Earning an Online Doctorate in Reading and Literacy

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately one-third of American adults held at least a bachelor's degree in 2015. However, only 12% of these individuals held a master's degree or higher. Earning an advanced degree can help job seekers stand out from competition.

Aspiring literacy professionals begin their training with an undergraduate degree, and professionals may increase their employment opportunities by obtaining an online reading doctorate.

This guide covers career and salary expectations, program curricula, licenses and certifications, professional resources, typical tuition costs, and financial aid opportunities for students pursuing a literacy doctorate.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Doctorate in Reading and Literacy?

Typical candidates for an online doctorate in literacy education program include recent graduates of bachelor's programs and current professionals who want to advance in the field. Working professionals may also benefit from the flexible scheduling options offered by online programs, which enable learners to pursue a doctoral degree while still fulfilling personal responsibilities. Individuals also attend reading doctoral programs to qualify for licensure or certification that requires an advanced degree.

Some literacy doctoral programs provide the option to work toward a certificate and degree simultaneously. Learners who do not complete all requirements for a doctorate may still earn a certificate.

Why Get a Doctorate in Reading and Literacy?

Pursuing Specialization

Students in literacy doctorate programs can specialize in a concentration such as teaching, educational leadership, special education, or English as a second language (ESL). These focus areas prepare learners for careers in the literacy field and in other disciplines. For example, a concentration in special education prepares learners to assist special needs individuals inside and outside of classrooms, and an emphasis in educational leadership can also help graduates lead non-educational companies. Candidates pursuing an online doctorate in literacy education should choose a specialization relevant to their prospective career.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Pursuing further education can lead to advanced positions with more responsibilities and higher earning potentials. According to World Education Services, doctorate holders in education earn 24% more than education professionals with a master's degree. Additionally, over their lifetime, doctorate holders in the field earn more than $1 million more than workers with only a bachelor's degree. Additional credentials, such as a reading specialist certification, often require advanced degrees.

Online Learning Technology

Literacy education often involves the use of technology, such as digital reading tools, and literacy educators may use phonics applications, ebooks, and literacy videos on computers and smartphones. Educators may also use interactive whiteboards to help learners visualize language. Students pursuing an online doctorate in literacy education gain technology skills applicable to a variety of industries.

Prerequisites for Online Reading and Literacy Programs

Students should review admission requirements to ensure their background meets a prospective school's standards and prepare all necessary materials before the application deadline. The list below includes common admission requirements for online doctorate in literacy education programs.

  • Work Experience: Programs may require applicants to have a certain amount of work experience. Professional experience demonstrates a candidate's ability to succeed in the field and their passion for literacy. Some schools also offer credit for professional experience. However, not all online doctorate in literacy education programs require applicants to hold work experience.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Applicants to some literacy doctoral programs must submit either MAT or GRE results. However, many programs do not set minimum score requirements. Additionally, departments may require scores from within the last five years. These scores illustrate a candidate's performance in relation to other learners.
  • Coursework: To pursue an online doctorate in literacy education, candidates typically need to hold a master's degree. Candidates may also need a minimum GPA -- often 3.0 or higher. These requirements demonstrate an applicant's ability to succeed in a higher education setting.
  • Recommendations: Applicants to literacy doctoral programs may need to submit as many as three recommendation letters. Recommenders should be faculty members, employers, and/or community leaders who can speak to an applicant's positive attributes. Students should give letter writers ample notice to prepare recommendations.
  • Essays: Applicants to reading doctoral programs often need to submit essays. Schools may provide essay prompts or ask learners to write a statement of purpose detailing personal goals. These documents help programs review each applicant's values and writing skills. Students may also need to provide writing samples.
  • Interviews: Some programs require applicants to undergo an interview in person, over the phone, or through online video conferencing. Schools that require this step typically only interview candidates who pass initial screenings. However, few literary doctoral programs require interviews.
  • International Students: International applicants may need to take an English competency examination, such as the TOEFL or IELTS. This requirement typically only applies to candidates who do not speak English as their native language.

How Much Can I Make with a Doctorate in Reading and Literacy?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers for professionals with an Ed.D. in reading and literacy frequently pay more than $50,000 per year. Among the most lucrative positions, postsecondary teachers earn a median salary of $76,000 per year, while instructional coordinators earn a median annual salary of $63,750. Traditionally, literacy graduates pursue careers in education. However, literacy doctoral degree holders can qualify for positions in other fields. For example, graduates may work at literacy summer camps or help non-native speakers read and write English.

Many companies value employees with the skills developed by literacy programs. For example, literacy students often gain skills related to leadership, research, and cultural awareness, which prove useful in a variety of industries.

Traditional Careers for Reading and Literacy Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Postsecondary Education Administrators

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10.1%

Postsecondary education administrators may work in specific departments, such as the registrar's office, student affairs, or admissions. Responsibilities of these professionals vary by department. For example, an admissions administrator may help choose the number of accepted learners each year, while an administrator within the registrar's office may assist with graduation.

Ideal for: Organized individuals with strong communication and computer skills.

Adult Literacy and High School Diploma Equivalency Teacher

Median Pay: $52,100

Job Growth: -5%

These teachers create and deliver lesson plans that prepare adults to earn high school equivalency credentials. Educators may also help learners gain skills necessary to obtain a job. Additional responsibilities might include recognizing learning disorders, altering lesson plans for individual classrooms, and helping adults develop effective study habits.

Ideal for: Patient individuals with cultural awareness and strong communication abilities.

College or University Professor

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary educators teach multiple courses within their field. These educators prepare lesson plans and give students feedback on assignments. They may also help students choose courses and provide input for program curricula.

Ideal for: Individuals with strong communication and organizational skills who hold a passion for teaching others.

Curriculum Director

Median Pay: $73,000

Job Growth: N/A

These directors create and oversee school curricula. They ensure curricula comply with state regulations, communicate with faculty, and assess program weaknesses. These professionals may also train faculty, hire employees, and inform teachers about current educational trends.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented individuals with leadership and communication skills.

Nontraditional Careers for Reading and Literacy Doctoral Degree Graduates

Career Stats Description

Educational Consultant

Median Pay: $62,460

Job Growth: N/A

Education consultants help learners pursue a higher education. These professionals may assist students with applications and career planning, help parents of special needs children choose the best school or program for their child, and assist schools with curriculum and training details.

Ideal for: Candidates willing to stay up-to-date on financial aid and college standards who also boast strong interpersonal skills.

Entrepreneur / Small Business Owner

Median Pay: $60,000

Job Growth: N/A

Small business owners oversee finances, employees, and company promotion, while ensuring compliance with relevant government standards. Owners create company policies and make decisions related to production, supplies, and staff.

Ideal for: Organized and financially responsible individuals with leadership abilities and excellent skills in their trade.

ESL Teacher

Median Pay: $41,000

Job Growth: N/A

ESL teachers provide English literacy education to individuals whose first language is not English. These educators may provide cultural guidance and create curricula. Additionally, they may assist ESL students in various subjects, such as science and history.

Ideal for: Patient individuals who communicate well and possess cultural sensitivity.

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

Paying for a Doctorate in Reading and Literacy Online

Students earning an online doctorate in literacy education should consider expenses like tuition, fees, and textbooks to ensure they pursue an education within their budget. Learners should also look into program timelines, which can impact cost. To reduce per-term expenses, students can choose a part-time program, although this decision may postpone graduation or lead to higher overall costs. Degree seekers can also apply for financial aid, including field-specific scholarships.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Learners can apply for financial aid to help pay for college expenses. These opportunities include scholarships reserved for literacy students, such as the following options.

What to Expect from an Online Doctorate in Reading and Literacy Program

Since each program explores a different combination of literacy concepts, curricula and graduation requirements vary between literacy doctoral programs. For example, some programs may examine social components of reading while others focus on typical reactions toward literature. However, most literacy programs typically cover curriculum instruction, historical and theoretical factors, leadership, and research. Students may also complete milestones such as dissertations and seminars. Program duration also varies based on requirements and format, although full-time candidates generally devote 2-3 years to earning a literacy doctorate.

Major Milestones

  1. Independent Study

    Learners work with faculty members to explore areas of personal interest. Independent study may require a research paper or project. Alternatively, it may focus on a student's dissertation topic.

  2. Seminar

    Online literacy doctorate programs often require participants to attend research-related seminars on topics such as literature reviews or dissertation proposals. Seminars may also address concepts such as literacy among specific groups.

  3. Internship

    Internships allow students to apply knowledge in practical settings by working with an organization in the field. Departments may ask to approve an internship location. Candidates can earn credit for internships, although some schools also require learners to complete a written assignment detailing their experience, such as an essay.

  4. Comprehensive Exam

    A comprehensive exam tests candidates on information covered throughout their program. The assessment may comprise an oral exam, written exam, paper, and/or portfolio. Students may need to complete the comprehensive exam before beginning their dissertation.

  5. Dissertation

    Dissertation work may extend over several semesters as students develop research questions, submit proposals, conduct research, and write papers that often exceed 200 pages. Students typically receive guidance from a faculty member and explore literacy topics of personal interest.

  6. Apply for Graduation

    To apply for graduation, candidates may need to fill out an application, submit a fee, take a survey, and/or submit a portfolio.


Curricula for online literacy doctorate degree tracks vary by institution. However, students typically complete coursework in classroom management, reading strategies, and literacy perspectives. The classes below represent common offerings in many reading doctoral programs.

Foundations of Literacy

Students examine core aspects of teaching children to read, such as phonics and factors that can complicate reading abilities. Learners study classroom strategies, technologies, and research tactics related to literacy education.

Developmental Reading

Students in this class examine reading comprehension tactics, phonics, and vocabulary. The course may feature children's stories and books and emphasize government standards for literacy education.

Research in Literacy

This course explores research steps, such as developing a question, choosing methodologies, and interpreting sources and results. Learners study modern trends in educational research and examine strategies for writing research pieces.

Literacy Curriculum

Participants review strategies to help learners improve reading skills. Coursework may focus on specific ages or grade levels, examining reasons students experience complications when learning to read.

Perspectives on Literacy

Students explore literacy research and research techniques. Topics often include theories and curriculum design, which learners explore from particular perspectives, such as historical or contemporary perspectives.

Licenses and Certifications

Certain literacy professions require candidates to obtain licensure or certification. Literacy careers may also require work experience or passing scores on specific exams. These credentials demonstrate advanced experience and knowledge in the field. Alternatively, many literacy careers do not require additional credentials or experience. Candidates should research specific requirements of entry-level positions for their chosen career.

  • Certified Structured Literacy Teacher: To earn this certification, candidates must pass the Knowledge and Practice Examination for Effective Reading Instruction (KPEERI). This computer-administered assessment comprises 100 multiple-choice questions and costs $150. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree to sit for the exam. This certification is well-suited for educators in traditional classrooms.
  • Structured Literacy/Dyslexia Interventionist: Depending on their other certifications, applicants may need to take the KPEERI exam to earn this credential. Candidates must complete at least 90 training hours and a practicum experience lasting at least two semesters. Applicants must also submit a practicum portfolio. A one-year certificate costs $125. This credential helps literacy professionals assist students with dyslexia.
  • Reading Specialist: Reading specialists often help develop district-wide reading curricula. To earn this certification, candidates must hold a teaching certificate, a master's degree in a related field, and relevant experience. Applicants must pass the Praxis exam for reading specialists, which costs $146 and lasts two hours.
  • Structured Literacy/Dyslexia Specialist: Some applicants may need to take the KPEERI exam, depending on their previous certifications. Candidates must complete a two-semester practicum -- including a portfolio -- and 135 training hours. The application fee is $150 for a one-year certificate.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations often host conferences and events that educate members on topics in the field and allow workers to network and collaborate. Members of these organizations may receive access to helpful resources, including current research and job boards. Some organizations offer continuing education courses and training that fulfill requirements for certifications and licenses. Professionals and students can improve their knowledge, build professional relationships, and advance their careers by joining professional associations.

  • Reading Rockets: This organization provides information related to teaching children how to read and delivers a reading course that explores various literacy concepts, including phonics and vocabulary. The organization also maintains a blog and provides recommended reading lists for educators and parents.
  • International Literacy Association: ILA hosts a conference and two-day intensives to help attendees improve their literacy education skills. The association provides links to resources, including reading recommendation lists, a literacy glossary, and journals.
  • National Center for Families Learning: NCFL offers a newsletter with resources related to family needs and early reading. The organization also hosts an annual conference and organizes training opportunities in family engagement and literacy education. Members can pursue a certificate in family literacy through Penn State.
  • ProLiteracy: ProLiteracy hosts an adult education conference and provides online classes and ESL tutor training. The organization also maintains a blog with literacy news, success stories, and articles exploring the impact of reading.
  • World Literacy Foundation: This organization combats illiteracy in the U.S., Africa, Australia, South America, and the United Kingdom. Professionals can volunteer with the foundation or support WLF by attending events, organizing book clubs, or speaking at local schools. The foundation's website provides information about literacy concepts.
  • Room to Read: This organization hosts events around the world and helps children -- particularly girls -- become literate. Room to Read encourages volunteers to raise money for these endeavors by organizing read-a-thons, book exchanges, and other events.
  • Reach Out and Read: Reach Out and Read provides resources for literacy workers, such as reading guides for families and advice on choosing books. Individuals can participate in virtual book drives, volunteer as readers, and launch Reach Out and Read programs in their communities.
  • Scholastic: Through the Scholastic website, teachers can explore literacy lesson plans, discover teaching tips, purchase educational resources, and browse books by grade level. Schools can also host Scholastic book fairs.
  • The Reading Agency: This organization connects individuals with various programs, such as the Summer Reading Challenge, Chatter Books, and Reading Well. Visitors can explore resources related to selecting books and literacy news.
  • Reading Is Fundamental: RIF provides resources for educators, parents, and volunteers. Educators can access lesson ideas, activities, and videos on literacy education for children. Teachers can also explore books by grade level and genre.