DBA, PhD or EdD: Which Doctoral Degree is Right for Me?


If you want to elevate your career, an advanced degree might be just what you need to open doors to more job opportunities.

There are three popular degrees that many people choose when advancing their education and earning a terminal degree: DBA, PhD or EdD. Deciding between these culminating degrees can be difficult to make without doing a little research, which I am sure is why you are reading this right now.

There are vast differences between these three types of doctoral programs, and each program can be career-defining, as they serve to prepare students in very different ways. To ensure you choose the path that best aligns with your future career goals, read on to learn more about the defining qualities of each program, the curricula involved, and the future career opportunities that can be achieved with each degree. Once you are done reading this post, check out this one on the advantages and disadvantages of a PhD or DBA.

This post was written by a recent PhD graduate (it is anonymous to keep the discussion frank) on behalf of Dave Maslach. This is part of the R3ciprocity project (Check out the YouTube Channel or the writing feedback website). R3ciprocity helps students, faculty, and research folk by providing a real and authentic look into doing research. It provides solutions and hope to researchers around the world. For more on this topic and to see what Dave has to say about doing a PhD, EdD, or a DBA, watch this video:

Ed.D. vs. Educational Ph.D.: What’s the Difference?

Ok, so you’ve finished your master’s program and you’ve made the decision to continue your education and earn a terminal degree. Great!

But what now?

Well, if you are looking to get a terminal degree in the field of education but can’t decide what type of program to choose, here is some information that may help make your decision a little easier.

There are a couple of options if you choose to continue to a doctoral degree; a PhD in Education or an EdD.

Knowing the differences between these two Doctoral degrees can help you decide which one may be best for you. While both of these degrees are great for anyone who is pursuing a career in education, depending on which career path you want to take, there may only be one right choice.  

Doctorate of Education (EdD)

A Doctor of Education, or EdD, is a professional degree best suited for experienced practitioners who are looking to take on leadership roles at the mid or senior level and help implement organizational changes. If you are working towards your EdD, you will likely partake in classes geared towards solving problems in the educational system and focused on the application of your knowledge within systems of learning.

EdD candidates can be found working in a broad range of educational fields, from K-12 schools to nonprofit agencies. Some specific job titles of EdD degree holders are: Elementary or Secondary School Administrator, Instructional Coordinator, Chief Learning Officer, or Superintendent.

PhD in Education

On the other hand, a PhD in education is a terminal degree best suited for individuals who want to pursue a career in academia and are excited by the chance to conduct research for a living. This is also a popular degree for those that aspire to become a college professor or want to become the authority on a particular education topic. These students tend to be more focused on getting published in journals or presenting their research findings at national conferences.

A Ph.D. is best for educators who study a specific field within education, such as sociologists, school psychologists or school counselors. This degree is often used for contributing new information to the field such as how certain behaviors can impact learning. If you work towards your Ph.D. in education, in the future you might hold one of the following job titles: college professor, postsecondary teacher, academic researcher or published writer.

How to Choose Between the EdD and the PhD

Both the EdD and the PhD in Education have their benefits. The most important difference to point out between a PhD in Education and an EdD is the curriculum focus in each program. While both degrees focus on a higher level of education beyond a master’s degree and ways to improve education at large, the PhD is typically used by educators who want to continue teaching. The program for PhD in Education focuses on furthering your knowledge as an educator and conducting research that enhances the profession and educational system as a whole.

A PhD in Education will be more research-heavy and involve investigating theories while the EdD will be more practice-oriented and time will be spent solving professional challenges.

In summary, PhD programs train students to conduct and interpret research and EdD programs train students to apply research findings in a real-world setting. So, when choosing, try envisioning what your daily life may be like with each degree.

DBA vs PhD in Business Administration

As with most terminal degrees, a doctorate in business will set you apart from the crowd. This advanced degree signifies to employers that you not only have a proficiency in business but that you also have a commitment to personal growth and a desire to apply a high-level of knowledge to seek solutions in the workplace.

The DBA (Doctor of Business Administration) and the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in Business Administration are very similar in most respects. They both entail rigorous coursework and research, require the successful defense of a dissertation, and are academically equivalent. Both are also designed to prepare students for careers in higher education.

Both DBA and PhD students spend the first two years of their programs completing coursework with the remainder of the program consisting of an extensive research project.

The information continued below will provide additional details on what sets these two degrees apart.

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)

A Doctor of Business Administration degree is a terminal degree with a business focus. This degree provides students with practical knowledge that can be applied in the workplace.

The DBA program is designed to provide students with real-world critical thinking and business-oriented, problem-solving skills. This program also equips business professionals and executives with working knowledge of the latest business trends, as well as advanced research skills and tools.

Typical enrollees of a DBA program are accomplished executives, business leaders or those that want to hold a management-level position.

From consulting jobs to senior management positions, a DBA degree can greatly widen the career range for degree holders. Some other positions made possible by a DBA degree would be: lecturer, chief operating officer, professor, or chief financial officer.

PhD in Business Administration

Most PhD programs with a business focus will prepare candidates for careers in academia and to be able to conduct scholarly research. This degree emphasizes the development of skills earned during the completion of a master’s in business.

Graduates with a PhD in business lead careers as professors, university researchers, or senior researchers for a business or the government.

The curriculum focus of the PhD includes the development of new theory in public administration, economics, business management and several other related areas of business.

Essentially, a PhD candidate is focused on making a scholarly contribution to the field of business.

How to Choose Between the DBA and the PhD

Although both degrees are focused on business, students that complete these degrees will have varying impacts on the field of business. Just like the variance between an EdD and the PhD in education, the business PhD focuses on the development of new theory and the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) focuses on the application of theories.

The Doctor of Business Administration, with its focus on theory application, has more practical application in managerial settings than the PhD.

In addition, PhD and DBA programs tend to appeal to different target groups. Generally, people that enroll in a PhD program aim for a career in social sciences and eventually become a fulltime professor at a business school. Those that enroll in a DBA program are typically already successful in business or are looking for an intellectual challenge, hence these students are usually older than PhD students.

Also, in most countries a PhD is a basic requirement for a career in academia, therefore the Doctor of Philosophy is an academic degree that is recognized worldwide. In contrast, the DBA is not as widely recognized because it is still a relatively young degree.

Major Degree Differences

The key difference between doctorates like an EdD, DBA and PhD is that the PhD is an academic terminal degree and the EdD and DBA are professional degrees.

Often, the people that are in professional programs are going to be people that are doing a terminal degree part-time to advance their current career. The PhD is likely going to be chosen by people that are interested in a continuance of their undergraduate studies.

You are likely going to have different career paths if you choose the EdD or DBA, in which you are going to be doing mostly teaching or administrative work. The PhD will lead you towards a career that tends to be more focused on research output and analysis.

Cost is another variance in these doctoral programs. Sometimes we forget that universities aren’t just about academics, they are businesses too, and they realize that there is a revenue source to provide programs and degrees for different clientele.

You can expect that professional programs like the EdD and the DBA will cost a lot more than PhD programs. Some DBA programs can be more on the expensive side because the universities are inclined to recruit current executives and those from private institutes, while the cost of EdD programs maybe a little less because of the clientele that gravitate towards those programs.

PhD programs tend to cost less because the costs can often be subsidized by conducting a research project that will benefit the university. PhD students will often also receive a stipend for the research and work that they do while they are in the program.

No matter which may you go, a monetary commitment will be made, so it is important to weigh the costs between the time and tuition required to complete the program and what you will actually be able to recoup in the long run.

Watch this video about the benefits of getting a doctorate.

Continual growth is necessary to the success of any industry, and advanced degrees are excellent ways to fuel that growth. Employers know that having employees with advanced degrees also means salary requirements will increase and most companies are willing to pay more for the increase in knowledge, skills and abilities that result from these degrees. So, hopefully the value you will be gaining in your job or future position will be worth the investment you are making to acquire your terminal degree.

Just to recap: An EdD is probably going to be the best fit for someone wanting to go into an administrative or leadership role in a school system or work at the collegiate level. A DBA is for someone wanting to extend their current position in the business world, become a consultant or teach at a university. Lastly, a PhD is for anyone wanting to go in the research direction, become a professor, or obtain a more academic degree.

Taking the time to research your degree options is one of the best and most important steps you can take when it comes to deciding which doctoral program will be best suited to meet your needs.

Evaluating your needs and motivations will help you understand whether a DBA, PhD or EdD is right for you. It’s important to choose a degree path that is consistent with your career goals and will bring you overall personal satisfaction. You should read some more of these related posts:

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