If you’re the kind of person who dreams of staying in college forever, a job in higher education might be your calling. You could become one of those “cool profs” whose classes all the students love — but teaching isn’t your only option.
Higher ed jobs include everything from administrative roles to finance gigs and IT work. For example, you could work in a student loan office, in the library, or on the campus maintenance team.
There are also diverse employment options, from traditional four-year colleges and universities to technical schools and community colleges. You don’t even have to work in education. Higher ed roles can be found in all kinds of sectors, from health care to government.
Considering a higher ed job but need help figuring out where to start? Our higher ed career resource guide has you covered. Below, we discuss some popular higher education career opportunities and detail the requirements for each one. We also give you a list of job alerts on Handshake so that you can jump-start your higher ed career.
Is higher ed a good career path for you?
A passion for education is a must-have if you want to work in higher ed. Even if you aren’t teaching, you’ll play a part in supporting the education system. Believing in the cause can make work more fun.
Other traits that can help you thrive in higher ed include:
- Collaboration and communication. Higher education systems rely on teams of people working together. For example, if you’re a professor, you may teach independently but still have to support your department.
- Critical thinking and decision-making. An analytical mindset and the ability to make tough decisions can help in many higher ed roles. For example, if you’re in cybersecurity, you have to think fast when resolving security threats.
- Problem-solving. When challenges arise in any higher education role, overcoming them is critical to ensuring the institution’s ongoing function. For instance, if you’re a student housing coordinator and a new student arrives on campus without a home, you’ve got to find a solution.
- Management abilities. If you want to climb the ranks of higher education, leadership skills are a must. For example, if you’re an administrative assistant, being able to manage a team can pave the path for senior admin positions.
- Digital literacy. Higher education institutions rely on computer networks and systems to manage everything from student registration to tuition payments. For example, if you work in the financial services office, you’ll likely need to know financial tools like Microsoft Excel.
Think a job in higher education might be for you? We’ve got great news: There are plenty of job opportunities on both the teaching and non-teaching side.
Job opportunities for postsecondary teachers are expected to grow 12% through 2031, much faster than the national average. Growth is especially strong for part-time roles. Administrative roles in the field will also grow at a rate of 7%.
Check out this guide on the top 20 industries to work in.
Benefits of higher ed careers
Higher education institutions offer unique benefits you won’t find in every job. Here are some perks of working in the field:
- Education opportunities. Many higher ed institutions offer free or discounted education. For example, employees may get tuition waivers. Sometimes, these benefits apply to the immediate family, like children.
- Time off. Higher ed jobs often have more time off than a nine-to-five job. Paid holidays might be built in around the school’s opening hours. For example, some universities take off for spring break and Thanksgiving.
- Housing support. Some higher education institutions help employees get housing. For example, the school may partner with a third-party housing supplier to get employees discounted rates on rental properties. Some schools even provide financial assistance for home purchases.
- Transportation support. Depending on the school’s location, it may provide transportation assistance for students and employees. For example, a free shuttle bus may transport people from metropolitan areas to campus. Other options include carpool matching services and free public transport passes.
- Child care. Some higher ed jobs include child care at a free or reduced rate. This child care might be on-site, making managing a career and kids easier.
Challenges of higher ed careers
While higher ed jobs offer plenty of perks, they also have challenges. Common hurdles of working in higher ed include:
- Limited job security. A lot of higher education work takes the form of limited-term contracts, especially educational roles. Unless you have a tenure-track faculty position, your job isn’t guaranteed from one year to the next.
- The need to move for work. Since job security can be tenuous in higher ed, most people need to follow work where they can get it. This can mean moving around frequently and not always to a place you love.
- Time management challenges. Higher education jobs are demanding and require multitasking, making time management difficult. For example, professors are responsible for teaching and research and administrative work.
<h3>Industries where you can build a higher ed career</h3>
When people think of working in higher education, they usually assume it means working for a college or university. However, it’s possible to get a higher ed job in a range of industries, including:
- Health care. Education jobs in the health care sector could include working as a behavioral health technician or direct support professional (DSP). Behavioral health techs provide care to people with developmental disorders or mental health illnesses, while DSPs support people with disabilities, helping improve their communication skills to gain employment.
- Government. From the U.S. Air Force to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), government agencies have their own education programs. They employ education and training specialists to run those programs, using knowledge of education principles and testing methods to keep departments running smoothly.
- Finance. The financial sector also needs education professionals. For example, financial firms like banks or brokers may need educators to teach consumers how to use the financial tools they sell responsibly. There are also finance-related roles within higher education, such as student loan officers or financial aid administrators.
- Nonprofit sector. Many nonprofits devote part of their efforts to education and awareness-building and require support staff to implement these components. For example, an outreach and education coordinator may help spread the word about the nonprofit’s cause and how people can support it.
Gaining experience in a specific industry can also help pave the path to other education jobs. For example, if you gain experience in nonprofits, you might go on to teach about nonprofit management.
Many of these industries are hiring on the Handshake job board! Scroll down for a list of companies hiring in everything from academic affairs to teaching.
Most valuable degrees to earn a job in higher ed
A career in higher ed starts with a fitting education. These degree options can help open doors for you:
- Education. A degree in education can be useful for roles like academic coordinator, admissions counselor, or curriculum writer. It may also be useful for professors who want to teach.
- Human resources. An HR degree can pave the path to a job like an alumni relations officer or diversity and inclusion representative.
- Humanities, social sciences, or hard sciences. A niche-specific bachelor’s degree plus a master’s can open teaching opportunities at community colleges. These specific degrees can also serve curriculum designers.
- Specialized Ph.D. If you want to get a job as a professor, a Ph.D. is usually a minimum requirement. So, you might get a bachelor’s or master’s in any of the above — but you’ll also want to do a research-driven Ph.D.
Beneficial higher ed certifications
These credentials can help job seekers gain a competitive edge, making them ideal candidates:
- Certified Higher Education Professional. CHEP credentials provide additional certifications based on points like knowledge expansion, professional excellence, and performance enhancement.
- Niche-specific credentials. Additional certifications in higher ed can boost job prospects. For example, say you work as an alumni relations officer. A certificate in a niche like fundraising can prove useful.
- Certificates in soft skills. Another option is to get certified in soft skills relevant to your higher ed path. For example, a certificate in communications can help attest to your written and verbal communications abilities, which are useful for all kinds of jobs — from academic coordinator to professor.
Top 10 entry-level jobs in higher ed
Higher ed offers diverse career options, but you might wonder where to start! Here are some of the most popular entry-level roles worth checking out.
1. Academic coordinator
Academic coordinators manage the development of educational programs, procuring teaching materials, training staff, and creating strategies to improve student performance.
Median salary: $48,286 per year
- Master’s degree in education, curriculum development, instructional design, or similar
- Multitasking ability
- Analytical mindset
2. Diversity and inclusion representative
Diversity and inclusion representatives make sure an educational institution’s policies don’t discriminate and safeguard minority groups of all kinds. The job could include reviewing job descriptions and providing anti-discrimination training to staff.
Median salary: $86,477 per year
- Bachelor’s in human resources, organizational psychology, or similar
- Human resources experience
- Excellent communication skills
- Knowledge of labor laws
3. Financial services representative
Financial services representatives help answer questions about money-related issues like scholarships, tuition, and student loans. They work with students, providing advice regarding the monetary aspects of getting an education.
Median salary: $37,440 per year
- Bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or similar
- Customer-service mindset
- Friendly and professional
4. Alumni relations officer
An alumni relations officer is a relationship manager who ensures a strong bond between a school’s former attendees and the school. Their work may include everything from developing marketing materials to soliciting donations.
Median salary: $69,188 per year
- Bachelor’s degree in human resources or similar
- Good communicator
- Event planning experience
- Fundraising knowledge
5. Assistant/associate professor
Assistant or associate professors support senior faculty members in running departments. They may provide teaching support, recruit teaching assistants, conduct research, and represent the educational institute at conferences.
Median salary: $72,061 per year
- Master’s or Ph.D. in the relevant academic field
- Publishing record preferred
- Teaching experience
- Strong analytical and problem-solving abilities
- Excellent research and writing skills
6. Assistant sports coach
Assistant coaches help the senior coach manage team members. They also handle tasks like facilities and equipment maintenance and perform administrative duties, like ensuring the team has transportation to away games.
Median salary: $44,314 per year
- Degree educated
- Coaching experience
- Familiarity with NCAA regulations
- Top-quality communication skills
- Detail-oriented and organized
7. Student housing coordinator
Student housing coordinators manage student residential facilities. They oversee housing selection, place students in residences, coordinate residential management using a housing database system, and keep records of the billing of accommodation and meal plans.
Median salary: $44,021 per year
- Master’s degree in student affairs, education, higher education, or similar
- Experience in residential management
- IT proficiency
- Sensitivity to others’ needs
- Ability to work with diverse people
8. School counselor
School counselors provide higher ed students with guidance in the personal and academic spheres. For example, they might help students pick courses to meet their major requirements or connect them with mental health resources. Their goal is to support student success.
Median salary: $53,638 per year
- Master’s degree in school counseling
- Great communication skills, especially listening skills
- Compassionate and patient
- Knowledge of counseling methods
9. Admissions counselor
Admissions counselors work with students to prepare for college or university admissions, providing guidance on picking schools, the application process, preparing for interviews, and more. They often participate in in-person recruiting events like “open house” days to attract students.
Median salary: $40,867 per year
- Master’s in education or similar
- Familiarity with college offerings and admissions processes
- Excellent listening and verbal and written communication skills
- Good people-reading abilities
10. Curriculum writer
Curriculum writers or designers create educational programs for students. They may work with schools, publishers, or educational companies, using field-specific knowledge to develop lesson plans, support materials, and more.
Median salary: $69,161 per year
- Degree in education or similar
- A degree in the field in which you design curriculum can be useful
- Good researcher and writer
- Analytical mindset
- Ability to multitask
Common higher ed job FAQs
Still got questions about a higher ed career? We’ve got you covered with these frequently asked questions.
What degree level do I need to be a college professor?
Most four-year colleges and universities require a Ph.D. to work as a professor. However, you might be able to find work with a community college with only a master’s degree.
To gain a competitive edge in university jobs, aim for a GPA of at least 3.0 in undergrad. This will open doors to reputable master’s and Ph.D. programs.
What is the average salary for a higher ed job?
Salaries for higher ed jobs are just as diverse as the job types themselves. For example, an average college admissions counselor salary is $40,867, while a professor might earn more than twice that much, with a yearly average of $89,688 per year. Meanwhile, a director of alumni relations can earn about $72,675 annually.
Find the right higher ed career for you with help from Handshake
A career in higher education offers plenty of perks, from free schooling to potential help with housing and transportation needs. Teaching as a professor is just one of the many paths available. Many other roles — from alumni coordinator to admissions counselor — are available.
On top of that, working in higher education doesn’t mean working for a college or university. From government to health care, many sectors require educational professionals.
Whatever track you’re interested in taking as an educational pro, Handshake has the job for you. Check out our offering of full-time and part-time jobs in education and internship opportunities.
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