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What's a PhD in Education Entail?

written by: Margo Dill•edited by: Trent Lorcher•updated: 8/30/2011

Many teachers who already have their master's degrees decide to pursue a Ph.D. in education. Most universities allow teachers to design their own program of study to meet their career goals either in administration or higher education teaching.

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    Getting in the Program

    Universities may vary in their admission requirements for a Ph.D. in education program. But most universities require:

    • A master's degree or an equivalent.
    • A GRE score that reaches a certain score requirement such as 1,000 in the combined math and verbal sections. They may also look at the analytic writing section.
    • Completed applications which often require application fees and official transcripts from previous universities.
    • Letters of recommendation--usually three letters of recommendation are required for a Ph.D. in education program. Many universities want letters from professors or others who have directly instructed the candidate.

    If you are interested in starting a program, make sure to check out requirements well in advance of when you want to start to fulfill all testing requirements and give people plenty of time to write recommendations.

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    Courses and Credit Hours

    Each university that offers a Ph.D. in education will have different requirements for the degree program and offer various courses to their Ph.D. students,. However, here are some general guidelines for courses and programs when you're pursuing a doctorate in education:

    • Programs require 30 to 36 credit hours beyond the master's degree. There's also the dissertation to think about--and this usually adds 12 credit hours on to the program.
    • Courses will usually be offered in the following areas: school finance, curriculum development, administration, school law, school history, teaching strategies in higher education settings, and management philopsophies.
    • Many programs employ professors with Ph.D.s who are still currently working in schools as principals, superintendents, and curriculum developers. This way, students receive instruction full of practical information from someone who knows what it's like to work every day with students, faculty, staff, and parents.
    • Students will take courses on research practices, which will help them to research and write their dissertations.
    • Some schools have very specialized Ph.D. in education degrees such as a Ph.D. in social studies education.

    The important thing to remember is each university will be different. Read each school's Ph.D. materials carefully to make sure you are getting the best program for you and that will meet your future career goals.

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    Dissertation and Defense

    While you are working on your course work, you will also be thinking about a dissertation topic and starting research. You will have an advisor whom you will work with closely to share your ideas and research, and to make sure you are on track with the tasks you need to complete. You will also have a committee that will listen to you defend your dissertation. Once you finish your course work, you will write the majority of your dissertation; however, you should be researching and writing along the way to finish your Ph.D. in a reasonable amount of time.

    Many universities will provide guides for writing your dissertation. The research courses you take will also help you prepare for your dissertation.