Higher education professionals work in all kinds of settings. With a graduate degree in higher education, you might work to improve a college’s admissions, alumni programs, or even student affairs. You may find yourself as a campus counselor or even write educational policy for nonprofit organizations.
Many universities offer exceptional degrees in higher education, but the very best allow students to specialize in various areas of interest, such as athletics or enrollment consulting. If you enjoy working in a collaborative setting and helping college students achieve their goals, you should explore one of these degrees in higher education.
What kind of Master’s degree in higher education should you get?
If you enjoy working with students and want to work to inspire and support them as a career, you may have considered a degree in education.
It can be tough to choose between the options available. If you enjoy working with very young children, an elementary education program might be the right choice. However, if you think working on a college campus might be in your future, a degree in higher education will help to better serve your needs.
Higher education degrees allow you to make, enforce, and research educational policy and procedures at the college level, all while making a difference in the lives of hundreds of college students. If you’re still undecided about your career in education, be sure to check out other college options with College Choice’s Best Colleges and Universities.
How much money do people make with a Master’s degree in higher education?
If you earn a master’s degree in higher education, you can expect to find a well-paying job quite easily. Each year, more students attend college. National college enrolment is expected to increase by 13.5 percent over the next eight years, which will influence a massive increase in the required numbers of higher education professionals.
Average salaries vary widely depending on which department you choose to work in, but the highest paid higher education professionals – those working in upper-level administration – can make an average of $125,000 per year.
What can you do with a Master’s degree in higher education?
With a master’s degree in higher education, you will find yourself equipped to work in a variety of settings. You may work at a community, public, or private college, or even work developing policy for a think tank or educational organization.
You might work as a top-level administrator (such as a college president or dean), or develop on-campus systems in the student affairs office. You could even choose to work in alumni relations, enrollment, or academic affairs. The opportunities are limitless if you obtain a master’s degree in higher education, and are dependent only on your areas of interest.
What are the requirements for a master’s degree in higher education?
A master’s degree is often the minimum educational requirement for individuals who plan to work in postsecondary education. These degrees help build students’ understanding of topics such as educational technology, administration, and leadership.
While enrolled in one of these master’s degrees, you will likely take classes that help to develop your twenty-first-century skills, such as communication and collaboration. You will obtain an in-depth knowledge of educational law and policy, as well as an interdisciplinary approach to every aspect of campus relationships. Not to mention real world experience on a college campus, integral knowledge for a professional in the field of higher education.
What are the best master’s degree in higher education?
Because there are so many different career tracks available for graduates of higher education programs, the best degrees are those that allow you to customize your studies. If you are planning to work in enrollment, for example, you will want to take classes that focus on retention, admissions policies, and recruitment techniques.
You should also search for a master’s degree that fits your budget and schedule. Many programs can be completed part-time or in an accelerated format, while others encourage paid graduate assistantships and hands-on internships to help you finance your education and gain experience all at the same time.
See our rankings methodology page.
College Choice Score: 100
Average Net Price: $16,205
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.
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.
University of California Los Angeles
College Choice Score: 99.48
Average Net Price: $14,236
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.
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.
University of Pennsylvania
College Choice Score: 98.79
Average Net Price: $22,944
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.
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.
College Choice Score: 95.71
Average Net Price: $23,150
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.
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.
University of Southern California
College Choice Score: 93.38
Average Net Price: $32,932
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.
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.
University of Michigan
College Choice Score: 92.33
Average Net Price: $16,107
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.
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.
University of Maryland, College Park
College Choice Score: 84.08
Average Net Price: $15,757
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.
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.
University of Virginia
College Choice Score: 83.39
Average Net Price: $15,945
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.
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.
University of Florida
College Choice Score: 83.12
Average Net Price: $14,761
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.
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.
The Ohio State University
College Choice Score: 82.99
Average Net Price: $17,971
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.
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.
College Choice Score: 82.36
Average Net Price: $29,326
The Higher Education Administration program at Northwestern University is designed with diversity in mind. It is inclusive of students from a variety of backgrounds and with a range of professional experiences. It is designed for students of any age and career level, and can even be pursued by career changes. Students will experience a range of careers and hands-on programming while enrolled in the program, giving them career choice flexibility and insight into what they like best about the higher education field.
This program prepares students to become reflective, interactive, and dynamic leaders in all aspects of higher education. Graduates are employed in high-level leadership roles in admissions, student affairs, alumni relations, and more. Required classes include:
- The College Student
- Learning and Teaching in Higher Education
- Law and Ethics in Higher Education
- Budgeting and Finance in Higher Education
Northwestern’s School of Education and Social Policy, in which the Higher Education Administration degree is housed, habitually ranks as one of the top schools of graduate education by U.S. News and World Report. Providing students with unlimited access to in-depth, faculty-guided research, this program produces alumni who can solve any real-world problem in higher education. Students also complete a final Master’s Project and internship to help them connect what they learned in the class to a real-world setting. As a result, over 90 percent of graduates have jobs within two months of graduation.
College Choice Score: 81.76
Average Net Price: $12,621
The Master of Higher Education and Student Affairs at Indiana University is consistently ranked as one of the best in the nation. Students receive exclusive access to cutting-edge research and hands-on experience through faculty-guided research projects and graduate assistantships. This program develops twenty-first century skills such as communication and collaboration, preparing students to become leaders in higher education administration and student affairs.
Students pursue a variety of courses that emphasize understandings in foundational topics, elective areas, and counseling. Most students can complete the degree in less than two years. Available classes include:
- Introduction to College and University Administration
- Diverse Students on the College Campus
- Professional Development in Student Affairs
- Student Development Theory and Research
This program is unique in that it requires all students to hold a graduate assistantship in higher education and student affairs. These assistantships allow students to pursue an area of interest while receiving significant financial assistance towards their graduate studies. For example, graduate assistants may work as research associates, or they might work to develop student activities and events.
University of Connecticut
College Choice Score: 81.01
Average Net Price: $19,064
The Higher Education and Student Affairs Program at the University of Connecticut prepares reflective practitioners in student affairs. This contemporary degree allows students to explore a diverse offering of courses in student affairs and educational research. A unique feature of this program is its emphasis on professional and practical experiences. A core requirement of every student’s degree plan is to participate in a graduate assistantship. These assistantships provide full tuition waivers and competitive health insurance and stipends, making this university a top choice for affordability.
This 44 credit-hour program features classes taught by full-time faculty as well as student affairs practitioners. Cohorts are small, with less than 20 individuals per session. Students remain in the same cohort throughout the entire two years of their studies, allowing them to gain invaluable connections and professional networks. While each student’s schedule will vary depending on elective choices, a sample schedule might include:
- International Dimensions of Higher Education and Student Affairs
- Influences on Adult Learning
- Workplace Learning
- Adult and Experiential Learning
With a reputation for innovation and diversity, the University of Connecticut is an exceptional university, making it an excellent choice for studying the administration of like-minded institutions. As one of the top 25 best public universities in the nation, according to U.S. News and World Report, this university boasts nearly 300,000 successful, close-knit alumni around the world.
College Choice Score: 79.78
Average Net Price: $27,167
The Master of Arts in Higher Education at Boston College affords students the opportunity to choose between three different collegiate concentrations: Student Affairs, Administration, and Spirituality, Faith, and Formation. These concentrations allow students to specialize their studies according to their career and professional goals, and to explore those areas through coursework, class projects, and field experience placements.
Thirty credit-hours of elective and required courses, along with a field experience, are required for graduation. Most students complete their studies within two academic years, although it is possible to accelerate coursework and complete in less than a year. Required classes include:
- Higher Education in American Society
- College Student Development
- Assessment in Student Affairs
- Internationalization of Higher Education
Each available concentration requires a year-long field experience within the Boston area. The campus emphasizes the importance of social justice, ingraining each program with this theme and setting it apart from similar colleges. Students gain valuable leadership skills and an acute understanding of what it takes to make a successful university. Each graduate student is also supported academically and holistically by the Graduate Education Association which provides workshops, funding, and social mixers to all graduate students.
University of Kansas
College Choice Score: 78.65
Average Net Price: $18,014
The University of Kansas offers a Master’s degree in Higher Education Administration that is designed for individuals pursuing administrative careers in education. Consisting of 36 credit-hours of rigorous academic coursework and hands-on experiences, this cutting-edge program can be finished in just two years. Students learn how to apply their knowledge of colleges and universities to practical experiences in administration. Classes are taught by expert scholars and practitioners, and allow students to interact closely with a diverse body of leaders from all realms of higher education administration.
Upon enrolling, each student is placed into a cohort group of students. This provides for a small, close-knit learning environment in which students can interact closely with engaged faculty and passionate students. Students will take classes such as:
- Introduction to Higher Education Administration
- The College Student
- Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education
- Higher Education in the United States
Each student in this program is required to obtain a graduate assistantship at the university or a nearby higher education institution for 20 to 30 hours per week. These assistantships typically include stipends and health insurance, as well as tuition reduction, and allow students to gain valuable experience in the field. This campus-wide collaborative program places students in all areas of higher education, including student affairs, admissions, and even alumni relations. Students may also choose to participate in self-designed, for-credit internship experiences to help enhance their learning experiences. As a result, one hundred percent of higher education graduates receive higher education positions or enroll in doctoral studies upon graduation.