Careers in Higher Education

This resource will give you an overview of the career opportunities available if you want to pursue a job in a college or university setting. There are two basic career pathways in Higher Education — academic affairs and student affairs.

Regardless of which pathway you are interested in, the Chronicle of Higher Education is a great resource to stay up-to-date with trends in higher education.

NOTE: Many of the careers highlighted below require graduate degrees. Please see here for general information about researching and applying to graduate schools.


Academic Affairs

This career pathway in higher education is focused on the academic learning experience of college students. There a few roles to pursue in academic affairs:


This is what most may think of when imaging a career in higher education. Faculty are subject-matter experts, and are responsible for creating/discovering new knowledge (research), and passing on that new knowledge to others (teaching and publication). There are two basic pathways for faculty

  • Tenure-track faculty
    • This pathway involves pursuing tenure - a very secure guarantee of continued employment given basic job requirements are met.
    • Tenure is meant to guarantee academic freedom of expression - a hallmark of traditional higher education
    • Generally speaking, tenure is secured through proving one’s competence/performance in three areas. Each of these areas is given different weight/importance depending on the type of college/university:
      • Teaching
      • Research and publication
      • Service to the one’s professional community (supporting administrative needs of department, college, and professional associations)
  • Non Tenure-track faculty
    • This pathway is can be full or part-time, and usually involves teaching courses
    • It may also involve professional service or conducting research relevant to the discipline
    • It is common to use non tenure-track positions to become more competitive for tenure-track positions

There are also administrative positions that can be pursued in academic affairs (dean, provost, etc.), but one must first gain expertise as a faculty member before pursuing these roles.

If you are interested in pursuing this career pathway, you should connect with faculty at Wellesley who are teaching or studying your area/discipline of interest. Finding and cultivating faculty mentor relationships is a key aspect of successfully pursuing a faculty position. A great way to start is by doing an informational interview with a faculty member about their career pathway. You can also search The Wellesley Hive for alumnae who are faculty members to conduct informational interviews.

Student Affairs

The term student affairs is a term that encompasses a large range of roles and functions in higher education. The thread that ties them together is the focus on holistic learning, development, and growth for students in and outside of the classroom. Student affairs professionals are educators much like faculty, but are trained to create learning environments and experience that help students to connect their learning about multiple subjects, across multiple environments.

There are several types of student affairs jobs/functions, including the following. These divisions of student affairs have different names at each institution, but this will give a sense of the broad range of opportunities.

  • Residential Life / Housing
  • Career Education / Services
  • Student Leadership Development
  • Greek Life
  • Athletics
  • Civic Engagement / Service Learning
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • Academic Advising and Support Services
  • Counseling and Wellness
  • Alumnae/i Relations
  • Student Activities and Recreation
  • New Student Orientation

Just look around here at Wellesley, and you will see examples of these kinds of jobs all around you! To learn more about pursuing a career in student affairs you can: