A Ph.D. in education can prepare you for a wide variety of careers, including teaching future teachers, working in the school system as a teacher or administrator, or conducting research on educational policies and practices. The amount of time it takes you to complete your doctorate in education depends on your course load, how long it takes to complete and defend your dissertation, and whether you participate in research and externships.

Time Frame for a Ph.D

Students who enroll full-time and who complete their doctorate degree quickly can usually expect to finish their degree within four or five years. At Michigan State University, for example, students can expect to complete their degrees in five years if they take six to nine course hours each semester. Schools frequently limit the amount of time a student can spend in a doctoral program, to ensure that students remain on track to graduate. The University of Michigan, for example, generally allows students eight years to complete a doctoral degrees, including one in education. Students are encouraged to finish within this time frame.

Course Load for a Ph.D in Education

The number and type of classes you take can increase the amount of time required to complete your degree. If your undergraduate degree is unrelated to education, you might need to take remedial classes in topics such as educational psychology or research methods. These classes can add a semester or two to the time it takes you to graduate. If you choose to take extra elective classes, this can broaden your knowledge base, but it can also increase the time spent in your program.

Master's Degree

Already having a master's degree can shave off time that is needed for your doctoral degree. If you enter your Ph.D. program straight out of an undergraduate program, however, you'll likely need to pick up a master's degree on the way. Your master's degree includes education coursework such as theories of education, classroom management techniques and developmental psychology. Schools such as Georgetown University offer dual Ph.D. and master's programs, but the time spent on your master's degree can increase the time it takes you to graduate with your Ph.D.

Research and Externships

Some education students choose to participate in research studies as assistants or devise their own research projects. If you plan to become an educational researcher or professor, these programs can equip you with the skills that you need to teach future educators and to devise your own research. Educators who want to become administrators or work in the school system can benefit from hands-on classroom experience and the practical knowledge that comes from externships. However, while these projects can improve your academic credentials, they can also take time away from your classes and it could you take longer to graduate.

Writing and Defending a Dissertation

Your dissertation is a research-based scholarly paper that will be published if it is approved. It is partially guided by whether you're pursuing a Ph.D., which has a research focus, or an Ed.D., which focuses on practical classroom management and educational leadership techniques. You'll need to develop a dissertation topic, conduct exhaustive research, write and repeatedly edit your paper and defend it in front of a committee of experts. If you have trouble writing your dissertation or if your dissertation is rejected on the first try, it could take longer to complete your doctorate.

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