The purpose of the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree program is to prepare students for careers in the professoriate or policy arena as an analyst, researcher, agency executive or consultant, some practitioners elect to pursue these degrees. The Ph.D. degree in Educational Leadership requires more extensive contact with and immersion in the university culture than does the Ed.D. degree. This contact and immersion usually take the following form: a requirement for more research courses (15 hours of course work and 18 hours of dissertation research); extensive interaction, dialogue and work with faculty on research projects; and expectations that students present their research at conferences or in publications.

The Ph.D. program emphasizes the development of theoretical thinking and knowledge development in the field of educational leadership through the development of strong research skills. Ideal graduates are those who cannot only provide a detailed critique of existent research in their areas of expertise, but also contribute to the research knowledge. Distinctions between the Ph.D. and Ed.D. degrees should be noted by prospective applicants. Toward this end, students who apply to the Ph.D. degree should provide a written rationale as to why they wish to pursue this degree, how its focus and purposes are consistent with their career goals, and how they plan to meet the on-campus residency requirement. This rationale is part of the application process.

Program Coordinator: Dr. Jingping Sun

Admission Requirements

  • Deadline:  Application deadline is April 1st for fall admission (Applications past the deadline will be considered if space allows or due to exceptional circumstances).

Potential applicants should be aware that admission to the UA doctoral programs is a competitive process and that submitting an application does not guarantee admission.  Minimum entrance requirements include

  • Masters Degree – An earned Masters degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA – A minimal graduate grade point average of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • GRE Exam – The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is required for entrance into the Ph. D. program, potential applicants are required to report scores from the GRE. Test scores at or above the 50th percentile on the Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning subscales of the GRE are needed. Note, the scores submitted for consideration for admission must be less than 5 years old from the applicant’s admission deadline.
  • Admission test scores (GRE or MAT) have been waived to best accommodate applicants in response to COVID19.

Application Process

  • Graduate School Application – Applicants must first submit an application to the University of Alabama’s Graduate School.  For a complete listing of graduate application forms please visit the Graduate School at http://graduate.ua.edu/application/
  • Three Letters of Recommendation – As described in the Graduate School Application above, the three required letters of recommendation, including one from a direct supervisor, of recommendation are to be sent to Dr. Jingping Sun.
  • Vita – Applicants are required to include a vitae or resume.
  • Writing Sample – Applicants are required to include a recent sample (within the last year) of their academic or professional writing.
  • Other Requirements – Other application requirements include.
    • Reference Letters – The application must include letters of professional and academic reference (as described in and as part of the Graduate School Application Process).
    • Purpose, Rationale and Career Statement – Students who apply to the Ph.D. degree must provide a convincing written rationale as to why wish to pursue this degree, how its focus/purposes are consistent with their career goals, and how they plan to meet the on-campus residency requirement. Applicants whose interests are deemed inconsistent with this focus/purposes of Ph.D. degree—yet who are otherwise qualified for doctoral study—will be encouraged to apply to the Department’s Ed.D. program. This purpose statement must address the following: (1) the student’s rationale for applying for the Ph.D.; (2) a statement regarding career and professional goals; and (3) a statement of how the student’s rationale and career goals are consistent with the purpose of the Ph.D. degree as articulated by the Department and Program.
    • Writing Sample – An academic or professional writing sample written by the applicant within the last year to provide evidence of the student’s writing ability.
    • Professional Experience – While for the Ed.D. degree, experience in teaching and or leadership are key factors considered in the admission process, these factors are desirable yet less important for the Ph.D. degree.
    • An update resume.

Program Requirements


  • Prior to admission, applicants must provide evidence that they have completed a course in the following areas with the following parameters:
    • Special Education Course – Applicants must have taken a special education with a grade of ‘B’ or better.
    • Graduate Level Statistics Research Course – In addition, if applicants have not taken BER 540 – Quantitative Methods I (Intro to Statistical Methods) or an acceptable pre- approved masters-level equivalent within the last four years with a grade of ‘B’ or better, then if accepted into the doctoral program, students are required to complete this course before beginning the 12 hour research requirement.


Educational Leadership Degree (AEL) Course Requirements: 24 hours

Transfer Parameters on AEL courses – Please note that as of Fall 2019, the following policies guide the transference of courses into the Ph.D. program:

  • Applicants with an Ed.S. Degree from The University of Alabama – For students with an Ed.S. from the University of Alabama and at the discretion of a student’s advisor and program of study committee, up to 24 hours (including Foundation and Research courses) of the AEL Ed.S. may be counted toward the Ph.D. degree upon advisor approval if the following parameters are met: (1) the course was completed no more than 5 years from the date of the student’s admittance, and (2) a grade ‘B’ or better (note, not a ‘B-‘) was earned in the course.
  • Applicants with an Ed.S. Degree not from University of Alabama – (Effective April 1, 2017) For students who have completed an Ed.S. at institutions other than the University of Alabama and at the discretion of a student’s Advisor and Program of Study committee, up to 24 hours (including Foundation and Research courses) of their Ed.S. program may be counted toward the Ph.D. degree upon advisor approval if the following parameters are met: (1) the institution from which the student took these courses is accredited; (2) the course(s) addresses a major curricular component of the Ph.D. program at the University of Alabama as captured in the Program’s current array of doctoral AEL courses; (3) the course(s) was completed no more than 5 years from the date of the student’s admittance, and (4) a grade ‘B’ or better (note, not a ‘B-‘) was earned in the course(s).
  • Applicants with an Ed.S. in a specific curricular area of education, or in Teacher Leadership or Library Media rather than in educational leadership.  Under review — TBD.

Doctoral Comprehensive Qualifying Exam

A comprehensive exam designed to assess the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge and skills is administered twice each academic year.  The Doctoral Comprehensive Qualifying Exam is not offered in the summer.

  • Purpose of Comp Exam:  The comprehensive exam is designed to assess the breadth and depth of a student’s knowledge and skills based on the entire range of his/her/their doctoral course work and consistent with the purpose of the Ph.D. degree.
  • Exam Date and Time:  Unless specified otherwise, this multi-hour, single day exam is given both in Gadsden and in Tuscaloosa on the same date and typically offered on Saturdays during the 9th-12th week of these semesters (9:00-12:00, 1:00-4:00). Students are required to take and successfully pass this exam before they can formally begin the dissertation process and register for dissertation research hours (AEL 699:Dissertation Research)
  • Logistics of Exam: The student’s advisor selects questions that reflect the individual needs of the doctoral student. The Advisor disseminates the questions to the examination proctor, coordinates the evaluation, and reports the results.  Students may choose to either type or handwrite their examination. No lap top computers, books, notes or other outside materials will be allowed.  A room with sufficient computers will be provided.  While it is appropriate for students to seek information from professors on the general domains to be examined in a given course, students should not solicit nor be given information regarding specific questions.
  • Requirements for Taking Exam:  Before sitting for the Comprehensive exam, the following parameters must be met by the student:
  • Approved Program of Study – Students cannot sit for the Comprehensive exam unless a Program of Study has been both completed and officially approved.
  • Completed all AEL course requirements – Students cannot sit for the Comprehensive Exam unless they have completed all AEL course requirements (AEL core + electives) or are in the last semester of doing so.
  • Removal of all Incompletes from Academic Record – Students cannot sit for the Comprehensive Exam unless they have removed all Incompletes (‘I’) from their academic record.
  • Completion of Comprehensive Exam Application Form – Students cannot sit for the Comprehensive Exam unless they have completed and submitted the Request To Take Comprehensive Exam Form via e-mail to Dr. Jingping Sun.

Doctoral Residency Requirement

The University of Alabama recognizes that doctoral students should be immersed in advanced study and inquiry, interact extensively and meaningfully with faculty and peers, engage with the academic community in their field, and have access to the educational resources of the university. To achieve these goals, a minimum of 50 percent of coursework hours to be counted in a student’s doctoral program must be from The University of Alabama (exclusive of dissertation research hours and subject to the Graduate Catalog’s Transfer of Credit policies). Additionally, 100 percent of dissertation credit hours must be from The University of Alabama. Diverse academic traditions, rapidly changing instructional modalities, and new student populations are acknowledged and accommodated with this policy.

Program of Study Form Requirement

During their initial year of study and no later than the beginning of the second year of study, doctoral students are required to submit an approved Program of Study.  Completed under the guidance of the student’s assigned advisor, the Program of Study must be officially approved by his/her/their advisor and the student’s program committee. The Program of Study functions to: (1) specify in advance program course requirements; (2) plan, chart and monitor a student’s progress in the program; and (3) define the parameters regarding the counting of course credits taken at other colleges or universities to meet doctoral program requirements at the University of Alabama.  Students are advised against making premature judgments about courses to be transferred in from other institutions and programs.  In addition to the guidelines specified b the Program of Study, such decisions are based on the professional judgments of tenure-track faculty in the Educational Administration and Instructional Leadership Programs at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa campus.  Personnel at the UA-Gadsden are not authorized to provide advice or to approve a student’s Program of Study.  Appropriate Program of Study Forms for the Ph.D. degrees can be found at the following links:

A minimum of two academic years of graduate study beyond the Masters degree is required for completion of Ph.D.  Students accepted into the Ph.D. program in Educational Administration or in Instructional Leadership at the University of Alabama have seven years from the semester in which they were admitted to complete the Ph.D. degree.  This translates into 21 Fall, Spring and Summer semesters.  Students who exceed this limit will be dropped from the program.  Under certain unusual conditions students may request an extension from the Graduate School at the University of Alabama. To request such an extension, with the approval of the student’s program Advisor and according to the Graduate School Policy: “Only under well-documented, extraordinary circumstances beyond the student’s control, a student may petition for a one-semester extension to the seven-year time limit, if the extension is recommended by the student’s advisor, the department head, approved by the college dean, and finally approved by the graduate dean or his/her/their designee.  If a student fails to complete all degree requirements within seven years of his/her/their admission to the doctoral program or within a Graduate School approved one-semester extension, the student will be officially suspended from the doctoral program and must reapply for admission.”