Ph.D. in Educational Leadership

photo of Dr. John Nash

Welcome from Dr. John Nash!

Dr. Nash is the Director of Graduate Studies for Educational Leadership Studies. He fields questions about our doctoral programs. Feel free to send him an email if you have any questions about the program or about planning a course of study.

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Program Overview

The Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) is a scholarly doctorate and designed for those wishing to work in academia and/or research including university faculty, post doctoral scholars, social research scientists, or other educational professions that are traditionally outside of the K-12 classroom or district office.  The program requires completion of a five-chapter research dissertation that is expected to be based on theory, generate new knowledge and prepare you for a career in one of the more research intensive fields. The program requires 42 credit hours of coursework (15 hours in leadership; 15 hours in research; 12 hours in a specialty area) and also requires at least 4 credits of dissertation credit (most usually a few more than 4). We expect the program to take a minimum of 4 years, though more typical is 5 to 6 years. We admit cohorts of students in the Fall and the application deadline is generally around February 15th of each year.

NOTE: This program does not lead to rank change for Kentucky educators.

Ph.D. vs. Ed.D. Program Delivery

Our Ph.D., described on this page, is limited to students who can complete the program in a hybrid format, meaning they need to come to Lexington from time to time (all dependent on which classes they enroll in). This limitation is in place because our department (Educational Leadership Studies) cannot guarantee that a Ph.D. student’s electives and advanced methodology coursework will be available online (such courses are, more often than not, offered outside our department and thus outside our control).

Our Executive Ed.D. program, described here, will be offered online, allowing Executive EdD students to attend from anywhere.


Admission Requirements

The Ph.D. in Education Sciences with a specialization in Educational Leadership Studies involves a selective admissions process based on a holistic review of all application materials. The following requirements are offered as guidance to perspective applicants.

  • Successful completion of a graduate degree (Master’s degree) from an accredited college or university, with a minimum graduate GPA of 3.5;
  • A minimum combined verbal and quantitative score of 300 for GRE tests taken on or after August 1, 2011 (a minimum combined verbal and quantitative score of 1000 for GRE taken before August 1, 2011), and a minimum score of 4.0 on the analytic reasoning section of the test; and
  • Completion of a graduate-level basic statistics course with a grade of B or higher.

Information on specific application requirements can be found on the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Education Sciences page.

Application Documents

  1. UK Application for Admission
  2. Official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions that you attended.
  3. Professional Resume that provides your name and contact information as well as postsecondary education (all degrees, years awarded, institution names, emphasis area), work experiences, professional certifications, professional memberships, publications and references.
  4. A Personal Statement in the form of a Statement of Purpose (3-5 double-spaced pages, word-processed in either Times New Roman 12-point or Ariel 10-point, page numbers and your name in upper right corner). If you cite literature/resources to support your comments, adhere to the academic writing guidelines provided in 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. Provide background about your experiences as a leader and share how these experiences have prompted you to enroll in a doctoral program in the area of educational leadership studies.
    • Previous teaching and/or life experiences that have influenced your decision to pursue a doctoral degree.
    • Research interests (i.e., specific problems or general areas in which you hope to work),
    • Specific career goals, and
    • Rationale for why the Educational Leadership Strand of the Educational Science program at the University of Kentucky is a “good fit” for your goals.
  5. Writing Sample in the form of a sole authored article, manuscript, class paper, or Master’s Thesis demonstrating APA style command (title page, headers, references).
  6. Four references including one by your supervisor and a college/university faculty member.

Program Pathway

The Ph.D. in Education Sciences with a specialization in Educational Leadership Studies program requires successful completion of 42 credit hours of postmaster’s graduate coursework including ten required courses and four elective courses described below.

Upon admission to the program, the student will be assigned an advisory chair. The student must meet with her or his advisory chair during the first semester to develop an individualized Curriculum Contract that will be reviewed annually and updated as needed.

Leadership Core
. A total of 15 credit hours constitute the leadership core. Required courses:
EDL 700, Knowledge Base for Leaders
EDL 701, Leadership in Educational Organizations
EDL 703, Leading Organizational Change
EDL 702, Leadership in Organizational Learning
EDL 704, Politics of Educational Leadership

Research methodology core. A total of 15 credit hours constitute the research methods core, 12 of which are required by the College of Education.

Successful completion of a graduate-level basic statistics course is a prerequisite for admission to the program.

Students must take:

• EDL 751, Foundations of Inquiry

• EDL 792, Research in Educational Leadership

In addition, students must take a minimum of nine hours, including one qualitative and one quantitative course from the following list of classes:

Quantitative Options

• EDP/EPE 660 Research Design and Analysis in Education

• EDP 707 Multivariate Analysis in Educational Research

• EPE 619 Survey Research Methods in Education

• EPE/EDP 620 Topics and Methods of Evaluation

• EPE/EDP 621 Advanced Topics and Methods of Evaluation

• EPE 679 Multiple Measures in Education and Evaluation

Qualitative Options

• EPE 663 Field Studies in Educational Institutions

• EPE 763 Advanced Field Studies

 Elective courses. A total of 12 credit hours of elective coursework constitute student’s specialization area. Several options are available to meet this requirement. With approval from advisory chair, a student may

  • Take additional research-based courses (e.g., evaluation methods for educational leaders, survey methods for educational leaders, data-informed supervision);
  • Take additional knowledge-based courses (e.g., international perspectives on educational reform, social context of educational leadership, instructional supervision, superintendency);

Take up to 6 credits of EDL 785, Independent Work in School Administration (e.g., conduct pilot study, complete independent readings in specialization area); or take up to 9 credits of graduate coursework at another accredited institution for transfer into Ed.D. program—provided courses meet EDL and UK requirements for doctoral study and are approved by dean of Graduate School.

Sample Course Sequence

Year 1 Fall Semester (6 credits)
EDL700, Knowledge Base for Leaders
EDL751, Foundations of Inquiry

Year 1 Spring Semester (6 credits)
EDL701, Leadership in Educational Organizations
EDP/EPE 660 Research Design and Analysis in Education

Year 1 Summer Semester (6 credits)
EDL703, Leading Organizational Change

Year 2 Fall Semester (6 credits)
EDL702, Leadership in Educational Organizations
EPE 663 Field Studies in Educational Institutions

Year 2 Spring Semester (6 credits)
EDL704, Politics of Educational Leadership

Year 2 Summer Semester (6 credits)

Year 3 Fall Semester (6 credits)
EDL 792, Research in Educational Leadership


Prior to completing 39 credits, the student must identify a dissertation chair and form a dissertation advisory committee according to UK Graduate School regulations. Prior to enrolling in EDL 792, Research in Educational Leadership (proposal writing course), the student must present a dissertation prospectus for review by the dissertation committee. Once the prospectus is approved, the student can enroll in EDL 792 and begin the proposal writing process for the dissertation.

Qualifying examination. A student is eligible to sit for the qualifying examination upon successful completion of 42 credits of doctoral coursework. The qualifying exam process includes a written (3 to 4 questions) and an oral component.

Dissertation residency. Students must enroll in EDL 767 Dissertation Residency Credit (2 credits) the semester in which the qualifying examination is scheduled and remain continually enrolled in EDL 767 until successfully passing an oral examination (i.e.,dissertation defense).The UK Graduate School requires a minimum of 4 residency credits earned during an academic year(i.e., fall and spring semester).

Candidacy. After passing the qualifying examination, a doctoral candidate is eligible to proceed with dissertation research. Approval to conduct research must be sought from the UK Institutional Review Board (IRB) and any other entities requiring permission to conduct research at a site or to use existing data.

Oral examination. The summative assessment for the doctoral program is defense of a completed dissertation during a formal oral examination conducted by candidate’s advisory committee and an external reviewer representing the UK Graduate School. Candidates who pass the oral examination have up to 60 days to make revisions to dissertation before submitting a final copy in required format to EDL and Graduate School. Candidate must complete all degree requirements within five years of passing qualifying examination.