9 Educational Leadership Career Paths Explored

An educational leader running a professional development session for her colleagues
An educational leader running a professional development session for her colleagues

From elementary school principals and district administrators to curriculum designers and corporate trainers, there are many educational career paths that aspiring leaders can take. Educational methodology and tools continue to evolve through increased focus on innovations like digital learning delivery, and leaders need to be cognizant of pressing issues such as rising rates of anxiety in students and the increased demand for social justice integration in education.  

These trends and many more have led to an ongoing need for qualified education leaders who are skilled, passionate, and invested in the future of education. In fact, both job outlook and salary statistics reveal a consistent demand for professionals suited for educational leadership career paths.

There’s even more great news: job security and the potential for an above-average salary are only some of the reasons to consider an educational leadership career path. Consider the additional benefits of such a profession and some of the opportunities available to education administrators.


Making a Difference that Impacts Generations

Education leaders are marked by a vision for the common good, data-driven strategic planning, and care for others. They are driven, creative, and focused on building teams of fellow professionals who can bring their skills and qualities together to create meaningful outcomes for students and communities. 

In doing so, higher education leaders find significant meaning in their professions, as the work they put in each day has a positive effect on the academic and personal lives of the students they serve. For example, one principal who had high self-efficacy and the belief that she could design a course of action that would promote improvement at her school went on to empower teachers in her employ to design an initiative that led to a 20-percentage point gain in math proficiency across all grades. 

Education leaders also have the opportunity to train students, family members, and fellow professionals in key areas of both personal life and vocation. Take for example Jennifer Scully, a head of school and Marymount University Doctorate of Education student.

“I enjoy creating programs, and have done so for professional staff development, the acquisition of social skills, executive functioning, social/emotional learning, global connectedness, environmental awareness, family support programs, risk assessment, strategic planning, and experiential learning,” Scully explained. “This has afforded me the opportunity to speak and train at both national and international conferences.”

Whether in schools, consulting firms, or education administrator roles, leaders in the field of education create positive change. Here are some of the educational leadership career paths available to aspiring education leaders today.


1. School Principal

School principals work as the highest-level professionals on their public or private campuses. 

The job responsibilities of a school principal include:

  • Managing and leading teachers and staff
  • Setting strategic goals for student achievement
  • Meeting with students who need extra support or guidance
  • Overseeing day-to-day operations, including facilities and budgets
  • Planning and hosting school-wide events and assemblies
  • Representing their school in meetings, at events, and in the public eye
  • Making safety plans to ensure childrens’ hierarchy of needs are met
  • Reporting to the district superintendent on their school

School principals typically begin their careers as teachers, which requires a bachelor’s degree. Most principals pursue a master’s degree, as many principal roles are reserved for those with the credential, and many go on to seek the highest degree of education through a doctorate in order to best serve their communities. Some school principals may have worked as assistant principals, instructional coordinators, or vice principals before taking on the role of school principal.

School principals cite many reasons they love their jobs, including “being able to see and work with the future,” having “a positive influence on the lives of students by modeling expected behaviors,” and seeing the school staff “grow in our commitment to team building.” 

The annual median pay for school principals in May 2021 was $98,420. Between 2020–2030, the BLS projects that the number of job openings for school principals will grow at a rate of 8 percent


2. Superintendent or District Administrator

Superintendents oversee all schools within their district and work to improve student performance district-wide. In public schools, superintendents are typically appointed by the district’s school board.

The job responsibilities of a superintendent include:

  • Developing policies and processes related to educational performance
  • Creating or approving education plans and programs
  • Evaluating programs, services, and facilities across the district
  • Working with school principals to facilitate positive education outcomes
  • Conducting long-range planning for the success of the school district
  • Building relationships with community partners to meet needs and provide resources

The path to becoming a superintendent varies by state. According to the American Association of School Administrators, slightly more than half of superintendents hold doctoral degrees. 

According to many superintendents, leading communities, and individuals, facilitating effective collaboration and empowering others to lead are some of the best parts of the job. Other joys of the role include working to solve inequities so that all students have access to high-quality education, instituting professional development programs that help educators to grow, and solving problems through effective communication. 

PayScale lists an average salary of $125,872 for superintendents. While the BLS does not report the job outlook for superintendents, it is likely to be similar to school principals and other roles for education administrators, which tends to be about an 8 percent growth rate between 2020–2030.


3. College Professor

College professors teach at the community college, college, or university level within a specific subject area at the undergraduate or graduate level. As employees of a college or university, their responsibilities may also include:

  • Developing curriculum and course material 
  • Mentoring students
  • Conducting research and publishing journal articles
  • Serving on academic or campus life committees
  • Writing grant proposals

Most four-year colleges and universities require their professors to hold a doctoral degree in the field they want to teach. Aspiring college professors will also want to conduct regular research in their field and participate in committees and conferences.

Education leaders who especially enjoy performing ongoing research, connecting with students who are on the cusps of their careers, and collaborating with fellow academics may especially enjoy careers as college professors. College professors also say that recognizing the potential in students and helping them see and leverage it is an especially satisfying part of the job. 

The annual median pay for college professors as of May 2021 was $79,640. Roles for college professors are expected to grow at a rate of 12 percent between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than the average for all occupations of 8 percent. 


4. Dean of Students or Faculty

Deans of Students or Faculty work within the college or university to oversee campus programs. As education administrators, these professionals support either students or faculty in order to facilitate a positive experience for all on campus. 

Their job responsibilities may include:

  • Meeting with students to discuss their needs
  • Directing the admissions process
  • Collaborating with departments to enhance the student or faculty experience
  • Planning campus life activities that boost student or employee morale
  • Administering and enforcing conduct policies
  • Intervening with students at risk of attrition or struggling faculty members

Deans of Students or Faculty often hold a doctoral degree in educational leadership. Their professional background may include years of working as college professors or in education administrator roles.

The BLS reported a median salary of $96,910 per year for postsecondary education administrators in May 2021. Jobs for postsecondary education administrators are expected to grow by a rate of 8 percent between 2020 and 2030.


5. College President

College presidents oversee the academic and administrative operations of an educational institution. Their job responsibilities include:

  • Overseeing academic and administrative staff and faculty
  • Managing operations, including budgets
  • Monitoring student success
  • Directing college or university activities
  • Participating in curriculum selection or development
  • Maintaining and updating school policies
  • Serving as a public face of the college or university

College presidents hold master’s degrees and often have earned doctoral degrees as well. They may have served as college professors or higher education administrators, such as academic deans, for many years before ascending to the role of the college president. 

Individuals who enjoy high-level leadership roles, effecting change in large groups of people, and collaborating with powerful individuals may especially be drawn to a role as a college president.

According to PayScale, the average salary for a college president is $155,616. The BLS does not measure the job outlook of college presidents but predicts an 8 percent growth rate for all postsecondary education administrators by 2030.


6. Academic Consultant

Academic, education, or learning consultants may work for independent firms, school districts, product-driven firms, or government agencies. Their job responsibilities may include:

  • Advising teachers, parents, school administrators, school boards, and government officials on educational best practices
  • Assessing education standards and policies to make recommendations for improvement
  • Implementing data-driven changes in schools or districts
  • Recommending materials, technology, or programs

Education consultants often earn master’s degrees or higher. They may have a background in teaching. Independent academic consultants often register with national organizations for education consultants. 

Flexibilities, opportunities for advancement, and a constant influx of new ideas and pedagogies are some of the perks educational consultants enjoy. Individuals who like to work on a project basis and experience new settings regularly may especially prefer a role as an academic consultant. 

PayScale lists an average annual salary of $63,069 for education consultants. While there is not a specific listing for academic consultants, the BLS estimates a growth rate of 10 percent for employment in education, training, and library occupations from 2020 to 2030.


7. Curriculum Designer

Curriculum designers work in schools, private companies, universities, and organizations to develop effective educational content and programs. Their job responsibilities include:

  • Researching and collaborating on quality curricula and resources
  • Developing digital and supplementary learning content
  • Monitoring student progress and teacher satisfaction
  • Collaborating with writers and designers on learning materials

Curriculum designers typically earn a master’s degree and have studied instructional design. They cite creativity, collaboration, and the joy of designing and implementing programs that lead to greater student success as highlights of their careers.

The May 2021 median pay for curriculum designers was $63,740 per year. Roles for curriculum designers are expected to grow by 10 percent from 2020 to 2030.


8. Corporate Trainer

Corporate trainers, who may also be called training or development specialists, work in nearly every industry. Their job responsibilities may include:

  • Planning and administering programs to improve employee skills and knowledge
  • Assessing training needs
  • Designing and developing training materials 
  • Collaborating with employees to best address their training needs

Corporate trainers may have formerly worked as teachers or in areas like staff development or instructional design. While post-graduate degrees and certifications are not required, they may lead to faster career advancement or more job opportunities.

These professionals enjoy the opportunity to facilitate greater employee satisfaction, educate large numbers of people, and participate in company success through their work. 

The median annual salary for corporate trainers was $61,570 in May 2021. Roles for corporate trainers are expected to grow by 11 percent from 2020 to 2030.


9. Director of Health Care/Medical/Technology Education

Individuals with experience in fields like health care, science, and technology can perform educational leadership roles in those industries as well. 

For example, Marymount University online Ed.D. student Lisa Reents aspires to “be part of a freestanding simulation center that will serve nursing, medical, and other health care professionals in gaining knowledge, skills, and other important strengths which will ultimately improve patient care and save lives.” 

Fellow student Pretty George intends to bring together her experience in health care businesses, IT operations, and educational leadership to become a chief information officer (CIO). 

Job responsibilities for leadership roles like director of health care education or chief information officer may include:

  • Overseeing the development and implementation of professional development curriculum
  • Mentor staff to identify training needs
  • Serve as the internal expert on health care or technology education
  • Collaborate with high-level leaders to achieve company objectives

PayScale lists an average annual salary of $81,559 for health education/promotion directors. While there is not a specific listing for directors of health care education, the BLS estimates a growth rate of 10 percent for employment in education, training, and library occupations from 2020 to 2030. The PayScale average salary for chief information officers is $169,548. The BLS estimates a growth rate of 11 percent for employment in computer and information systems management occupations from 2020 to 2030.


Prepare for Your Educational Leadership Career Path

Do you want to create positive change through educational leadership? Marymount University is here to support you wherever you are in your educational journey. Want to earn a master’s degree? Study an M.Ed. at Marymount University in Virginia. Already have a master’s? Enroll in our fully online Ed.D. designed for working professionals. 

An Ed.D. will provide you with the professional development you need for the educational leadership career paths explored in this post. You will learn from a global yet tight-knit community of faculty and fellow students. As Ed.D. student Harold Thomas says, “Education inspires me. Those I teach learn from me, and I learn from them.” 

Set foot on your educational leadership career path by connecting with an enrollment advisor.