs.

According to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, education is one of the most important forces behind positive human development.* For those who care about our future and our ability to improve the world, few professions offer as many opportunities to effect positive change. If you want to play an important role in improving our world’s future through education, earning a terminal degree in the field can help you achieve your goals.

The question is: which terminal education degree is right for you? Both a PhD in Education and a Doctor of Education (EdD) can help advance your career, but they have different focuses and can lead to different roles. If you’re trying to decide between these two degree programs, the following information can help.

PhD in Education vs. EdD: What’s the Difference?

How the Degrees Differ

At the most basic level, PhD in Education programs prepare you to conduct research, while EdD programs prepare you to apply research to an educational setting. Students in PhD in Education programs focus on developing theories and research, with the goal of expanding knowledge in the field of education. These students work on mastering the skills necessary to develop theories, test those theories, and confirm the validity of those theories.

Students in EdD programs, by contrast, focus on solving problems within the practice of education. To do this, they work on acquiring the tools and skills necessary to use research—both their own and that of others—to improve educational practices and outcomes in a specific setting.

How You Will Earn Your Degree

As with many terminal degrees, both a PhD in Education and an EdD will require you to complete a capstone project. For a PhD in Education, most degree programs will ask you to write a dissertation that seeks to fill a gap in knowledge within the education literature. This will be an original contribution to the study of education and will provide empirical data used by practitioners to solve problems that exist within a broad academic field.

Many EdD programs, on the other hand, give you the option of completing a dissertation or a doctoral study. For either option, you will identify a unique problem of practice that has not yet been addressed. Your work will center on examining that unique problem, considering solutions, and presenting your findings.

Career Options

One way to think about the career differences between the PhD in Education and the EdD is to focus on the expectations for the capstone project.

  • For a PhD, you want your findings to be generalizable across an academic field.
  • For an EdD, you want your findings focused on a specific problem of practice.

These differences are evident in the career options for each degree.

Most of those earning a PhD in Education pursue a career in research or academia. They take on study-based roles and do not typically work in administrative or other oversight positions. In contrast, most of those who earn an EdD pursue leadership roles both inside and outside traditional educational settings. Common careers for those with an EdD include administrator in a K–12 or higher education setting, training supervisor for businesses, policy maker, and educational program director.

Where to Find the Right Degree Program for You

Whether you already work in education or are thinking of moving into the field from another career, your current job and commitments your current job and commitments can make attending a traditional, campus-based program difficult. However, online EdD programs and online PhD in Education programs enable you to participate in classes when and where it’s convenient for you. There is no need to move or leave your job, which makes the online option an excellent choice if you want to earn your degree without significantly disrupting your life.

Walden University is an NCATE-accredited institution offering a variety of education degrees, including an online EdD program and an online PhD in Education program. Expand your career options and earn your degree in a convenient, flexible format that fits your busy life.

*United Nations Global Education First Initiative, Statement from the Secretary-General, September 2012, on the Internet at

†Career options may require additional experience, training, or other factors beyond the successful completion of this degree program.

Walden University is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). This accreditation covers initial teacher preparation programs and advanced educator preparation programs. As a recognized standard of excellence in professional education for the preparation of teachers, administrators, and other preK–12 school professionals, NCATE accreditation ensures that the institution has met rigorous national standards set by the profession and members of the public. However, the accreditation does not include individual education courses offered to preK–12 educators for professional development, relicensure, or other purposes.

Walden offers both state-approved educator licensure programs as well as programs and courses that do not lead to licensure or endorsements. Prospective students must review their state licensure requirements prior to enrolling. For more information, please refer to

Prospective Alabama students: Contact the Teacher Education and Certification Division of the Alabama State Department of Education at 1-334-242-9935 or to verify that these programs qualify for teacher certification, endorsement, and/or salary benefits.

Prospective Washington state students are advised to contact the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction at 1-360-725-6275 or [email protected] to determine whether Walden’s programs in the field of education are approved for teacher certification or endorsements in Washington state. Additionally, teachers are advised to contact their individual school district as to whether this program may qualify for salary advancement.