How to get into Vanderbilt’s online Ed.D. program

BY Sydney LakeAugust 08, 2022, 1:17 PM
Vanderbilt students enjoy a football game
Vanderbilt students in the stands celebrate a touchdown in a game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and LSU Tigers, as seen in October 2020 at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. (Photo by Matthew Maxey—Icon Sportswire/Getty Images)

Tucked away in Music City, Vanderbilt University is home to some of the top undergraduate, business, and law programs in the country—but also regularly ranks as being one of the best schools for studying education and leadership. Its online doctorate of education program is no different; in fact, Fortune ranks it as having the No. 1 program in the U.S.

“Applicants to Peabody’s Leadership and Learning in Organizations Ed.D. should know that the program is rigorous, as are all professional degree programs at Vanderbilt,” Susan Freeman Burns, director of digital education at Vanderbilt Peabody College, tells Fortune. “Although it is an online program, it has the same expectations and workload of a traditional, campus-based degree program.”

Vanderbilt’s Ed.D. program in leadership and learning (LLO) is hosted through the school’s Peabody College, which is home to the university’s education and human development studies. The program has a 34% acceptance rate, and incoming students on average have a 3.4 undergraduate GPA. While the school declined to offer admissions data including average test scores and average number of years of work experience, admissions are “highly selective,” according to a statement from Vanderbilt’s spokesperson. The school takes a “holistic approach,” looking at years and varieties of work experience and academic backgrounds.

The three-year program is offered online and includes both live and recorded weekly classes, so most students are working professionals. Curriculum focuses on leadership and organizational development, data and analytics, and learning and design. The program’s flexibility, along with its reputation, are a draw for students.

“Because of my professional position, I couldn’t take multiple years of a leave of absence to complete an on-campus degree program, but I also wanted a doctorate that would be as rigorous as any residential program in the nation,” Michael Hill, a current Vanderbilt Ed.D. student and president of the Chautauqua Institution, tells Fortune. “I found that at Vanderbilt.”

Overall, Vanderbilt is looking for students with a strong professional and academic background—but also those who have clear goals and passion. But what exactly does it take to be admitted? Here’s what you need to know.

Verbal and analytical competency

While Vanderbilt isn’t currently requiring that candidates submit GRE scores, they’re strongly recommended. Plus, admitted students usually have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Applicants who have an undergraduate GPA of less than 2.75 must submit test scores.

“A good balance of verbal and analytical abilities is important, as is a well-written statement of purpose that outlines professional goals and highlights prior professional or academic experiences that show one is prepared for the challenge of doctoral study,” Burns says. 

Vanderbilt requires applicants to submit the statement of purpose (a written essay) so that candidates can outline their professional goals, but also so the school can evaluate their written and analytical skills. 

More important than academic records and depth of professional experience, Burns says, is the passion to use their knowledge to solve systemic problems in education.

Professional experience and drive

Vanderbilt Ed.D. students come from a variety of backgrounds including the military, business, health care, education, and the nonprofit sector. The school is also looking for candidates who show a “demonstrated capacity for leadership,” Burns says. 

Applicants who may not have as many years of professional work experience often show their potential for leadership by describing in their personal statement an initiative they’ve taken that has led to systemic improvement, Burns says. The applicant needs to be able to explain why a doctorate specifically from Vanderbilt will help them take the next step in their career, she adds.

“Prior to applying, applicants should reflect on why they want to pursue this degree and what they hope to change or improve upon in their careers or their fields,” Burns says. “Students willing to disrupt their mental models, develop new habits of thought, and build new skills often describe the program as transformational.”

Before pursuing his Ed.D. at Vanderbilt, Hill worked for nonprofit and educational organizations for about two decades. 

“If my cohort is any evidence, Vanderbilt seeks students who delight in rigor, who lean into diverse perspectives, and who look at being challenged as a value add,” Hill says. “This isn’t a program for people who simply want to put ‘Ed.D.’ after their name.”

See how the schools you’re considering fared in Fortune’s rankings of the best master’s degree programs in nursing, computer science, cybersecuritypsychology, public healthbusiness analyticsdata sciencedoctorate in education, and part-timeexecutive, full-time, and online MBA programs.