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Students who pursue a master’s in higher education find positions in universities and colleges and nonprofit and government facilities that develop international and domestic education programs. These administrative positions include assistant deans, registrars, and directors of offices and programs related to student affairs and services. Postsecondary education administrators earn an average salary of $99,940.

In 2022, the average yearly tuition was $20,513. However, tuition and fees vary by school and program. Students enrolled in full-time study can complete a master’s in higher education in two years. Most programs are 30 to 36 credits and involve an internship or assistantship.

How to Choose a Master’s in Higher Education Program

Choose your area of study

Your preferred field of study will influence the type of program you choose. Consider your career and personal goals before making your selection.

A master’s degree in higher education includes areas of study in research and policy, social justice, student affairs, and international higher education.

Graduates can attain a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Higher Education, a Master of Arts in Higher Education and Student Affairs, a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.), or a Master of Education (M.Ed.), depending on the focus of their bachelor’s degree, the institution, and program.

Research schools and programs

As you evaluate your choices, focus on accredited schools and programs. Accrediting bodies review schools and programs for the quality and rigor of their education. There are two types of accreditations — institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation includes regional and national accreditation, with regional accreditation being the more widely recognized.

You can gain valuable insight into the culture and support an institution or program offers by visiting the school in person and attending a virtual or in-person open house or information session. Another way to learn more about the school or program is to speak directly to an admissions counselor or program representative.

Prepare for tests and applications

The application process can vary by school and program. For the most accurate information, contact an admissions counselor.

Standard documents needed for most applications include your school transcripts, a résumé, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation. Master’s program applicants must also have a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

For final acceptance into the program, full-time students applying to a master’s in higher education need an internship or assistantship, and part-time students need a full-time position in higher education. These positions allow students to gain practical work experience.

Select your program

As you review your top choices, reflect on your personal goals and logistical needs. Examine the benefits of in-person and online study and whether full-time or part-time enrollment fits your lifestyle. Some programs offer synchronous, asynchronous, or hybrid course delivery methods, allowing you to work independently. Include other factors like cost, coursework, and location.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Create a list of potential expenses to determine whether you’ll need financial assistance or can support yourself. Include your tuition, housing, transportation, books, meals, and personal expenses.

Financial considerations are a significant factor for most postsecondary students. Complete the Free Application for Federal Student Assistance (FAFSA) form. Schools use the results of this application to determine need-based financial assistance.

Inquire with your employer about a tuition reimbursement program. Many of these programs are performance-based and require at least two years post-graduation work-term commitment.

You can also contact the program administrator or admissions counselor for more information on program-specific grants and scholarships. Some programs automatically consider applicants for these merit- and need-based financial options.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Higher Education Degree Programs

Best Master’s in Higher Education Degree Programs_2024 badge

The University of Kansas

University of Florida

Auburn University

Merrimack College

The George Washington University

Southern Methodist University

Elon University

Andrews University

Georgetown University

Hofstra University

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How we rank schools

This list covers graduate programs in higher education. Graduates are prepared for senior-level positions in student services, academics, and faculty research. Degrees offered include Master of Education in Higher Education, Master of Science in Higher Education, Master of Science in Education Student Affairs Administration, Master of Science in Higher Education Leadership, and Master of Arts in Higher, Adult, and Lifelong Education. Students can choose from in-person, online, and hybrid learning formats.

Graduate programs in higher education with curricula that meet specific academic standards receive accreditation at the national and regional levels. The schools on our list are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), Higher Learning Commission (HLC), Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), and WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Higher Education Degree Program

Prospective students of a master’s in higher education program can expect a reading and writing-intensive course load. The curriculum also involves discussion-oriented seminars with problem-solving and work-based learning applications. Coursework will include social injustice in education, research methods, and the required qualities and skills of a strong leader.

Students can expect to participate in a graduate assistantship, an internship, and professional development opportunities. Some programs require part-time students to remain employed full-time in higher education during their studies in place of an assistantship or internship.

Many programs also include a required capstone project and the completion of a minimum course load before students sit for their comprehensive exams.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in higher education degree program

  • Pedagogy and Action for Critical Education. Students learn the prominent theoretical foundations of issues within educational spaces, including diversity, oppression, and social justice. This course is centered on student-facilitated critical dialogue and facilitates the development of anti-oppressive education and skills to empower students to work toward social change.
  • Diversity in Higher Education. This course explores issues of diversity within the context of higher education. Students tackle diversity issues, including gender, class, religion, sexual orientation, and ideology.
  • Professional Development in Higher Education. This course supports and enhances a graduate assistantship. It focuses on the practical application of theory and skill development while providing students with the tools to launch a successful job search.
  • Strategic Management Research. Students develop research questions related to strategic management and decision-making. Topics include governance, leadership, management, and strategic planning through the higher education lens.
  • Collaboration and Conflict. Students explore the experiential and interdisciplinary facets of how people work together to solve complex problems. This course aims to help students understand why leadership requires emotional intelligence. Areas of focus include relevant research in theoretical frameworks and best practices from various fields.

Master’s in Higher Education Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in higher education degree program?

Applicants to a master’s of higher education must have satisfactorily completed a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Other standard materials requested by admissions include your school transcripts, your résumé, and at least one letter of recommendation. Most schools also require a short personal essay or statement of purpose outlining why you want to attend their school and why you feel you’d be a good candidate for their program. In many cases, shortlisted applicants proceed to an interview process.

How much does a master's in higher education degree cost?

The average yearly tuition at a public institution is $12,596. In addition to tuition, consider the cost of housing, transportation, books, meals, and personal expenses, and factor in less frequently considered fees for student services, recreation and wellness centers, and health insurance.

Some programs have mandatory paid internships as part of the yearly curriculum. This internship will count towards your credits and, depending on the pay, can decrease your out-of-pocket expenses. Other factors that can reduce out-of-pocket expenses include scholarships, grants, and financial aid.

How long does it take to earn a master's in higher education degree?

A master’s in higher education requires 30 to 36 credits, which will take full-time students two years to complete. Part-time students can complete the program in three years. This program involves an assistantship or internship, a cornerstone project, and comprehensive (comp) exams.

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