Higher Education vs Secondary Education: Career ROI

Written by Grad School Center Team We are a passionate team of experienced educators and advisors at, dedicated to guiding students through their graduate education journey. Our experts, with advanced degrees across various disciplines, offer personalized advice, up-to-date program information, and practical insights into application processes.

Reviewed by David Krug David Krug is a seasoned expert with 20 years in educational technology (EdTech). His career spans the pivotal years of technology integration in education, where he has played a key role in advancing student-centric learning solutions. David's expertise lies in marrying technological innovation with pedagogical effectiveness, making him a valuable asset in transforming educational experiences. As an advisor for enrollment startups, David provides strategic guidance, helping these companies navigate the complexities of the education sector. His insights are crucial in developing impactful and sustainable enrollment strategies.

Updated: February 27, 2024, Reading time: 10 minutes

Higher Education vs Secondary Education - featured image

Both high school teachers and college professors are vital in society! Both educators play crucial roles in children’s development, adult education, and workforce development – and considering the fact that educated citizens are our greatest resource, theirs is, indeed, a noble profession. 

Then, there are also the numerous benefits that come with being an educator. Teachers are always in high demand, thanks to a growing population, social need and economic growth. According to experts, the demand for teachers will be greater than its supply by more than 100,000 by 2025, meaning more job opportunities for aspiring teachers. 

The median yearly wage for workers in the Education, Training and Library occupations is $57,490 (May 2022); the median wage for all occupations is $46,310 per year. Note that educators can also receive generous compensation benefits, too, including health insurance, retirement packages, and opportunities for continuing education and career advancement. 

A Quick Look at Their Differences

If you’re planning on pursuing a Master’s in Education program to become a successful educator, you have likely asked yourself, “Which of these career paths is the best for me?” Let’s take a more detailed look into the educational requirements, professional demands and career advancement opportunities for secondary and post-secondary teaching. 

College ProfessorHigh School Teacher
Average Annual Salary$80,840$62,360
Projected Job Growth8% (2022-2032) or 118,800 openings per year1% (2022-2032) or 67,100 openings per year
Licenses/Certifications RequiredYes, when teaching occupations where licensure, registration or certification is required.Yes
Primary Duties* College professors provide students with instruction on specific courses based on their specialization.
* Conducting research projects, publishing scholarly papers and books.
* Participating in professional activities, such as conferences and workshops.
* High school teachers teach Science, Math, Technology, English, Literature, History and more.
* The lessons cover practical knowledge and skills that prepare high school students for college and the job market.

What Does a College Professor Do?

What Does a College Professor Do - Image

College professors are productive professionals whose industry-specific technical knowledge and transferable skills allow them to perform a wide range of roles and responsibilities. Their daily working life can include the following duties: 

Many college professors also perform experiments, lead research projects, publish their original research, and even supervise graduate assistants in the classroom and the laboratory. Note that their specific roles and responsibilities will also vary depending on their positions (i.e., research or teaching professors, tenured or adjunct professors, visiting professors, clinical professors) and the size of the college. 

College professors can teach small and large classes, too, depending on their courses and specialization. With online learning becoming a common aspect of higher education, their learning formats can include live instruction, hybrid instruction, and online instruction. 

Aside from the opportunity for specialization in a specific subject, college professors usually have greater autonomy and independence in designing their course syllabi, choosing their teaching pedagogy, and selecting their research projects and their methodology.

Their interactions are with adults, too, since college students are usually of legal age, not to mention that adult learners and working professionals can also be their students. Your opportunities for intellectually challenging collaborations and discussions with your students are aplenty! 

Due to these specific attributes of teaching in higher education settings, college professors must possess strong critical thinking, collaboration, interpersonal skills, resourcefulness, and resilience. Being a college professor is a rewarding job but it has its fair share of challenges, thus, the need for being resilient.

College Professor Education and Career Paths

The type of educational and professional credentials you must possess to become a college professor vary depending on the colleges you’re applying to, the courses you want to teach, and the research topics you want to take on. 

Community colleges may accept as college professors those with a Master’s degree in Higher Education with extensive and relevant professional work experience. If you’re a graduate student now, you should plan on earning a Doctorate in Higher Education degree in your field after racking up relevant professional work experience.

You can pursue a doctoral degree while maintaining part-time or full-time employment, too. Your graduate experience should ideally include a graduate teaching assistantship, too, since it will boost your resume’s value. 

College professors usually have the relevant professional license, registration, or certification of their profession, such as Professional Engineer (PE), registered nurse (RN), or physician (MD), which demonstrates their competence, if not expertise, in their field.

If their profession doesn’t require a professional license, registration or certification, college professors can also earn other forms of professional credentials. These include memberships or fellowships from professional organizations, specialized training, and intellectual property rights like patents, as well as an impressive collection of published research and papers.

With the right educational and professional credentials, college professors can progress from being adjunct professors to tenured professors and even become part of the college administration. Becoming a college dean or a university president isn’t far-fetched with ambition! 

A career in Higher Education Teaching is for you if: 

A career in Higher Education Teaching is not a great fit if you: 

What Does a High School Teacher Do?

What Does a High School Teacher Do - Image

If you’re pursuing a graduate degree as part of your plans to become a high school teacher, you must be aware of the rewards and challenges that come with the job! The typical roles and responsibilities of secondary school teachers include the following: 

High school teachers usually choose a specific area to teach, such as history, physics, or mathematics, as well as teach different classes in a specific area (e.g., math subjects like calculus and algebra). Their students are usually in the 7th through 12th grade and can teach different grades at different hours of the day. 

Unlike college professors, high school teachers usually follow a structured curriculum required by the state and school district. Their professional performance can also be evaluated based on specific standards that college professors aren’t subjected to. 

But like their college counterparts, high school teachers must possess strong communication, collaboration and critical thinking skills. With teenagers as their students, secondary school teachers must also possess patience, persistence and resilience, particularly when teaching troubled and troublesome teens. Indeed, work burnout among public secondary school teachers due to their workload and student-related issues is a national concern. 

Despite the challenges, high school teachers assert that the rewards of their profession more than make up for the risks! Their significant impact on the youth and their lives, as well as their opportunities for personal and professional development, are among the oft-cited reasons for their commitment.

High School Teacher Education and Career Paths

High school teachers usually possess a bachelor’s degree in education or in the specific field in which they specialize. Note, however, that a bachelor’s degree in Education is highly recommended because of the comprehensive coverage of contemporary education theories, principles, and practices. You should also choose a concentration in a specific content area, such as English, math or science. 

If you’re planning on becoming a public school teacher, you should also secure a state-issued license or certification. If you’re more interested in private schools, you don’t have to obtain a state-issued license or certification, but it can be a competitive advantage when applying for jobs in the best schools. 

Every state has licensing or certification requirements, but the common ones are: 

Most states require continuing education credits for licensed or certified teachers to maintain their professional credentials. You may also be required to earn a Master’s in Secondary Education after obtaining your license and getting relevant teaching experience, but it will vary depending on your state and school. 

What if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree in Education but want to become a high school teacher? You can explore alternative routes like: 

Career advancement for high school teachers includes:

A career in Secondary Education Teaching is for you if: 

A career in Secondary Education Teaching is not a great fit if you: 

Higher Education vs Secondary Education - fact

Becoming a college professor or high school teacher requires hard work, as well as a strong desire to inspire others while also learning from them. Regardless of your choice, you will agree education is a challenging yet rewarding work

Additional Resources:

We’re certain of one thing—your search for more information on picking the best graduate degree or school landed you here. Let our experts help guide your through the decision making process with thoughtful content written by experts.