Difference between the EdD and PhD

December 7, 2016 by Editorial Team

In the academic world, the EdD and PhD degrees refer to the highest possible educational achievement in a specific field of knowledge. Many universities award the EdD, the PhD or both. Some confusion exists about the nature of the two degrees. While they both represent the height of learning, there are also a few differences between the two. This article discusses the distinction between the EdD and the PhD.


EdD vs PhD
Former NBA player Shaquille O’Neal (left, holding ball) holds an EdD in Educational Leadership

The Doctor of Education (EdD) is a doctoral degree that prepares individuals for a career in education. These careers may include administrative, operational, research or professional posts in educational institutions, non-government organizations, government agencies and human resources. Most EdD curriculums aim to prepare practitioners capable of solving educational issues using pre-existing knowledge. Universities have different admissions requirements for individuals pursuing an EdD, such as actual working experience in an educational institution. In many cases, the student earns the EdD upon completion of an educational project that may include the application of applied research to real-life scenarios.  

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Author and television host Neil deGrasse Tyson holds a PhD in astrophysics

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is a doctoral degree awarded in many different fields. Students usually aim for a career in academic research after earning their PhD. Therefore, PhD studies typically involve conducting original research under the guidance of tenured professors. Universities may have different admissions requirements for their PhD programs, but most require recommendation letters from known academics, excellent undergraduate grades and high scores in the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE). Some institutions might choose to admit bachelor’s degree holders, while others require a master’s degree for admittance into their PhD program, depending on the field of study. While most universities award PhDs after the completion of a comprehensive exam followed by an orally-defended dissertation, many institutions require only the latter. 

EdD vs PhD

So, what are the differences between the EdD and PhD degrees? Let us compare the two.

Admission Requirements

The admission requirements for EdD and PhD programs vary across institutions. Generally, EdD programs admit teachers or those who have had experience in educational management, such as superintendents or principals. In contrast, PhD programs require excellent marks in the GRE and the undergraduate level, and most also require recommendation letters from professors.


Courses in EdD programs focus more on the practical aspects of teaching and educational leadership, such as human resource management, financial management and curriculum development. Curriculums in PhD programs, on the other hand, focus more on the more theoretical aspects of a particular field. A PhD in education, for example, could focus on the role of psychology, sociology or even biology in the learning process. 

Graduation Requirements

The EdD is usually awarded after the successful completion of a final project that involves real-life problems related to education. This project might involve constructing a new curriculum, improving teaching materials or reorganizing school districts. Meanwhile, the PhD is almost always awarded after the successful publication and oral defense of a dissertation based on original research. For example, the dissertation for a PhD in education might include insights into the education system that incorporates media theory or linguistics. 

Career Path for Graduates

Most EdD graduates pursue careers in education, such as teaching, educational management and leadership, and human resources and corporate training. PhD graduates, however, engage in performing research in their respective fields, and consider teaching or mentoring at the undergraduate or graduate levels as an alternative career.

Comparison Chart

Doctor of Education (EdD)Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Requires experience in teaching or educational management for admissionRequires high undergraduate grades/GRE scores for desired field of study for admission; institutions often require recommendation letters from respected academics
Learning focuses more on practical aspects of teaching and educational leadershipLearning focuses more on theoretical aspects of teaching, learning and leadership, drawing from multiple disciplines
Awarded upon the completion of a real-life educational projectAwarded upon the publication and successful oral defense of a dissertation
Most graduates pursue careers in teaching or administrationMost graduates pursue careers in research


Play the video below to watch three academics discuss the differences between the EdD and the PhD.