How to Become a Dean


A career as a dean is well-suited for an academic who’s passionate about an institution, and wants to effect changes, or be responsible for ensuring the high standards of a department are maintained.


This is a well-paying profession with a lot of responsibility, a lot of prestige, and relatively few open positions.


To become a dean, you’ll need to be a full or tenured professor, and demonstrate aptitude in leaderships roles within your school’s administration. You’ll also need the ability to create and cultivate an effective team, manage large budgets, and be willing to make decisions that have far-reaching consequences on people’s academic and professional lives.


If you'd like to learn more about what a dean is, what they do, and how to become one, read on below, we've outlined all of the basics, such as the education, experience and skills needed, as well as details of the occupation itself, such as a job description, duties and median salary level.



Education Needed to Become a Dean

Deans typically being their careers as full or tenured professors, which requires a Ph.D. in the field in which they teach. For example, the dean of a law school would likely need a Ph.D. in law to have first been a tenured professor.


Some deans however, being their careers as administrators. In such cases, they typically require a Ph.D. in higher education administration, or a closely related field.





Skills and Traits You’ll Need

Aside from the professional qualifications you’ll need to meet in order to work in this field, you’ll also need a certain set of personal traits, skills and other qualities in order to be effective and fulfilled as a dean.


You’re interested in a diverse set of duties: Deans are part-educator, part administrator. They cultivate relationships at all level of academia, and have dozens, if not hundreds of possible job duties. 


You’re an academic with a penchant for administration: You must be able to use your academic background to determine the best course of action for a department, or group of departments. 


You can make difficult operational decisions: Deans have to make decisions that affect the academic and professional lives of many, with impactions that can span decades, if not lifetimes. Decisions about how an admissions policy is developed, what subfield the next faculty hire should be in, or where to allocate millions of dollars, are among the room-pacing, finger nail biting decisions charged to deans.


You thrive on challenges: Trying to operationalize your ideas for departmental improvement within the context of a college or university is no small task. It involves the coordination of many, constantly moving pieces, and often involves several factors that will be far out of your control.


You’re passionate about the institution: To make the substantial personal and professional commitment to an institution that this profession would demand, you need to find one that you are passionate about. Before accepting a deanship, you need to ensure that the institution’s mission, ways of teaching, and values are a proper fit for you.


You’re willing to be visible and present: You won’t be able to create initiatives in your department without sharing them with faculty, staff, students, and all other stakeholders. You’ll need the initiative to volunteer to present at faculty meetings, create student advisory boards, have lunch with other administrators, and send email updates to the relevant parties about your areas goals and achievements.


You’re willing and able to ‘hire up’: Creating and cultivating an effective team around you will be one of your primary responsibilities. Are you the type to hire people that can challenge you, make you consider issues from different angles and will serve the institution with passion? Or, are you the type to simply hire the first people that come your way, ‘yesmen’, or those that just want to collect a paycheck?



Experience Needed

Becoming a dean first requires demonstrated excellence in the areas of teaching and research while working as a full professor. It further requires a demonstrated aptitude for leadership, typically demonstrated by performance as a department chair, program leader, officer in academic governance, or other position of similar responsibility.





More About This Career: General Job Description

Reporting to the university or college president, a dean is the head of a faculty, which may include several academic departments within a college or university. For example, a dean could be "dean of the downtown campus", "dean of the college of arts and sciences”, or "dean of the school of law”, among others.


In most cases, a dean is a tenured professor from one of the departments, who then gives up most teaching and research activities upon assuming the deanship.


Their responsibilities typically include approving faculty hiring, setting academic policies, overseeing the budget, fundraising, and other administrative duties. 


Please Note: In addition to academic deans (described above) some institutions also use the term “dean” to describe a senior position in administrative departments, such as an “dean of admmissions’. However, further information for administrative deans is beyond the scope of this career guide. If you’d like to know more about administrative deans, please visit our closely related career guide University or College Administrator, an occupational group to which “administrative deans" belong.     



General Functions/Duties of the Profession

The specific job duties of a dean can vary quite widely, even from day to day. For example, depending on what’s required of them on a particular day, they might function as a spokesperson, recruiter, writer, human resources adviser, or budget manager. 


Below is a general overview of the sort of top-level responsibilities that are typical to the role of ‘dean’:


• Preparing and revising academic or administrative program plans

• Serving as role model for teaching achievement and professional service

• Developing strategies to achieve educational (or administrative) objectives

• Overseeing effective communication between students, staff and faculty by acting as a liaison

• Hiring, evaluating and supporting administrative staff

• Overseeing fundraising and budgeting

• Setting academic rules, as well as institutional policies and procedures

• Ensuring high standards of instructional or administrative processes are met



Median Salary Level

Dean Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for “postsecondary education administrators” (which includes deans, but does not specifically refer to them) was $94,340 in May 2018. 


The report also sates that the lowest 10% of salaries in this group were below $54,680, and the highest 10% were above $190,600 per year.


The report contains salary information for all positions within academic administration, including entry-level roles. Because of this, it’s worth mentioning that “academic dean” is a senior-level position within a college or university and comes with a significant responsibility. Because of this, the salary level for an academic dean would be closer to the high end of the salary spectrum referenced above. 


Please Note: The salary earned by deans also varies based on the size, type and budget of the institution that employs them, as well as their amount of responsibility inherent in the job, and their personal qualifications. It also depends on their negotiating ability as it relates to salary negotiations.



Who Creates Jobs for Deans?

Deans are most commonly employed by colleges and universities, although they are relatively common in private preparatory schools, and occasionally found in middle schools and high schools as well. 


Please Note: Information regarding preparatory, middle school and high school deans is beyond the scope of this career guide.



Current 'Dean' Job Postings

Although job opportunities in this field are rarely posted online, from time to time they will be. Have a look below to see if there’s anything of interest or relevance listed in your area:




Similar Professions in Our Database

Listed below are career guides for professions similar to ‘dean’ in our database. We've chosen these because they require many of the same skills, interests and competencies, and involve many of the same responsibilities as a dean:


Director of University Admissions

• Entrepreneur



University or College Administrator

University President

University Professor



References for This Career Guide

The following sources were referenced in the preparation of this career guide. Please visit them to learn more about the various aspects of this profession.


Occupational Outlook Handbook: “Postsecondary Education Administrators.” (May 20, 2019). United States Department of Labor - Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved July 8, 2019.

Career Advice - Essay:Becoming an Admissions Dean.” Angel B. Perez (November 6, 2013, 2019). Inside Higher Ed. Retrieved July 8, 2019.

Article:So You Want to Be a Dean?” Dan Butin (January 13, 2019). The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved July 8, 2019.

Offices and Services: “Administrative Deans.(n.d.). Colgate University. Retrieved July 8, 2019.


Please Note: Actual job postings were used in the preparation of this guide, although due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as references.



Scholarships for Becoming a College or University Dean

The scholarships on our Education Scholarships page are all relevant for becoming a dean. Just be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants.



Relevant Fields of Study

Virtually any university major can serve as an excellent academic foundation for this career, as you typically must first be a full professor at a college or university before becoming an academic dean, and professors exist for every type of major offered. 


However, in the interest of brevity, we've selected 'education' as most relevant for this career, as it can help provide you with skills related to education administration, which will be what take you from successful professor, to successful dean.


Please Note: Administrative deans aren't required to first be professors, so an education/educational leadership is typically the proper area of study for administrative deans.


Top Banner Image: