School Administrator Career Guide

School administrators include school principals, vice principals, superintendents, and directors of specific school programs (such as athletic directors). School administrators work at public or private primary, secondary, or post-secondary schools or in adult education programs. This guide provides information on what school administrators do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and job outlook.

Table of Contents

How to Become
Job Description
Salary & Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Related Pages

How to Become a School Administrator

To work as a school administrator in a public primary or secondary school, a candidate usually must become certified as an educational administrator in the state. Most prospective administrators complete a graduate program in education administration or leadership to become certified as an administrator while teaching. To qualify for school administrator licensure, this program should be approved by the state board of education. Although it is possible to serve as an administrator without classroom teaching experience, it is not typical. The usual process to become a school administrator in a K-12 public school setting is:

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program.
  2. Pass your state’s required educator exams.
  3. Earn your state teaching license.
  4. Gain at least two to three years of teaching experience.
  5. Complete a Master of Education (M.Ed. or EdM), Educational Specialist (EdS), or Doctor of Education (EdD) degree in education administration or a closely related field such as educational leadership and policy.
  6. Pass your state’s tests to earn a public school administrator’s license.
  7. Begin applying to open administrative positions.

While education administration positions at postsecondary schools generally require at least a master’s degree, in many colleges and universities, a doctoral degree is expected.

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 of an elementary or high school, or in admissions or student affairs at a college or university. Because school administration includes so many jobs, job descriptions vary significantly. 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.

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 evaluate teachers’ performance, manage budgets, and ensure the safety and security of their school. Principals are often instructional leaders of the school–approving curricula, creating staff agendas, and working on ways to improve student growth. A principal typically handles school and personnel issues, while the assistant principal and deans typically handle 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 determine financial aid eligibility. Those who work in a university registrar’s office focus on maintaining student records, retrieving academic transcripts for students and graduates, planning commencement ceremonies, and helping students register for classes.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Administration jobs require leadership. An ability to communicate easily and effectively with stakeholders is also necessary, as administrators have a lot of face-to-face time with students, staff, and community members. School administrators must be compassionate, caring, and knowledgeable about school policies. Individuals pursuing this career should be organized, detail-oriented, innovative, and enthusiastic. They should also be flexible; many unforeseen issues come up throughout the day that need immediate attention, so it is necessary to be able to pivot at any given moment and often multi-task. Administrators must possess excellent d problem-solving skills since they commonly aid students and peers in making tough and sometimes life-changing decisions.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

School Administrator Salary and Job Outlook

School administrator salaries vary by job title as well as the grade levels in which they work and their years of experience in an administrative role. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports on elementary, middle, and secondary principals and postsecondary education administrators (in colleges and universities). The following table displays the employment level, salary, and outlook for both of these categories.

School Administrator Level# Employed1,2Median Annual Wage1,290th Percentile Annual Wage1,2Projected Job
Growth 2022-321,2

Additional Resources

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

Frequently Asked Questions

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