Written by S.M. Audsley

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” said former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. Learning is key to advancing your career, but sometimes it’s difficult to choose what major or degree program will most suit your needs and interests. One degree that is often underrated in its versatility and ability to jumpstart your career is a degree in education. Education majors don’t just become teachers -- there is a wide variety of jobs and career paths for those who wish to pursue a degree in education. Here are seven exciting options in dynamic and sought-after fields of study where a degree in education is key. 

Most education degrees offer an interdisciplinary approach to their curriculum. Some of the courses you might take could include childhood development, psychology, curriculum development, and educational theories and pedagogy. Having a broad base of foundational knowledge in these areas will set you up for success in many specialized careers where you can make a greater impact. 

1. School counseling

Does advising students and helping them 'find their paths' inspire you? Then look no further than becoming the next great school counselor. As a field of study, school counseling requires a degree in education. A typical day in a school counselor's life includes advising students on what colleges and universities fit with both their career goals and their finances, to working with school administration on providing inclusive and welcoming spaces for all. As a trained professional in childhood development, you will also meet with the students that have the highest needs, addressing trauma and difficult home lives, and you will play a vital role in helping the school you work at develop its sense of place within the community. 

The American School Counselor Association writes, “School counselors should spend most of their time in direct service to and contact with students. School counselors' duties are focused on the overall delivery of the total program through school counseling core curriculum, individual student planning and responsive services.” Leading their school in best practices and helping to provide essential services for students, a trained and highly qualified school counselor is a valued member of a functioning school. A degree in education will start you on the path towards becoming a school counselor, when, in America, you can expect to make an average annual salary of $42,000 to $72,000, depending on which state and school district you are in, according to US News & World Report.

2. Educational leadership

All educational institutions need highly qualified and trained leaders at the top who can direct and steer a successfully functioning organization that can serve its population effectively. Examples of educational leadership positions include deans of colleges and universities, principals and assistant principals, headmasters, superintendents, and much more. Educational leadership training starts with a degree in education where students learn the basics and get the foundational knowledge and training you need. 

Educational leaders set the tone of the overall organization, they most likely have a strong vision and can steer the organization or school in a particular direction. For example, Debra Gluck, a new superintendent, says, “I want to make sure that we have used all of that support to create state-of-the-art learning spaces that allow students to experience an environment and activities they would not have experienced before.”

Often teachers who have been working in a school or education institution can see the necessary changes needed, and they will pursue a higher degree to allow them to take on these higher administrative roles. If you are weighing the costs of pursuing a degree in education, it might be helpful to know that: “A school administrator with one to four years experience will make approximately $67,000 a year. That amount increases to just under $100,000 with twenty or more years of experience. In terms of time spent earning the degree, you will spend approximately two years,” reports EducationalLeadershipDegrees.com. Good leaders are needed everywhere -- a degree in education can help get you started. 

3. Special education

If making a difference in someone else’s life is central to your worldview and to what you want to do with your life and career, then look no further than the fascinating field of special education. For those who want to specialize in the field of education, special education provides a great option and many job advantages. A special education teacher will typically work with high-need students who have some physical or mental disability. These teachers modify classroom curriculum for each student’s individual pace and help them develop alongside their classmates on a track designed specifically for their needs. 

If this sounds like fulfilling work, then go for it! The job market will support this career path as in the United States, and in some other countries, there is a nationwide shortage for qualified special education teachers. Reports from the California University of Pennsylvania show, “Special education teachers, as well as others with a teaching degree, now have a much easier time moving from one state to another, meaning that program graduates with a bachelor’s degree in special education have a much easier time finding rewarding jobs in their dream locations. In fact, this is particularly true of special education teachers, whose expertise is identified as a major area of need nationwide.” Working closely with students who have developmental delays and special needs is not only work that changes the world, it can also be a fascinating and rewarding long-term career choice.

4. Education technology

Maybe you’re more tech-savvy or technology minded? Technology is pervasive and embedded in all aspects of modern life, so it’s not a surprise experts are needed in the intersection of the fields of education and technology. Smartboards, iPads, and tablets are just some of the tools that have exploded onto the market and into people’s homes and classrooms. Online learning is becoming more and more popular. A degree in education technology helps give you the foundational knowledge to excel at leveraging all the changing technology that exists out there. You will be able to assess needs and maximize the potential usage of technology to both solve problems and to also advance learning.

E-learning and technology are only going to keep growing and changing. Accelerate your career by specializing in this field of study. By combining both education and technology you will be getting the best of both worlds. Trends in e-learning include customized learning experiences, cloud optimization, speech-to-text, virtual and augmented learning, 3-D printing, and more. This field is also lucrative with an annual starting salary of $53,000 in the US, according to Payscale.com. Depending on where you end up that figure could be much higher as the career path is in constant demand. 

5. Educational psychology

Maybe you are more interested in the inner workings of the human mind. If so, combining education and psychology might just be right up your alley. A branch of psychology that is concerned with understanding and improving how students acquire a variety of capabilities through formal instruction in a classroom setting, this field is fascinating. Linking psychological development and trauma to education, and how one learns, is important to educating the whole person. 

Educational psychologists are described by the South African College of Applied Psychology to be “trained professionals [who] study how students of all ages learn. While investigating how students process emotional, social and cognitive stimuli, they make assessments based on the student’s reactions, using this analysis to identify learning, social and behavioural issues that impede his or her learning.” Students in this field learn all about psychology, including abnormal psychology, and apply that to solving educational issues with clients and students. 

Educational psychologists are hired by schools or educational institutions to work with administration and staff to develop and implement successful learning programs for students. Some may choose contracted, consulting work with independent organizations that design learning materials or create specialty curriculum.

6. Pedagogy

If you’re more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person, or want to work on larger scale systemic issues within education, then maybe specializing in pedagogy is for you. The study of the method and practice of teaching, pedagogy is an essential component of the educational system. Theories and concepts provide the underlying foundation for all educational curriculum development. If you’re a problem solver who likes to bite off big challenges, then going into pedagogy might be for you.

Standardized tests, national exams, qualifying tests, and setting curriculum standards are some examples of projects you might take on if you pursue a career in pedagogy. Not only will you be working at the forefront of creating educational standards, you will also likely make a good salary. The average annual salary, according to Salary.com, is $130,000 for pedagogy best practices jobs. Overall, trends in pedagogy are evolving to incorporate e-learning and using technology more effectively. Matthew Lynch, writing for TheEdvocate.com, says that he envisions “in the next ten years [...] the expansion of cooperation between educators. The current climate of education has each teacher focused on their success. There is a small movement of co-teaching to encourage learning in a collaborative environment.” Also, Lynch sees “a future where teachers work collectively to enhance the learning and improve the achievement of students.”

7. Adult education

Do you love working with people and educating them, but prefer working with adults to children? Then maybe adult education is for you. Working with adults can be rewarding in different ways than working with the pre-adolescent and teenage people as most adult learners are going back to school for very specific and focused reasons -- for example, pursuing a particular passion, getting a better job, or a career change. Most adult learners are juggling full-time jobs, and often they are parents, too. You might even help a high school dropout earn his or her G.E.D. 

The Princeton Review reports that a degree in adult education offers many options: “many graduates become adult counselors, working with clients at a number of levels including family, financial, and crisis management. Many also go on to teach adults in a classroom setting, at universities, colleges, community colleges, vocational schools, or other educational centers. Within these career fields, there is a wide range of subjects that an adult educator might teach. They may also work as school administrators, helping to manage the academic staff and school curriculum.”

A fulfilling career path that has a large impact on helping people in their lives, both personally and professionally, adult education graduates can expect to earn an average salary ranging between $40,000 and $75,000, reports the US News and World Report. Whatever the salary, the rewards of helping some along their path to self-actualization, especially later in life when things are trickier, could be priceless.

A degree in education can take you places and it's more versatile now than ever. Those interested in education as a career no longer have to solely become teachers -- the range of job opportunities and specialized careers available are both rewarding and well-paid. Investing in your own education, with a degree that can help launch your career in helping others, is the best way to make a difference in the world!

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