School Administrator Career Guide

A career as a school administrator can be one that is 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, a disciplinarian, and knowledgeable about school policies. A school administrator often has years of prior experience as a teacher and a post graduate degree. School administrators serve many roles: principal, assistant principal, superintendent, academic dean, and other district administration positions.

School Administrator Requirements and Common Tasks

Common tasks for school administrators depend on the specific job title, but may include working with budgets, maintaining academic records, assisting students and faculty, and managing staff. Provosts or deans of universities manage budgets, hire faculty and staff, help develop academic policies, and manage particular areas of the school (dean of the law school). Primary and secondary school principals may evaluate teachers’ performance, manage budgets and ensure the safety and security of their school. A principal typically handles the running and policies of the school and personnel issues, where the assistant principal typically handles discipline and day-to-day issues that come up. The superintendent is responsible for the oversight of an entire school district, and the other administrative positions in the district office typically have specific tasks such as technology administrator, curriculum administrator, etc. Education administrators who work in the admissions department of a college may meet with prospective students, review student applications, and help students in determining their 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 be certified as an administrator. The university through which the degree was earned will send the information to the state, and then the state will issue an administrator certificate to the candidate. Although it is possible to never enter a classroom before serving as an administrator, it is not common. Most school districts require administrators to have years of teaching experience. In larger primary or secondary school districts, the first step towards a job as an administrator is working as an assistant principal. This gives valuable experience in the field, all while learning the “ropes” of the job. Education administration positions at postsecondary schools require at least a bachelor’s degree, but often a master’s degree as well. In addition to experience, administrators must exhibit the ability to make sound judgments. It is important for an administrator to have good people skills, as they will be managing not only a student body, but the faculty and staff in the school as well.

School Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, school administrators’ salaries also vary based on their job title. While primary and secondary school principals could expect to earn a median salary of about $87,760 in 2012, postsecondary education administrators (in colleges and universities) could expect a median salary of around $84,490 in the same year. 1,2 Due to recent educational layoffs in many states, the job outlook for administrators is slightly less positive than in prior years. However, this field is not as affected by the economy as the teaching profession.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Administrators in primary and secondary schools show a love of children, a dedication to learning, and many other important traits. Leadership skills are mandatory, as 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. Finally, administrators must be excellent teachers, as they serve as a role model for the faculty. In postsecondary education jobs, 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.

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.

Education Administration Degrees and Programs

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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: Unlike teachers, 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.

1. Bureau of Labor: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
2. Bureau of Labor: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm