School Administrator Career Guide
A career as a school administrator can be stressful and full of responsibility, but also highly rewarding. A person in school administration may work at a primary, secondary, or post-secondary school, either private or public. They may also work in adult education programs. 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 job 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 of an elementary or high school, or in admissions or student affairs at a college or university. Other common job titles for school administrators are dean, department chair, or director of student services/special education/operations. 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. 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. An education administrator should also have strong communication and interpersonal skills and be able to work closely with staff, students, and parents. A school administrator often has years of prior experience as a teacher and a post-graduate degree.
School Administrator Requirements and Common Tasks
Prospective school administrators will need a graduate degree in education administration, education leadership, or a related field. Degree levels for this specialty are common as master’s degrees (M.Ed. or EdM); Educational Specialist (EdS) degrees; Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees; and PhDs in Education. In addition to a graduate degree, school administrators also commonly have several years of experience of classroom teaching. This experience allows them to better relate to the teachers they will oversee as administrators, and understand the challenges faced in the classroom.
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. 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.
How to Become a School Administrator
In order to work as a school administrator in a public primary or secondary school, a candidate usually must complete a certification program to become certified as an educational administrator in the state. Commonly, prospective administrators will complete a graduate program in education administration or leadership to become certified as an administrator while teaching, as most school administrator jobs require a master’s degree or higher. In order to qualify for school administrator licensure, this program should be approved by the state board of education for the state in which it is located. 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 as follows:
- Complete a bachelor’s degree and teacher preparation program.
- Earn your state teaching license.
- Gain at least two to three years of teaching experience.
- Complete a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree in education administration or a closely related field such as educational leadership and policy.
- Pass your state’s tests to earn a public school administrator’s license.
- Begin applying to open administrative positions.
Gaining classroom teaching experience is an important step to becoming a school administrator since most master’s programs require this experience as part of the admissions process. After you earn the necessary experience, complete a graduate degree, and apply for an administrator’s license, you will be eligible to apply for open positions. Many school districts start administrators in a department chair, dean, or assistant principal role to allow them to gain experience. 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 Salary and Job Outlook
School administrators’ salaries vary based on their job title as well as the grade levels in which they work and their years of experience in an administrative role. While elementary, middle, and secondary school administrators earned a median salary of $101,320 in 2022, postsecondary education administrators (in colleges and universities) earned a median salary of around $99,940 in the same year.1,2 The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth of 5% for elementary, middle, and high school principals through 2031 and job growth of 7% for postsecondary education administrators during the same time period.3,4
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 with 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. They must be flexible and able to pivot from one task to the next due to their wide range of responsibilities. Finally, administrators must be excellent teachers, as they serve as role models for faculty.
Possible Job Titles for This Career
- Assistant Principal
- Assistant Superintendent
- Department Chair
- Education Administrator
- Vice Principal
- 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.
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, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119032.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Education Administrators, Postsecondary: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119033.htm
3. 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
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Education Administrators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm