A doctorate in education is the terminal degree for teachers, administrators, and others in academia and is generally required for leadership positions in the educational world. From college president to director of employee training, academic positions with significant responsibility may require you to earn your doctoral degree.

If you already have your undergraduate and master’s degrees, you may wonder how long a doctorate in education online takes. The answer, as you might guess, depends on multiple factors. In this article, we’ll look at some of the most common of these to help you make the best educational decision.

Factors to Consider

The short answer to how long a doctorate in education online takes is three to six years, though it may take longer if you only take classes part-time. If you have already decided to earn your degree online, congratulations. This decision is an increasingly popular option for students and should not play a role in determining how long it will take you to earn your degree. Online programs at accredited institutions give you the same academic training as those held in person on campus.

Although completing your doctorate online won’t take any more time than it would have in person, here are some factors that do play a role in determining how long it will take you to earn that doctoral diploma:

Ed.D. vs. Ph.D.

You can earn two types of doctoral degrees in education: an Ed.D. and a Ph.D. The Ed.D. is a hands-on degree for professionals working in the field who want to pursue leadership roles. Although they may do research as part of their program, they are more interested in a degree that allows them to facilitate change in their schools or districts. An Ed.D. degree takes roughly three years if taken full-time.

A Ph.D. degree is for those who wish to be professional scholars. Their work is more theoretical than hands-on, and they may focus on a particular area of educational theory and study it intensely. Those with Ph.D. degrees in education will likely work at the college or university level and may focus on writing and presenting in their area of expertise. A Ph.D., with its increased focus on lengthy research projects, may take four to six years when taken full-time.

Thesis vs. non-thesis programs

Whether in Ed.D. or Ph.D. programs, doctoral education programs generally require students to submit a thesis or dissertation. Some Ed.D. programs, however, do not. They will likely need to complete a capstone project as part of their graduation requirements. With these programs, the capstone experience may serve as a dissertation-in-practice, where the student undertakes to solve a problem or meet a challenge through practical means.

With Ph.D. programs, the thesis may take several years, depending on how much time the student can spend on the research and writing. This requirement alone may mean a Ph.D. program will take longer than an equivalent Ed.D. program.

Full-time vs. part-time course load

Of course, the amount of time you spend on your academic pursuits will impact the time it takes to complete the program. Many doctoral students, especially seasoned professionals working toward their Ed.D. degree, attend school part-time to stay on their jobs while studying. Their coursework and thesis may be related to their professional position, allowing them to try out potential solutions at their place of employment. If they attend school part-time, their degree may take four to seven years to complete.

Often, Ph.D. students choose to attend school full-time to allow them to focus entirely on the theoretical aspects of their program. They may hold down a part-time job simultaneously or serve as a teaching or research assistant to one of their professors or mentors but will concentrate mainly on their coursework and research. Even if they attend school full-time, Ph.D. students will likely take longer to earn their degrees than those in Ed.D. programs.

Number of credits required

Several factors determine the number of credit hours in a doctoral program, including state and institutional requirements and the degree offered. Professional doctorates, such as an Ed.D. degree, often require fewer credits than Ph.D. programs.

Generally, you can expect either program to have anywhere from 60 to 120 credit hours, with Ph.D. programs more likely to require 120 credits for graduation. Keep in mind, however, that each institution will have its own structure for coursework. Some may consider a student full-time if they take nine credits per semester; others may require 12 to 15 credits. The number of credits earned for any practicum, thesis, or capstone project will also vary. Potential students should talk to their admissions counselor to determine the rules in the institution they are attending.

Accelerated programs

Accelerated doctoral programs in education are available at some institutions, and they may cut several years off the time it takes to earn the degree. It does not mean that you will achieve less than you would in a non-accelerated program. Accelerated programs have more condensed, content-rich courses that take less time but will feature a more intense learning experience. They can require an increased commitment from students, who may spend more time each day attending classes and completing coursework.

With an accelerated program, you could complete your doctorate in as little as two years. You may accomplish this if you have taken advanced coursework as part of your master’s program or if your program gives you credit for professional experiences. You may also earn your degree in less time if you have an ABD (all but dissertation) from a previous educational institution.

Tips for Quickly Completing A Doctorate In Education Program

If you wish to complete your online doctorate in education as quickly as possible, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Consider the more practical Ed.D. degree rather than a Ph.D. degree, which will generally take longer.
  • Ensure you understand the credit requirements for your chosen program, how many credits you can take in one semester, and what kind of thesis, if any, is needed.
  • Be realistic about what you can accomplish: if you are working full time, it is not likely that you can also take classes full time. If you have small children or other family commitments, these may also impact your ability to move quickly through your program.
  • Remember that no matter how quickly you’d like to complete your program, you also need time to rest regularly.
  • Time management is critical: build a schedule and stick with it, allowing time for study, reflection, and research. Use Google Calendars or other technology to track and plan your time.
  • If you feel overwhelmed, see if your school offers counseling services or other student support to help you get back on track.
  • Choose your advisor carefully. Your academic advisor should be supportive and affirming. Be sure to connect with them regularly and let them know if you run into challenges.