It wasn’t so long ago that you were finishing your own dissertation, and now you’re in front of the classroom. Starting a career in higher education can be intellectually rewarding yet financially fraught.
Lucky for you, other people have been there as well, and they have some helpful advice for new educators.
Education isn’t often a career people gravitate to with dreams of fabulous wealth. Both Steven Weimer, a music professor at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, and Conor McLaughlin, a senior lecturer at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio, said they expected a modest income that would help pay off bills, student loans, and with any luck support their families.
For them, this was their first full-time faculty job. Weimer said finding full-time employment in his field felt like a sufficient victory.
“It was a good feeling, but it also makes you very tense about making sure you keep that job,” he says. “Financially, I haven’t received any substantial raises, but the work is rewarding enough to make up for large financial gains.”
Beyond paying off student loans, there are other ways to position yourself for success early in your career in higher education.
When money’s already tight, student loans can feel particularly burdensome. McLaughlin said loan payments eat up about half of his monthly paycheck. That’s why it’s important to pay off student loans as early in your career as possible. Weimer says he and his wife “aggressively” tackled their student debt by keeping their housing costs low for the first few years.
“We prioritized paying off debt and minimizing expenses for the initial years,” he says, “which helped lift the burden, and interest, of student loan debt.”
McLaughlin says to plan for paying off student loans long before you’ve even started the job by seeking out degree programs that saddle you with as little debt as possible.
“Ask specific questions about how students are funded and ask current students how they work within the budget of what they are paid,” he says.
Beyond paying off student loans, there are other ways to position yourself for success early in your career in higher education. Keeping your expenses low, even after grad school, can help you save for the future.
“Starting out after grad school, if you work in a live-in or -on position, try to bank whatever you would pay in rent for your apartment if you were paying rent, and slowly buy furniture rather than having to buy it all if and when you move off,” McLaughlin said.
On the other end, Weimer says to make yourself attractive to potential employers by acquiring a versatile skill set and keep an eye out for as many jobs that you qualify for as possible. On top of that, if you’re comfortable moving around you can open yourself to a wider range of salaries and costs of living.