Earning a Ph.D. in Education Online

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November 18, 2020

Earning an online doctorate in education can lead to new and exciting careers, higher salaries, and opportunities to positively impact educational policy. Ideal for busy professionals, an online doctorate in education offers a flexible, convenient way to cultivate strong analytical, communication, and leadership skills.

Individuals who hold doctoral degrees in education work as principals, superintendents, or curriculum directors within general school districts. However, depending on one's focus area and chosen degree path, an online doctorate in education could lead to instructional and professional roles within industries like healthcare, business and nonprofit work.

If you're interested in taking your career to the next level, learn which type of online doctoral program in education may be the first step toward advancement.

What Can You Do With an Online Doctorate in Education?

Graduates with an online doctorate in education take on leadership roles in many different settings, including colleges and universities, nonprofit groups, government organizations, and private businesses. Most students pursue the degree to obtain administrative or managerial positions at higher learning institutions. First and foremost, it's important to understand the degree paths available for those seeking an advanced education degree:

Within these degree paths, an online doctorate in education will also allow students to specialize further, in areas like curriculum instruction, educational administration, digital learning, instructional design, and special education leadership. Below are some of common career options students seeking an online doctorate in education may be interested in pursuing after graduation. Keep in mind, educators can also be found outside these traditional school settings, providing instruction and consultancy services in the government, healthcare and business sectors.

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Annual Median Salary: $80,083
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

Principals manage general school operations and oversee daily student activities, teachers, and other staff members. They counsel faculty and students, maintain communication with parents, and take disciplinary measures as needed. They may also coordinate security procedures, manage the school's budget, and prepare student achievement and teacher performance reports.

Instructional Coordinator

Annual Median Salary: $63,750
Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Also known as curriculum specialists, instructional coordinators oversee teaching and curriculum standards at the middle school, high school, and postsecondary levels. Working with teachers, principals, and administrators, they design and implement instructional plans, develop training workshops, and introduce new learning technologies.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Annual Median Salary: $92,360
Projected Growth Rate: 10%

These individuals oversee programs such as student services, academics, and faculty research at colleges and universities. They may analyze statistics to determine how many students a school should admit each year, review applications, and develop promotional materials for their institution. Postsecondary administrative professionals include registrars, provosts, academic deans, and student affairs advisers.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

The Top-Paying Industries for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Traits of a Successful Educator

Online doctoral programs in education cultivate the abilities, skills, and traits that lead to success in high-level positions. Graduates must be capable managers adept at strategic planning, resource allocation, and teacher management. Individuals who earn a doctorate in education online learn to become tactful and respectable leaders with strong writing, speaking, and listening skills. They must be honest, fair, and personable people whom others can count on to make difficult decisions, achieve important goals, and uphold educational standards.

Individuals in advanced educational roles often handle multiple projects at once and need excellent time management skills. They must stay on task in order to complete projects on time, meet budget deadlines, and ensure that operations run smoothly and efficiently.
Leadership skills are essential to professional success. School employees look to professionals in strategizing positions, including provosts, academic deans, principals, administrators, and instructional coordinators, for direction. These individuals must communicate effectively and maintain a positive attitude as they make difficult decisions, build relationships with students and staff, and delegate responsibilities.
Educators and educational administrators face complex challenges that require critical problem-solving techniques, carefully considered responses, and nuanced reasoning.

Salary by Experience Level

Many professionals enjoy a steady salary increase after earning an online doctorate in education and obtaining significant work experience. According to PayScale, the average salary for postsecondary education administrators increases by $17,000 over the course of a 20-year career. On average, entry-level workers bring in around $48,000 annually, while those with at least 20 years of professional experience earn approximately $65,000 each year.

Pay by Experience Level for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Education Prepares For

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Education Online

Every doctor of education online program is different, and curricula and admission requirements often vary considerably between schools and programs. Most online education doctoral programs take three to five years to complete and often culminate in a dissertation or capstone project. The following steps describe some common features many students encounter as they complete their degree.

Find the Right Program for You

Before selecting a doctorate in education online program, consider your prospective school's strengths. Do faculty members' focus areas, research, or professional backgrounds align with your academic goals and interests? In addition, online programs deliver courses in many different formats, and some may fit your schedule or learning style better than others. While many programs are presented entirely online, others include on-campus requirements. Choose a program that meets your academic needs, professional goals, budget, and schedule.


Applying to most Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs online usually ask applicants to supply several documents, including a personal statement, application fee, resume, official transcripts, standardized test scores, and letters of recommendation. Some may request a teaching or instructional portfolio that highlights your professional experience. Be sure to provide individuals who are writing letters of recommendation with enough time to compose their statements. In general, you should allow yourself at least six months to create and obtain any required materials.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

Capstones, dissertations, and theses are drastically different endeavors. A capstone is a directed study course in which a student works under a professor or academic adviser's close supervision. The course may include a final project that allows students to demonstrate their acquired knowledge. A dissertation or thesis is an extensive written document, usually 150-500 pages in length. Requiring more time to complete than capstones, dissertations and theses center upon the student's original research in the field.

Fellowship or Internship

Internships are temporary paid or unpaid positions providing entry-level training in a particular job or field. Fellowships are merit-based positions that allow candidates to advance their studies while providing their institution with services such as research or instruction. Usually focused on a specific area of study, fellowships are reserved for students with proven track records and plans to pursue specialized academic paths.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Education

  1. Ethics in Education: Included in many doctorate education online programs, this course outlines the ethical principles and practices involved in educational leadership. By practicing decision-making in a variety of simulated contexts, students interested in administrative and leadership roles are better equipped to handle ethical issues in the workplace.

  2. Diversity and Society Studies for Leaders: This course explores diversity and pluralism in American educational institutions, emphasizing emerging leadership styles and best practices for encouraging cultural diversity. Prospective educational leaders and administrators acquire the skills needed to support cultural diversity and societal change at colleges, universities, and in school districts.

  3. Issues in Educational Law: Learners examine present-day laws at both state and federal levels, surveying legislation's impact on schools and administrators. Candidates learn to accurately interpret laws affecting educational institutions and produce safe, legal, and productive learning environments for all students.

  4. Curriculum and Assessment: Ideal for aspiring principals or instructional coordinators, this class helps future school leaders analyze and monitor curriculum components and assessments at the district level. Learners use specialized tools and resources to make data-driven decisions regarding school improvement and curriculum design. They may also complete a final project, drawing upon current research and best practices to develop an action plan for school improvement.

  5. Qualitative Methods: Enrolling in many Ph.D. and Ed.D. programs online, students take this course to help them develop their dissertation research, data analysis methods, and interpersonal skills through qualitative research strategies. Qualitative methods help researchers, teachers, and administrators explore human behavior, student needs, and ways to improve their institution's educational services. Candidates gain experience in data collection, participant-observation research methods, and qualitative research project design.

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