Higher Education in the United States refers to formal education beyond secondary schooling from which a degree, diploma, or certificate is awarded. Employers in higher education may be found in either the public or private sector.
Generally positions fall into one of three sectors on campus: Administration, Faculty, and Student Affairs.
Jobs in Administration usually require a post-graduate degree although a department such as admissions frequently hires recent college graduates. Other typical departments include human resources, financial aid, development, and information technology.
Faculty positions in universities and four-year colleges almost always require a doctoral degree. Faculty positions in most two-year colleges require at least a master’s degree.
Student Affairs positions support student activities outside the classroom. Typical departments include career services, counseling services, athletics, residential life, and student activities. Many positions require a master’s degree, although some departments such as residential life may have positions for recent graduates.
Community colleges have many if not all of the same departments as four-year colleges; however, you are likely to work with older and/or part time students. This introduces different needs for student services and offices that more readily hire staff from all backgrounds, including associates and bachelor’s degrees. Teachers, however, are required to have attained at least their master’s degree.
The resources below offer an introduction into the field, including professional organizations, professional journals and newspapers, and several Internet indexes of jobs in academia.
Higher Education Resource Hub: A powerful clearinghouse that includes information on the history of higher education, an “Encyclopedia of Higher Ed,” an extensive listing of job search sites and professional organizations, as well as a directory of higher education degree programs and course syllabi.
Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle is the most comprehensive resource for reporting news in higher education.
Academic 360: Links to college and university human resources websites in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and sorted alphabetically and by geographic location.
Chronicle of Higher Education: The Chronicle’s Career Network is the world’s largest job marketplace for people with advanced degrees — in print and online. Advertisers include colleges, universities, and other non-profit organizations in the United States and around the world.
HigherEd Jobs On-line: HigherEdJobs.com has one of the largest job databases focused exclusively on college and university positions.
Student Affairs.com: A comprehensive index of Internet resources for college student affairs professionals, offering information on and links to over 600 listservs and websites. Additionally, StudentAffairs.com maintains Position Listings, an Online Exhibit Hall, a Conference Center, Online Courses and an Online e-Journal.
The Placement Exchange Online: The place to be for student affairs job placement.
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU): The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) serves as the unified national voice of independent higher education. Since 1976, the association has represented private colleges and universities on policy issues with the federal government, such as those affecting student aid, taxation, and government regulation. Today, through new communication technologies, an improved governance structure, and increased member participation, NAICU has become an even more effective and respected participant in the political process.
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA): NASPA also lists job openings in the field of college and university student affairs.
The American Association of Community Colleges (AACC): A national voice for two-year associate degree granting institutions. Members include student affairs officers, faculty, and other staff from two-year colleges. Membership in this association grows as more and more students are returning to school, following “non-traditional” paths to degrees.
Opportunities for recent graduates to serve as professional academic advisors vary by institution. However, if you have been involved as a peer advisor as an undergraduate through residential life, orientation, or your academic department, you may be qualified for and enjoy these entry-level positions. Work includes relaying institutional information and policies to students and assisting them in understanding their academic environments. Academic advising offices are often involved in Orientation programming, too.
The National Academic Advising Association (NACADA): An organization for professional advisors/counselors, faculty, administrators, and students whose responsibilities include academic advising. NACADA maintains a web listing of vacancies in academic advising that are submitted by specific institutions. The announcements are organized by geographical regions with the majority of openings being at US schools.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC): An education association of high school counselors and college/university counselors and admissions officers. NACAC maintains a listing of job opportunities in the guidance/college admissions field which occasionally include positions in academic advising/counseling.
Council for Opportunity in Education: An organization dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the United States. Through its numerous membership services (i.e. Talent Search, Upward Bound), the Council works in conjunction with colleges, universities, and agencies that host TRIO Programs to specifically help low-income Americans enter college and graduate.
Students with bachelor’s degrees routinely assume positions as entry-level admissions officers. Entry-level admissions jobs usually encompass the full range of core responsibilities inherent in all admissions positions at all levels – travel/recruitment; interviewing prospective candidates; contact with alumni, school officials, parents and students; evaluation of candidates; specialized recruiting/evaluation (athletes, artists, students of color, etc.); marketing; web/publication design; and training and monitoring of tour guides/student interviewers.
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO): Maintains a listing of employment opportunities in admissions and registrar offices. Announcements are posted as they become available and occasionally include positions in academic advising/counseling.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC): An education association of high school counselors and college/university counselors and admissions officers. NACAC maintains a listing of job opportunities in the guidance/college admissions fields.
The College Board: A national, nonprofit membership association dedicated to preparing, inspiring, and connecting students to college and opportunity.
Alumni Relations departments typically hire new or recent graduates for Assistant Director positions. These positions usually are entry-level positions for folks who have demonstrated skills at event organization and planning, leadership, and a strong affinity for the college or their own college. Assistant Directors are usually multi-tasking and juggling lots of balls in the air at once: they plan club/chapter events, plan Homecoming, work to recruit volunteers to serve on various committees, assist in the planning for volunteer weekends, staff events, and work with a variety of campus offices (athletics, residential life, career services, academic departments, student affairs, student activities to name a few) on collaborative, alumni-based events.
There are also many related fields that would prepare a student for a future career in advancement: marketing, event/conference planning, and non-profit work managing/recruiting volunteers, to name a few. Fundraising work is not usually something people dream about when they are growing up. However, once you get into it, current professionals insist that it hooks people in. Entry- level positions in annual giving / development draw on the following: appreciation for the values of a liberal arts education, strong leadership, organizational and motivational skills, solid public speaking and writing skills; the ability to work effectively with others, familiarity with computer systems and the willingness to use new systems. Must be able to work well with all age groups – from 75th reunion legacy alums to current students. There is often an opportunity for a fair amount of travel as well.
Chronicle of Philanthropy: Job announcements are updated bi-weekly and organized by type: Fund Raising, Giving, and Managing and by field: Advocacy, Arts, Education, Environment, Health, Religion, Social Services, and Other Organizations. For individuals interested in entering this profession they even have an “Early Career Opportunities” section.
The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE): A nonprofit education association serving several thousand alumni administrators, campus fund raisers, public relations officers, publications editors, student recruiters, and government relations officials. Their job announcements are organized into nine categories: Advancement Management; Advancement Services; Alumni Relations; Annual Fund; Communications; Development and Fund Raising; Government Relations; Major and Planned Giving; and Student Recruitment.
If you would like to enter athletics as a career, you are likely to start as an intern or assistant coach. Working as a coach in a high school setting is also an option. There is a great deal of competition for jobs in athletics. Those offering the best training for the future often demand long hours for low pay.
Athletics has also expanded its focus to include Academic Support Services and Lifeskills programming along with the compliance, event management, fund-raising, and scheduling.
National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA): The professional association for those in the field of athletics administration.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA): A voluntary US organization which helps to set administrative policies for colleges and universities on athletics matters at the national level. Their employment site links to job opportunities at the high schools, colleges, universities, and athletic conferences.
National Intramural and Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA): A non-profit organization dedicated to the establishment and development of intramural / recreational sports & fitness programs and services.
Career counselors can come from a variety of professional backgrounds, but most typically they have completed advanced degrees in higher education or counseling. As an undergraduate, there are likely opportunities for you to work in your career office as a peer advisor, work study student, or intern. This is a way to become familiar with how a career office works if you would like to be a competitive candidate for administrative assistant or recruitment coordinator positions after graduation.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE): America’s premiere career services organization. With a membership that includes colleges and universities, career services professionals, employers, and governmental agencies, NACE serves as a major source of career and employment information for the college-educated work force.
The National Career Development Association (NCDA): For staff members working in Career Services or Career Development and sometimes (for networking reasons) for people who work in Admissions, Alumni Relations, and Development.
Event Planning is an area where most colleges and universities do not require an advanced degree. In some cases, recent graduates can even qualify for assistant director positions. Experience does matter, though, and you can gain related skills through event planning involvement with student organizations or community groups as an undergraduate.
Initially, you may anticipate being in charge of planning and implementing special events and conferences under the direction of a director. This would include establishing a theme, handling all logistical needs (including food service, vendors, security, audiovisual services, facilities setup), designing/producing publications (invitations, posters, programs, etc.), determining and assigning housing (on or off site), processing registrations, and staffing the event.
The Association of Collegiate Conference and Events Directors-International
(ACED-I): This professional organization maintains a “full- service” career resource for their members. Announcements are posted on their website, their listserv, and printed in their newsletter. Job vacancy announcements have covered a wide-range of positions including media specialists, continuing education conference coordinators, institute directors, and more.
Facilities officers are the people responsible for the campus infrastructure: the administration, care, operations, planning, and construction of educational facilities. Getting started in a college or university facilities division is much easier if one has training in facilities management. There are a number of colleges that offer degree courses. An undergraduate degree in finance coupled with a master’s degree in facilities is also competitive preparation, as are experiences related to construction or architecture. Working as an intern in facilities either during the academic year or summers is a suggested way to introduce oneself to the multi-faceted responsibilities of facilities managers.
The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers (APPA): Provides weekly announcements from Job Express, the APPA job board, covering positions in higher education facilities management: physical plants, construction services, etc.
International Facility Management Association (IFMA): The organization related to commerce and industry. Someone working in the facilities field for insurance companies, manufacturing industries, etc. would affiliate with IFMA.
If your desire to assist students is coupled with quantitative skills and attention to detail, an entry-level position in Financial Aid may be for you. A master’s degree is not typically required, although it can be an asset in your job search and is required of professionals at upper-administrative levels. In an entry-level position, you will likely provide financial aid counseling to students; utilize data management systems; and administer state, federal, and institutional financial aid policies. Transferable skills include having an understanding of financial aid options (this can be attained through your own experiences and/or working in your college’s financial aid office), being able to explain policies and detailed processes to students and their families in a clear manner, and a strong interest in making college education affordable to people from all economic backgrounds.
The National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA): Carries announcements of positions in financial aid offices. The listings tend to be for openings at the director and assistant director level.
The American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO):Maintains a listing of employment opportunities in admissions and registrars offices but they often include several positions in financial aid. Announcements are posted as they become available.
The National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC): This education association of high school counselors and college/university counselors and admissions officers maintains a listing of job opportunities in the guidance/college admissions fields which often include financial aid positions.
There are a variety of opportunities for recent graduates with an interest in food service and working in a college setting to put their skills to work. For example, Business Operations/Finance Assistant, entry level Assistant Manager, Assistant Catering Manager, Marketing Manager, or an Assistant to a Purchasing Manager.
The National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS): Serves the needs of managers, staff, and supervisors of campus dining services. NACUFS also coordinates a national internship program. The Job Opportunity Bulletin is a listing of managerial vacancies in food services at NACUFS schools. The Bulletin is mailed weekly and posted on the NACUFS web site every Thursday.
The majority of entry-level positions in fraternity/sorority advising strongly prefer candidates with their master’s degree. However, if you are affiliated with a Greek organization, you can work as a consultant for International Organization Headquarters and gain skill sets that could qualify you to compete for master’s required positions. Positions with International Headquarters are posted through chapter magazines and websites.
The American College Personnel Association (ACPA): The wide-serving student affairs web site usually includes a large number of positions in Greek Affairs.
The National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA): Vacancy announcements submitted to the NASPA web typically include a large number of positions in Greek Affairs.
Association of Fraternity Advisors: The page of job listings is restricted to association members and requires a user id and password.
If you are currently involved in peer education, your student health center’s advisory council, or volunteering in a hospital or clinic, you are likely gaining skills that are transferable to entry-level work as a health educator. The number and qualifications of college health educators vary depending on the institution, but most health educators are responsible for overseeing peer programs, coordinating special events, and creating educational materials.
The American College Health Association (ACHA): This organization serves the interests of professionals and students in health and higher education. Their College Health Jobline web site is updated weekly and includes opportunities for Directors/Administrators, Physicians, Health Educators, Mental Health (professionals), Nursing/ Physician Assistants, and others.
The National Commission of Health Education Credentialing, Inc. Certified Health Education Specialists (CHES): The mission of NCHEC is to enhance the professional practice of Health Education by promoting and sustaining a credentialed body of Health Education Specialists. To meet this mission, NCHEC certifies health education specialists, promotes professional development, and strengthens professional preparation and practice.
There are many ways that Institutional Research (IR) can be focused. Current trends include focus on policy analysis, data analysis, research, and evaluation with emphases on informing big-picture college decisions. Some IR people start out in registrar offices where there can be more entry-level opportunities for students to work with college-related data without necessitating advanced degree coursework. However, many IR offices, even the ones at small colleges, hire IR assistants, research assistants, data analysts, or data specialists. These positions often oversee the production of a College fact book, keeping track of official college data, conducting or overseeing data entry and database design, and responding to external surveys. In order to excel in these entry-level positions, you typically need to know something about working with data; how to manipulate data between databases, spreadsheets, and various statistical packages; and how to draw a conclusion from looking at data. You will also need to be familiar with creating charts and tables. It is also essential to know how to put data tables and charts up on the web.
American Educational Research Association (AERA): This organization primarily promotes educational research. However, the announcements posted here cover a wide range of university and non-academic positions.
The Association for Institutional Research (AIR): Membership is open to anyone who participates in higher education decision-making in its broadest sense. The AIR Job Bulletin limits postings to those that are likely to be of interest to institutional researchers and planners.
American Evaluation Association (AEA): A professional organization dedicated to practices in gathering and analyzing data to make an evaluation or an assessment.
Most typically, Judicial Affairs professional staff have completed advanced degrees in higher education and student development or law. In larger universities, full-time staff members are sometimes assisted by paraprofessional graduate students. To better inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree in higher education, specifically to work with students in and around areas of decision making and community responsibility, there are valuable experiences available to you as an undergraduate. These positions include serving as a resident assistant or on a judicial review board. These are ways to become familiar with how a student service department works.
Entry-level positions in judicial affairs primarily entail working with day-to-day administration of student disciplinary procedures, receiving and investigating complaints alleging a violation of the Student Conduct Code, determining whether a disciplinary or non-disciplinary response is appropriate, and adjudicating complaints in accordance with campus policies. These responsibilities require strong organizational and research skills, maturity, and the ability to communicate rationally and clearly with students and other campus constituents.
Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA): An international professional association serving student development professionals with judicial affairs responsibilities. Announcements submitted to the ASCA web site are generally posted within 24 hours.
Multicultural Affairs professionals can come from a variety of professional backgrounds, but most typically they have completed advanced degrees in higher education. As an undergraduate, there are likely opportunities for you to work in your multicultural affairs office as a peer advisor, work study student, or intern. This is a way to become familiar with how a multicultural affairs office works if you would like to be a competitive candidate for administrative assistant or program coordinator positions after graduation. Program coordinator positions are more common in larger universities. These staff can be responsible for a range of organizational tasks including event planning and overseeing programs such as student support groups or liaisons to different offices. These positions are most commonly posted locally through the College human resources office or area newspapers.
National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE): An annual forum planned with the purpose of assisting higher education institutions to create inclusive environments, programs, and curriculum; improve campus racial and ethnic relations; and expand opportunities for educational access and success by culturally diverse, traditionally underrepresented populations.
Council for Opportunity in Education: A nonprofit organization dedicated to furthering the expansion of educational opportunities throughout the United States. Through its numerous membership services (i.e. Talent Search, Upward Bound), the Council works in conjunction with colleges, universities, and agencies that host TRIO Programs to specifically help low-income Americans enter college and graduate.
Most typically, Orientation and First Year Programs professional staff have completed advanced degrees in higher education and student development. In larger universities, full-time staff are often assisted by paraprofessional graduate students or NODA interns (National Orientation Directors Association, see below). To better inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree in higher education, specifically to work with students in transition and on large-scale programming endeavors such as Orientation, there are many valuable experiences available to you as an undergraduate. These positions include serving as a resident assistant, orientation leader, and/or peer advisor. These are ways to become familiar with how a student service department works. Additionally, this background would make you a more competitive candidate for graduate assistantships.
The National Orientation Directors Association (NODA): For staff members who work in orientation, focused extensively in recent years on the subjects of outdoor orientation experiences, leadership development, summer orientation, and summer reading experiences. The members of this association usually also work with staff in academic advising and student activities.
Most typically, Residential Life professional staff have completed advanced degrees in higher education and student development. However, being that Residential Life staffs are most often looking for energy, enthusiasm, maturity, and a track record of successful involvement, there are exceptions made to “master’s degree required” hires. Live-in, entry-level staff commonly supervise resident assistants, advise hall councils, coordinate larger-scale programming, participate in campus-wide committees, mediate conflicts and sometimes meet with students judicially, and offer maturity, insight, and organization to a variety of other responsibilities to assure residential students’ safety and productivity. In other words, these are NOT 9-5 jobs! They can be, however, very rewarding opportunities to connect with a high number and great diversity of students and contribute to their transition and success.
Throughout the country, Residential Life departments annually hire numerous (i.e. hundreds of) entry-level professionals each year. Most commonly, people discover an interest in working in this counseling, organizing, and leadership capacity through undergraduate involvement. These positions include serving as a resident assistant, orientation leader, and/or peer advisor. These are ways to become familiar with how a student service department works and can make you more competitive for “master’s degree required” and “master’s degree preferred” positions. Additionally, this background would make you a more competitive candidate for graduate assistantships in residential life.
The Association of College and University Housing Officers – International (ACUHO-I): This association focuses on housing and residence life staff. Organized into geographic regions. ACUHO-I also has members from departments of dining services, conference services, facilities, and physical plants for the overlap of services provided to campus housing. ACUHO-I also coordinates several different internship programs that allow students to work at different campuses for some period of time.
The National Association of College and University Residence Halls (NACURH): This is the largest student association in the country. This group is made up of all the residence hall councils, programming councils, Residence Hall Associations, and Inter-Residence Associations at all the member campuses around the country.
The Oshkosh Placement Exchange (OPE): A large job placement exchange held annually at The University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh. Traditionally focused on entry-level jobs in housing and residence life, but more and more related fields also interview there. Commonly referred to as simply “Oshkosh.”
NASPA Joblinks: NASPA is the leading voice for student affairs administration, policy and practice and affirms the commitment of student affairs to educating the whole student and integrating student life and learning.
A student with a bachelor’s degree may discover that there are some challenges to finding entry level positions in Activities at the college level. Many programs tend to require an advanced degree for staff. One possible avenue for access is often through independent schools. Students who teach, coach, or otherwise get involved in campus communities often get the exposure that will allow them to access event and activity planning. However, being that Activities Directors are most often looking for energy, enthusiasm, maturity, and a track record of successful involvement, there are exceptions made to “master’s degree required” hires. This is more typical if a student chooses to continue on someplace where he or she is familiar, such as one’s alma mater.
The National Association for Campus Activities (NACA): For staff members who work in campus programming, student unions, university centers, campus life and others who inter-relate with campus programming and activities.
The Association of College Unions International (ACUI): Largely focused on the operations end (buildings, design, maintenance, programming, and staffing) of campus union management.
At the entry level in institutions that do not run their own programs, responsibilities typically focus on providing program information to students, with an emphasis on accurate record-keeping. Applicants are also expected to be sensitive to issues of inter-cultural communication and adaptation.
Entry-level positions with program providers would typically involve marketing and recruitment activities or student liaison. Depending on the size of the organization, employees might have a regional assignment with responsibility for campus visits to describe their programs to faculty, administrators, and students; or handle application materials and telephone and email inquiries from interested students; or work on printed and web publicity. A background in study abroad and a good understanding of another culture and language are desirable.
The Association of International Educators (formerly, The National Association of Foreign Student Advisors) (NAFSA): This association serves the needs of anyone who works with international students, Immigration and Naturalization Services, study abroad programs, etc. It also includes a job registry.