Best Master’s in Higher Education Degrees

Best Master’s in Higher Education Degrees

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Learners interested in higher education administration may benefit from a master's in higher education. Most master's programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree. Some schools require students to take the GRE.

Master's in higher education curricula cover higher education's role in society, institutional finance, and educational public policy. Many programs also require students to pursue research and/or complete an internship.

Higher education master's degree-holders work at postsecondary institutions in specialties such as admissions, financial aid, and student affairs. For example, they may take jobs as instructional coordinators, admission counselors, or deans. Additionally, they may become college counselors for high school students or work at educational nonprofits.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Higher Education Degrees

Q. What is a master's in higher education?

Schools usually offer a master's in higher education as a master of arts or master of education. These degrees specialize in the skills needed to work in higher education careers outside of teaching.

Q. How long is a master's in higher education?

Most master's in higher education programs take students two years to complete.

Q. What can you do with a master's in higher education?

Higher education master's degree-holders pursue leadership positions at colleges and universities, such as dean or head of admission. They may also work for nonprofits, the government, or primary education institutions.

Why Get a Master's in Higher Education?

Students pursue a master's in higher education for many reasons. Higher education master's programs provide an understanding of how postsecondary institutions function, their role in society, and how public policy affects their operations. With these skills, students work at colleges or universities, nonprofits, government agencies, or higher education-related businesses.

Graduates with higher education master's degrees stand to reach a fairly high earning potential. Postsecondary education administrators earn a median $97,500 per year according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Many schools offer higher education master's programs online, often featuring flexible schedules. Students who pursue a degree online may save money from avoiding relocation and/or commuting costs.

How Much Does a Master's in Higher Education Cost?

Most master's degrees cost $30,000-$120,000, according to the Education Data Initiative. Master of education degrees average $55,200 and master of arts degrees average $72,800.

Master's in higher education programs usually span four semesters, or two years. Some schools may offer shorter or longer programs. Part-time learners should expect to take longer to complete their degree.

Many schools offer higher education master's programs in person and online. Students should factor in additional costs, such as books and software. They should also consider the cost of commuting to an in-person internship and any missed wages.

Courses in a Master's in Higher Education

Higher education master's program classes cover the history and purpose of higher education, leadership skills, and organizational dynamics. Some programs offer specialized courses in topics such as finances, higher educational law and policy, and change management.

Not all schools offer the same classes. See below for a few examples of courses enrollees may take during a master's in higher education. The descriptions represent a sample curriculum only; prospective students should check the specific required classes for any desired programs.

  • U.S. Higher Education

    U.S. higher education classes provide the context, history, and purposes of higher education in the United States. By understanding the role higher education plays in society, students better understand the role they may play in their career.
  • Educational Policy and the Law

    Educational policy and law explores how public policy and law affects higher education. Graduates who take administrative roles at colleges and universities will work under such policies and laws. Alternatively, graduates may work in government or nonprofits and help write such policies.
  • Research Methods in Education

    Educational research seeks to solve problems and challenges in education by collecting and analyzing data. Educational research classes teach participants how to conduct this research and apply it to real problems in education. As higher education leaders, graduates will need to gather data and use it to solve institutions' problems.
  • Finance in Higher Education

    Finance in higher education gives an overview of the role money plays at colleges and universities. Some classes teach enrollees how to calculate financial aid, manage an endowment, or collect donations. Graduates might need to complete all of these processes for their future employers.
  • Organization and Leadership in Higher Education

    Organization and leadership in higher education teaches students about the organizational structures that support colleges and universities. They will develop leadership skills through their coursework. Degree-seekers learn about the responsibilities of different roles, some of which they may take on in their careers.

Career and Salary Outlook for a Master's in Higher Education

Graduates of higher education master's programs choose from many different career paths. They may decide to work at a college or university in an administrative setting. For instance, they may become deans, admissions counselors, or alumni coordinators.

Master's in higher education graduates also pursue careers in politics or nonprofits, working specifically in the higher education sector. Below, we list a few career paths higher education master's degree-holders may follow.

  • Postsecondary Education Administrators

    Postsecondary education administrators take on many different duties at colleges and universities. Some work in the office of admissions, screening applications and meeting with prospective students. Others work in the office of student life, where they organize events and manage the dormitories. Deans or provosts help develop academic policies and appoint faculty, while registrars schedule course offerings and oversee class registration.
  • Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

    Principals who work in elementary, middle, or high schools oversee all school operations. They manage staff, help coordinate curriculum standards, and make class schedules. Some discipline students, observe and evaluate teachers, and assess test scores and achievement data. Basically, they set goals for the school and ensure the school reaches those goals.
  • Instructional Coordinators

    Instructional coordinators work in primary education or higher education. They oversee teaching standards and school curriculums, testing their effectiveness. Instructional coordinators also organize or conduct teacher training, suggest learning materials, and recommend teaching techniques.
Salary Potential and Growth Rate
Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
Postsecondary Education Administrators $97,500 8%
Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals $98,490 8%
Instructional Coordinators $66,970 10%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Best Master's in Higher Education Degrees

  1. Harvard University

    Cambridge, MA




    The Master’s in Higher Education at Harvard University is an exceptional value, allowing students to complete a degree at a top Ivy League institution in less than one year of full-time study. This program features distinguished presidents-in-residence, who work alongside graduate students and anchor their discussions and studies. These discussions are supported by real-world experiences. Students are also supported by close-knit mentorship opportunities and an involved cohort program design.

    Program Features

    Within their cohorts, students have the opportunity to study alongside students with varied interests and backgrounds. The curriculum of this program is grounded in reality, exposing students to actual policies and practices of American colleges. Engaging in activities such as debates, case studies, and role-playing experiences gives students the opportunity to develop as leaders in the field. Students will take classes such as:

    • The History of American Higher Education
    • The Economics of Higher Education: Access, Outcomes, and Competition
    • Education Sector Nonprofits
    • Leadership in Social Change Organizations


    Most students in this program will participate in paid internships either on-campus or at nearby nonprofits, universities, and colleges. Interns earn course credit as well as valuable work experience. Upon graduation, students are connected to a profound alumni network. This network helps students solve field-related problems after graduation, as well as to network for potential career and fellowship opportunities.

  2. University of California Los Angeles

    Los Angeles, CA




    The University of California Los Angeles features both a Master of Arts and a PhD program in Higher Education and Organizational Change. This program exposes students to a broad understanding of all of the elements surrounding higher education, including those that are cultural, political, social, philosophical, and historical in nature.

    Program Features

    Students at the University of California Los Angeles are supported by the activities of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, which conducts national longitudinal studies of the American Higher education system. Students in graduate studies have the opportunity to work with the institute as they collect data on over 1,900 institutions throughout the country. In addition to this exceptional hands-on experience, required classes include:

    • Research and Evaluation in Higher Education
    • Computer Analyses of Empirical Data in Education
    • Fundamentals of U.S. Higher Education System
    • Organizational Analysis of Higher Education


    The Department of Education at the University of California Los Angeles is ranked the best graduate school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. This is primarily due to the university’s emphasis on urban education and the development of teachers as leaders. All education programs at the university underscore the importance of developing twenty-first-century skills in both teachers as well as the students they ultimately serve.

  3. University of Pennsylvania

    Philadelphia, PA




    The Higher Education program at the University of Pennsylvania is designed for graduate students who are in the early stages of their careers. This full-time program features internship and graduate assistantship opportunities to help students acquire a more detailed, hands-on knowledge about the discipline in a more practical environment. Most students will complete about 15 to 20 hours each week of internship experiences. These internships often help students offset the expenses of graduate study.

    Program Features

    This program, which must be started in the fall, consists of 10-course units of study. All courses are reading and writing intensive, but also include powerful discussion-based seminars, project-based learning, case-studies, and work-based endeavors. While each student’s schedule will vary, a sample schedule might include:

    • Contemporary Issues in Higher Education
    • Faculty and Academic Governance
    • History of American Higher Education
    • Higher Education in American Society


    The Graduate School of Education at Penn State produces talented graduates by offering a faculty of 40 tenured and tenure-track faculty, all of whom are experienced in their field and with conducting educational research. This small school, with just under 1,300 students, benefits from a close-knit student-to-faculty ratio but also from the university’s emphasis on large-scale research and practice. As a result, the school is ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

  4. Vanderbilt University

    Nashville, TN




    The Master of Education in Higher Education Administration from Vanderbilt is designed for students seeking professional roles in state education agencies, nonprofits, or academics. This program seamlessly incorporates real-world experiences with integrated coursework, helping students gain expertise in the three areas crucial for aspiring professionals: student affairs, general administration and policy, and enrollment management.

    Program Features

    Students may choose from any of the three aforementioned specialty areas as they design their studies. Thirty-six total credit hours are required. A variety of classes are offered at the university, including:

    • College and University Management
    • Nature and Function of Higher Education
    • Practice of Student Affairs
    • Theory of Student Affairs


    This program is top-ranked for its exceptional career services, as well as its outstanding academic rigor. Within four months of graduation, 96 percent of program graduates were either employed or receiving further education. Students are granted several opportunities to put research and theory into practice. Graduate assistantships are offered at Vanderbilt and within nearby educational and governmental organizations. Finally, many students will complete internships in the summer between the first and second year of the program. These allow students to gain crucial work experience and to develop professional skills and knowledge.

  5. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA




    Graduates from the University of Southern California’s Master of Education in Postsecondary Administration and Student Affairs are a diverse bunch, working in a variety of sectors. Alumni are located all over the country in settings such as public research universities, liberal arts colleges, for-profit institutions, and more, engaged in all aspects of student life at those institutions. This program emphasizes all aspects of higher education, including administration, student affairs, advising, admissions, and athletics.

    Program Features

    The curriculum within this program is based upon the most recent, most advanced research in the world. Students are taught by faculty with extensive experience in educational settings, all of whom provide exceptional mentoring and guidance throughout each student’s academic career. Students will take classes such as:

    • Creating Communities of Interest
    • Foundations of Higher, Adult, and Professional Education
    • Student Affairs Work in College
    • Student Development in Higher Education


    Students at the University of Southern California benefit from a variety of student-led organizations. The university offers tailored activities and clubs, such as Graduate Student Government and Rossier Student Organization. Rossier was developed to allow graduate students to exchange ideas and plan student activities. The university also sponsors groups such as MAT connect, Educators for Queer Alliance, and TESOL/TEFL Society to help students stay connected and form valuable networks while on campus.

  6. University of Michigan

    Ann Arbor, MI




    The diverse, interactive program in Higher Education at the University of Michigan allows students to combine their theoretical, academic knowledge with hands-on experiences. The program incorporates significant collaboration among faculty, administration, and students to provide a holistic understanding of higher education. This program is highly flexible, allowing students to explore areas of specialized interest and inquiry.

    Program Features

    This program is designed with the full-time student in mind. IT takes roughly a year and a half to complete, with an accelerated pace available. An integral component of this program is its emphasis on a two-term internship. This internship is chosen by each individual student and is tailored to their personal goals and interests. Besides the internship, required classes include:

    • History of Postsecondary Education
    • Foundations for Student Affairs Educators
    • Institutional Advancement and Development in Higher Education
    • Academic Affairs and Student Development in Postsecondary Education


    With over 65 tenure and tenure-track faculty members, this university leads the way in providing top-notch experiential education. The School of Education at the University of Michigan is one of the best in the country, with a reputation that exceeds that of any other public university. The school is ranked second in regards to its peer reputation and effectiveness of instruction and is also highly ranked with regards to its higher education administration programs and teaching programs in particular.

  7. University of Maryland, College Park

    College Park, MD




    The Higher Education program at the University of Maryland, College Park exists as an area of concentration within the Higher Education, Student Affairs, and International Education program at the university. This program is nationally recognized and prepares students for high-level leadership positions at institutions and policy organizations around the country. Graduates are successful alumni, working as mid- and senior-level administrators, policymakers, and research analysts.

    Program Features

    Thirty-six credit hours are required, including coursework in core requirements, electives, and research methods. Each student is also required to participate in an internship. Most students complete their studies in less than two years, working throughout their studies with a personal advisor to develop a customized program of study. A sample schedule might include:

    • Higher Education and Society
    • The Academic Profession
    • Higher Education Finance
    • State-Level Higher Education Research


    Most students complete internships while enrolled in their studies. These internships frequently take place at federal government agencies, advocacy organizations, and public policy think tanks in the capital region. Students have received respectable, paid internships that build upon their coursework and allow them to make vital connections to what they are learning in class. On-campus assistantships are also available that help students gain experience while financing their education.

  8. University of Virginia

    Charlottesville, VA




    The Master of Education in Higher Education at the University of Virginia is offered both full- and part-time. It combines practical application of skills with a robust theoretical framework, allowing students to work in student affairs, general or athletic administration, or policy-making upon graduation. Students may tailor their studies according to their individual plans, allowing them to adapt to any challenge presented by working in a higher education setting.

    Program Features

    Students are required to complete professional internships in specialized functional areas. This allows them to develop personal professional philosophies and career goals, as well as to allow them to network with professional and service organizations. In addition to internships, students will take classes such as:

    • Economics and Finance in Higher Education
    • Research in Higher Education, Student Affairs, and Intercollegiate Athletics
    • Organization and Governance in Higher Education
    • College Student Experience


    This program is unique in that it is one of the few that can be completed in less than a year. It provides three emphasis areas: Student Affairs Practice in Higher Education, Intercollegiate Athletic Administration, and Higher Education Administration. These concentrations allow students to hone their skills and develop their interests in a specialty, giving them the ability to grow professionally and personally. Significant financial aid is available in the form of grants, work-study, and internships.

  9. University of Florida

    Gainsville, FL




    The University of Florida’s Student Personnel in Higher Education program is offered in a full-time, on-campus setting, as well as part-time online. It integrates theoretical underpinnings with practice-based experiences. While the on-campus program is designed for graduate students seeking a more intimate, networking-based experience with student affairs professionals, the online program is suitable for those students who are already working in student affairs and are seeking to maintain their current employment.

    Program Features

    The on-campus program includes nine credit-hours of supervised internship and practicum experiences. Students in this program study within a cohort, providing each other with support and community. Assistantships are available for this program. The University of Florida’s higher education program offers classes such as:

    • Theory of College Student Development
    • Diversity Issues in Higher Education
    • Educational Outcomes of American Colleges and Universities
    • History of American Higher Education


    The online program at the University of Florida is ranked one of the best in the country by U.S. News and World Report. It gives students the ability to obtain an advanced degree without needing to leave their current employment. On the other hand, on-campus students have exceptional opportunities to interact with campus resources, boosting their confidence and leadership skills. The university is home to the Student Personnel Association, a prominent campus organization whose goal is to foster personal and professional relationships in higher education. This group hosts visitation days, facilitates workshops, and develops social events.

  10. Ohio State University

    Columbus, OH




    The Higher Education and Student Affairs program at The Ohio State University is one of the most preeminent in the country. The program is founded on research and practice and taught by renowned faculty who produce some of the most distinguished academic leaders. This tradition is carried on by successful alumni who are senior leaders in the field and maintain close connections to the university. The curriculum emphasizes research and professional development, giving students the opportunity to collaborate and learn with like-minded graduate students.

    Program Features

    A wide variety of courses are available, exposing students to law, policy, organizational theory, and student development materials. Students will take classes such as:

    • Introduction to Educational Research
    • College Student Development
    • Higher Education Institutions and Core Academic Issues
    • Interaction of Student and Environments


    This program is one-of-a-kind in that it allows students to conduct significant on-campus research surrounding higher education topics. Students will explore areas such as identity development, service-learning, and organizational theory, giving them the academic background necessary to inspire future innovation in the higher education setting. In addition to the master’s program, the university also offers a minor in Interdisciplinary Leadership Studies, a Student Personnel Assistantship program, a Doctor of Education in Educational Studies, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Educational Studies.

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