Earning an Online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Curriculum and instruction has grown into one of the hottest areas of education in the past decade. As states and schools attempt to transform and improve their educational systems, they need specialists in the area of curriculum development. Contemporary technologies are spawning new educational methods that require leaders to direct them, and teachers and administrators are retiring en masse across the country, creating opportunities for new school leaders. Professions such as instructional coordinator and postsecondary administrator have a high job growth rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Online doctorate in curriculum and instruction programs provide an ideal way to take advantage of these opportunities. They allow you to switch careers and add a distinguished credential or specialization to your resume, and almost always lead to bigger paychecks. These online Ed.D. programs provide an ideal way to advance your career while continuing to teach. Read on to learn all you need to know about online Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction programs. Topics addressed include where to find grants and scholarships, possible career paths, admission requirements, and ways to network once you have earned your degree.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction?

People enroll in online Ph.D. programs in curriculum and instruction for a variety of reasons, but many have a background as a working teacher and want to expand their job options. They know that online programs allow them to continue teaching in the classroom and earn a degree in their spare time. They might want to move into an administrative position at school, or they could have an interest in adding a specialty to their resume. Others might have just finished a master's or bachelor's program in education and see a doctorate as a way of advancing their career.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction?

Pursuing Specialization

Online doctorate in curriculum and instruction programs provide an ideal way to specialize in a particular area of education. Common concentrations in curriculum and instruction include language, leadership and administration, STEM disciplines, literacy, elementary education, and technology. Adding a specialization to your repertoire increases your chances of earning positions that interest you the most, and allows you to focus on the aspects of the field that you enjoy.

Career Advancement Opportunities

A Ph.D. automatically places you in the top bracket within the field of education. Terminal degrees distinguish you among your peers and usually lead to upper-level or administrative positions at schools and other agencies. They also result in more responsibility, higher pay, and the opportunity to make the big decisions. If you aspire to a leadership role in education, a doctorate is a giant leap in the right direction.

Online Learning Technology

Getting your doctorate in curriculum and instruction puts you at the forefront when it comes to new technologies in schools. In an online program, you use the newest and latest applications and pick up skills that you can utilize in your day-to-day work. You gain experience and expertise in the same technologies that schools are currently using to revitalize education.

Prerequisites for Online Curriculum and Instruction Programs

Online doctoral programs in curriculum and instruction have several prerequisites that you must meet before you can enroll. These include things such as degrees, work experience, and individual classes.

  • Work Experience: Many universities design their online doctorate in curriculum and instruction for working teachers. Some schools require that students bring three years of classroom experience, and others specify as many as five years of teaching experience. A handful of universities accept students right out of master's programs, but usually require you to log a certain number of professional hours before you can graduate. Many schools set their programs up for integration with a student's current teaching job.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Commonly known as the GRE, the graduate record examination sets the standard for admission to graduate-level college programs. Most colleges want to see your scores at least prior to a master's program. Many students apply to doctoral programs after they've completed a master's, and some schools simply look at previous college transcripts. Those schools that require you to submit scores typically want to see a 292 or better on the combined GRE, though some offer the Miller Analogies Test as an alternate, and usually require a minimum score of 397. Most schools require recent scores from the past five years.
  • Recommendations: Most colleges use letters of recommendation in the admissions process for online Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction programs. Schools rely on these notes from professors and employers to attest to your character and ability to complete the program. These programs generally ask you to submit at least two letters, and some specify whether they should come from people who know you academically or professionally.
  • Essays: Personal statements or letters of intent are key components in most doctoral admissions. Schools want to hear why you think you are a good fit for their program and see that you can write well and communicate your thoughts clearly. Most ask you to write about 1,000 words on your experience, goals, and aspirations.
  • Interviews: If schools like what they see from your application packet, many will ask for an interview. This might require a visit to campus, though many schools conduct interviews through video conferencing. In some cases, doctoral admissions boards ask you to make a presentation of your previous experience or a past project. Most, however, just want to see that you can put on a professional face and comport yourself well.
  • International Students: Students studying abroad are often required to submit additional materials, including English language proficiency test results. Sometimes universities will ask for financial information, and occasionally will require a course-by-course evaluation of your transcript by a recognized outside agency if you attended college overseas.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction?

Graduates of online Ed.D. programs work in elementary and secondary school systems, teaching; supervising; consulting; and guiding students, parents, and teachers. They find jobs at universities in research, administration, and in classrooms, and often work for themselves as freelancing consultants. Because of the diverse nature of these careers, salary potential and median annual pay differs. However, doctoral level positions sit at the high-end of most salary scales, so graduates can expect to make anywhere from $65,000-$100,000 a year.

Traditional Careers for Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators work for schools and school systems, developing curriculums and overseeing educational standards. They work with school administrators to ensure that the school meets its goals and objectives, and often organize and run teacher workshops, select textbooks and test services, and mentor individual teachers.

Ideal for: Creative, highly organized people with strong management and communications skills. Strategic and critical-thinking skills help.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

Colleges and universities employ postsecondary education administrators in a variety of departments. They run registrar's offices, work in student services, oversee faculty research, and manage educational departments.

Ideal for: Motivated individuals with leadership ability, an aptitude for organization, and people-management skills.

University Professor

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

College professors teach classes at the postsecondary level. They instruct and advise students, create courses, run academic departments at universities, and usually conduct research and write for publication.

Ideal for: People who love academics and have patience, public speaking skills, research ability, and strong organizational skills.

Curriculum Director

Median Pay: $73,058

Job Growth: N/A

Curriculum directors develop and oversee curriculums and teaching standards at all levels of education. They often work for school systems, planning and implementing educational guidelines. They might run workshops for teachers, hire instructors, and mentor teachers. They work toward long-term goals with educational administrators.

Ideal for: Strategic individuals with management skills, critical thinking ability, communication skills, and problem-solving aptitude.

Nontraditional Careers for Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Educational Consultant

Median Pay: $62,460

Job Growth: N/A

Educational consultants work for school districts and universities planning and directing the educational paths of students. They work with teachers and parents to prepare students for college, and oversee testing and financial aid planning.

Ideal for: Individuals with people skills, strategic thinking ability, and problem-solving and communication skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

Many students in online Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction programs find creative ways to pay for their education. Some learners enroll in accelerated sessions, which allows them to graduate quicker. Others take on fellowships or teaching assistantships to help defray costs. Many organizations sponsor scholarships and grants specifically for graduate-level teaching programs. Often the best place to start is with a financial adviser at the college or university you wish to attend.

Tuition Timelines

Every university sets up its online Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction differently, but most share commonalities. In most cases you can find part-time or full-time options that follow the traditional semester schedule. Some, allow you to enroll in accelerated programs where you proceed on your own time frame.

Part-Time Path

Many online doctorate in curriculum and instruction programs allow you to attend part time. These work well for a lot of students who will be working while attending courses. Most universities build their schedules around typical school years so teachers can advance their careers while continuing to teach in the classroom.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Florida
Pace: 6 Credits / 2 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: 8
Summary: Designed for working teachers, the University of Florida's doctorate in education is cohort based. The school built the program for completion in four years, meaning eight semesters of study. Some students take longer and must join a different cohort to finish. The typical degree candidate has already taken 30 credits at the graduate level and can finish the required coursework in eight semesters. Assuming this is the case, the program would cost roughly $38,000. The University of Florida does not lock down tuition, and costs could rise.

Full-Time Path

Full-time degrees require you to focus almost entirely on school and can make it difficult to hold down a full-time job at the same time. Most require you to take four classes per semester, which is a rigorous workload.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Virginia
Total Credits Required: 72 credits
Online Tuition Cost: $500 per credit hour
Pace: 12 Credits / 4 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: 6
Summary: The doctor of education program at the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education generally takes full-time students three years to complete. At 72 credits, the total cost comes to $36,000. The university changes its tuition fee structure on an annual basis, so costs will likely rise during a doctoral program. Students must enroll in consecutive fall and spring semesters or petition for a leave of absence.

Accelerated Path

Though not as common, you can find some accelerated options for a doctorate in curriculum and instruction online. These fast-paced programs allow you to take classes in eight-week sessions. Because they do not take as long, they can offer a cheaper alternative pathway.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Louisiana Monroe
Total Credits Required: 60 credits
Online Tuition Cost: $500
Pace: 18 Credits / 6 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: 4
Summary: Because of its eight-week sessions, the University of Louisiana Monroe's program in curriculum and instruction requires as few as two years to complete. The university advertises the total cost at $30,000, which makes it a more affordable online doctorate in curriculum and instruction than many of its competitors.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Getting your doctorate represents the most expensive form of education and generally requires years of schooling. Thankfully, many organizations offer grants, scholarships, and fellowships that make paying for an online Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction more manageable.

What to Expect from an Online Curriculum and Instruction Doctoral Program

Doctoral programs vary in length and requirements, but most share common trends. The time it takes to graduate differs, depending upon whether you enroll full time, which might take three years, or part time, which can take 6-7 years. Most programs involve at least 60 credits, while many make you earn up to 72. They generally all feature some sort of practicum or internship in classrooms and usually require a large project, such as a dissertation and culminating exams.

Major Milestones

  1. Specialization Declared

    Most doctoral programs in curriculum and instruction allow you to concentrate your studies in a particular area. Students generally declare their specialization very early in their studies, often before they reach the Ph.D. level. Possible concentrations might include elementary education, administration, English, math, or science.

  2. Core Courses Completed

    Usually undertaken in the first two or three years, core courses typically account for about a third of the necessary credits. These are the basics upon which you will build the rest of the degree.

  3. Internship

    Many programs require doctoral candidates to complete a supervised internship. These give the student real-world experience in their field and often occur in the area of specialty. Some internships can be completed in a semester, while others take a year or more.

  4. Research

    Doctoral programs often build research into a student's curriculum. This typically begins at about the same time as the dissertation and leads into the production of the dissertation or major project.

  5. Dissertation Preparation

    Dissertations serve as the culminating project for many doctoral programs. They typically take years to complete, and a student's time of graduation generally revolves around the time it takes to write the dissertation.

  6. Dissertation Defense

    Most programs require students to present and defend their dissertation to a board of faculty members.

  7. Intention to Graduate, Exit Portfolio

    Many schools require students to declare their intention to graduate. Some also require that doctoral candidates prepare a professional portfolio to document a program's professional outcomes.


Every university takes its own approach to online curriculum and instruction Ph.D. programs. Differences in curriculums might come down to the student's chosen specialization or overall requirements, but there are often similar core courses. Some examples of these courses are listed below.

Introductory Statistics

Curriculum and instruction programs rely heavily on data. This course prepares you to deal with exploratory data analysis, graphical and numerical representation, and averages and norms.

Principles of Instruction

The essentials of pedagogy form the basis of this course. Research-based ideas on teaching, cognitive development and how students learn, effective instructional methods, and models of educational support are all covered.

Foundations of Research in Curriculum and Instruction

Modern teaching methods place a great deal of emphasis on research. Students learn how educational investigation informs the development of today's curriculum. They also pick up techniques to help them with the research required by a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Theories of Educational Leadership

Doctoral programs often lead to administrative or managerial positions. This course takes students through the many executive challenges facing today's educators. This evidence-based class emphasizes relationships, communication, and critical thinking.


Like most educational Ph.D. programs, curriculum and instruction requires the production of a dissertation. This course pairs a student with a faculty adviser who helps guide them through the process. The course usually repeats across several semesters and can account for as many as 12 credits.

Requirements to Practice

The two basic requirements for most of the careers that follow a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction are a teaching certificate and a master's degree. The degree itself simply distinguishes you among others who might apply to curriculum and instruction jobs. However, a few exceptions to this do exist. Some administrative positions in academia demand specialized credentials. To take a job as a superintendent or a principal, for example, you often need to hold certification in those fields. Likewise, it helps to have certification in areas like special education or technology if you want to work in those areas. Below, are some examples of licensure and certification that students can pursue depending on their chosen specialization and career goals.

  • Superintendent Licensure: The School Superintendents Association sponsors a superintendent certification that many school districts now require. Aimed at superintendents with fewer than seven years of experience, the 20-month program costs $6,000. It takes you through topics like transformational leadership, understanding equity, and instructional leadership. The program features mentorship opportunities and culminates in a capstone project. While not required everywhere, superintendent licensure distinguishes a resume.
  • Principal Licensure: No single organization sponsors a principal license. Most states handle licensing on their own, requiring candidates to pass proficiency exams. Many colleges and universities host non-degree licensure programs in coordination with their own state's requirements. Like superintendent licensure, these programs cost anywhere from $4,000-$6,000. They typically consist of about seven classes earned over the course of a couple years. In many places you can still serve as a principal without specific licensure, but it is becoming more common to require it.
  • Technology Certification: Schools are more frequently searching for educators who understand how to use technology effectively. Many colleges now offer certificates in instructional technology that work well in the field of curriculum and instruction. Most graduate-level certifications in the field require taking four or five courses.
  • Specialty Certification: You can find specialized certifications in a variety of educational fields that would enhance a curriculum and instruction Ph.D. These might include special education, elementary education, STEM education, and literacy. Like tech certification, colleges offer these specialized courses in small, nondegree programs.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Whether you are a recent graduate looking for a job or have already found a position in curriculum and instruction, professional organizations are invaluable resources. These associations of like-minded individuals provide networking opportunities. By joining, you can learn about better-fitting or higher-paying jobs, get tips from people doing the same work, or find a mentor. You can also learn about the latest news and trends in the field and discover opportunities for continuing education and professional development. Some organizations for those in the curriculum and instruction field are listed below.

  • American Association for Teaching and Curriculum: Founded in 1993 to promote curriculum and instruction as a scholarly discipline, the AATC now boasts members across the nation. The organization publishes a journal, hosts a conference, and maintains peer reviews and listservs for members.
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: An association dedicated to educational leadership, curriculum design, and effective teaching, the ASCD has more than 125,000 members in over 128 countries. The organization hosts a conference and other events, and advocates on behalf of educators. Members can find the latest news, jobs boards, and receive the ASCD journal.
  • American Educational Research Association: The AERA promotes scholarly inquiry in the field of education. They produce and disseminate research, provide fellowships, publish a journal, host conferences, and do advocacy work.
  • National Education Association: The NEA is the nation's largest professional organization. The massive nonprofit boasts 13 million members and works to strengthen the country's public educational system. Members can attend conferences and workshops, read publications, apply for grants, and network in the biggest teacher network there is.
  • National Council on Measurement in Education: A professional organization representing the educators who test, assess, and establish standards in education, the council publishes a journal and hosts a conference along with other events. Members have access to a career center and networking opportunities.
  • Coalition of Essential Schools: The CES advocates for an educational system that serves all students. The organization's site links to a bevy of resources for the development of unique curriculums.
  • Informal Science: Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, Informal Science links educators with resources to help develop intriguing STEM curriculums with opportunities for projects, research, and evaluations across various learning settings.
  • What Works Clearinghouse: A program of the Institute for Educational Science, the clearinghouse uses evidenced-based data to help focus what is and is not working in current education. The site brims with resources for math, literacy, science, special needs, and early childhood teachers. Sections on discipline, teacher excellence, charter schools, and pathways to graduation help educators develop curriculums based on what's actually working.
  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization: UNESCO sponsors a resource pack for curriculum development. A series of core modules is designed for educators interested in curriculum change and reform.