Educational Leadership Degrees: PhD, Master & Online Course Info

About this article
PhD and master's degrees in educational leadership can lead to careers in school administration. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
View available schools

Master's and Doctorates in Educational Leadership at a Glance

For teachers looking to make the leap to educational administration, a graduate degree in educational leadership is one of the common requirements for state licensing. Both master's degree and doctorate programs are available, and may be designed to prepare candidates to fulfill other requirements, such as PRAXIS testing. These programs also prepare those who complete them to perform well in these leadership positions, with coursework that touches on a number of key elements, including educational leadership skills, legal and ethical considerations, educational administrative processes, and organizational improvement.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) this field is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all parts of the economy in the years 2010-2020. Growth is expected due to demographic growth which should lead to greater enrollments (

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Licensed teachers who have completed several years of successful teaching experience and are looking to move to administrative roles. Same as master's degree program, with an additional expectation of research training
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - School principal ($93,000)*
- Assistant school principal ($77,000)*
- Same as master's, but also:
- School district superintendent ($141,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher of education ($59,000)**
Time to Completion 2-3 years full-time 4+ years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10-15 graduate-level courses
- Internship (counts for course credit)
- Roughly 20-25 graduate-level courses
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation
Oral defense of dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree with teaching licensure
Successful teaching experience (amount varies by program)
Same as master's but additionally
- Master's degree in education or related field
-Teaching experience requirements may be significantly higher
Online Availability Yes Some

Source: * (July 2012), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Educational Leadership

A master's degree in educational leadership is the basic educational degree necessary for licensed teachers seeking to move from working in the classroom to administration and leadership positions. These degree programs prepare teachers to become school administrators, including assistant school principals, school principals, and district superintendents. In general, candidates should have several years of experience as teachers before applying to these programs, and most are run so that teachers, as busy professionals, can balance their educational needs with their professional ones. Many programs are tailored to state licensing requirements for educational administrators.

Pros and Cons


  • A master's degree in educational leadership is the basic educational credential fulfilling state licensing requirements for school principals.
  • Designed for working teachers, the schedules of these programs take into account employers' yearly schedule.
  • These master's degrees provide a chance for teachers to move from the classroom into administration positions of greater responsibility.


  • Candidates are generally employed teachers filling educational requirements while also teaching.
  • As states may have different licensing requirements, relocating to another state can require additional schoolings.
  • State licensing requirements often also include testing, so completion of a program don't guarantee licensing.

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree programs in educational leadership often have practicum or internship requirements. Coursework may include the following:

  • Developing leadership skills and styles
  • Educational leadership human resources
  • Educational strategic leadership
  • Instructional leadership
  • Leading an educational organization
  • Decision-making strategies
  • School operations and managerial leadership

Online Degree Options

Some universities offer accredited online programs in educational leadership at the master's degree level. Teachers looking into programs online will find that some are completely delivered via distance learning, while others have both face-to-face and online requirements. As with all online degrees, candidates must take it upon themselves to research the program's accreditation and the suitability of the program for fulfilling educational needs. For those seeking state licensing, careful attention should be paid to those requirements. In the event that a program has certain deficiencies in mandated coursework, candidates may seek alternative avenues to fulfill the necessary requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Master's degree programs in educational leadership are designed for working professionals. Teachers should therefore examine their options for reimbursement through their school districts as part of career development. Additionally, many of these master's degree programs have internship requirements that may provide opportunities for making connections, career networking, and earning excellent recommendations from program mentors. The professors for these programs are generally researchers in the field who have both experience and connections, and they may be able to assist in career growth.

Doctorate in Educational Leadership

Some teachers, whether for career development reasons or due to some state's licensing requirements, have already completed a master's degree in the educational field. This accomplishment opens up the opportunity to enter into a doctoral program in educational leadership. For more competitive positions, an EdD or PhD is an added accomplishment that increases the candidate's chances of achieving their career goals. Especially for those seeking to move beyond the administration of a single school and toward such positions as school district superintendent, a doctoral education demonstrates commitment to education and provides the highest level of education available in the field.

Pros and Cons


  • Rather than earning a second master's degree in preparation for educational leadership positions, candidates can earn higher-level degrees.
  • EdD and PhD programs prepare candidates not just as educational leaders, but as postsecondary teachers as well.
  • Earning an EdD or PhD provides the opportunity to become involved in research and publication relevant to the field of education.


  • Committing to a doctoral program as a mid-career professional is something that should be considered carefully, as it requires significant investment of both time and money.
  • Doctoral programs require significantly more time investment than master's degrees, and for those seeking the degree as a way of preparing for leadership roles, those roles will be delayed.
  • Not all candidates are equally comfortable with developing their own original research.

Courses and Requirements

Compared to master's degree programs, doctoral programs generally have more stringent coursework requirements. While both degrees prepare teachers to become leaders in educational settings, doctoral programs go further to prepare candidates to be both researchers and postsecondary teachers. In addition to coursework, graduation requires completion of the entire dissertation process, including a formal proposal, dissertation writing, and an oral defense.

  • Research on administrative topics
  • School and community
  • Cross-cultural and diversity leadership
  • School improvement processes
  • Finance and education
  • Legal aspects of education
  • Leadership theory for education and administration
  • Hiring and leading educational faculty and staff

Online Degree and Course Info

Candidates looking to earn an EdD or PhD through online learning may find programs that are delivered completely online or through blended delivery and hybrid programs. As these programs are targeted at mid-career professionals, these online programs can help balance a busy schedule. As online programs aren't geographically bound, candidates should check their own state's credentialing requirements.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The original research involved in earning a doctorate is an extremely challenging and fundamentally different type of educational experience. As those pursuing an EdD are mid-career professionals, they have the chance to bring their own experience to their research; working closely with academic mentors can align these interests with relevant research. Dissertation topics should be selected not only out of academic interest, but also out of consideration for their applicability in the job market. Selecting a dissertation topic that combines all of these factors can make it more relevant to your career growth.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

      • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
      • Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership: Special Education (Qualitative Research)
      • M.Ed. in Educational Administration
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
      • M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an Emphasis in Humanities (ITL)
      • M.Ed. in Secondary Education with an Emphasis in Humanities (NITL)
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Saint Leo University

    Program Options

      • MS: Instructional Design
  • Campus and Online Programs
    3. Full Sail University

    Program Options

      • Instructional Design and Technology Masters - Online
  • Campus and Online Programs
    4. The Chicago School

    Program Options

      • M.A. International Psychology
  • University of Maryland Global Campus

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of Pennsylvania

  • Western Governors University

  • Nashville, TN

    Vanderbilt University

  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
  • Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership: Special Education (Qualitative Research)
  • M.Ed. in Educational Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Leo University

  • MS: Instructional Design

What is your highest level of education completed?

Full Sail University

  • Instructional Design and Technology Masters - Online

What is your highest level of education?

The Chicago School

  • M.A. International Psychology

What is your highest level of education completed?

University of Maryland Global Campus