Pursuing a career in the field of education can be life-changing. For some, helping students achieve their academic goals provides a deep sense of satisfaction. For others, pursuing a leadership position is a natural and fulfilling next step that allows them to make greater contributions to an education system as a whole.
Educational leaders take on many roles, from professors to school principals to superintendents, and even college presidents. No matter which position you choose, you’ll have the opportunity to transform the lives of educators at the primary, secondary or collegiate level and collaborate with an entire community of other educational leaders. Best of all, you’ll continue to nurture students' relationships as you did previously in the classroom by cultivating their personal passions while fueling them to achieve academic success.
A career in educational leadership requires great commitment, but the payoff is unmatched. Now is the time to explore opportunities in the field, given current shortages. Discover what a graduate degree in educational leadership has to offer as you choose a career path in educational leadership that’s right for you.
Why Pursue a Career in Educational Leadership
Pursuing a career in education can offer a profound sense of fulfillment. But there are many additional reasons why pursuing a career in educational leadership is right for you.
Recent trends suggest the demand for teachers continues to rise at all levels. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates that 11,100 new elementary, middle and high school principals will be needed by 2029. That’s a 4% increase between 2019 and 2029. Likewise, BLS estimates that 7,100 new post-secondary education administrators will be needed by 2029, another 4% increase between 2019 and 2029.
A career in educational leadership boasts a competitive salary. According to the BLS, the median annual salary for elementary, middle and high school principals was $98,490, with the highest 10% earning $152,500 per year. The median annual salary for post-secondary education administrators was $97,500, with the highest 10% earning $199,400 per year. In comparison, other management positions have an average annual salary of $95,180.
"Apart from personal gains, teachers and other leaders in education make a difference in the lives of their students and can impact families in the surrounding communities."
Top-performing principals have just as much impact on academic achievement as teachers do. Principals not only direct professional development and curriculum strategy, but establish a schoolwide culture so that all students can flourish.
As national teacher shortages persist, candidates who earn their master’s degree widen career prospects and boost their earning potential. Apart from personal gains, teachers and other leaders in education make a difference in the lives of their students and can impact families in the surrounding communities.
Choosing a career path that’s right for you takes careful planning, both in terms of requirements and personal interest. Earning a master’s degree is almost always a requirement for leadership positions in the education industry. Earning a doctoral degree in educational leadership can help you get promoted to higher positions or departments within your current role or raise earning potential in your current role. Whatever your primary motivations are, find the path that fuels your passion.
Teaching is undoubtedly one of the most demanding professions, but also one of the most rewarding. During the job interview process, teaching candidates are likely to receive behavioral questions about student engagement, assessments and classroom management. Precise job duties vary from one department or school district to another, but often include:
Educators who start off in the classroom can pivot to other roles in the field of education as their career progresses, increasing their earning potential and honing their career path. Typically, teachers begin their careers with a bachelor’s degree, and after several years, earn their master’s to broaden professional prospects and boost their take-home salary. As a teacher, earning your graduate degree can enrich your personal development and catapult your career.
For those with years of experience in the classroom, the obvious next step is often to pursue an administrative role, including that of principal. Principals at private or public schools take on a critical role. They oversee daily activities and operations but must also foster strong student and teacher relationships. Principals are responsible for:
Principals must obtain their graduate degree and certification before taking on the new role. Although becoming principal is the pinnacle of many educators’ careers, there are also opportunities to grow into other leadership roles, such as district superintendent.
For many in the education field, becoming a superintendent is the pinnacle of one’s career at the primary and secondary level. For those with a passion for education and a larger vision for the direction of the school district, the role of superintendent proves rewarding. On one hand, superintendents must manage tight budgets and handle concerns of both parents and staff. On the other hand, superintendents play an integral role in shaping curriculum and the educational system at the state level.
Most candidates will have earned a master’s in educational leadership and must renew their certifications on a regular basis. Superintendents earn an average of $119,000 annually, in addition to government benefits. According to the BLS, job prospects for superintendents are high, with a growth rate of about 4% between 2019-2029.
Post-secondary teachers in a university or college setting are almost always required to hold a doctoral degree. In some situations, like teaching at a community college, a master’s degree may suffice. Some fields will require prospective candidates to have hands-on, professional experience in their area of instruction (art, law, education, and so forth). In other fields, candidates must demonstrate postdoctoral research (biology, chemistry, physics).
Candidates usually start off in roles as assistant professor or associate professor. Most professors seek tenure, but this is usually accomplished only over many years (up to seven), according to the same BLS report.
The best candidates for this position will need to demonstrate their critical thinking skills, interpersonal skills and resourcefulness. During an interview, individuals who wish to teach at the postsecondary level must be able to discuss their style of teaching, coursework strategy and classroom management abilities.
A post-secondary administrator oversees the daily operations of a college or university. The most common positions include dean, registrar or provost (effectively the vice president of a university). A post-secondary administrator:
Post-secondary administrators must obtain a master’s degree and keep up-to-date with current certifications. People in this field generally work year-round, but they may reduce their hours during summer months.
Employment of post-secondary administrators is expected to grow up to 4% in the coming years. Job prospects are best for candidates who have experience in the classroom or positions of education administration. When interviewing for the job of dean or registrar, you must be able to demonstrate your interpersonal skills, organizational skills, problem-solving skills and speak about your computer skills.
The role of dean of students is most often fulfilled at the university level. Their role is to meet the needs of students academically while supporting social activities and extracurriculars on campus. Day-to-day responsibilities include:
On one hand, the dean of students must play a role in managing student behavior and acting on policy infractions. On the other hand, the dean of students has the motivating role of ensuring that all students have a positive experience on campus.
Many candidates begin their career in school administration at the lower level before taking on this new role. The dean of students usually has about 7-10 years of experience as an administrator before applying for this position. A master’s degree in the field of education administration is required. Prospective candidates must have exceptional interpersonal communication skills and understanding of the school’s course offering, policies and procedures before beginning the interview process.
Amongst educators at the post-secondary level, becoming college president is the highlight of one’s career. A college president directs the policies, objectives and initiatives of a campus or entire university. They’re also responsible for launching large-scale campaigns to meet corporate goals. Typically, the college president reports to the board of trustees.
A college president will almost always hold a Ph.D or Ed.D. Hands-on experience in the classroom or in another administrative role is also preferred. In order to fulfill the duties of the roles, candidates must be impeccable leaders, organizers and time managers, with excellent communication skills. According to PayScale, college and university presidents earn an average base salary of $155,000 plus benefits.
Curriculum designers create educational programming in collaboration with teachers, clients and administrators. During their day-to-day, curriculum designers:
In addition to a master's degree in education, curriculum designers usually have a background in education, including classroom teaching. Soft skills are also essential to the job. Clear written and verbal communication, careful research and strong planning are all essential skills.
Curriculum designers enjoy added flexibility. In some cases, this role is fulfilled on a contractual or freelance basis, which allows designers to shape their own schedules and work with a list of self-selected clients. During the interview process, candidates will be asked to discuss their research and design process and about their perspective on the learning experience more generally.
Educational consultants advise teachers, principals, school districts and even government agencies about best practices in education, ranging from curriculum to classroom technology. In addition to their advisory role, academic consultants also:
Candidates that make the best educational consultants are analytical, independent, empathetic towards student needs and strong planners and organizers. Consultants must be able to meet tight deadlines and work well under pressure. Individuals in this role have the chance to travel across the country and work with a diverse range of educators.
Most academic consultants have years of teaching experience before taking on the role. Those with specializations in audio-visual education, English and mathematics, curriculum design, emerging technology and blended learning are highly sought after. The median salary for an education consultant is $66,970.
Training and development specialists create and deliver training programs for businesses. Specialists may use lectures, group discussions, online applications and visuals to facilitate a workshop. Most commonly, corporate training and development specialists take on the role of:
Median pay for a training and development specialist is $62,700 annually, according to the BLS. Most training and development specialists who enter the field with a bachelor’s degree go on to become training and development managers or human resources managers once they’ve earned their master’s. At the managerial level, employees can expect to earn $115,640 per year.
Furthermore, employment in this field is expected to grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029. As the need for classroom and workplace instruction persists, job prospects will remain favorable.
What Makes a Great Educational Leader?
Educators come from all types of professional and educational backgrounds. Still, there are specific skill sets that all educational leaders should work toward to find success in the field.
In addition to a degree at the bachelor’s or master’s level, educators must also build a firm foundation of hard skills. In the educational field, this includes things like computer skills, language skills, content knowledge and literacy skills. Educators in their first or second years should also begin to master curriculum, grading, testing procedures and software so that they’re best equipped to guide students. Specializations, especially in the areas of STEM and special education, are in incredibly high demand.
Soft skills are just as important as hard skills. As an educator, you’ll need to demonstrate your problem-solving and organizational skills. You’ll work to build time management, critical thinking skills and a strong work ethic. Clear written and verbal communication skills are a must. For educators working in the classroom with students every day, you’ll need to develop empathy for students and come up with creative ways to address a variety of learning styles.
Educators at all levels must find their own motivation. Whether it’s a personal aspiration to learn, to help others or to make a difference in the larger community, educators who find self-motivation are better equipped to motivate students and colleagues.
How to Choose a Fulfilling Career Path Post-Graduation
A master's degree in educational leadership is versatile in nature. Upon earning your degree, you’ll have many career paths to choose from. The question becomes what will fulfill you and challenge you in the long run.
A career in education is driven by passion. What drives you? Who do you enjoy working with most? What are the kinds of challenges you thrive on?
Education at the bachelor’s or master’s level builds a foundation, but nothing will prepare you like real-world experience. How can you leverage past experiences to inform the kind of day-to-day tasks you’ll be responsible for as an educator?
"Upon earning your degree, you’ll have many career paths to choose from. The question becomes what will fulfill you and challenge you in the long run."
For some, teaching in the classroom is the final destination. For others, teaching may simply serve as a stepping stone to future goals in the field of education. What are your long-term career goals? What are the steps you’ll take to get there?
Aside from your professional goals, what do you hope to achieve personally? How can you align your personal and professional goals?
Find Your Path With SNU
No matter where your career in education takes you, SNU is here to help. SNU offers masters and doctoral programs for those aspiring to move into an educational leadership role.
SNU’s Master of Arts in Educational Leadership (MAEL) is designed by educators, for educators. Learn from experts in the field and focus on real-world classroom scenarios. This 36-credit hour program spans elementary, secondary and superintendent training
SNU also offers a Doctor of Education in Administration and Leadership (Ed.D) program. Learn how to lead your school, district or organization with confidence. You’ll complete coursework online or one evening a week and meet regularly with your dissertation chair, who will see you through the dissertation process. Most students complete the program, including SNU’s embedded dissertation process, in less than 32 months.
To jumpstart your education today and get your finances in order, check out SNU’s Complete Guide to Financial Aid.