If a master’s in early childhood education is one of the 50 highest paying master’s degrees, it stands to reason that education professionals with a Ph.D. in the subject could earn even more. Although it may be tempting to start looking at Ph.D. programs to boost your employment opportunities in early childhood education, you need to think carefully about what you want out of your degree. A Ph.D. is desirable only for certain positions in early childhood education but can actually over-qualify you for other roles. Students considering a Ph.D. program should choose a master’s degree with that end goal in mind or look for a bachelor’s-to-doctorate program.
Who Should Earn a Ph.D. in Early Childhood Education?
A doctorate in early childhood education typically prepares you for one of two career paths: educational leadership or research. If you enjoy classroom teaching and want to remain in the classroom, earning a Ph.D. is overkill. Having this advanced an education may actually diminish your career opportunities by making you come across as over-qualified for classroom teaching roles.
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You might, however, want to pursue your Ph.D. in early childhood education if you aspire to work in a high-level leadership or administration role. Preschool directors, preschool and elementary school principals and other school administrators may benefit from pursuing a Ph.D. School superintendents, who typically manage entire school districts in a role comparable to the chief executive officer (CEO) of a business, often have a doctoral degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, the higher level of leadership role you pursue, the more likely it is that having a Ph.D. in education will pay off.
The other career path which may require you to get a Ph.D. in early childhood education is researcher. Although a lot is already known about the development of young children and how they learn, researchers continue to add to the field new and surprising findings. These research findings are what drive the development of new methods of teaching and learning young children. Ph.D. programs are traditionally research-intensive programs that allow students to explore and write a dissertation on original research projects.
Students should note that a Ph.D. in early childhood education is not the same thing as a doctorate in educational psychology. Although psychologists typically do need a doctoral degree, the coursework covered in an educational psychology degree is very different than what you will find in a Ph.D. program in early childhood education, early child development or educational leadership.
Classroom teachers who want to continue their education would likely be better off earning additional master’s degrees or graduate certificates in their areas of interest than moving forward with a Ph.D. program, unless they want to become administrators or researchers.
Planning for a Ph.D. in Education
Once you’re sure that a Ph.D. in education is the right choice for you, you should start taking steps to make this goal a reality. Although most undergraduate programs in education focus more on the practical methods of classroom management and instruction than on research, aspiring Ph.D. students should make every effort to gain research experience.
Most Ph.D. in education programs expect students to have already completed both their bachelor’s and master’s degrees. However, some Ph.D. programs accept students with only a bachelor’s degree. In any case, research is an important component of most Ph.D. programs. You may be expected to have capitalized on every research opportunity available to you throughout your education. If you plan to pursue your Ph.D., then you may benefit from choosing a master’s degree program that includes a thesis requirement as opposed to a non-thesis program.
Besides merely fulfilling admissions requirements, students considering a Ph.D. in education should go into this pursuit with a realistic understanding of the commitment they are making. A Ph.D. in education program is a lengthy course of study, often requiring six years of coursework. In many cases, pursuing a Ph.D. is a full-time commitment that will take you away from your current roles in education, which can be a big sacrifice both financially and professionally. If you want to keep gaining work experience through your doctoral studies, make sure you choose a Ph.D. program intended for working educators or look into other doctoral degree options outside of the Ph.D.
Prospective doctoral students should also consider whether a research-focused Ph.D. or a professional Doctoral of Education (Ed.D.) is a more fitting choice for them. Ed.D. programs tend to emphasize educational administration practice over academic research.