Master’s in higher education programs and careers

HomeTeaching and educationMaster’s degree in higher education

Master’s in higher education

Directly and indirectly, higher education leaves a positive impression on the nation’s economy. Through the proliferation of educated students, we – individuals, communities, the entire country – reap the benefits of the research and innovation that happens in higher education. By pursuing a master’s degree in higher education, you can be the catalyst that positively influences the individuals you work with, and the economy you contribute to. Whether you choose a career in administration, research, policy-making, or education, there will be an array of opportunities to support and help students and faculty in higher education. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

What do I need to apply?

A master’s degree in higher education can put you on the path to professional success, but before you embark on this journey, you will generally need to acquire the correct academic credentials. To apply to a master’s program you will need transcripts from your accredited undergraduate program that show a minimum GPA of 3.0. You will also need academic references from teachers, counselors, or tutors who can speak on behalf of your academic success, and a personal statement. Some universities may also require entrance exam scores, like the GRE, a writing sample, and professional experience. If the program requires some professional experience, send in your resume to showcase the practical experience or work you have done in higher education.

Online vs. on campus

Becoming educated is getting easier as most traditional on-campus programs are now available as either online or hybrid programs. Many students prefer online programs because they want the flexibility of being able to match their academic program to fit in with the other things going on in their lives. For example, if you play sports, have small children, or work long hours at your job, then an online education might work better for you because you are able to study when you have free time. Online education is more flexible compared to a traditional on-campus education. Other students decide on a campus-based program because of the access to university resources and services, the opportunity to network, and direct contact with professors. The program that works best for you will depend on what kind of life you have and what kind of learner you are. Make sure you choose the program type that is right for you, and always be sure the program is accredited.

Does my university need to be accredited?

When applying to a master’s in higher education, it is imperative that the university is accredited. Not only for the purpose of applying for higher education and professional employment, but to ensure the academic content is credible and held to a recognized high standard. Accreditation is only granted to programs that demonstrate a level of competency in their education programs that meets or exceeds the standard set by the accreditation agency. Upon graduation from an accredited program, future employers, certificate or licensing agencies, and other higher education institutions will recognize your academic knowledge as credible.

What will I learn?

During your 2-year master’s program, you will learn about a variety of higher education topics. You will examine foundational research and writing as it pertains to the sociology, psychology, history, and economics of higher education. Once completed, you will be prepared for a career in higher education administration, public policy, or a doctorate in higher education program.

History of higher education

As an introductory course, it is likely that you will take this course during your first semester. A human development course will introduce you to the 5 developmental domains, being language, cognition, social, emotional, and physical, as is pertinent to child development. In this course students learn about the scientists who have made important contributions to the field and the research. This has shaped teaching, learning, parenting, and our understanding of children, from conception to adulthood.

Diversity in higher education

This course will give you an overview of theoretical, practical, and research issues related to diversity in higher education. You will also learn about how gender, race, socioeconomic status, policies, and sexual orientation is affected in higher education settings and how to use this knowledge to implement and support an inclusive postsecondary environment.

College student development

A knowledge of theories and research in college student development is important when embarking on a career in higher education. It will focus on social and cultural influences on student development, and will help students link theory with professional practice.

Planning and assessment in higher education

This is an overview course that will focus on planning and assessment practices, theories, and outcomes in higher education. You will learn about accreditation, student learning outcomes, assessment procedures, and how to address public policy and processes.

Leadership in higher education

When embarking on a career in the higher education field, a candidate for professional employment must have the qualities needed to be an effective leader. This course will focus on the development and expression of leadership qualities.


A program concentration is an additional set of classes which allows you to gain more in-depth knowledge about a specific area of higher education, often chosen based on your future career plans. The selection of concentrations will firstly depend on what your program offers, and secondly on your areas of interest.

Adult education

An adult education concentration is ideal for those who want to focus their career on the education of adults. It will focus on theory, research, instructional models, assessment methods, and program development to maximize the academic achievement of adult learners.

Administration and leadership

To prepare for a leadership role in administration, this concentration focuses on the knowledge and skills needed for a career in higher education administration. You will also learn about policy, theory, history, law, and finance that relates to an education program.

Integrative studies

This concentration will introduce you to theories, research, critical thinking, and strategies which shape decision-making in higher education. It focuses on educational philosophy, and how it positively influences higher education programs.

Student affairs

A student affairs concentration emphasizes student development, social justice, and research which will prepare students for a career as student affair educators in postsecondary education environments.

Financial aid

Financial aid can soften the blow when it comes to the cost of higher education programs. On the surface, the price of a graduate program can be overwhelming, but being eligible for financial aid options could ease the strain. For example, federal grants are easy to apply for and, unlike loans, the money does not need to be paid back. Federal Student Aid is a federal grant which offers financial aid to eligible graduate students based on their financial situation. You can fill out the FASFA online, submit it, and you should hear back within a few days. Scholarships are also a great way to help pay for college because there are tons of opportunities depending on the field of study, career coals, and student profile.

University administrators are responsible for the development and coordination of academic and student programs at the postsecondary level. They are in charge of curriculum review, budgets, admissions, scholarships, and student affairs.


PayScale reported that the average salary for a higher education administrator is $62,852.

A school principal can be employed at elementary, middle, or high schools. In this leadership role, they are responsible for overseeing daily operations of the school, development of curricula and maintenance of effective educational programs.


In 2020, the average salary for a school principal was $98,490, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

A university professor is responsible for teaching higher education coursework, assisting with the development of course material, serving on committees, attending conferences, researching and writing academic papers.


As reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, postsecondary teachers make an average annual salary of $80,790.

Continuing education

If a master’s in higher education has piqued your interest in what else is out there, then the following options to extend your education may be worth considering. Doctorate programs will incorporate coursework and your own research which can be valuable knowledge for your academic field. You will expand on knowledge you’ve attained in your master’s program, and this can expand your career options.

Doctorate in higher education

A doctorate in higher education will focus on the theoretical, practical, and financial aspects of higher education to prepare you for a career in administrative or leadership roles.

Doctorate in education

Ph.D in Education is designed to prepare you for a career in an educational, clinical, or research setting. You will learn how to interpret and identify an existing theory in education, critically analyze it, and work on the research to improve or replace it with a more relevant theory.

Doctorate in child development

A Ph.D. in child development will focus on theoretical foundations of child development, evidence-based research, and the influence that community, culture, and socioeconomic status have on human development.

U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education provides information on financial aid, resources, guidance, and data to users and helps them find additional information about financial opportunities available to students enrolled in higher education programs.

The American Educational Research Association

This association is a national research society that provides users with information about education, encourages scholarly inquiry, and advocates for improvements in research to continuously improve education.

The American Association for Higher Education

This is a member-based, non-profit organization which dedicates itself to building resources for higher education. They focus on education-related issues, diversity awareness, and promote effective educational practices. They provide employment opportunities, news articles, and free courses in a number of subject areas.