What A School Administration Career Means for You

It can seem like a long walk — your move from the teachers’ lounge to the principal’s office. School administrators once advanced from the rank and file based on seniority. Some administrators targeted school administrator jobs for additional income or recognition.

The economy’s global competition fears talent shortages. States, school districts, and parents increasingly make demands on the accountability of school administrators. Teachers and students seek opportunities to voice their issues. All these pressures have raised expectations on the formal and informal qualifications for talented school administrators.

What does school administrator mean?

Great teachers flourish under great school administrators. Great administrators lead, mentor, and listen. Such skills require training and development that separate administrators from other education roles. And, like great teachers, school administrators enjoy the challenge of continuing personal development.

School administrators hold one of several titles, each with its own accountabilities. From their position, they monitor the daily functions at every level of their school or schools. They frame goals for school performance from K-12. And, they model the leadership to manage critical challenges and remove barriers to teacher and student achievement.

What duties do school administrators perform?

School administrators manage many tasks. Even where you have clerical staffs or assistants, you remain accountable for:

  • performance of teachers and other employees
  • budgets and financials
  • student, parental, and public relations
  • setting goals and installing processes
  • planning and implementing curricula
  • compliance with municipal, state, and federal agencies
  • controlling student behavior and school safety

In the larger schools and systems, school administrators might have oversight of specific areas like discipline, union relations, compliance, hiring, and academic achievement.

What qualifications do school administrators need?

School administrators must qualify for the job requirements posted by the school system or institution. They vary but often require advanced degrees in education administration. But, qualified administrators typically have personal traits such as:

  • Detailed oriented — Candidates must be patient and conscientious with data, attentive to input in different media, and able to identify and revise errors.
  • Empathetic listener — School administrator jobs require positive listening skills. Administrators must share the concerns of students, parents, peers, employees, and public.
  • Organized planner — Job seekers must prepare budgets, assess personnel needs, analyze financial statements, and more. School administrators identify institution goals and organize paths and process to meet or exceed the objectives.
  • Confident negotiator — School administrators need excellent communication skills for public relations, union demands, and student and parent concerns.
  • Decision maker — School administrators lead teams to identify and resolve problems. They lead and model decision-making building teams and designing processes.

What path does the school administrator career follow?

School administrators go through several stages on their career path. The career phases vary depending on the size of the district, college, or university. And, states and jurisdictions have their own requirements.

Typically, if you aspire to a school administrator career, you will go through these five steps:

Bachelor’s degree

Most school administrators enter education as teachers. A bachelor’s degree in a subject area or in education usually prepares candidates for state licensing.

If you plan on a career in administration, you might major in education with second majors in the education level that interests you. For example, students might major in teaching management, education philosophy, and curricula development. But, you will also study class management, education philosophy, and class planning at the education level that interests you.

You might discover an interest in school administration after completing your bachelor’s degree in say English or chemistry. Even if you find work as a teacher, you will need to take education courses not included in your bachelor’s degree major.

If you are considering going past a bachelor's to a master's degree but don't have the time to go back to the classroom. There are a number of online options available.

State license

Most states require teachers to be certified and licensed. Each state has its own list of criteria for licensing. Those criteria might include completion of specific courses, competency tests, and observation by master teachers.

Licensing may require renewal or continuing education beyond the bachelor’s degree. Continuing education might include additional coursework, seminars, membership in professional associations, and post-graduate degrees.

Teaching experience

Potential school administrators start work in the classroom. You would start student teaching in the grade level you favor. For example, teaching elementary students takes a different skillset than teaching at the high school level.

But, teachers who plan on a school administrator career should use in-class teaching experience to observe the work habits and administration skills of the school’s administrator. Teachers should stay current on subject matter and teaching methods, but you also should study how your administrators manage meetings, performance assessment, and public relations.

Administration license

Most states require a school administrator license for public schools. Private schools have more freedom here. But, public or private, schools want candidates to have a master’s degree in education administration.

Schools also expect school administrators to secure a state license where required. The licensing process may include testing on issues published by the state. And, licensing might depend on performance observed by a designated mentor.

Early interest

If you want to pursue the career, you should apply for administrative duties and then grow into the role. When you express interest in and apply for some administrative duties, others begin to watch your progress.

So, a normal pattern finds you teaching a subject area, like algebra or history. While performing those job duties, you let others know that you intend to apply for administrative positions by taking on tasks and pursuing a master’s degree in education with an emphasis on school administration.

Appointment to school administrator jobs assumes you have completed several years teaching. During those years, you watch and learn how your school system or institution works before formally applying for posted positions as School Administrator. And, you build networks of peers and managers to support your application when it comes up.

What are the top jobs in school administration?

The top jobs for school administrators can vary by name, prerequisites, job descriptions and income from system to system. But, the usual school district will have these positions:

Assistant principal

You would deliver on school standards. As an enforcer, you help teachers maintain class behaviors, coach teachers and staff, and coordinate purchasing and recruiting.

Assistant principals work to create and sustain a learning environment where students, staff, and teachers feel safe and respected. And, this can mean long hours extending into the evenings and weekends. Specific duties may include: - Set and model behavior models for students and implement corrective action as warranted - Support vision, mission, and objectives established by principal and school board or board of directors - Comply with union contracts and oversight agencies on legal mandates, emergency response, and workplace safety - Assist principal with administrative duties in staff performance evaluation, curriculum development, and special programs supervision - Oversee teacher and staff development, coach and mentor performance, and reward and recognize achievement.

According to Payscale, the average income and benefits for assistant principals may vary widely among school districts. So, the hourly rate can fall anywhere between $13.81 and $40.32 or an annual salary of $50,019 to $99,476. Some schools pay bonuses and profit sharing to the national median pay of $70,202.

Elementary or lower school principal

You would move into the principal’s office after 10 or more years in administration. The job requires at least a master’s degree in education or education administration. And, some states insist on a principal license.

Elementary school principals have a demonstrated record in effective leadership. You must show the ability to multi-task with patience and timeliness. You would have a record of positive and effective interaction with faculty, staff, students, and parents. And, you would have experience showing flexibility, resilience, and decisiveness in crisis situations. Specific duties might include:

  • Manage administration of curriculum, special programs, support services, and education resources.
  • Communicate with students, teachers, parents, communities, and oversight boards.
  • Design and model standards of behavior and educational excellence.
  • Hire and inspire teachers, administrators, and support staff.
  • Comply with regulations established by authorities and terms of union contracts.

According to Payscale, the average income and benefits for elementary school principals may vary widely among school districts. So, the hourly rate can fall anywhere between $11.33 - $50.17 or an annual salary of $50,019 to $99,476. Some schools pay bonuses and profit sharing to the national median pay of $80,344.

Middle school principal

Middle or junior high schools hire principals; private schools appoint head masters, but the duties are the same. As middle school principal, you have broad responsibilities for meeting state testing mandates, managing budgets, and resolve conflicts among personnel and processes. Middle school principals are accountable for meeting or exceeding academic goals in an environment dominated by early adolescent behaviors. You must have superior people management skills, student-centric motivation, and responsive leadership strengths. Specific duties may include:

  • Design goals and means for achieving educational excellence.
  • Communicate clear achievable performance metrics.
  • Fulfills state, district, and stakeholder mandates.
  • Manage and integrate information technology data.
  • Assess procedural strengths and weaknesses to resolve variances.
  • Respond quickly and empathetically to pupil and teacher concerns.

According to Payscale, the average income and benefits for middle school principals may vary widely among school districts. So, the annual salary can fall anywhere between $48,485 - $119,656. Some schools pay bonuses and profit sharing to the national median pay of $93,221.

High school principal

As high school principal, you have full responsibility for leadership and decision making for a sizable organization, student body, and workforce. You authorize curricula and ensure its implementation. And, you bring conflict resolution to issues that have not been satisfied at lower administrative levels.

High school principals propose and defend budgets before district boards. You seek cost-effective means to excellence in education and keep those policies and procedures aligned with district objectives. Specific duties might include:

  • Communicate institutional goals, methods, and metrics to students, parents, teachers, and communities.
  • Manage and budget talent, time, and resources.
  • Establish and maintain academic standards and behavioral goals in challenging environments.
  • Make final decisions on hire, development, and discipline of staff.
  • Comply with laws on safety, diversity, and anti-discrimination.

According to Payscale, the average income and benefits for high school principals may vary widely among school districts. So, the annual salary can fall anywhere between $53,677 and $124,243. Some schools pay bonuses and profit sharing to the national median pay of $87,587.


School superintendents lead a school district. They answer directly to the school board that hires, fires, and disciplines their performance. As a superintendent, you would then hire and manage school principals at all schools in the system.

You would work with the school board and your principals to determine and maintain resources and budget. Your work day would be heavy with meetings, goal setting, and problem solving. You regularly deal with other administrators, unions, and public figures. And, you bear ultimate responsibility for the achievement of school system goals. Specific duties may include:

  • Oversight of human resources policies and practices.
  • Perform timely personnel performance evaluations.
  • Collaborate with school board to design and implement district vision, mission, and objectives.
  • Provide meeting leadership with communities of administrators, parents, students, and teachers.
  • Supervise physical existing resources and facilities and advocates for completion of new locations and construction.

According to Payscale, the average income and benefits for high school principals may vary widely among school districts. So, the annual salary can fall anywhere between $70,307 and $174,560. Some schools pay bonuses and profit sharing to the national median pay of $113,513.

What it takes to be a school administrator

School administrators have a passion for inspiring educators. The strongest candidates know early that they want to assume the heavy responsibilities involved with making education better and productive.

They commit to completing studies for advanced degrees and to waiting and learning on the job. They organize their continuing education to align with administrative goals. And, they assess their strengths and weaknesses to close any apparent gaps.

Schools need leaders who are responsive, resilient, and flexible. They need buffers between their operation and the pressures from students, parents, and school boards. And, they want school administrators who put the best face on their school’s interests.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts growth in school administrator jobs of 8% by 2026. The majority of elementary and middle school principals are male, but most high school principals and school superintendents are male, a difference AASA, The School Superintendents Association, sees changing.

Works Cited

Assistant Principal Salary / Payscale. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2018, from https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Assistant_Principal/Salary

Elementary School Principal Salaries | PayScale. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2018, from Elementary School Principal Salary: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Elementary_School_Principal/Salary

Glass, T. (n.d.). Where Are All the Women Superintendents? Retrieved January 19, 2018, from AASA | American Association of School Administrators: http://aasa.org/SchoolAdministratorArticle.aspx?id=14492

High School Principal Salary. (2018, January 19). Retrieved from High School Principal Salaries | PayScale: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=High_School_Principal/Salary

Principal / Headmaster, Middle School Salary. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2018, from Summary: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Principal_%2f_Headmaster%2c_Middle_School/Salary

School Superintendent Salary. (2018, January 19). Retrieved from School Superintendent Salaries | PayScale: https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=School_Superintendent/Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2018, January 19). Retrieved from Summary: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm#tab-2

Nedda Gilbert

Ms. Gilbert is a certified social worker and 30 year educational consultant with an interest in helping college-bound and graduate school students manage the process and stress of admissions effectively. She is one of the senior founding managers of the Princeton Review Test Preparation Company, and the author of The Princeton Review Guide to the Best Business Schools and another book, Business School Essays that Made a Difference (Random House). She is a guest contributor to Forbes Magazine on college and college life. Ms. Gilbert is also certified as a collaborative family law professional in New Jersey. She received her BA from the University of Pennsylvania and MS from Columbia University.