Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Leadership Frequently Asked Questions

Below are frequently asked questions for the Doctor of Philosophy in educational leadership in the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology at Western Michigan University.

How many credits does this Ph.D. involve? What does the program of studies look like? How many of my master’s degree courses will count within this program?

Each of the four concentrations in the Ph.D. in educational leadership require a minimum of 60 graduate credits (beginning Fall 2018). All include:

  • A leadership core;
  • A 30 credit hour professional inquiry, research, and dissertation core (twelve credits of research tools, and 18 credits for dissertation seminar and independent work).

The remaining credits are focused within each concentration’s subject area courses. Typically, there will be no substitutions for these required subject area courses unless there is nearly an identical match with another course taken. If students are pursuing a certificate or professional endorsement with their doctoral program, they may need to take more than the minimum 60 credit hours.

Where will courses be offered? How many of them will be offered via distance learning avenues?

Most classes needed for the K-12 and higher education doctoral concentrations are available at either the main Kalamazoo campus or the Grand Rapids regional campus (located on East Beltline in Grand Rapids or occasionally downtown). For career and technical education and organizational analysis, some required classes are only offered at the main Kalamazoo campus. All classes are taught via an evening, weekend (i.e., Friday night or Saturday once a month), or online format.

What is unique about this doctoral program?

Besides being targeted toward working professionals, this program contains a very unique professional inquiry, research and dissertation core for all students. This approach essentially flips the “dissertation process on its head” by having students focus on possible dissertation topics during the first year of their program, through both the initial doctoral studies seminar and their first professional field experience course. This will allow students in their second and third years to be working on their research ideas while taking core research and higher education courses.

This approach is very unique in that most doctoral programs require students to initially take a number of different content and research courses, pass their comprehensive exams, and only then begin to focus on their dissertation research. This places the burden of “guidance” for the dissertation primarily on the student’s advisor and committee members since all other courses have been completed. It also helps contribute to a large number of all-but-dissertations (students leaving a program with all but dissertation complete). Faculty within the Department of Educational Leadership, Research and Technology are committed to significantly decreasing the number of doctoral students not completing their programs due to concerns with the dissertation.

How long will it take students to complete this doctoral program?

On an aggressive part-time basis, working professionals could finish their Ph.D. in about three and a half years. This involves taking two classes each fall and spring semester, and one class each during summer I and summer II sessions. The time frame may be longer depending on the number of previous graduate credits, number of classes taken each year and how long it takes a student to complete their dissertation.

What if I have two masters' degrees, a specialist degree or another doctorate degree?

Students must complete at least 42 credits at WMU to receive a doctorate degree no matter how many previous graduate credits they have earned (and degrees completed). This includes a minimum of 30 credits of courses (e.g., 10 three-credit classes), and 12 credits of dissertation hours.

I started a doctoral program long ago but never finished. Will any of those credits count?

Students have a total of seven years to complete the doctoral program from the point of taking their first classes. Although credits earned as part of any “completed” graduate degrees can be used no matter how old they are, other credits earned that were not part of a completed program can be no more then two to four years old (depending on how long it takes you to complete your required program at WMU). For example, if you are able to complete all doctoral course work and dissertation requirements in three years, then previous graduate credits from an uncompleted degree that are no more than four years old could count toward your doctoral program, thus allowing all credits needed to be completed within a seven year period of time.

If you are enrolled in another doctoral program or recently have been taking post-master’s degree classes, many of those classes could count toward this doctorate at WMU. If, however, you left a graduate degree program prior to completion five or more years ago, none of those “uncompleted degree courses” could count.

Can I apply for this program without a master's degree?

This Ph.D. in educational leadership program is designed for students who have completed their master's degree. If you are nearing the completion of your master's degree, you can apply for this doctoral program, but none of those credits could count toward this Ph.D. until that degree is completed.

How do I apply?

Due date: Early January of each year
Application requirements
Questions: Contact the department's graduate office at (269) 387-3896

General GRE exam scores must be submitted by the application deadlines. GRE tests are offered daily at testing centers. It often takes several weeks to schedule a testing time and it takes at least three weeks for your results to be sent to the University.

Do I have to take the GRE? How much will this count in the application review?

Yes, WMU requires that all doctoral students take the general portion of the GRE exam. GRE scores, especially the writing portion of the exam, become an important determinant when faculty are unsure about other aspects of the application. Students who receive a score less than a 4.0  for that section should consider either retaking the GRE, or addressing that issue within their application materials, explaining their lower score.

However, the GRE is only one of several criteria examined by the application review committee, including:

  • Formal interview process.
  • Longer-term career goals.
  • Reference forms with attached letters.
  • Professional responsibilities and activities.
  • Writing sample (via the written narrative).

Note: If you have ever taken the general GRE test, those scores are valid for this application process (no matter how old, as long as you have an official copy of those scores). We will also accept GMAT scores if you have taken that exam.

Can I start taking classes prior to being admitted to the doctoral program?

Yes, you are allowed to take up to nine credits prior to formal admission to a graduate program at WMU. You must complete a non-degree status (graduate) application prior to enrolling for any WMU classes. Please note that the application fee that is required with this form may be applied toward the application fee required when you apply for the doctoral program.

What if I haven't taken classes within the last year? 

Students who have not taken a WMU class in more than a year may be blocked from registering for future classes. Once you have applied for readmission progress to date will be evaluated and students are notified regarding their readmission request. This process may take several weeks.

Are there graduate assistantships available for full-time students? What about financial aid?

There are a limited number of Graduate College doctoral associateships for students able to commit to 20 hours of work each week.

Eligibility criteria

  • Must be a student in the Department of Educational Leadership Research and Technology
  • Must maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above
  • Must be able to work the required 20 hours of service per week for a full time award

Application deadline:  February 15

New applicants

Additional financial aid information is available from WMU's financial aid website.