Doctorate in Educational Leadership Online

Educational leadership professionals play a critical role in directing educational policy change, improving academic outcomes, and supporting diversity in schools. There is a growing need for advanced degree holders in the field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 10% job growth for post-secondary education administrators before 2026. Job prospects are even higher for professionals with prior experience and advanced degrees.

Learners with developed interpersonal and problem-solving skills are well suited for a career in educational leadership. The first section of this guide discusses why you should consider earning a doctorate in educational leadership online, followed by an overview of what you can expect from online doctoral programs in educational leadership, and career options for graduates.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership?

Professionals who want to achieve a personally and professionally fulfilling career in education find many benefits in earning an online doctorate in educational leadership. Doctoral degree holders have more opportunities to create change and enjoy higher earning potential and career satisfaction. A doctorate in educational leadership gives you the skills and credentials to contribute to lasting change in the educational system. This degree prepares graduates to advance equity and quality in education, leading to a more just educational system and greater career satisfaction. While many educational professionals begin their careers with a master's degree, advancement in the field often requires a doctorate.

Attending an online doctoral program in educational leadership provides the flexibility to continue working while you earn your degree. Online students are able to immediately apply their education in the workplace, thus contributing to creating change and gaining experience while they complete their degrees. They also receive the benefit of exposure to a diverse student body and professors with a range of expertise, often from locations around the world.

What Can I Do with an Online Doctorate in Educational Leadership?

Graduates from an online educational leadership doctoral program find employment in a number of settings. Some graduates obtain a higher level position in their current industry. Others move on to different careers in the public or private sector. Doctorate degree holders may work in private companies, public settings such as schools or nonprofits, or in government agencies such as the Department of Health and Human Services, or the Office of the Superintendent.

Earning a doctorate in educational leadership unlocks a number of professional careers. These roles are typically considered the highest in the field, leading to top earning potential. A doctorate degree also opens opportunities for lateral movement; some graduates decide to move from school administration to consulting, for example.The legal knowledge you gain is invaluable for working on policy change, whether at school or government level. Entering industry leadership to explore and create innovative changes is one possibility. Engaging in scholarly work and specialized research, often in combination with opportunities in academia as a college professor, is also an option. Some graduates gain positions as academic deans or university presidents. Salary and job descriptions for those careers and others are below.

Career Profiles

Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Median Annual Salary: $94,390

Principals manage all operations at a school, implement programs, and complete reports. A doctorate degree can lead to additional certifications or advancement to larger schools with additional responsibilities.

Instructional Coordinator

Median Annual Salary: $63,750

Instructional coordinators develop curriculum and work with teachers for implementation. They train teachers and recommend standards, contributing to advancements in teaching methods. Doctorate degree holders may work at the state level to make curriculum changes.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Median Annual Salary: $92,360

Provosts work directly with the college president to develop academic policies, make tenure decisions, and manage budgets. Deans are responsible for a single college at a university, directing activities and making budget decisions.

President, College or University

Median Annual Salary: $150,184

As the top executive of a university, presidents function as chief executive officers. They manage all operations, budgets, and resources. They work with government agencies, funders, and other stakeholders to advance the college.

School Superintendent

Median Annual Salary: $116,560

Superintendents are the chief executive officer of a school district, operating all elementary and secondary schools within a specified geographic region. They are responsible for student achievement and make policy and curriculum changes.

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program Overview

Online doctoral programs in educational leadership vary, and it can be difficult to determine which program is right for you. There are two types of doctoral degrees: a Ph.D. or an Ed.D, and they differ slightly. The curriculum varies between programs, though all accredited online doctorate degrees in educational leadership follow similar structures. You should research the specific admission guidelines for each school. This section provides an overview of these topics.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Educational Leadership

Two main degree types are offered by online educational leadership doctoral programs: a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. While both degrees are research-focused, there are a few key differences. Ed.D. educational leadership programs emphasize practical applications for leadership. The curriculum focuses on policy-making and navigating the political environment. Students develop skills in administration and leadership while examining theories of change. A residency is often required prior to completing a capstone or dissertation. This degree is best suited for students who want to pursue administrative leadership roles.

Ph.D. programs emphasize research. The core coursework covers research methods and design, with additional courses in a specialization. An internship may be required, but the emphasis is on the dissertation. While graduation requirements are similar between the degrees, a Ph.D. typically requires longer to complete. A Ph.D. is a good option for students interested in pursuing postsecondary teaching, consulting, or private research.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Admission criteria varies depending on the program. Highly competitive programs typically have the most detailed applications and strictest criteria. Applicants should begin researching requirements early. This section covers the most common application requirements.

Online doctoral programs in educational leadership require a master's degree, and a master's degree in educational leadership makes you a more competitive candidate because it demonstrates your commitment to the field. Professional experience in education is required and heavily weighted in the criteria. Applicants provide evidence of their experience by submitting a resume and three professional references. GRE scores and a minimum GPA are usually required. Applicants also submit an essay or professional portfolio that demonstrates their skills in leadership. Your personal and professional goals are also weighed against the curriculum to determine if they are supported by the program.


Online educational leadership doctoral programs offer different approaches to the curriculum, so specific courses vary by school. One benefit of accredited programs is that they follow similar structures. This section gives you a general idea of what to expect followed by course examples.

There are 4-5 course divisions in a doctoral program. General education courses cover leadership theories, organizational change, and diversity in the workplace. A total of 16-24 credits in general education are required. The core curriculum covers topics that are specific to a doctorate in educational leadership. Educational administration, contemporary legal issues, and research methods are commonly explored. Core coursework requires 12-21 credits. Students then have the option of a specialization or electives, completing 16-24 hours in topics relevant to their professional goals. Practicum courses are sometimes included in this requirement, or they may be a separate division. The practicum usually requires one course and a set number of field hours.

Ethics in Education

This course emphasizes ethical practices in schools. Students refine their ethical positions and learn how to apply ethics in their personal and professional lives, with a special focus on research.

Organizational Change

Students learn to plan and direct change in educational settings, with an emphasis on facilitating academic improvement. Leading change from a service-oriented perspective is explored.

Finance and Facilities Management

School administrators must understand financial and facilities management in order to assess and improve institutional wellbeing. Coursework explores how these factors affect organizational sustainability.

Current Trends in Higher Education

Education is constantly shifting to meet demand and advances in scholarship. This course explores current and emerging trends in education and how they may impact the field in the future.


Students move through the dissertation process in multiple courses by completing a prospectus followed by a proposal, then conducting and analyzing research, and finally presenting an oral argument.

Program Outcomes

Graduates of the top online educational leadership doctoral programs possess a range of skills and competencies that help them succeed as leaders. Students graduate with extensive research skills and the ability to apply research methodologies, which is crucial to creating change in the education system. Graduates learn to support cultures of learning from the ground up, encouraging innovative leadership styles.

Earning a doctorate in educational leadership helps you build competency in diversity and educational justice work. Graduates are competent in the latest technological trends and are able to implement them in the workplace, leading to greater success in an increasingly technological profession. Last but not least, the professional networking and collaborating in a doctoral program is invaluable for professional development and the cross-seeding of ideas, allowing graduates to better mobilize resources and practice lifelong learning.

Accreditation for Online Educational Leadership Doctorate Programs

It is very important to attend an accredited institution of higher learning. There are two types of institutional accreditation: national and regional. National accreditation is usually granted to trade schools. Regional accreditation is awarded to public and private colleges. The latter accreditation is generally more highly regarded. Programmatic accreditation is granted by industry-specific councils that are recognized by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The two accrediting bodies for educational leadership programs are Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation and Teacher Education Accreditation Council. Look for one of these accreditations as you research online educational leadership doctoral programs.