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A scholarly doctorate of the highest caliber – fully online from a flagship university.

Do you aspire to work in academia or research? Our online Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) is a scholarly doctorate leading to roles as university faculty, postdoctoral scholars, social research scientists, or educational professionals outside traditional settings. Your five-chapter research dissertation (based on theory) will generate new knowledge and prepare you for a career in research-intensive fields.


We wish a warm welcome to all of our future and current students as well as alumni who are visiting our Ph.D. program page. This program is led by distinguished faculty whose mission is to prepare committed graduate students to serve as educational leaders. You will explore, innovate, and discover alongside faculty and a cohort of fellow peers during our completely online program. We hope you find this information helpful and energizing as you begin your doctoral journey.

Dr. John Nash, Chair of the Department of Educational Leadership Studies

Program Outcomes

Diverse learning experiences across the program prepare you to serve as a:

  • University faculty member
  • Postdoctoral scholar
  • Research scientist
  • Educational policy expert
Visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Still have questions? We are available to help during your application process.

Application Questions

Program Questions



You will complete 42 credit hours of coursework and 4 hours of residency for a total of 46 credit hours for program completion. We expect the program to take a minimum of 4 years, though 5 to 6 years is more typical. We admit cohorts of students in the Fall and the application deadline is generally around December 1st of each year.

All courses taught in the Department of Educational Leadership are online and include five to six live, synchronous class sessions via Zoom. Some courses are taught on Saturdays, others are taught in the evening during the workweek.


Leadership Core Research Method Core Electives
15 hours 15 hours 12 hours
  • EDL 700 – Knowledge Base*
  • EDL 701 – Leadership in Educational Organizations I*
  • EDL 703 – Leading Organizational Change
  • EDL 702 – Leadership for Organizational Learning*
  • EDL 704 – Politics of Educational Leadership
  • EDL 751 – Foundations of Inquiry*
  • EDL 792 – Research in Education Leadership*
  • EPE/EDP 660 – Research Design & Analysis in Education
  • EPE 663 – Field Studies in Educational Settings
  • One targeted research elective
  • Selected by student in consultation with Advisory Committee

*Denotes course in which live Zoom class sessions are held on five to six Saturdays during the sixteen-week term.

Program Pathway

Year 1    




You’re a doc student!

  • EDL 700
  • EDL 751
Continue your experience.


  • EDL 701
  • EPE 663

No summertime blues!

  • EDL 703
  • Enroll in elective(s).
    • Recommended: EDL 770 series of 1cr courses: theoretical and conceptual frameworks (1cr), literature reviews (1cr), and academic writing (1cr)
Year 2    




Select your major advisor.

  • EDL 702
  • EPE/EDP 660
  • Select your advisor and committee members.

Spring forward!

  • EDL 704
  • Select an elective

Hone your specialization.

  • Enroll in two electives (6 credit hours) approved by your advisory committee. We recommend taking your advanced methods elective.
Year 3    




Continue your research.

  • EDL 792
  • Enroll in an elective.

For those about to “doc”, we salute you!

  • Enroll in EDL 767.
  • Take your qualifying exams.

Just keep writing…just keep writing…

Year 4    




Defend your dissertation if eligible.

  • Enroll in EDL 767
  • Be sure to complete all required forms with the graduate school.
Continue to enroll in EDL 767 every fall and spring semester until you are done with your dissertation. Note: Enrollment in EDL 767 is not required in the summer.  


A program plan for the Ph.D. is available here.


Later Stages

Qualifying Exam and Dissertation

Prior to completing 39 credits, you will 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), you must present a dissertation prospectus for review by the dissertation committee. Once the prospectus is approved, you can enroll in EDL 792 and begin the proposal writing process for the dissertation.

Qualifying Examination

You will be 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

You must enroll in EDL 767 Dissertation Residency Credit (2 credits) the semester in which the qualifying examination is scheduled. You will remain continually enrolled in EDL 767 until successfully passing an oral examination (i.e., dissertation defense). Students are required to complete a minimum of two semesters of EDL 767 before they can graduate. Students are not required to be on campus for their residency


After passing the qualifying examination, you will be a doctoral candidate 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 a defense of a completed dissertation during a formal oral examination conducted by your 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 a dissertation before submitting a final copy in required format to the Department of Educational Leadership Studies and the Graduate School. You must complete all degree requirements within five years of passing the qualifying examination.



Our Program Experience

World-Class Scholarly Mentors

Cohort-Based Experience with Summer Doc Week

Opportunities to Share Work Nationally


We value…


Research lives at the core of our identity and we expect our students to embrace disciplined inquiry, not only as a tool but as a value.


Insights gained through reading and inquiry are best shared with others. Thus, we encourage our students to share their learning through conferences, publications, and digitally.


Each student’s Ph.D. journey is unique by definition. The contribution you will make to the world is singular to your experiences and expertise. Thus, the program, particularly in the later stages, is personalized to the student.


Earning a Doctor of Philosophy degree is hard work and few people in the world truly understand the journey. Thus, our cohort model encourages students to form communities to support one another both during the program and beyond.


Theories help us to understand the world around us and they exist because others before you have tested and refined ideas.


Conveying ideas clearly through writing is an essential skill to participate in the great human conversations that transcend space and time. The dissertation is, essentially, a published book that contributes to that global conversation. Your ability to write well is mandatory.


There is no prescribed playbook for advancing your thinking at this level. Instead, you are creating the playbook. Thus, we link you with faculty mentors as your advisory committee who mentor you through the process of asking novel questions and creating new knowledge.




The Ph.D. in Educational 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 prospective applicants:


To be eligible for admission to this graduate program, you must have:

  • A graduate degree (master’s degree) from an accredited college or university, with a minimum graduate GPA of 3.5
  • GRE scores:
    • Verbal: 460 (old GRE scale) 151 (new GRE scale) and percentile rank of 49
    • Quantitative: 640 (old GRE scale) 151 (new GRE scale) and percentile rank of 48
    • Analytical Writing: 4.0 or percentile rank of 49
  • Completed a graduate-level basic statistics course with grade of B or higher. See below.

Application Documents

  • UK Application for Admission
  • Transcripts: Copies of all transcripts from all postsecondary institutions that you attended. Uploaded transcripts may be official or unofficial, however If you are offered admission and decide to enroll you will then be required to submit official transcripts to the Graduate School.
  • GRE: Applicants will be asked to self-report these scores on the application (you can also supply a future date for taking the test). We will however also require official scores from the ETS or another method (verification of scores from another postsecondary institution on official letterhead). GRE scores should be sent directly to us from Educational Testing Service (ETS); the Institution Code for the GRE for UK Graduate School is R1837.These scores will be incorporated into your application and compared against self-reported scores to ensure consistency.
  • Professional Resume: This should provide your name, contact information, as well as postsecondary education (all degrees, years awarded, institution names, emphasis area), work experiences, professional certifications, professional memberships, publications, and references.
  • Personal Statement: Submit an up to 2 page personal statement addressing the following prompts: double spaced 12 pt font.
    • Why are you pursuing a doctorate?
    • What is your interest in Leadership?
    • What is your research interest?
  • Academic Writing: Submit a piece of academic writing (example) that you are most proud of or that demonstrates your ability as an academic writer. Ideally this sample should be from a writing that you have completed during the course of your graduate work. There is no page or format restriction. If you do not have an existing academic writing sample, please feel free to submit an original work that demonstrates your ability as an academic writer.
  • Recommendations: A. 2 (1 Professional & 1 Academic) both programs however PHD can have 2 academic references

International Applicants

If your native language is not English must submit either a TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score.

  • Minimum TOEFL score of 550 (paper-based), 213 (computer-based), or 79 (internet-based)
  • Minimum IELTS mean band score of 6.5
  • Please note that the language score for international applicants who have received a degree from a U.S. institution is waived.

Statistical Methods

You are required to show you have passed a course or met the requirement before August 15 the semester you start classes.

Applicants to the Ph.D. programs in Educational Leadership Studies must understand statistical concepts and the associated reasoning and critical thinking skills with those concepts such that they are prepared for our program’s advanced quantitative courses. Therefore, applicants to the Ph.D. programs in Educational Leadership Studies must demonstrate proficiency in basic statistical concepts and techniques that constitute the foundation of quantitative research.

To do this, most students show they have passed a course before August 15th of the year of admission covering the application of statistical methods data analysis. Basic descriptive statistics, correlation, normal distributions and hypothesis testing (including correlation and regression) should be covered. An emphasis should be placed on exploratory data analysis and interpretation of results within the broad contexts of education and/or evaluation. You should provide an official course description or syllabus of the course.

If you have not taken such a course you may:

  • Complete EPE 558 or EDP 558 before August 15th of the year of admission to Educational Leadership Studies. Increasingly, EPE 558 and EDP 558 are being offered online. Applicants and students should check with those departments to determine offerings each semester, OR
  • Show proof of completion of the following Open Learning Initiative course: It’s self-paced and free for independent learners.
On-Demand Writing

As part of the application process, each applicant participates in an on-demand writing task. The purpose of the writing task is to help us gauge your academic writing skills related to your ability to:

  • communicate in an organized and purposeful manner in response to a writing prompt,
  • provide depth of thought, with support for points made in your writing, and
  • show clarity of thought.

The 30 minute on-demand writing task will be conducted virtually via Zoom. Opportunities will be available monthly from August through November.

How will it work?

  • Sign up for a time slot.
  • You will receive information on how to log into the session.
  • You will receive a writing prompt and be directed to a private break out room.
  • You will have 30 minutes to respond to the writing prompt.
  • At the end of the 30-minute session, you will receive directions on where to email your writing sample.

How will my writing be assessed?

We are looking for four things in your writing.

  • Does your paper provide an overarching purpose and focus that directly addresses the prompt given?
  • Does your paper show a depth of thought about topic, including supporting examples and self-awareness?
  • Does your paper demonstrate organization in terms of introduction, transitions, and conclusions?
  • Does your paper show a command of general mechanics of writing (e.g., punctuation, spelling)?

What dates are available for this requirement?

  • August 17, 2023, 5:00 PM Eastern
  • September 14, 2023, 5:00 PM Eastern
  • October 19, 2023, 5:00 PM Eastern
  • November 16, 2023, 5:00 PM Eastern
  • November 30, 2023, 5:00 PM Eastern

How do I register?

You can sign up for one of the sessions via this registration link.

Answers to a Few Program Questions

Many more questions are answered on our departmental FAQ page.

How do I apply?

Detailed information about the application process can be found at

How long is the program?

You will complete 42 credit hours of coursework and 4 hours of residency for a total of 46 credit hours for program completion. We expect the program to take a minimum of 4 years, though 5 to 6 years is more typical.

What is the cost of the program?

For information regarding current program cost please refer to the UK Graduate Tuition and Fees page.

How can I get more information about this program?

Application Questions

Program Questions

What degree is earned at the end of this program?

Doctorate of Philosphy (Ph.D.) in Educational Sciences.

What are your refund policies?

You can find tuition refund policies, deadlines, amounts, and other important information on the UK Student Account Services website.


State Authorization and Licensure

If you plan to complete a University of Kentucky online program while living outside of Kentucky, you should check the Out-of-State Students page to determine if the University of Kentucky is authorized to provide this program in your state of residence. If you plan to use the degree to seek licensure, you should also determine if the degree meets the educational requirements for licensure in your state.