Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Education: Guide to Online Programs for 2023

The global pandemic has triggered a shift in how education is being delivered, introducing both new and longstanding challenges such as teacher shortages, lack of funding, and improving student performance. This has led to an increased search for online doctorate degrees in education, particularly among educators who are unable to attend in-person classes due to their job and health.

An online doctorate degree in education is a postgraduate terminal degree that requires the learner to research a problem in their field of practice and use that research to address issues in the industry. Those who complete this degree typically go on to become elementary, middle school, or high school principals or postsecondary education administrators. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 4% growth in these occupations from 2019 to 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).

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This article introduces you to the fundamentals of signing up for an online doctorate in education, such as what to anticipate in terms of classes and the cost of enrollment. Furthermore, data on the major trends in higher education provide you with a deeper understanding of the most recent progress in this type of degree.

Online Doctorate Degree in Education Table of Contents

  1. Can you get a degree completely online?
  2. Will employers take my online degree seriously?
  3. Are online degrees recognized all over the world?
  4. Online vs. Traditional Doctorate Degree in Education
  5. How much does an online doctorate degree in education cost?
  6. What are the requirements of an online doctorate degree in education?
  7. Courses to Expect in Online Doctorate Degree in Education
  8. Things to Look for in an Online Doctorate Degree in Education

Can you get a degree completely online?

Students can enroll in completely online doctorate degree programs in education. However, it is best to note that some programs may require residencies.

Whether your online program will require one or not, you can rest assured that accomplishing your coursework and earning your degree in either program will allow you to further your career in the field. Plus, you will belong to the elite few who have doctorate degrees in education. In 2019 for example, there were 50,943 recipients of doctorate degrees from U.S. colleges and universities, a 1.1% increase compared to 2018 (National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, 2019).

Source: National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics (NCSES), 2019

Will employers take my online degree seriously?

With the shift to online education brought about by the pandemic, employers are now more open to hiring candidates who are legitimate online degree holders. Graduate degrees, even those whose graduate programs are not conventionally designed for online education such as nursing programs, are accorded respect by employers. It also leads to higher compensation, though the salary may vary depending on location. According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, graduate degree holders tend to earn the highest in San Jose, California where they reached $131,291 in median salary (Grand Canyon University, 2021).

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Are online degrees recognized all over the world?

Taking online doctorate degree courses in education from a reputable, accredited organization generally means that one’s degree will be recognized globally. One good example of this is the Commission on Accreditation run by the American Psychological Association or APA, which is the organization responsible for accredited online psychology programs at the doctorate level. It also equips graduates with the ability to create a positive school culture wherever the school is located. This is especially useful during challenging times like in a pandemic. In a survey, 90% of school leaders from low- and middle-income countries said that they believed that they were ultimately responsible for students’ learning in school (Global School Leaders, 2021).

Source: Global School Leaders, 2021

Online vs. Traditional Doctorate Degree in Education

Online doctorate degrees in education are professional degrees that can prepare graduates to take on leadership roles in education administration or even nonprofits and businesses. The coursework for this degree is solutions-focused that graduates can engage in qualitative, exploratory research and apply it to solve real-world problems. Today, doctoral degrees in education are a popular choice among those seeking post-graduate education. According to the NCES, there were 13,020 doctoral degrees earned in the U.S. from 2018 to 2019, making it the third most popular doctorate degree next to law and health-related doctoral degrees (NCES, 2020).

Nowadays, various schools and universities offer online and on-campus options to take this degree. In considering which route to take, one should consider the following key differences:

  • Schedule. Both online and offline doctorate programs in education give students the option to take the course full-time or part-time. In the case of traditional programs, there may be evening classes to accommodate the schedule of working students. As to admission schedules, traditional programs may offer only two admissions schedules throughout the year whereas online programs may offer up to three admission schedules. In addition, some online programs may also require days or weeks where they are required to show up on campus.
  • Learning Experience. Both online and on-campus delivery allows the student to focus on an area of specialization and gives students the opportunity to personalize their programs of study. However, traditional programs may offer more avenues for experiential learning than online ones. For example, there are some schools that require an internship on top of the dissertation requirements. There are also schools that offer domestic or international experiential study trips.
  • Teaching Methods. Traditional educational doctorate programs employ a cohort-based learning model where students attend the same live classes and progress through the learning material together (Virtually, 2020). Course content is scheduled thematically with a face-to-face instruction format that encourages engagement with others in issues and topics of concern for educators. In contrast, online programs usually employ self-paced learning where students complete the course material on their own schedules. Moreover, there are some online programs that supplement virtual learning with intensive face-to-face sessions or hands-on training at predetermined frequencies.

Is an online degree cheaper?

Based on available data, per-credit costs at campus-based doctorate degree programs in education are lower than online ones. However, on-campus tuition does not account yet for other costs like housing, food, transportation, textbooks, and other expenses. For these reasons, online doctorate degree in education programs might be more affordable in the long run.

Is an online degree as good as a regular degree?

Online degree programs in education from a reputable and accredited university will generally have the same rigorous requirements and standards as on-campus ones. Online doctorate degree programs in education usually have the same dissertation and research requirements as on-campus programs. Aside from the research and leadership skills they can learn from the program, online students have the added advantage of enhancing their technological skills.

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How much does an online doctorate degree in education cost?

Online doctorate degrees in education typically cost $375 to $1,230 per credit. At North Greenville University, for example, the per-credit cost for this degree is $510. Students can expect to pay around $20,000 to $79,000 in total tuition (U.S. News, n.d.). However, there are affordable options that range from $16,000 to $35,000.

Sources: U.S. News, 2021

On the other hand, traditional doctorate degrees in education cost $350 to $775 per credit. Students can expect to pay around $21,000 to $55,000 for the degree. However, this does not include other costs like on-campus housing, meals, transportation, textbooks, and other expenses.

A variety of factors can drive pricing for online programs. These include:

  • Loans. Prospective enrollees can apply for a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to get financial aid for graduate school. Graduate students can borrow up to $20,500 each year in Direct Unsubsidized Loans. To cover the remaining costs not covered by other financial aid, the student can apply for Direct Unsubsidized Loans (Federal Student Aid, n.d.).
  • Scholarships. Students with excellent academic performance can avail of scholarships that offer full or partial tuition. To be considered for a scholarship, they must meet certain criteria, such as a minimum grade point average (GPA),  a minimum Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score, or belonging to the top percentage of their class. Additionally, some scholarships require that a student maintains a GPA for the scholarship to be renewed at the end of the academic year.
  • Discounts. Some institutions have partnerships with certain establishments to have eligible students take a certain percentage off of their tuition. For example, they may give standard tuition assistance as part of their corporate tuition assistance or give a discount to small business owners.

Is an online doctorate degree worth it?

Enrolling in an online doctorate program for education can be worthwhile, especially for busy professionals whose schedules make it difficult to study through an on-campus program. Getting a PhD enhances one’s skills and credentials to move up one’s career into leadership positions like being a principal, provost, school superintendent, and the like. Accomplishing it can also give the student a degree of satisfaction since a doctorate is a terminal degree or the highest educational achievement one can attain.

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What are the requirements of an online doctorate degree in education?

To apply for online doctorate degree courses in education, applicants usually submit their resume, writing sample, bachelor’s and master’s transcripts, recommendation letters, and letter of intent or personal statement. They must also secure the needed hardware and software to attend classes and submit course requirements. Upon graduating, they will acquire the needed skills to be effective educational leaders such as innovation, goal-orientedness, problem-solving skills, and social and emotional skills.

Admission Requirements

  • School transcripts. Applicants may be asked to provide school transcripts of their bachelor’s degree or master’s degree. The school may require that the bachelor’s degree comes from a regionally or nationally accredited school. They may also require that the master’s degree be in a field related to education, such as an online master’s degree in education or a master’s degree in education technology. Additionally, they may prescribe a minimum GPA for previous degrees earned.
  • Recommendation letters. In some schools, you might need to submit a letter of recommendation from a professor or industry professional who can attest to your ability to take on doctoral-level academic work. Alternatively, you may ask a colleague or administrator to vouch for your impact on their area of practice.
  • Current resume. Your resume should have an outline of your educational background, professional experience, and other details to support your application.
  • Letter of intent/Personal statement. Candidates must explain their educational goals and their current professional responsibilities and interests. Schools may ask them to describe a problem in their area of practice and what the applicant plans to contribute to the doctoral program.
  • Writing sample. Applicants may be asked to provide a master’s thesis, a scholarly article published in a journal, or other samples of research or professional literature. Through their work, they must be able to show their ability for critical thinking, coherent writing, and building ideas and arguments.
  • In-person interview. Some schools may require that candidates be interviewed by one or more members of the program’s advisory board. The board will gauge the applicant’s readiness, career goals, and level of interest.

General Requirements

Online doctorate degree in education programs develop graduates’ skills in the following areas:

  • Problem-solving skills. One of the core tasks of being an educational leader is identifying, analyzing, and solving problems in schools. Graduates who have this skill can see the big picture and work with others in identifying issues and possible solutions. They seek to understand the underlying issues within a problem and assess how these can affect the vision and values of the school. They also manage meetings and discussions as part of the solutions-building process (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2021).
  • Innovation. Educational leaders must find ways for teaching and learning to be done in better ways. With this skill, they should be able to think differently and find new, better solutions that address current education issues. They should also be able to surmount time constraints, financial challenges, and lack of training in order to achieve their ideas (George Curos, n.d.).
  • Social and emotional skills. There are many stressors involved in the work of principals and other school leadership roles, such as long hours, teacher burnout, and teacher attrition. To combat these, educational leaders should look inwards and gain an understanding of one’s emotions. Graduates of this degree are expected to provide positive school leadership where they exhibit compassion, trust, and patience. This allows them the capability to support social and emotional learning (SEL) and build healthy, caring schools. In a survey, 98% of K-12 principals said that SEL skills are teachable, can help promote equality, and reduce educational disparities (Pennsylvania State University, 2019).
  • Goal-oriented. The effectiveness of a leader is often measured by how many goals he or she achieves. As such, educational leaders must know how to set clear, specific goals both for the short and the long term. He or she must also have a realistic outlook, be conscious of the context in which the organization operates, and assess the risks related to the goals (Team Technology, n.d.).

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What are the technological requirements of students for online learning?

Online doctorate degree programs in education may require students to have the following technology requirements:

  • Desktop or laptop. Students usually access course content through a learning management system. In addition, they would have to use a video streaming or videoconferencing tool to attend synchronous sessions. Thus, having a laptop or desktop to access these remote learning tools is a must.
  • Mobile device. Learning management systems usually have a mobile component. With this, students can access course content and updates even if they are not in front of a computer.
  • Internet connection. Students must keep abreast of the latest developments in the course, such as assignments, homework, exams, and other requirements. They also need to have a good working internet connection to attend synchronous sessions, submit assignments, or take exams.
  • Compatible browser. Students usually have to access their student email accounts and remote learning apps and tools from a compatible browser. Browser specifications may vary depending on the tool or app used. It is advisable to check the specific requirements for the browser-based tools to be used.

Courses to Expect in Online Doctorate Degree in Education

The curricula for online degree courses in education are as varied as the schools that offer them. However, there are some core subjects common to them. These include:


One core component of online doctorate in education programs is the dissertation course. Through this course, students contribute original research and insight into various educational issues. They will also know how to structure their dissertation from the introduction to the discussion and conclusions. Students usually plan on their dissertation during the second year of the program. Then, they work on it through independent study in the third year after which they will defend it before a dissertation committee.

In writing scholarly work, students may use tools like social media and artificial intelligence. An interesting study in this regard was conducted by Crosta et al (2018) and published during the 10th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies. The study “How international online students from a professional doctorate in education are using social media and artificial intelligence tools into the thesis stage?” concluded that “social media tools usage helped students to achieve their learning goals whilst AI tools did not. The former helped students to engage more fully in learning communities, to feel less lonely, to provide and receive reciprocal support when sharing resources and to be helped when required.”

There is an overall will to have a better and more diffused use of these tools (both social media and AI) during the thesis stage although concerns about privacy were raised.”

Legal Issues in Education

In this course, students will gain a good understanding of certain legal policies and theories that will help educators shape school policies. They will learn about issues like the legal aspects of special education, educational workplace employability issues, and how to minimize legal risks in the workplace. Armed with this knowledge, students can lead with confidence in educational organizations.

Applied Research

In this course, students will apply what they have learned in qualitative and quantitative research to formulate specific education-related questions and solve practical problems in their field. For instance, applied research can be used to test educational policies or address issues in teaching paradigms and classroom dynamics (FormPlus, n.d.). Students are expected to generate new knowledge that they can use to improve processes in educational systems.

Educational Leadership

Educational leadership equips graduates with the skills they need to ensure the academic success of students as well as working with teachers and parents in improving a school’s quality of education. It involves management and administrative tasks, such as hiring teachers, prescribing curriculum standards, or setting school-wide policies. The overall goal of the course is for a student to know how to effect positive change on educational processes at various levels. This will be useful in roles such as those of a dean, principal, department chair, or university registrar. Taking on leadership positions usually means an increase in one’s salary. Based on data from (2021), the median pay for a school principal in the U.S. is $109,970.

Keep in mind that if you want to specialize in educational leadership, there are online doctorate in education leadership programs out there. So, if you want to find work in educational institutions, it might be best to consider this degree offering. Do note, however, that while this may provide you with specialized training, skills, and credentials, your specialization can be limited as it may not meet the leadership needs of non-educational organizations on paper. So, the case of “more specialization, fewer opportunities” might happen to you.

Source:, 2021

Things to Look for in an Online Doctorate Degree in Education

In narrowing down one’s search for an online doctorate degree in education program, one can check the school or university against the following criteria:


Accreditation by reputable agencies means that a school has passed an extensive review of its programs and services. Accreditation can either be national or regional. An example of a national body is the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation, which prescribes standards and performance measures of educator preparation. Regional accreditation likewise gives a public certification that the institution meets certain quality requirements and that they have the capability to continuously improve their offerings.


Prospective students can gauge the reputation of an institution by checking whether they appear on university rankings, be it general rankings or those dedicated to niche subjects. As a doctoral student, getting faculty support is crucial to completing one’s dissertation. Thus, students must also check the reputation of an institution’s faculty members. They can go through the awards, professor ratings, or review publications to verify the quality of the research of its faculty members.

Hidden costs

Online doctorate degrees are generally more affordable than on-campus ones. The price difference may be especially felt in Ivy League schools, such as Harvard, where graduate and professional fees for an education degree cost $51,904 in 2021 (Harvard University, 2021).

Even so, prospective students also have to take into consideration some hidden costs of online programs. For one, students may pay a one-time, non-refundable application fee, whether upfront or deferred. If the student wants to claim course credits for life and work experience, they may also be asked to pay a portfolio assessment fee. Students may also pay technology fees or online content fees as well as fees for financial transactions, such as late financial check-in fees or payment participation plan fees.

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Rising to the Challenge of Educational Leadership

As the highest degree one can achieve, a doctorate degree in education signals not only expertise in your area of specialization but also a readiness to solve problems in the field. Education statistics reveal the widespread offerings of online doctorate degrees. As such, students who are working professionals or have family commitments have more opportunities to achieve their dreams while having the flexibility to learn at their own pace. Studying online also helps them save money while later on receiving the benefits of their doctorate degree through career advancement and higher compensation.

However, beyond the glory of educational attainment that even the highest paying online associates degrees can bring comes the more challenging task of addressing the myriad educational challenges that beset school systems. Currently, for example, the U.S. is experiencing a dearth of teachers, with two out of three school districts report having a teacher shortage (Frontline Education, 2021). To add to that, $1.9 billion were cut from state budgets for higher education in the past year. Undergraduate enrollment has also declined by 4% (Center for American Progress, 2021). With the innovation and problem-solving skills they gain from online doctorate degree courses in education, leaders in this field should be equipped to handle these situations for the betterment of their schools and the state of education in general.



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The website is funded by advertising. All school search, finder, and match results, as well as featured or trusted partner programs, are for schools who pay us. Our school rankings, resource guides, or any other editorially impartial content on our website are unaffected by the compensation we receive.