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School Administrator Career Guide

A career as a school administrator can be both rewarding and stressful. A person in school administration may work at a primary, secondary, or post-secondary school, either private or public. They may be school principals, superintendents, or directors of specific school programs (such as an athletic director). This guide provides further information on what school administrators do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and outlook.

School Administrator Job Description

School administration covers a broad range of jobs. A person in this field may work as a principal or assistant principal for an elementary or high school, or in admissions or student affairs at a college or university. These job descriptions vary significantly, but they share some common traits. People in school administration typically work in schools, but not as teachers. They may assist students, support faculty, maintain academic records, and communicate with parents, among other tasks. A candidate will show many traits in order to qualify for such a demanding job. School administrators must be compassionate, caring, and knowledgeable about school policies. A school administrator often has years of prior experience as a teacher and a post-graduate degree.

School Administrator Requirements and Common Tasks

Common tasks for school administrators depend on the specific job title but commonly include setting and enforcing school budgets, maintaining academic records, assisting students and faculty, and managing staff. Primary and secondary school principals may evaluate teachers’ performance, manage budgets, and ensure the safety and security of their school. A principal typically handles school and personnel issues, while the assistant principal typically handles discipline and day-to-day issues. A superintendent is responsible for the oversight of an entire school district, and other administrative positions in the district office typically have specific tasks such as technology administrator, curriculum administrator, and so on.

Provosts or deans of universities manage budgets, hire faculty and staff, help develop academic policies, and manage particular areas of the school. Education administrators who work in the admissions department of a college may meet with prospective students, review student applications, and help students in determining financial aid eligibility. Those who work in a university registrar’s office focus on maintaining student records, helping students who need academic transcripts, planning commencement ceremonies, and helping students register for classes.

How to Become a School Administrator

In order to work as a school administrator in a primary or secondary school, a candidate must complete a teacher certification program. Commonly, while teaching, prospective administrators will take a master’s degree program to become certified as an administrator. Although it is possible to serve as an administrator without classroom teaching experience, it is not common. Most school districts require administrators to have years of teaching experience. In many school districts, the first step towards a job as an administrator is working as an assistant principal to gain experience. Education administration positions at postsecondary schools generally require at least a master’s degree; in many colleges and universities, a doctoral degree is expected. It is important for an administrator to have good people skills as they will be managing a student body as well as the faculty and staff in the school.

School Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

School administrators’ salaries vary based on their job title. While elementary, middle, and secondary school principals earned a median salary of about $90,410 in 2015, postsecondary education administrators (in colleges and universities) earned a median salary of around $88,580 in the same year.1,2 The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of 6% for elementary, middle, and high school principals through 2024 and job growth of 9% for postsecondary education administrators during the same time period.1,2

School Administrator Career Interviews

  • Pennsylvania Preschool Teacher and Program Director, Trish Nodolski
  • Professor and Director, San Jose State University School of Information, Dr. Sandra Hirsh
  • Louisiana Math Teacher & Assistant Principal, Cindy Wallace

Helpful Skills and Experience

School administrators must show concern for students’ success and be dedicated to learning. The demands of the job require strong leadership. An ability to communicate easily and effectively to parents is also necessary, as administrators have a lot of face-to-face time with parents and community members, and often have to answer hard questions about children and education. Administrators must possess excellent organizational skills, as well as interpersonal and problem-solving skills since they so commonly aid students in making tough and sometimes life-changing decisions. Finally, administrators must be excellent teachers, as they serve as role models for faculty.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Assistant Principal
  • Dean
  • Education Administrator
  • Principal
  • Provost
  • Superintendent

Additional Resources

  • The School Superintendents Association – The School Administrator publication of the School Superintendents Association website provides helpful articles for administrators each month, including general information and news about the profession, book reviews, and studies.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) – An organization for secondary school principals to connect, improve their schools, and learn about professional development opportunities.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) – An organization for elementary and middle school principals, NAESP provides resources for principals to improve their schools and information about conferences and online learning opportunities.
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    Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a School Administrator

    Question: What types of courses do I take to become a principal?

    Answer: The courses required will vary depending on the school, but most prospective principals will complete coursework in education administration or leadership, which might include classes in school law and public policy, educational technology, and instructional leadership.

    Question: Do school administrators get summers off?

    Answer: Principals and other school administrators often work year-round and do not get their summers off. They usually use summer as a time to plan, budget, and hire teachers and professors for the academic year ahead.

    References:
    1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Middle and High School Principals: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
    2. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Education Administrators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm