northeastern university seal

Introducing Hybrid NUflex—study in person or remotely this fall. Learn More.

Introducing Hybrid NUflex—study in person or remotely this fall. Learn More.

5 Tips for Choosing Your EdD Concentration

Faculty Insights Industry Advice Education

Associate teaching professor Tova Olson Sanders details what you should consider when choosing your degree concentration.

You’ve learned more about why you should earn your Doctor of Education (EdD), and now you’re ready to apply and identify a specific concentration to pursue.

Northeastern’s EdD program offers three degree concentrations:

  • Curriculum, Teaching, Leadership and Learning (CTLL)
  • Higher Education Administration (HEA)
  • Organizational Leadership Studies (OLS)

How do you choose between the three? Here are five factors to consider.

Download Our Free Guide to Earning Your EdD

Learn how an EdD can give you the skills to enact organizational change in any industry.


5 Tips for Choosing Your EdD Concentration

1. Consider your professional goals.

Northeastern’s EdD program is aimed toward the scholar-practitioner and is designed to prepare you to make a real difference in the places you live and work. Regardless of the concentration, students share a strong commitment to social justice and are dedicated to furthering change in a variety of organizational contexts. Therefore, when choosing a concentration, strongly consider your professional goals and aspirations.

  • If you are a leader in education seeking to articulate a commitment to social justice, then the Curriculum Teaching and Learning Concentration (CTLL) would be a great fit for you. You could grow in your leadership role, whether you work in a formal or informal educational setting, profit or not-for-profit venue, in the K-12 system and beyond, or in a public or private industry. You will develop a capacity to advance learning and leadership, transform curriculum, and address systems through a lens of change.
  • The Higher Education Administration Concentration (HEA) provides the context in which to initiate change and investigate a complex problem of practice in the post-secondary setting. If you are an experienced educator or administrator who wants to reflect on and advance your knowledge in ways that enhance your ability to make a contribution to community and four-year colleges, for-profit organizations, or research institutions, this concentration may be an excellent fit. The concentration allows experienced educators and administrators to reflect on and advance their knowledge in ways that will enhance their ability to make a contribution to higher education.
  • If you are an experienced professional who is interested in initiating change at a strategic level in the context of colleagues representing a diverse array of industries and organizations, you may want to consider the Organizational Leadership Studies concentration. Designed for leaders working in educational, government, healthcare, military, not-for-profit, for-profit, and management consulting organizations, this concentration combines theory, research, and practice to develop individuals who can effectively manage and lead change in today’s fast-paced, global environment. Students within OLS conduct and apply doctoral research to develop real-world answers to the leadership challenges facing 21st-century organizations. This concentration is ideal for those who wish to advance in their current organizational context or transition into consulting roles.

2. Consider your passions and interests.

Concentration courses provide an excellent way for you to customize your EdD experience and immerse yourself in a subject you’re passionate about. The concentration courses are intentionally designed with a specific focus, and it’s relatively easy to look at the course descriptions and determine what might be of most interest to you. The following are examples of foundational concepts introduced through coursework:

  • Within the Curriculum, Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (CTLL) concentration (CTLL), students will focus on topics such as curriculum theory and practice, social justice and equity, educational entrepreneurship and leadership, and educational systems.
  • The curriculum within the Higher Education Administration (HEA) concentration focuses on globalization of higher education and offers courses that focus on topics such as governance and leadership, higher educational law, strategic management and financial decision-making.
  • Students in the Organizational Leadership Studies (OLS) concentration will experience an interdisciplinary curriculum which focuses on the foundations of organizational change including leadership, culture, learning, change, communications, systems, and strategy

3. Consider your context.

As an EdD student, you’ll join a diverse network of 1,956 Northeastern EdD students and alumni from around the world. Concentrations allow you to both expand this network and engage in discussions among smaller cohorts of community members who have similar passions and interests.

When choosing a concentration, consider the scholarly and professional conversations you want to be a part of. For example, the primary audience for the Higher Education Administration concentration are individuals currently immersed in the higher education setting, those in Curriculum Teaching Leadership and Learning include students who are passionate about teaching and learning in a variety of educational contexts, and students in the Organizational Leadership Studies concentration represent individuals from a variety of organizational contexts, such as military, not-for-profit, for-profit, government, healthcare, and management consulting organizations.

Oftentimes, students prefer to engage with those in the same context, especially if they want to advance in their current role and deepen their understanding of the subject. Other students may want to engage with individuals from a variety of contexts in the hopes of gaining insight from multiple industries. Regardless of concentration, students will be engaged with a global network of students, alumni, and industry partners that transcends contexts and locations.

4. Keep in mind you will always have electives.

As you explore your choices, keep in mind that you’ll always have an elective that can be taken within or across concentrations. Therefore, do not choose a concentration on the basis of one course. Oftentimes, students find that one course from another concentration is of interest or necessity professionally, but that the other classes don’t complement their skillset or career aspirations and goals. While there is a core set of courses that provide a foundation in each concentration, your elective provides an opportunity to engage if there is a particular topic or area you hope to explore.

5. Consider your thesis topic, but don’t let it limit your choice.

One of the unique aspects of a scholar-practitioner program is that your independent research spawns from real-world problems of practice in your work environment or community. There are endless options for your choice of research topic, and your independent research is typically motivated by something you are curious about in your localized environment. While your coursework may provide a theoretical lens or further insight into some area related to your problem-of-practice, there may not be a direct correlation.  As a student in the EdD program, your thesis research will be inspired by the passion for your work and desire to initiate change.

That said, your coursework can inform your independent research. For example, if you are interested in exploring leadership and culture in contemporary organizations, enrolling in the “Contemporary Models of Leadership” or “Organizational Culture” course would help forward your work—making OLS a good choice. Similarly, students focused specifically on leadership in postsecondary institutions may benefit from coursework in higher education governance and leadership, and students’ whose problem-of-practice focuses on curriculum and instruction may benefit from a course focused on curriculum theory and design within CTLL.

As noted above, you can always take an elective related to your thesis topic, so choose the concentration which has overall coursework that best matches your passions and interests, furthers your professional goals and aspirations, and allows you to develop the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to initiate change in your professional environments and communities.

Download Our Free Guide to Earning Your EdD