Careers in Higher Education and Student Affairs

This page will provide advice on how you can find a job in higher education and student affairs. It will focus on the administrative side of higher education. It does not cover how to find a tenure-track faculty position.

Benefits of Working in Higher Education 

There are several reasons why people pursue a career in higher education and student affairs. ACPA has a website that provides an explanation on principles of good practice for student affairs practitioners.

  • Convenience
  • Educational Benefits
  • Time Off
  • Child Care
  • Transportation
  • Housing
  • Retirement
  • The Ability to Make a Difference
  • A Wide Range of Choices
  • An Exciting Work Environment
  • Access to the Profession
  • Potential for Advancement
  • Fringe Benefits

Educational Requirements

Most entry-level positions in higher education and student affairs positions require at least a bachelor's degree. A master's degree in higher education, student affairs, counseling, social work, or related field is often recommended for higher-paying positions with supervisory responsibilities. A master's degree in higher education will prepare you for student learning and development theories, student characteristics and effects of college on students, individual and group strategies (interventions) in higher education, organization and administration of student affairs, and assessment, research, and evaluation.

Applicants should have the necessary professional competencies to be competitive for positions in their field. Since higher education and student affairs is such a broad field, it is recommended to research the specified ethics and responsibilities in that particular functional area.


Salaries in higher education and student affairs are often lower than in the private sector. Since most higher education institutions have non-profit status, the salaries are similar to what you will find in the nonprofit sector. Depending on the cost of living in the region, typical full-time, entry-level positions pay $25,000-$55,000, mid-level positions pay $45,000-75,000, and senior-level positions pay over $75,000. The higher-range usually refer to colleges located in metropolitan areas with a high cost-of-living.

Functional Areas

According to the Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS), below is a listing of common functional areas in higher education and student affairs:
  • Academic Advising Programs
  • Adult Learner Programs and Services
  • Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Programs
  • Assessment Services
  • Auxiliary Services Functional Areas
  • Campus Activities Programs
  • Campus Information and Visitor Services
  • Campus Police and Security Programs
  • Campus Religious and Spiritual Programs
  • Career Services
  • Clinical Health Services
  • College Honor Societies
  • College Unions
  • Commuter and Off-Campus Living Programs
  • Conference and Event Programs
  • Counseling Services
  • Dining Service Programs
  • Disability Resources and Services
  • Education Abroad Programs
  • Fraternity and Sorority Advising Programs
  • Graduate and Professional Student Programs and Services
  • Health Promotion Services
  • Housing and Residential Life Programs
  • International Student Programs and Services
  • Internship Programs
  • Learning Assistance Programs
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Programs and Services
  • Master’s Level Student Affairs Professional Preparation Programs
  • Multicultural Student Programs and Services
  • Orientation Programs
  • Parent and Family Programs
  • Recreational Sports Programs
  • Registrar Programs and Services
  • Service-Learning Programs
  • Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence Prevention Programs
  • Student Conduct Programs
  • Student Leadership Programs
  • Transfer Student Programs and Services
  • TRIO and Other Educational Opportunity Programs
  • Undergraduate Admissions Programs and Services
  • Undergraduate Research Programs
  • Veterans and Military Programs and Services
  • Women Student Programs and Services
The two largest professional associations for student affairs practitioners are ACPA: College Student Educators International and NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. You can also access other higher education and student affairs professional associations at

If your primary background is research, I recommend AERA: American Educational Research Association and ASHE: Association for the Study of Higher Education. Many higher education professionals have advanced degrees in related fields such as psychology, sociology, history, social work, and economics.

Employment Listings

Most higher education and student affairs positions are posted on the career websites of college and university. If you want to access a national database of job listings, I recommend the following websites:
  • Academic360
  • ACPA Career Central
  • Chronicle of Higher Education
  • Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC)
Note: If you are seeking employment at a nonprofit organization, association, or foundation that specializes in higher education issues, you may want to browse job listings on Examples of well-known higher education foundations and nonprofits include:
  • American Council on Education
  • ACPA: College Student Educators International
  • Association of American Colleges and Universities
  • Jobs for the Future
  • Institute for Higher Education Policy
  • Lumina Foundation
  • National College Access Network
  • NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education
  • Posse Foundation
  • Teagle Foundation
Continuing Education

Many higher education professionals obtain their news through two renowned newsletters, the Chronicle of Higher Education and InsideHigherEd. For entry-level workers, I recommend these guidebooks and reference books to keep up with the latest updates in higher education and student affairs (this list was lasted updated in 2013, please check latest editions on the web).
  • Becoming Socialized in Student Affairs Administration: A Guide for New Professionals and Their Supervisors
  • Beginning Your Journey: A Guide for New Professionals in Student Affairs (3rd Edition)
  • College Students in the United States: Characteristics, Experiences, and Outcome
  • Contested Issues in Student Affairs: Diverse Perspectives and Respectful Dialogue
  • Job One: Experiences of New Professionals in Student Affairs
  • Linking Theory to Practice: Case Studies for Working with College Students (3rd Edition)
  • Rentz's Student Affairs Practice in Higher Education (4th Edition)
  • Student Development in College: Theory, Research, and Practice
  • Student Services: A Handbook for the Profession (5th Edition)
  • Student Success: Creating Conditions That Matter
  • The Handbook of Student Affairs Administration (3rd Edition)
  • Where You Work Matters: Student Affairs Administration at Different Types of Institutions

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