Most large research universities have a faculty of education, which is distinct from other faculties, such as the faculty of arts and sciences or school of business.

Faculties of education typically offer several degrees:

  • Bachelor’s of education,
  • Master of education
  • Master of arts in education
  • Master of arts in teaching
  • Doctorate of education
  • Doctorate of philosophy in education.

While doctoral students pursuing a doctorate of education and doctorate of philosophy in education may occasionally share common research interests, and even take the same courses, these are considered separate degrees, and they are designed to achieve different long-term goals.

While the doctorate of education is a degree designed for people who wish to assume leadership positions in the school system — principal or superintendent positions — the doctorate of philosophy in education is designed for people who wish to carry out educational research and teach at the university level.

Degree Requirements for a PhD in Education

Like other doctorate of philosophy degrees, most doctoral programs in education expect incoming students to have already completed a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in the field with a high academic standing, and they must maintain relatively high GRE scores (average GRE scores for incoming PhD students are often in the 80 percentile in the verbal category, and 63 percentile in the quantitative category.

Other factors are also extremely important in the education field, such as teaching experience or demonstrated experience carrying out research in an educational setting. With few exceptions, by the doctoral level, entering students already have some background in educational research. Once students arrive, they must complete required graduate level coursework in education, study and successfully write and defend one or more field exams (these exams focus on a candidate’s chosen areas of specialization within the broader education field), and write and defend a dissertation that contributes original research to the education field.

Areas of Specialization

The American Educational Research Association, the largest academic society in the education field, lists twelve areas that represent the major scholarly and scientific areas where educational research takes place.

These areas include the following:

  1. Administration and leadership
  2. Curriculum studies
  3. Learning and instruction
  4. Measurement
  5. Counseling and human development
  6. History
  7. Social context of education
  8. Research, assessment and evaluation
  9. Education in the professions
  10. Postsecondary education
  11. Teaching and teacher education
  12. Politics and educational policy

Within each of these twelve subfields, there are many other areas of specialization. For example, researchers engaged in the very broad field concerned with social context, may be engaged in research on bilingual education or on sex education, or on impact of poverty and school achievement or graduate rates.

Other researchers in this field may be engaged in research outside the US that seeks to examine how students in information-poor countries are beginning to use mobile devices, because of the lack of books and libraries.

Similarly, educational researchers engaged in work on research, assessment, and evaluation may be engaged in quantitative studies that seek to find new and more accurate ways to test students, or in studies that seek to critique the growing focus on standardized testing in American schools.

Since education is a highly interdisciplinary field, educational researchers include, researchers whose background and/or training may be in fields as diverse as statistics, anthropology, economics, and philosophy. In short, while they share a general interest in education, they may, or may not share a common methodological approach.

Career Outlook for a PhD in Education

PhDs in Education typically lead to full-time faculty appointments; either in Education, and in some cases, an allied field — a candidate who specializes in the sociology of education may end up working in a sociology department, and a candidate who specializes in art education may end up working at an art college. Some PhDs in Education obtain work with government or non-governmental organizations where educational researchers are in demand, such as the US Department of Education, The College Board or Common Core Standards Initiative, or they work in a university-based research center focused on educational research. Finally, some PhDs in Education go on to work in other fields, such as educational publishing.

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