Earning a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership Online

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November 20, 2020

Online doctoral programs in educational leadership prepare educators to make meaningful research contributions to the existing body of knowledge on educational theory. A doctorate in education focuses more on preparing educators for administrative roles in educational settings. Both advanced degrees provide educators with opportunities to develop the skills and knowledge necessary for leadership roles in various settings, including international organizations, major government agencies, and higher education institutions.

Several accredited colleges and universities throughout the United States offer online doctoral programs in educational leadership. Most schools require online students to follow the same curriculum as on-campus students. Online educational leadership doctoral programs give professionals the flexibility to earn a doctorate while fully engaged in their careers.

What Can You Do With an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership?

Many graduates of online doctoral programs in educational leadership work as university professors or department administrators. However, graduates can also apply the skills gained from a doctoral program to a corporate setting, such as working as the head of workforce development in a large corporation. Below are three professional options for graduates with a doctoral degree in educational leadership.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

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

Postsecondary education administrators assume various roles, often in the admissions or student affairs department. They oversee student services, review scholarship applications, and maintain the academic standards of the school. In large universities, they sometimes become academic deans and coordinate with the university president regarding academic policies, faculty appointments, and budgetary matters.

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Annual Median Salary: $94,390
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

School principals ensure a safe and academically challenging learning environment for students. They also oversee teacher and staff development, communicate with parents, manage the school budget, and ensure the school's curriculum remains relevant and well-rounded.

College or University President

Annual Median Salary: $104,700
Projected Growth Rate: 8%

A college or university president carries out many of the same duties and responsibilities that a CEO does for a corporation. These duties often include crafting strategic policies; maintaining communications with government agencies, parents, students, and faculty; and managing the financial and operational resources of the university.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics / PayScale

The Top-Paying Industries for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Traits of a Successful Educational Leader

Educational leaders often assume a variety of administrative duties in addition to ensuring an optimum learning environment for students, so they need strong organizational and analytical skills. These professionals are also expected to possess a degree of technical expertise to use the different types of software involved in performing everyday tasks.

Educational leadership requires critical-thinking skills, like logic and reasoning, to identify and assess solutions for administrative and learning environment challenges.
Educational leaders need active-listening and interpersonal skills to engage stakeholders in a meaningful exchange of ideas and find appropriate solutions and goals.
Educational leaders are lifelong learners. They must constantly evaluate new information in view of goals and objectives.

Salary by Experience Level

Educational leadership salaries depend as much on professional experience as educational attainment, especially in academia. According to Payscale, late-career postsecondary education administrators make more than $15,000 per year, on average, than entry-level administrators.

Pay by Experience Level for Postsecondary Education Administrators

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Educational Leadership Prepares For

Steps to Earning an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership

Most onsite and online doctoral programs in educational leadership take 4-7 years to complete. While requirements vary by program, there are some steps to earning this degree that are common to many doctoral programs in educational leadership. Four common steps are outlined below.

Find the Right Program for You

Some online doctoral programs in educational leadership allow students to graduate with minimal campus visits. Colleges sometimes schedule onsite requirements during summer terms or one weekend a month during regular semesters. Some programs offer asynchronous classes, while others offer synchronous classes (most offer a combination of both). Students should study a program's curriculum and format carefully to ensure its aligned with their needs and goals.


Most application deadlines for doctoral programs are in the fall before the program begins. Ideally, students should gather the required documents in the spring before the application deadline. If a standardized test is required, such as the GRE, then students should schedule their test so that they receive the results by the application deadline.

Capstone, Dissertation, or Thesis

A capstone usually addresses an existing problem or challenge for which the student attempts to find a solution using the skills and knowledge gained from the doctoral program. A thesis or dissertation is a research-oriented undertaking wherein the student seeks to add to the body of knowledge on the subject matter. Both projects showcase mastery of a topic and its relevance to educational leadership.

Fellowship or Internship

Fellowships often include a stipend and focus on professional development and research opportunities. Internships may be paid or unpaid and provide hands-on training in educational leadership roles. Both opportunities prepare students to become successful educational leadership professionals.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership

  1. Global Issues in Education: Students study school systems outside the United States and examine topics, such as instructional methods, administrative policies, and curriculum design. Students evaluate the relevance of these topics to American education and how to adapt meaningful elements to the national education system.

  2. History of Curriculum Development: Students examine the evolution of curriculum development over time, gaining an overview of the major factors that influenced the process and a foundation for further inquiry and examination. The course covers topics such as the philosophical basis of curriculum design and how societal and cultural contexts impact curriculum development.

  3. Research Design: Students gain the research skills they need for their dissertation or capstone project as well as their career in educational leadership. Topics may include principles of research theory, methods of inquiry and research, data collection, and ethical issues in conducting research.

  4. Strategies of Educational Leadership: Students examine the different aspects of educational leadership in light of shifting cultural norms and educational landscapes. Students also study emerging educational issues that impact student learning, leadership qualities and qualifications, and the direction of higher education as a whole.

  5. Survey of Education Literature: Students explore scholarly discourse on education, including educational policies, modern paradigms, and theories. Students learn how to evaluate and interpret education literature to build upon the existing body of knowledge.

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