10 Different Elements of an EdD vs. a PhD

There are a multitude of professions available in the realm of education. Which degree you should pursue depends on the position and career you want to have. Depending on your career goals, you can select either a Doctor of Education (EdD) degree or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree.

To earn either of these qualifications, you must first possess a master’s degree in education. Then, you can determine which degree to go for – an EdD or a PhD. Consider their differences to help determine which one will be the most suitable for you to reach your career objectives.

How to choose between an EdD vs. a PhD

When it’s time to decide which program track is right for you, here are some ways to choose between an EdD and a PhD.

  1. Understand which career path you prefer

Choosing between an EdD and a PhD depends on personal preference and whether or not you want to pursue a highly specialized career. An EdD provides an opportunity to work with organizations and develop your professional network, so it may be the best option if you want to become a leader in your field. 

On the other hand, a PhD provides the opportunity for more in-depth research and could serve as a stepping stone to a career in academia. Ultimately, this decision comes down to your career goals and what kind of learning experience you want to pursue.

  1. Focus and follow your passion

Focused passion for a particular field of study or career path is the best way to choose between an EdD and a PhD. If you are passionate about teaching, then the EdD is likely the better choice.

An EdD will allow you to focus on developing your educational leadership and research skills while preparing you to become an effective teacher, administrator and educational leader. 

The educational experience of an EdD will provide you with practical and relevant educational strategies and insight. In contrast, the PhD is the better choice if you are passionate about research. 

A PhD will provide you with the opportunity to focus on specialized research that has real-world implications and applications. This research experience equips you with the skills and knowledge you need to engage in complex research projects and to understand the complexities of an ever-evolving research field. 

In both cases, following your interests and selecting a program that best meets your needs is what’s important.

  1. Research programs that offer each degree

The EdD or PhD are both terminal degrees; usually, the EdD is a more applied degree, whereas the PhD emphasizes research and theory. When choosing between the two, there are a few things to consider. 

First, it is important to look at the school’s program requirements and determine which degree type best fits your needs. Secondly, you should consider the research and the theoretical knowledge you would need for each degree. 

The EdD usually requires less research-intensive work than the PhD, so you should plan for this when deciding. 

  1. Compare the coursework of each program

The main point of comparison between the EdD and PhD programs is in the coursework. PhD programs usually require more courses focused on research, advanced skills and a dissertation. 

EdD programs, on the other hand, usually have fewer research courses, a capstone project instead of a dissertation and more courses dedicated to the practical application of the material taught.

In addition, the course content in EdD programs is often focused more on educational leadership, management and instructional design. 

When deciding between EdD and PhD programs, be sure to carefully consider what type of coursework and skills you wish to pursue. Depending on the end goal, one program may be better suited for your career path.

  1. Take a look at specialization tracks

When choosing between an EdD and a PhD, look at specialization tracks and evaluate your individual needs and goals. While both doctorate degrees offer the same qualifications of advanced knowledge, they each offer different concentrations that can be tailored to individual career paths. 

For example, the EdD focuses on educational research and practice, while PhD programs often prepare graduates for academia, research and consulting careers.

Before deciding which option to pursue, research each degree program’s specialization tracks and discuss your career plans with an experienced academic advisor to determine which degree best fits your goals.

  1. Estimate your time commitment

Determining the time commitment when choosing between an EdD and a PhD program will help prospective students decide which program is best suited for their goals, schedule and lifestyle. 

When estimating the time commitment, consider the duration of the programs and the flexibility of the program schedules. You should also look at the types of courses and requirements as well as the time spent on research, writing and other activities associated with completing the degree program. 

This can help you decide which program best fits you and ensure you can adequately commit the time and effort needed for successful completion.

  1. Trust your gut

Trusting your gut is an expression used to emphasize the importance of listening to one’s intuition or inner voice when making decisions. This expression suggests that although consultation with experts and outside sources can be valuable, nothing is better than relying on one’s feelings or impression. 

By trusting your intuition or “gut feeling,” you can gain clarity and assurance regarding your decision and can make a choice that will be the most personally satisfying.

  1. Imagine your day-to-day with both degrees 

What you want to do with your career and what kind of lifestyle you want to lead are important considerations. With an EdD, you would likely pursue a career in education or a related field such as public administration or policy making. You would work in a position that requires more of a teaching and instructional role than research. 

With a PhD, you’d focus more on research activities. Your daily activities may involve writing grants, designing and carrying out research projects, presenting your findings and writing and publishing articles. 

Ultimately, decide which degree best fits your goals, interests and lifestyle. Consider how much hands-on involvement in the classroom you want and the career path you’d like to pursue.

Compare the different elements of an EdD vs. a PhD

There are some marked differences between an EdD and a PhD, including the following:

  • Duration

A typical EdD degree program is usually between two and four years, while a PhD program typically takes five to seven years to complete. The time frame for both degrees depends on the field of study, the program’s offering and the student’s progress. 

Generally speaking, a doctoral degree requires more coursework, deeper research and more additional clinical hours than an EdD program. The EdD degree may also require an applied research project or thesis; graduates may need advanced data analysis and program evaluation knowledge. 

Conversely, PhD programs emphasize independent research and producing a dissertation based on the findings. 

Rockhurst University has all the answers for those who have questions about the duration of an EdD vs. PhD. The university provides a learning experience rooted in Jesuit values, centered on academic excellence and empowered by diverse experiences and a commitment to leadership and service. Its programs equip students with the knowledge and skills to serve the world’s diverse populations. 

  • Admission standards

Admission standards for an EdD program and a PhD program are typically different. Generally, admission to a PhD program is more competitive, as the programs typically involve more extensive academic research and dissertation writing than EdD programs. 

For admission to an EdD program, a potential student must pass a series of evaluations, including an assessment of academic records and standardized test scores. A PhD program typically demands more in terms of academic preparation and qualifications. 

To join a PhD program, potential students must show evidence of their past scholarly work and research interests. Additionally, PhD programs often require writing samples and interviews. 

Both EdD and PhD programs assess a potential student’s past academic achievements, research potential, interest in the program and commitment to completing the degree.

  • Coursework

Coursework is a key element of the education process for an EdD and a PhD. However, the two have significant differences regarding the kinds of coursework required and the focus.

In an EdD program, coursework primarily centers on applying practical knowledge to real-world problems. Students will learn to develop theoretical frameworks that solve real-world problems and design solutions to improve the lives of those within their focus areas. 

Coursework typically covers subjects related to the field the student is specializing in, such as education leadership, management, evaluation and research methodology. In some EdD programs, students may also pursue additional elective coursework in fields related to their area of focus.

In contrast, PhD coursework traditionally focuses mainly on research methods, methodology and the development of theories. Coursework is often tailored more towards deepening the student’s academic knowledge rather than creating practical outcomes.

The topics may include statistics, scientific writing, ethics, literature review and quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

  • Qualifying exam

A qualifying exam is a requirement for many doctoral programs. While it may form part of the admissions process, it is usually part of a doctoral student’s progress through the degree program.

Qualifying exams assess a doctoral student’s academic knowledge in their chosen field. The exam consists of a written test and an oral presentation, with experts from the student’s research area assessing the student’s performance. After that, they determine if they are suitable to progress to the dissertation phase of their doctoral program.

While qualifying exams have long been part of doctoral programs, they are not traditionally part of an EdD program. EdD programs are often more practically focused and geared towards the professional development of educational professionals. 

They prioritize the practical application of knowledge to solve problems in the educational environment over theoretical knowledge. As such, EdD students generally can skip taking a qualifying exam.

  • Dissertation

A dissertation is a major research paper typically required to complete a doctoral degree. It is an essential element of the Doctor of Education and Philosophy programs. However, the approach to writing one and the expectations for the content may vary.

For an EdD program, a dissertation typically focuses on a practical problem within the field of education and requires the student to produce a viable solution to the problem. Emphasis is placed on implementing theoretical concepts and improving understanding and practice of educational processes.

For a PhD program, a dissertation typically has an academic or theoretical focus and requires the student to produce an original contribution to knowledge in the field. Emphasis is placed on research design, theoretical frameworks and the critical analysis of established ideas.

  • Residency

Residency is a different element of an EdD compared to a PhD because residency helps the EdD student gain hands-on experience with practicing professionals in real-world settings. This experience allows them to observe and work within the field to help develop the educational foundation needed for practice. 

Additionally, programs may require EdD students to pass the Comprehensive Qualifying Examination (CQE). The CQE assesses their academic skills to become qualified as practicing educational experts. 

A PhD typically does not require a residency, nor does it involve real-world education on the part of the student. The research component of the PhD process is typically comprised of dissertation writing, and students work closely with a faculty mentor who guides them through the research process.

  • Job placement

An EdD is intended as an educational degree focused on preparing holders to pursue careers as school administrators, directors and other educational policy positions.

As such, job placement is generally focused on securing entry-level administrative or director positions, and PhD programs may provide resources and guidance for job placement along these lines. 

On the other hand, obtaining a PhD does not necessarily lead to a similar job as an EdD. In most cases, PhD programs focus on research and the development of intellectual skills, and job placement assistance usually needs to be more formalized and tailored to the individual student’s goals. 

The job placement advice PhD programs offer usually provides resources, such as professional development workshops, career counseling and assistance drafting resumes and cover letters.

Ultimately, both EdDs and PhDs provide an avenue for achieving greater career success, but the type of assistance in job placement differs depending on the degree program.

  • Program flexibility

Program flexibility refers to the different elements of an EdD program vs. a PhD program. An EdD program is typically more structured and focused on the student developing practical skills and knowledge to apply to a specific field. 

This focus on practical skills and knowledge makes it easier for students to understand how to apply their learning to a particular career. In addition, EdD programs often allow students to customize their coursework to match their individual goals or interests. 

In contrast, a PhD program is typically more research-focused and academic-driven, typically specializing in an area and conducting rigorous research to become an expert in that field. While PhD programs allow for the customization of some coursework, the overall focus is on producing original research. 

The added structure and focus on research and theory make applying a PhD program to a specific career more challenging.

  • Placements and internships

Placement is different because EdDs are generally focused on professional practice and placing students in jobs or helping them build the skills they need to progress within the professional world or a specific field. 

In contrast, PhDs are academic programs focused on theoretical and research-based training, with internships and placements providing an opportunity for students to get practical experience. 

Because EdDs focus on professional practice, placements are integral. EdD students will gain experience, sharpen their skills and identify insights for their professional development.

On the other hand, students in PhD programs often gain experience in an academic setting, such as a research lab, as part of their work.

  • Post-graduate opportunities

Post-graduate opportunities are different for an EdD vs. a PhD because they are catered to the intended audience of each degree holder. An EdD is typically a professional terminal degree program designed for those working in education who wish to pursue leadership roles. A PhD is a research degree focusing more on theoretical and methodological research in education and other disciplines. 

For EdD holders, post-graduate opportunities usually involve opportunities in senior leadership roles in educational organizations. In contrast, post-graduate opportunities for PhD holders may involve faculty or academic research positions, administrative roles or other research settings.

Final thoughts

Whether you pursue a Doctor of Education degree or a Doctor of Philosophy degree, you will make an important life decision. Both of these academic paths can lead to various positions in the field of education.

EdDs are designed with an emphasis on applied research, making them an ideal choice for those seeking administrative or executive-level positions in business. PhDs provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to pursue a career in academia and research.

Once you are aware of your ambitions in terms of a career, deciding between an EdD and a PhD becomes much more straightforward.


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