Education administrators occupy school leadership roles at all levels, from elementary to postsecondary. Demand for these roles will remain stable. The BLS projects 4% employment growth for both school principals and postsecondary administrators from 2019-2029. This percentage aligns with the average growth for all professions.
School administrators typically enjoy robust salaries. BLS data notes that elementary, middle, and high school principals earned median annual salaries of $98,490 as of May 2020. Administrators working at the postsecondary level reported median annual earnings of $97,500.
The information in this guide explains how to become an education administrator in detail, covering every step in the journey.
What Is an Education Administrator?
Education administrators fill top leadership positions in schools and institutions. They manage financials and human resources, plus supervise teachers and maintain instructional quality standards. Administrators also set and enforce the rules and policies followed by teachers and students.
Some elementary, middle, and high school education administrators work in schools. Other administrators work for districts. Colleges may offer more specialized roles for administrators, managing specific tasks or departments, such as student services, admissions, or financial aid. Senior college administrators have greater responsibilities, encompassing academic departments or the entire institution.
Education administrators work mainly with teachers, faculty members, and other administrative personnel.
Required Education for Education Administrators
Education requirements vary by work setting and responsibility level. Senior leaders usually need at least a master's degree in education administration or a similar discipline. Many colleges require senior leadership to hold PhDs, either in education or another academic field.
In college settings, a bachelor's degree may suffice for entry-level administration positions and roles with limited advancement potential. Professionals seeking to maximize their career options usually choose to pursue advanced degrees. A master's degree – usually in leadership or education administration – is the baseline education level needed to work as an institutional administrator.
In most cases, becoming an education administrator includes earning a specialized degree. Many administrators come from teaching backgrounds, likely with a concentration in educational administration or educational leadership. Standard education programs in classroom teaching generally do not prepare candidates for administration-specific career paths.
Administrators often upgrade their credentials as their careers progress. Professional organizations such as the National Education Association offer continuing education and development programs to their members. These opportunities help administrators adjust their practices to meet evolving institutional standards.
Discover Which Education Path Is Right for You
Required Experience for Education Administrators
High-ranking education administrators often hold degrees in educational leadership or an adjacent discipline. Many programs include classroom teaching experience in their entry requirements. Educators eyeing careers in public schools usually need 1-5 years of teaching experience.
Similar trends extend to higher education, where top administrators may be tenured faculty. Experience requirements vary, but professors usually gain tenure after working as assistant or associate professors for multiple years.
Prior teaching experience equips administrators with insights into organizational operation. These insights make them more attuned to the needs of both students and classroom educators.
Like teachers, senior administrators working in elementary, middle, and high schools must be licensed or certified. According to the Education Commission of the States' (ECS') 50-States Comparison page, most jurisdictions require candidates to enroll in leadership preparation programs. In participating states, aspiring school leaders do not qualify for certification unless they complete such a program.
Some prep programs offer internship opportunities, as may degree programs in educational leadership. Professional organizations can also provide these opportunities. For example, the Association of Washington School Principals maintains an internship program that accepts applications from all individuals who meet eligibility criteria.
Certification and Licensure Requirements for Education Administrators
Postsecondary administrators do not typically need a license or certification. However, public school principals and superintendents do. In addition to a valid teaching license, most states mandate that senior leaders in elementary, middle, and high schools hold specialized school administration certifications.
The processes for obtaining these certifications vary per state. Most school administrator licensing exams require a graduate degree in educational leadership or a similar field. Many states also add minimum levels of experience as a teacher.
In addition to administrator certifications, senior school leaders may need to maintain their regular teaching licenses. This rigorous standard ensures that education administrators remain in touch with evolving best practices.
Some states have different certification standards for principals and superintendents. For example, the Texas Education Agency maintains lists of approved principal preparation and superintendent preparation programs. The certification process for both roles includes the successful completion of the prep program specific to the desired career path.
The ECS catalogs up to date, state-specific licensure and certification information. Research current requirements for becoming a school administrator in each U.S. state with this ECS certification prep resource.
How to Become an Education Administrator
The steps to become an education administrator include a combination of academic and practical training. Most states require principals, superintendents, and other top school officials to have teaching experience. The path begins with an education degree, or a degree in another field followed by a teacher training program.
Aspiring school administrators must then earn a teaching license and gain experience as a classroom teacher. Most candidates return to school to complete an advanced degree in educational administration or a related field.
Administrators can pursue work in elementary, middle, and high schools after earning licensure, if required under state law. With a license, professionals can work as vice principals, principals, or superintendents.
Higher education administrators, like deans and provosts, follow a different path, outlined below.
Steps to Becoming an Education Administrator
Become an Elementary, Middle, or High School Administrator
- Gain Experience as a Classroom Teacher. Earn a bachelor's or master's degree in education, obtain licensure, then gain 1-5 years of experience as a classroom teacher. Most states also offer an alternate path to becoming a teacher. This path includes at least a bachelor's degree in a non-education subject, plus a teacher training program for college graduates.
- Obtain a Specialized Education Degree. Becoming an education administrator requires a master's, professional, or doctoral degree in educational administration, educational policy, or educational leadership.
- Earn Your Education Administrator License. If required in the state where you plan to work, take the appropriate licensing exam. Some jurisdictions issue different licenses to principals and superintendents.
Become a Higher Education Administrator
- Earn a Tenured Professorship. Some higher education administrators advance to leadership roles from tenured faculty positions. Earning a full professorship usually requires the highest degree in the field and several years of experience as an associate or assistant professor.
- Add a Degree in Education Administration. Faculty members seeking to transition into administrative roles often obtain graduate degrees in higher education administration. For those seeking to become senior administrators without holding a professorship, a specialized master's or doctoral degree in education is essential.
- Secure a Hiring Committee Nomination. Each institution maintains its own hiring practices for senior administrators. Some schools have complex qualification, screening, and nomination processes. Candidates usually earn a nomination through a combination of networking and institutional service.
- Pass the Approval Process. If you make the shortlist of candidates, you proceed through a series of interviews with vetting committees. This is a competitive process that may conclude with a job offer.
Should I Become an Education Administrator?
In researching how to become an education administrator, first consider the level of commitment involved. Elementary, middle, and high school administrators usually obtain master's degrees. HIgh-level college administrators may have Ph.Ds.
Begin by assessing your personal attributes and skills, comparing them against the qualities of good educational leaders. Beyond a genuine desire to create better learning communities, effective administrators share several common characteristics: They build relationships, display consistency and fairness, and adapt to change through lifelong learning.
Education administrators benefit from advanced levels of financial literacy. They may need to work with limited budgets, which often requires them to make judgment calls. This aspect of the job can bring significant challenges, especially at the public school level.
At the same time, school administrators have a major impact on the learning outcomes of their students. For those with the right qualities and skills, the career path can bring great personal and professional rewards.
The Job Hunt
Landing a job as an education administrator demands a combination of professional experience and networking. The latter is particularly relevant for senior administrator positions in higher education. Under some circumstances, securing a position as a college dean or provost becomes possible only with strong support from hiring committees.
Aspiring elementary, middle, and high school administrators benefit from a more direct path. School boards and private schools regularly post openings on both generalized and specialized job search portals. Qualified administrators can also post their resumes on some of these sites, increasing their visibility to prospective employers.
Many education administrators use the following online resources to source job leads:
- SchoolSpring: Free for job-seekers, SchoolSpring offers tens of thousands of openings along with resume hosting, job alerts, and other useful features.
- K12JobSpot: This widely used platform lists job openings throughout the United States. Users can apply for openings in as little as three minutes.
- Education Week Top School Jobs: A portal with extensive search filters, this site features some high-quality job postings.
- Education Crossing: Though end users need to purchase a paid subscription, Education Crossing's expert researchers find and list openings not featured on other sites.
- Education America: This job search resource welcomes international users seeking employment in the U.S. education sector.
Resources for Future Education Administrators
What Is an Education Administrator?
The duties of an education administrator vary, depending on the work setting and position title. This page explains the available career paths in detail.
Salary and Career Outlook for Education Administrators
Obtain insights into the near- and medium-term employment outlook for education administrators, along with current and future salary projections.
Day in the Life of an Education Administrator
Here, aspiring education administrators can get an inside look at the day-to-day duties performed by top school officials.
Master's in Education Administration Degree Programs
In most cases, education administrators require specialized, advanced degrees to qualify for licensure. This page lists some of the master's in education degrees in the U.S.
Frequently Asked Questions
Elementary, middle, and high school administrators usually need multiple years of experience as classroom teachers, plus an advanced degree in educational leadership, and a specialized license. In some states, they must also maintain an active teaching license.
K-12 administrators usually need at least 1-5 years of classroom teaching experience to qualify for degree programs in educational leadership. Many senior college administrators graduate into their positions after holding tenured professorships for multiple years.
Leadership roles in U.S. elementary, middle, and high schools become available to experienced teachers returning to school to complete master's or doctoral degrees in education administration. Many jurisdictions require specialized administrator licenses, obtained by passing standardized exams issued by state-level boards.
School administrators need at least a master's degree and teaching experience. Becoming a school administrator requires focus and commitment but also delivers satisfying professional rewards.
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