Colleges and universities have dual roles in society as a social and cultural institution and as a complex, bureaucratic organization. As more students enroll in college, there is a greater need for professionals who can manage and develop programs that focus on the out-of-classroom (co-curricular) experience. A graduate degree in higher education, student affairs, college student personnel, or career/educational counseling is considered the entry-level degree in this growing field.
The curriculum in higher education master's programs varies immensely. The curriculum can focus on counseling, student affairs, institutional research, or general administration and policy. It is important to select a program that offers courses and internships in your area(s) of interest. If you want to become an academic/career advisor, apply to counseling or student affairs programs. (Some colleges and universities prefer candidates to hold professional counseling licensure for advising positions). If you want to work in academic program management, choose a graduate program that emphasizes administration and policy.
If you have visited the U.S. News Graduate School rankings, the education section includes a ranking of higher education administration programs. Keep in mind these rankings focus on the strength of doctoral programs, which tend to emphasize peer-reviewed research and policy. If this is not your career focus, then browse the NASPA Graduate School directory to find graduate programs in your geographic region. Remember: If you are not seeking a career in higher education research and policy, then the prestige of the program does not matter. What is more important is gaining relevant, professional experience and connections. This approach will also help you avoid excessive student loan debt.
A master's degree in higher-education generally requires one to three years to complete based on a student's
enrollment status. Financing your education can include graduate assistantships, internships, grants and scholarships, loans, and tuition reimbursement (if you are employed at a college or university). Most master's programs require three recommendation letters and GRE scores in the admissions process. High GPA and/or GRE scores can increase your chances of obtaining merit-based scholarship money. Before you apply, obtain campus employment in academic and student service (relevant policy and research experience also counts) so that you have a competitive application. Admissions committees also look for student leadership experience. Finally, write a clear, concise, and compelling statement of purpose that highlights your academic and professional experiences and explains why you want to pursue a career in higher education. I hope these tips will aid you in the graduate school application process.