Earning an Online Doctorate in Education

Professionals who enroll in online education doctoral programs gain valuable skills and experience to advance their careers. With a doctorate, educators qualify for administrative and leadership roles in K-12 schools. They can also work as a professor, dean, or provost at a college or university. Additionally, the flexibility and accessibility of online programming makes it easier for educators to earn a degree while continuing to work.

This article explains the job growth potential for doctoral degree holders, the average salaries for common careers, and the requirements for earning an online doctorate in education. It also discusses some scholarship opportunities and professional resources for doctoral students in education.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Ph.D. in Education?

Prospective students consider online Ed.D. programs for a variety of reasons. Some exit their bachelor's or master's program in education and choose to improve their career outlook by immediately enrolling in a doctoral program. Other students work as educators for several years before pursuing a doctorate to specialize their knowledge and qualify for positions that require graduate degrees. Many working professionals pursue a doctorate to expand their career prospects and move into administrative positions.

Why Get a Ph.D. in Education?

Pursuing Specialization

Doctoral students conduct research in their specialization and complete a dissertation, becoming experts in their topic area. By specializing, graduates can work as college or university professors and teach classes in their subfield. Gaining advanced knowledge can also let doctors of education pursue administrative positions in K-12 education or higher education settings.

Career Advancement Opportunities

As the highest degree in education, a doctorate prepares students for the most advanced positions in the field. For example, many higher education professionals, including professors, deans, and provosts, hold a doctorate. The degree also helps educators advance their careers in K-12 education. Many of these career opportunities offer increased responsibility and higher salaries. Finally, candidates with a doctorate may perform better on the job market than candidates with a master's degree.

Online Learning Technology

Online doctoral students benefit from using the latest online learning technologies. In many positions, this experience directly translates to the workforce; educators rely on many communication technologies to perform their jobs. For example, doctors of education may oversee distance education programs or research online learning. Thus, gaining familiarity with online learning technologies serves as a form of professional development, which graduates can list on their resumes or CVs.

Prerequisites for Online Education Programs

Before applying to Ed.D. programs online, prospective students should carefully research each program's prerequisites and application process. This can help students narrow down their choices.

  • Work Experience: Some programs prefer to admit candidates who hold professional experience. For example, educators interested in becoming principals may need several years of prior experience as a teacher. Other specializations may not require work experience. In addition, programs may require students to hold a valid teaching license.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Online doctoral programs in education may require standardized exams, such as the GRE or MAT. They may also list minimum test scores to gain admission into the program. Some schools waive test score requirements for applicants with a master's degree or for students who meet a certain GPA cutoff. Most test scores remain valid for five years.
  • Coursework: Education doctoral programs may prefer candidates with a master's degree, and some allow candidates with a master's in education to transfer in credits that can be applied toward a doctorate. Most programs do not list specific prerequisite courses.
  • Recommendations: Doctoral programs often require 2-3 letters of recommendation, which affirm an applicant's ability to succeed at the doctoral level. These recommendations may come from a mix of academic and professional sources, such as previous principals or supervisors. Candidates should give their recommenders at least three weeks' notice.
  • Essays: Many programs require an essay or statement of purpose. The essay requirement may ask the applicant to explain their professional goals. Programs may also request an essay or writing sample to assess an applicant's analytical and writing abilities.
  • Interviews: Some programs conduct interviews with prospective students to determine their fit with the program and institution. Online applicants may participate in virtual interviews to learn more about a program and explain their interest in enrolling.
  • International Students: International students may need to provide TOEFL scores to demonstrate their English language proficiency. Programs might also request additional writing samples or an interview.

How Much Can I Make with a Ph.D. in Education?

Educators who earn a doctorate in education online commonly pursue careers as higher education administrators, K-12 principals, and college professors. In these growing fields, educators can earn salaries well above the national average. While the median annual wage for educators was roughly $49,000 in 2017, postsecondary education administrators and principals earned a median salary of more than $90,000 a year. In addition to traditional careers, education doctoral graduates can pursue several nontraditional career opportunities.

Traditional Careers for Education Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Instructional Coordinator

Median Pay: $63,750

Job Growth: 11%

Instructional coordinators work for schools or districts to design curricula and teaching standards that meet state regulations and learning objectives. They create instructional materials, help teachers implement curricula, and assess the effectiveness of curricula.

Ideal for: Educators with strong analytical skills who can act as leaders and decision makers within an educational organization.

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

Postsecondary education administrators may hold titles such as dean of admissions or director of student affairs. They oversee student services and academics at colleges and universities. Many academic deans hold prior experience as professors, and postsecondary education administrators benefit from holding a doctorate.

Ideal for: Organized educators with strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills.

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Median Pay: $94,390

Job Growth: 8%

A principal at the K-12 level oversees their school's operations, from daily activities to long-term plans. They supervise curriculum development, monitor teachers and staff members, and coordinate with superintendents and other principals in the district.

Ideal for: Educators with strong leadership and management skills who possess communication and decision-making abilities.

College or University Professor

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

College and university professors teach classes in their subject area, provide academic advising to students, and conduct research. They may also offer services to their institution by sitting on committees and holding administrative positions. Most college and university professors hold a doctorate.

Ideal for: Specialists in their field with strong critical thinking, public speaking, and interpersonal skills.

Nontraditional Careers for Education Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Educational Consultant

Median Pay: $62,460

Job Growth: N/A

Educational consultants work for educational institutions and students, assisting learners with their college applications, critiquing educational policies, and offering career advice. Many work as college consultants, helping students and parents plan postsecondary education pathways.

Ideal for: Educators with strong interpersonal and communication skills who possess extensive knowledge and experience in the education field.

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 13%

School counselors help students with academic, personal, and social growth. At the K-12 level, they assist students with personal and social issues, provide college counseling, and meet with parents to discuss problems.

Ideal for: Educators who work well with diverse groups and possess strong verbal communication and interpersonal skills.

Entrepreneur / Small Business Owner

Median Pay: Varies

Job Growth: N/A

Entrepreneurs sell products or offer services to businesses and other customers. As small business owners, BLS classifies entrepreneurs as self-employed -- a sector that makes up about 10% of the workforce. Small business owners must possess strong organizational skills and demonstrate a passion for their field.

Ideal for: Professionals with strong communication and time management skills who can multitask.

Library Director

Median Pay: $63,000

Job Growth: N/A

Library directors oversee daily and long-term operations at libraries. They set procedures at the library, hire and monitor staff members, and ensure the smooth operation of the facility. Library directors may work at public libraries, academic libraries, or other private libraries.

Ideal for: Organized professionals with library experience and leadership skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Projections Central, 2017-2018

Paying for a Doctorate in Education Online

Prospective students considering online doctoral programs in education commonly pay for their degree with a mix of savings, loans, grants, and scholarships. The cost of a doctorate varies depending on the program, the total number of required credits, and the student's enrollment status. Before applying to programs, individuals should research the total cost of the degree, including fees and additional expenses. Scholarships and grants for education doctoral students can help cover degree costs.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Students earning an online doctorate in education may qualify for grants, scholarships, and/or other forms of financial support. These opportunities may provide thousands of dollars toward a doctoral degree.

What to Expect from an Online Ed.D. Program

Ed.D. online programs typically include about two years of coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. While completing coursework, doctoral students build skills and knowledge in their field through a virtual classroom experience. This format may incorporate lectures, assigned readings, discussion boards, and interactions with other doctoral students. Most students complete their degree in 3-5 years, depending on their enrollment status and course load.

Major Milestones

  1. Admissions

    During the admissions process, prospective doctoral students submit transcripts, essays, and letters of recommendation. After gaining admission, students may complete an orientation, meet with prospective advisers, and declare their focus area before beginning coursework.

  2. Coursework

    Most doctoral programs feature two years of coursework, including classes on educational theory, curriculum design, and data analysis. Coursework prepares doctoral students to complete a dissertation in their research area.

  3. Comprehensive Examinations

    Many doctoral programs include comprehensive and/or qualifying exams once a graduate student completes curricular requirements. Examinations ensure that a doctoral student possesses the necessary skills to complete a dissertation.

  4. Dissertation Proposal

    Doctoral candidates must write a dissertation proposal outlining their research question and methodology. A dissertation committee, led by the student's adviser, must approve the proposal before the doctoral candidate can begin working on their dissertation.

  5. Dissertation Defense

    After researching and writing a dissertation, doctoral candidates must defend their dissertation before a faculty committee. The defense may involve a public presentation of the student's research.

  6. Graduation

    Doctoral students may need to file an intent to graduate during their final semester, which includes forms indicating they passed their dissertation defense. After meeting the graduation requirements, doctoral candidates earn their degrees.


Although the curriculum for an online doctorate in education varies depending on the school, many programs share common classes. The following list provides a sample of courses typically offered by doctoral programs in education.

Teaching and Learning

Doctoral students examine the psychology behind learning. This course may examine individual versus group learning, the role of teachers in facilitating learning, and learning assessments for students of different ages.

Advanced Curriculum Design

Advanced courses in curriculum design introduce doctoral students to research related to best practices in designing curricula, including meeting learning standards, assessment design, and curriculum implementation.

Principles and Practices of Learning

Students explore various theories of how people learn, both inside and outside the classroom. Participants may also examine how to apply learning theories. Doctoral students then use these theories to design curricula and conduct research on learning.

Analytics in Education

Analytics courses train doctoral students to incorporate data analysis into education, conduct research, and interpret the results. This class may also examine the relationship between analytics and educational policy.

Leadership in Education

Doctoral students learn about the theory and practice of educational leadership. This course may cover designing educational policies, implementing strategic plans, and acting as an ethical leader within an educational system.

Licenses and Certifications

Earning an online doctorate in education prepares students for careers as teachers, administrators, and superintendents at the K-12 level. Graduates may also pursue work as deans, provosts, and administrators in higher education. Many of these positions set additional requirements to practice, including earning an administrator license or accruing a certain amount of professional experience. Because the specific requirements vary depending on the position and employer, prospective doctoral students should research the requirements in their desired field. These requirements may be mandatory or suggested, depending on the position.

  • Teaching License: Educators who work in the classroom with children may need a teaching license. In most states, teaching licenses require a degree from an approved educator preparation program, passing scores on teaching and content area examinations, and a successful background check.
  • Administrator License: Principals and other school administrators may need an administrator license from the state. This license may be called a principal license, an administrator license, or a superintendent license. Candidates typically need an accredited graduate degree, passing scores on an administrator examination, and a successful background check.
  • Work Experience: Many administrative positions require work experience, which demonstrates proficiency in the field. For example, most principals work as teachers before moving into administration, and academic deans often work as professors prior to taking on an administrative role.
  • Accredited Doctorate: Employers typically require that candidates for leadership, administrative, and advanced positions hold an accredited doctoral degree. Accreditation demonstrates that a program follows the highest academic standards; accredited doctor of education online programs meet this requirement.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations connect educators with scholarly research in their field, provide networking opportunities, and offer professional development tools. Many educators benefit from joining professional organizations, which also support graduate students earning a doctorate in education online. Doctoral students can publish their research in professional journals, apply for awards, and receive scholarships from these organizations. These organizations can also help doctoral students find job opportunities and expand their professional network.

  • National Education Association: With over three million members, NEA represents more educators than any other professional organization. NEA publishes research, hosts conferences and networking events, and provides professional development resources.
  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development: ASCD offers resources related to curriculum design, training tools (such as webinars), and research on education. The association also hosts conferences and events that offer networking opportunities.
  • American Association of University Professors: An association for postsecondary educators, AAUP publishes standards for the profession, promotes academic freedom, and offers publications and reports online. The association also grants awards to exceptional leaders in the field.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals: Elementary and middle school principals benefit from joining NAESP, which dates back to 1921. The association offers professional development tools, member benefits, and awards.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals: NASSP offers networking opportunities to high school principals through events and conferences. The association also grants awards and provides online professional development tools.
  • American Educational Research Association: AERA publishes books, journals, and scholarships on education. The association also publishes education research on its website and provides professional development tools.
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation: CAEP accredits educator preparation programs and online doctorate in education programs. The site also provides information about the accreditation status of different programs.
  • Educational Leadership: Published by ASCD, this resource contains scholarly articles on education, administration, and teaching. Each edition follows a theme, and professional educators can contribute pieces to the journal.
  • Phi Delta Kappa: A professional association for educators, PDK publishes a magazine, offers professional learning opportunities, and grants scholarships to graduate students in education. The organization also promotes research and best practices in the field.
  • U.S. Department of Education - State Contacts: This site provides a list of resources for educators, including information about state departments of education, higher education agencies, and teacher licensing resources for each state.