Everything you need to know about being a school administrator

September 24, 2019 ACSA Partner

This resource is provided by ACSA Partner4Purpose UMass Global.

School administrator

We often hear that it takes a special type of person to thrive as a teacher. The most effective educators seem to have a continuous stream of compassion and a vast supply of patience embedded in their DNA. And that doesn’t even cover the impeccable planning and organizational skills they draw upon to craft engaging, informative lesson plans.

But not every educator wants a lifelong career of classroom instruction. If you’re interested in taking your education career to the next level, you may be considering a position in school administration.

As a school administrator, you’d have the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role, impacting organizational decisions related to hiring, budget allocation, policy and more. If that piques your interest, read on as we sift through some of the job titles within school administration. We’ll also cover the typical duties a school administrator may encounter and the educational requirements you’ll need to get there.

What is a school administrator? A look at the career options

School administration encompasses career paths ranging from the primary school level all the way to the collegiate sphere. Most administrators work in schools, but not as teachers in the classroom environment. While daily duties may vary depending on the job title, these professionals share some common overarching responsibilities: assisting students, supporting faculty, maintaining academic records and more.

Unlike teachers, school administrators typically work a 12-month year. During the summers, their work may focus more on hiring new teachers, coordinating infrastructure maintenance or managing curriculum development.

Different job titles may require different skills, but the best candidates for most administrator positions are typically compassionate, adaptable, patient and organized. They must also be well-versed in school policies and the particular needs of the children or young adults with whom they work.

Potential job titles within the umbrella of school administration include the following:

  • Principal
  • Assistant principal
  • Superintendent
  • Dean of students
  • Dean of admissions
  • Provost
  • Department chair

What do school administrators do?

Now that you know a little more about some of the different positions available within school administration, you might be curious about these professionals’ day-to-day duties. It’s easiest to separate them into a few categories.

At the primary and secondary school levels

You’ll find principals, assistant principals and superintendents in elementary, middle and high schools. Principals manage all school operations. This can include overseeing daily school activities, coordinating curricula, providing a safe and productive learning environment for students and more.

School principals also evaluate teachers’ performance and manage budgets. While the principal typically handles issues related to the school and its personnel, assistant principals — also referred to as vice principals — will help with student discipline, scheduling and other day-to-day issues.

Superintendents are responsible for overseeing an entire school district. You might consider these professionals the CEOs of their districts. Not only are superintendents responsible for hiring, supervising and managing the central staff and principals, but they also respond to the demands of other parties within the district — people like parents, advocates and the community at large.

At the post-secondary school level

Deans, provosts and department chairs are some of the educational leaders you’ll find at the collegiate level. A dean of students is responsible for overseeing the conduct and general well-being of a college or university’s student body. They meet with students and advise them on personal problems, academics or housing. In this role, administrators may also create and oversee student services and campus life activities.

Deans of admissions can also be responsible for deciding whether prospective students should be admitted to their college or university. The minutiae of this lofty task include determining how many new students can be admitted, reviewing applications and analyzing data about applicants and admitted students. They may also prepare promotional materials about the school and meet with prospective students to encourage them to apply.

Provosts — also called chief academic officers — ­assist college presidents and chancellors in making faculty hiring and tenure decisions, developing academic policies and managing budgets. They may also be responsible for overseeing faculty research.

The collegiate school administrator role that many of us are most familiar with is the department chair, referred to as associate deans at some schools. One faculty member from each department fills these roles. Department chairs and associate deans act as liaisons between students and faculty in their respective departments, assisting with things like student complaints about a professor, disputed grades or allegations of harassment or discrimination.

How to become a school administrator

So, how can you actually pursue one of these school administrator roles? Once again, it depends on the education level in which you’re involved.

At the primary and secondary school levels

To become a principal, you’ll first need to garner several years of work experience as a teacher. Principal positions also typically require a master’s degree in educational leadership or educational administration and state-specific principal licensure. Candidates who have a diverse range of experiences as well as expertise in topics like public safety and security are especially in demand.

Vice principals also begin their careers as baccalaureate-qualified teachers. After garnering some classroom experience, educators with their sights set on an assistant principal position will want to pursue a master’s degree in educational leadership or educational administration.

While it’s not required, many administrators find that the most effective path toward becoming a superintendent is to first serve as a principal. This, once again, would require a master’s degree in an appropriate field. Most candidates work as a principal for 5 to 10 years before pursuing a superintendent position. In competitive markets, a doctoral degree in education can give hopefuls a leg up.

At the post-secondary school level

In general, college administrator roles require at least a master’s degree in a field like educational leadership or educational administration. That said, some small colleges or community colleges consider a bachelor’s degree sufficient.

The outliers are provost and dean positions, which often seek candidates with doctoral degrees. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports those who began their careers as professors may possess a doctorate in the field they taught, while other provosts and deans will have earned a Ph.D. in higher education or a related subject.

Department chairs are required to hold full-time faculty status as an assistant or associate professor to be eligible for appointment. Most of the successful department chair candidates have at least 5 years of experience, along with a graduate degree in their field. 

While many college administrator roles require several years of experience in a college administrative setting, some positions — such as roles in admissions or student affairs — are less dependent on prior administrative experience.

Work your way toward a role in educational leadership

If you’ve been toying with the idea of advancing to a school administrator position, you now have a better idea of how to make it happen. But before you can become an educational leader, you may need to further your education. That could mean heading back to school to earn a master’s degree.

To learn more about your options, visit UMass Global.


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