5 Career trajectories for graduates who earn doctoral degrees in education

5 Career trajectories for graduates who earn doctoral degrees in education was originally published on College Recruiter.


If you want to move into educational leadership, getting your Ed.D. degree could set you on a path to advancement. People who earn an Ed.D. don’t just become school principals, although more than half of them do. They also lead by becoming superintendents, academic deans, or community college presidents. Still others become college professors who educate tomorrow’s teachers and administrators.

Generally speaking, the Ed.D. is for people who want to go into hands-on, day-to-day administrative roles, while the Ph.D. in education would prepare you for a life of educational scholarship and quantitative research. Both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. require a dissertation, but Ed.D.’s tend to perform more qualitative research. However, all of these differences are just generalizations. Plenty of Ed.D.’s go on to become tenured education professors, and Ph.D.’s can become school administrators. (See “Ed.D vs Ph.D in Education: What’s the difference?”) We will take a look here at some of the career doors that can open when you earn your doctoral degree in education. 

1. Principal

A principal manages the operations of a school and supervises its staff. Principals create a safe learning environment, supporting teachers as they help students reach their educational goals. Unlike teachers, principals work year-round. During the summer, they oversee summer school programs, supervise building maintenance and repair, and prepare for the coming school year.

Principals work at all kinds of K-12 schools, both public and private. Most principals have either master’s degrees or Ed.D. degrees. For principals who already have master’s degrees, earning an Ed.D. not only provides a great educational opportunity but also comes with an increase in salary. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average principal makes $87,760 per year.

2. Superintendent

Education doctorates have many optionsSuperintendents and assistant superintendents lead entire school districts. They supervise principals as well as administrators who work at the district offices, and they make curriculum decisions that affect the district. They also represent their districts at many community events, and they meet with other superintendents at national conferences and association meetings.

Superintendents often serve at the pleasure of the school board, so a principal who wants to become superintendent gives up the benefit of tenure. However, superintendent jobs pay an average of $250,000 per year — which varies based on the size of the district — and comes with attractive benefits and a pension plan.

Related: Teaching jobs and beyond: Career advice for Education majors

3. Academic Dean

Ed.D. graduates don’t just go into public and private schools. Many become higher education leaders. Academic deans are the chief academic officers of their colleges, and they’re responsible for faculty oversight, financial management, fundraising, and instructional delivery. They also work as liaisons between their colleges and the university administration.

Getting a job as an academic dean requires a rigorous search and selection process. Sometimes, the search is as much about politics as it is about qualifications. It’s a logical progression for faculty members to become department chairs, assistant deans, and then deans. Deans who perform well often go on to become provosts and, sometimes, university presidents.

4. Community College President

A community college president manages the community college faculty and campus while coordinating with statewide groups to implement curriculum changes. The president represents the college at both on-campus and off-campus events, ensures that the college maintains its academic accreditation, oversees the budget for the college, and heads public relations and recruitment efforts.

Community college president is a demanding position that can be both stressful and rewarding. As Lori Sundberg, president of Carl Sandburg College in Illinois says, “There are few things that compare to the rush I get from commencement, my favorite college event. I love seeing our students and their families enjoying the milestone the students have reached.”

5. Professor

Although many educators who want to become college professors choose a Ph.D. in Education degree, plenty of Ed.D. graduates go on to teach at colleges and universities. Through their research and their interactions with students, they mold the teachers and principals of tomorrow. Some Ed.D. graduates start as professors, either part-time or full-time, and then move into higher education administration. Others continue working as professors, focusing on conducting research and on improving the quality of students who graduate from teacher colleges.

What Do You Want to Be?

Although most Ed.D. degree holders work in education, an Ed.D. in leadership can also prepare you for roles in business, not-for-profit, and government leadership positions. If you want a future in leadership, an Ed.D. degree can take you where you want to go.

By College Recruiter
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