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How to become a school administrator

At a glance

  • School administrators include positions like high school principal, superintendent and administrative roles at colleges and universities.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this position typically requires a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education or a similar field.
  • BLS reports that employment is projected to grow 4% between 2022 and 2032.
  • University of Phoenix offers a Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision degree that can help prepare you for a role in education administration. 

Within a school or university, dozens of different types of employees work together to create a safe and effective learning environment for students. A school administrator provides leadership and guidance to teachers, professors, counselors, aides and potentially other staff. Some examples of this position are superintendents and school principals.

Being a school administrator can be a fulfilling career option for those who are interested in working in education but desire a more leadership-focused role. These professionals normally work in other roles before moving into leadership and often have several years of teaching experience. 

Administrators have experience as teachers or sometimes as department chairs. This prerequisite experience helps those looking to work in administration lead their staff and make decisions fueled by their personal experiences and professional expertise as an educator. 

7 steps to becoming a school administrator

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in administration, such as becoming a principal or superintendent, it’s important to understand necessary steps. Let’s dive into the education, credentials, skills and experience necessary for this role.

1. Learn about your duties

School administrators work with teachers, families, students and the school’s leadership to ensure that their institution is providing quality education to their students. Some of the duties of a school administrator are:

  • Managing staff, including recruiting, interviewing and disciplining
  • Supporting teaching staff
  • Handling the school’s budget and other financial matters
  • Handling other important administration logistics, such as keeping the property presentable and up to code and planning school-related events
  • Representing the school at events
  • Implementing education programs and ensuring compliance with state and national requirements

School administrators must be responsible and organized and have strong communication and leadership skills. Understanding the duties you will be expected to perform will help you develop the skills necessary to succeed in this type of leadership position. 

Based on your location and the size of your school, college or university, your duties as a school administrator may differ from what is listed above. For example, a larger institution may have several administrators, department chairs or similar leaders to whom the head administrator may delegate tasks. 

2. Obtain the required degree

To become a school administrator or principal, you typically must first earn a bachelor’s degree in education; next, a master’s degree in education, such as a Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision, will equip you with skills to succeed in educational leadership and administration roles. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master’s degree is typically required for many administrator roles at universities. High school principals and superintendents also need a master’s degree. However, school administrators at smaller colleges may only need a bachelor’s degree. There are additional degrees that can help school administrators further develop their skills and find more job opportunities.

Post-master’s certificates in educational leadership or higher education administration, or a Doctor of Education degree, can help open new doors for a school administrator. To be hired in leadership positions such as provost or dean, a doctoral degree is typically needed. 

It is possible to earn the required degree to enter a leadership position by taking courses online while continuing to work in a school and gaining teaching experience. 

3. Obtain the required certification

Becoming certified by your state as a school administrator, if it is required, is a vital part of starting your career, especially if you shift from working in university leadership to working in the public school system. While the requirements differ depending on local and state laws, some of the common requirements are:

  • A valid and current teaching license in the state where you are applying for your school administrator certification
  • State-specific professional teaching experience

Know the state-specific requirements in your area as you begin to pursue a career in school administration, especially if you are shifting from primary or secondary to postsecondary education. 

If you are interested in working in the postsecondary field, when applying to colleges and universities, a list of certification requirements  is typically in the job posting.

As you grow in your career, you may choose to look into superintendent state certification or endorsement for working in leadership in the public school system.  

4. Complete required experience

While some states require five years of teaching experience before you become a school administrator, others might not. It can be very helpful to work in a school environment before applying to become a school administrator. Working as a teacher or professor can help you develop the skills to: 

  • Communicate effectively with students and families
  • Develop strong curriculum and lesson plans
  • Understand the university system and how to work within it
  • Use new skills from continuing education and staff training to improve your leadership and administrative skills


Teaching for several years before becoming a school administrator will also help you to understand, from personal experience, what the day-to-day life of a teacher or professor is like. This can help you to make more empathetic and informed decisions as a school administrator. 

5. Develop your skills

Many skills are required of a school administrator. They help school administrators complete their daily tasks effectively and efficiently as well as lead their schools and colleges. These skills include:

  • Communication: Will you be able to communicate, teach and train professors, teachers and aides? 
  • Leadership: How will you lead your staff to provide a top-notch education for students? 
  • Technology: Are you prepared to stay up to date on technological advancements that can be used in the classroom and around your school, college or university? 
  • Conflict resolution: Are you confident that you can manage conflicts between students, professors and other staff? 

Those are just a few of the skills that school administrators need to successfully provide leadership to their students and teachers. You can learn these skills through your work experience as a teacher and through your coursework as you pursue a master’s degree and Doctor of Education. 

6. Understand your career prospects

If you are considering a career as an administrator at the secondary or postsecondary level, you may want to understand your career prospects. Knowledge of your potential salary and career outlook is helpful when choosing a new career or making a career shift. 

Your career outlook and salary may vary depending on where you live, the type of institution you work at and the state where the school or university is located. 

Salary

As of May 2023, school administrators earned an annual salary between $62,970 and $209,870, with a median wage of $102,610, according to BLS. This salary information is reflected for those who were in a full-time position. 

Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website.

Job outlook

BLS projects school administrators will see a job outlook with a growth rate of 4% between 2022 and 2032. The BLS also projects 15,300 job openings for school administrators each year until 2032. 

BLS Occupational Employment Projections, 2022-2032 is published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data reflects BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

7. Be aware of your resources

If you are interested in becoming a school administrator or principal, resources are available to help you. If you are a student earning a bachelor’s degree and exploring future career options, consider speaking with your professors, college advisors or admissions representatives. They can help you explore options for earning a master’s degree that will qualify you to be a teacher and a school administrator. 

If you are already working in a school and are interested in shifting toward school administration, speaking to the staff at a career resource center or the admissions office for a master’s degree program can help you better understand the requirements of entering this profession. 

Education in administration at University of Phoenix

If you’re an experienced educator looking to start a new leadership position in education, you may want to consider a Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision at University of Phoenix to build your skill set for the role. This program is designed to cater toward those with a busy schedule and are in need of flexible school hours. You will be taught how to hone your problem-solving, decision-making and leadership skills.

In this program, you’ll also study from curriculum aligned with national standards set by the Professional Standards for Educational Leadership and complete an administrative internship to gain real-world, field-based experience in school administration.

The Master of Arts in Education/Administration and Supervision is a graduate degree program intended to prepare candidates for K-12 school principal licensure. Candidates for this program have already earned a bachelor’s degree. The program includes a clinical component requiring field experiences and an administrative internship above and beyond program coursework. There may be additional qualifications and/or disqualifications applicable in order to work as a principal with any local, state or federal entity. Requirements for licensure vary by state. View requirements for principal licensure for your state.

Learn more about the education programs at UOPX!

Headshot of Michael Feder

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and its Writing Seminars program and winner of the Stephen A. Dixon Literary Prize, Michael Feder brings an eye for detail and a passion for research to every article he writes. His academic and professional background includes experience in marketing, content development, script writing and SEO. Today, he works as a multimedia specialist at University of Phoenix where he covers a variety of topics ranging from healthcare to IT.

Headshot of Pamela Roggeman

ABOUT THE REVIEWER

As dean of the University of Phoenix College of Education, Pamela Roggeman has spent over a decade in higher education teacher preparation in both the public and private sector. Her experience has included national partnerships that help to advance thought leadership in the field of education. Dr. Roggeman also serves as the President of the Arizona Educational Foundation’s Board of Directors.

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