How to Become a School Administrator

School administrators work with teachers, students, parents, and other administrators to strengthen schools. Acting as principals, directors, and superintendents, administrators apply their experience and education to public and private schools across the country; they also work in higher education. School administration jobs offer lucrative salaries and the opportunity for job growth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that K-12 principals earn average salaries of over $94,000 a year, and the projected job growth shows an 8% increase by 2026. Many school administration jobs require a background in teaching. Current educators with a teaching license can advance their careers and increase their salaries by earning a master’s in school administration.

The BLS reports that K-12 principals earn average salaries of over $94,000 a year, and the projected job growth shows an 8% increase by 2026.

This article explains how to become a school administrator, including the educational requirements, transitioning from an educational administration program into the workforce, and finding job opportunities in school administration. These resources help educators advance their careers.

A school administrator runs a school or district, often holding a title such as principal or superintendent. Pursuing a career in school administration lets educators shape their school or district by creating and implementing improvement plans. While earning a school administration degree, students learn how to manage a school’s resources, including hiring and evaluating teachers, overseeing a school’s budget, and managing the facilities. Graduate students also study educational leadership, organizational management, and standards setting. These skills help graduates succeed in any school administration position.

Pursuing a career in school administration lets educators shape their school or district by creating and implementing improvement plans.

Earning a school administration degree also leads to careers in higher education. Graduates with a background in educational administration work in academia as administrators in admissions, the registrar’s office, student services, and as academic deans. They hold positions at colleges, universities, and technical institutions, overseeing student services and helping their institution run smoothly.

As an exciting career that helps students and improves learning outcomes, school administration attracts dedicated professionals. School administrators benefit from career and growth opportunities, with the ability to advance within the administration to leadership positions such as superintendent.

How Much Do School Administrators Make?

Multiple factors influence the salary of a school administrator, including job setting, experience and degree, location, and title. Administrator salaries vary depending on whether the administrator works at a public or private school, or whether they hold a master’s or doctoral degree. Title also affects salary, with high school principal salaries exceeding assistant principal salaries in many districts. Professionals with a higher degree often command higher salaries, and experienced administrators earn more than school administrators with less experience, as the following table demonstrates.

Median Salary for School Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School
Entry-Level (0-5 Years) $51,000
Mid-Career (5-10 Years) $61,000
Experienced (10-20 Years) $73,000
Late-Career (20+ Years) $80,000
Source: PayScale

Earn Your Degree

Principals, administrators, and superintendents typically earn a master’s degree to qualify for school administrative positions. During a master’s program, graduate students gain valuable skills in leadership and school administration by completing coursework on financial management, curriculum leadership, and human resources management. The program may also require a master’s thesis or capstone project for graduate students to build their research and management skills. These abilities help administrators earn a license and apply knowledge to improve their school.

In many states, administrators must apply for a license, which requires a master’s degree. Candidates may also need a teaching license, which requires a bachelor’s degree. Educators often spend several years meeting the educational requirements for administrative positions. Prospective school administrators should always choose an accredited program. Some licensing boards only accept accredited degrees, and accreditation qualifies students for federal aid.

Earn Your License

School administrators may need to apply for a state license, depending on their location. In some states, principals need a teaching license, which typically requires a bachelor’s degree, passing test scores on teaching skills and specializations, and a background check. Many states also issue principal certificates or licenses, which school administrators must hold to work in a public school. The license may cover all administrative positions or only certify principals to work at certain grade levels.

Many states also issue principal certificates or licenses, which school administrators must hold to work in a public school.

Administrator licenses typically require a master’s degree with specialized coursework in educational administration. The process may include a leadership assessment test and a background check. Candidates may also need to demonstrate a current teaching license and several years of experience teaching.

In addition to principal licenses, states may issue superintendent, K-12 administrative, or professional administrator licenses. These certifications may cover multiple administrative titles within the school system, and the educational and testing requirements may vary. Private schools do not require a license, but they may prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Because the licensure process varies, prospective school administrators need to research educator licensing requirements by state.

How Long Does it Take to Become a School Administrator?

Before becoming a school administrator, candidates must meet the educational and work experience requirements. Prospective school administrators should start by earning a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes four years. Educators interested in moving into school administration often possess classroom experience, meaning they complete the teaching licensure process in their state and work as a K-12 teacher.

After several years of experience, teachers can earn a master’s degree in educational administration to qualify for assistant principal or principal positions. The degree typically takes one or two years to complete. Higher education administration may require a doctoral degree, which requires an additional three to five years after completing a master’s degree.

Graduates with a school administration degree pursue careers in a variety of areas, depending on their degree and interests. Professionals in school administration work with learners from preschool to college age, helping schools offer the best education possible. These careers offer a range of salaries, responsibilities, and opportunities for advancement.

Many students earning a school administration degree plan to work as a principal or higher education administrator. To become a school principal, most states require a master’s degree in school administration and a state license. Principals and vice principals often need classroom experience as a teacher before moving into administration, so the career path frequently begins by earning a teaching license. Some higher education administrative positions require a doctoral degree. The most lucrative positions in the field, including school superintendent and provost, may also require a doctoral degree.

Bachelor's Degree in School Administration

A bachelor’s degree in school administration introduces students to the leadership skills, educational framework, and organizational abilities required to work in school administration. Most states require a master’s degree to work as a principal or educational administrator. However, educators often need teaching experience before becoming an administrator. With a bachelor’s degree, educators qualify for a teaching license, allowing them to gain valuable classroom experience. The degree also prepares graduates for related careers as preschool directors, education program coordinators, and academic advisers. These fields use similar skills as a school administrator without requiring a master’s degree.

Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree

Preschool and Childcare Center Directors

Description Preschool and childcare center directors oversee daily operations at their facility, design educational programs, and prepare the center’s budgets. They hire staff members, supervise teachers, and meet with parents. Directors also ensure the preschool or childcare center follows applicable laws and regulations. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree and childcare experience.
Average Annual Salary $46,890

Academic Director

Description Academic directors develop and direct academic programs for a college or university. They may help a team of faculty and staff develop training curricula, enact new academic programs, and recruit potential applicants for the school, depending on their focus area. Generally, academic directors need at least a bachelor’s degree.
Average Annual Salary $61,923

Education Program Coordinator

Description Education program coordinators implement educational development programs and develop curriculum objectives that meet state standards. Education program coordinators also play a role in instructing specialized programs, researching educational materials, and evaluating programs. Most positions require a bachelor’s degree and some teaching experience.
Average Annual Salary $44,575

Academic Adviser, College/University

Description Academic advisers work at colleges and universities, providing advising support for current and prospective students. They help recruit applicants, answer questions on procedures, and advise students on course selection. Academic advisers also approve students for graduation. Advisers typically hold a bachelor’s degree.
Average Annual Salary $42,000

Admissions Director

Description Admissions directors oversee recruitment, evaluation, and admission for students at a college or university. They manage the admissions team, meet with students, and develop marketing material for their institution. The position may require some travel, with most work occurring during normal business hours. Most have a bachelor’s degree with some experience in marketing or communication.
Average Annual Salary $56,270

Master's Degree in School Administration

Many school administration jobs, including principal and higher education administrator, require a master’s degree in educational administration. During a master’s program, graduate students complete coursework in educational leadership, organizational management, school supervision, and finance for educational organizations. They may also complete a master’s thesis, project, or practicum. A master’s in school administration prepares graduates for careers as assistant principals, K-12 principals, and educational administrators. Prospective students considering these career paths can research the top online master’s in educational administration programs to learn more.

Careers with a Master’s Degree

Assistant Principal

Description Assistant principals enforce a school’s standards and guidelines, working with the principal to implement plans for the school. They also oversee curriculum, discipline, and scheduling, working with teachers to cover the school’s needs. Many positions require teaching experience and a graduate degree in administration.
Average Annual Salary $71,018

Elementary School Principal

Description Elementary school principals oversee the school, develop goals and educational programs, and evaluate teachers. They play a role in hiring teachers, coordinate with the superintendent, and manage the budget for the school. Most positions require a master’s degree in educational administration and teaching experience, and principals may need to hold a license.
Average Annual Salary $80,159

Middle School Principal

Description Middle school principals act as senior administrators for their school, setting goals and standards and working with teachers, staff, parents, students, and the superintendent. They oversee the budget, manage daily operations, and conduct performance evaluations for teachers. Principals often need a master’s degree, teaching experience, and a license.
Average Annual Salary $91,496

High School Principal

Description High school principals are senior administrators for a high school. They assess and update the curriculum, supervise teachers, and prioritize funding and resources. They also create plans to improve teaching outcomes, hire new teachers, and handle problems at the school. High school principals typically need a master’s in school administration, teaching experience, and a license.
Average Annual Salary $88,807

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Description In higher education, administrators work in admissions, the registrar’s office, student affairs, and as academic deans. These postsecondary education administrators oversee student services, academics, and research at their institution. Most positions require a master’s degree.
Average Annual Salary $92,360

Doctoral Degree in School Administration

A doctoral degree in school administration prepares educators for the most lucrative positions in the field with the highest level of responsibility. Candidates with a doctoral degree work as school superintendents, academic deans, and provosts, setting the direction for a school or school system and overseeing faculty members, teachers, and principals. Doctoral students gain valuable leadership, organizational, and analytical skills during their degree, which they apply to careers as high-level school administrators. Prospective doctoral students can research the top online doctoral programs in educational administration to learn more.

Careers with a Doctoral Degree

Department Chair

Description Department chairs act as the head of a college or university department. They manage the department’s finances, oversee faculty members, and meet with administrators. Department chairs must hold tenure within the department, and typically hold a doctoral degree in their field.
Average Annual Salary $83,456

Academic Dean

Description Academic deans manage and develop faculty at a higher education institution. They set academic standards, allocate resources, and play a role in recruitment and retention. Most positions require at least a master’s degree and administrative experience, with some positions requiring a doctoral degree.
Average Annual Salary $91,669

School Superintendent

Description School superintendents act as senior administrators for a school system. They set goals for the district's schools, hire principals, and work with the school board to improve the district. Superintendents also manage resources, address problems in schools, and typically work throughout the year. Most positions require teaching experience, principal experience, and a graduate degree.
Average Annual Salary $116,033

Provost

Description Provosts act as senior administrators at a college or university. They develop educational programs, allocate funding, and create plans for their college. Most provosts work as college professors and earn tenure before pursuing administrative positions, and many employers prefer candidates with a doctoral degree.
Average Annual Salary $147,098

To hold school administration jobs, professionals need certain skills, such as problem-solving and decision-making abilities. These skills help principals, higher education administrators, and other educational administrators fulfill their job requirements, build strong relationships with colleagues, and strengthen their school. Students gain these skills while earning a master’s degree in education administration through their coursework and during a practicum or supervised administrator training. Administrators also strengthen many of these skills by building teaching experience before pursuing administration.

Computer Skills

Administrators at all levels manage student records, maintain records on the school, and update databases. These positions require computer skills.

Interpersonal Skills

Principals and higher education administrators must build strong relationships with teachers, staff, and students. They also work with superintendents, deans, and college presidents to achieve goals.

Organizational Skills

School administrators must organize records, manage multiple tasks, and coordinate with staff members and teachers. The position requires strong organizational skills.

Problem-Solving Skills

Administrators may need to handle challenging situations involving students or teachers, analyze teaching or curriculum problems, and design solutions to complex problems.

Decision-Making Skills

School administrators set the goals and objectives for a school, including daily operations and multi-year strategies. Decision-making skills help principals and administrators succeed.

Leadership Skills

School administrators act as leaders within their school, particularly principals. They must set standards for the school, review teacher performance, and motivate teachers and staff to meet goals.

Assistant principals, principals, and educational administrators work in a variety of locations and school settings. Many pursue careers in K-12 education, working as elementary, middle, or high school principals. Others move into higher education as administrators. Factors such as location, school setting, and student population shape a school administrator’s career, salary prospects, and licensing requirements. This section explores where school administrators work and how it affects their careers.

Locations

Location plays a significant role in a school administrator’s career. The licensing process varies by state, with some states requiring a master’s degree in education administration and a probationary period working under a mentor. A few states do not issue school administrator licenses. Location also influences salaries; a high school principal salary may vary widely by state. Other factors, such as the student population and quality of life, vary by the school administrator’s location.

Settings

School administrators work in public and private K-12 schools and at community colleges and universities. The job setting affects a school administrator’s career in several ways, such as potential salary. For example, public elementary and secondary school administrators earn higher average salaries than private school administrators. Job setting can also affect employment requirements. Most administrative roles at a four-year university require a Ph.D., and public elementary and secondary schools may require a principal license, which private school administrators do not need. The following tables show principal and administrator salary variations depending on job setting.

Elementary, Middle, and High School Principal Salary by Setting
Elementary and Secondary Schools; Local $95,860
Elementary and Secondary Schools; Private $83,970
Source: BLS
Postsecondary Education Administrator Salary by Setting
Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; State, Local, and Private $94,320
Junior Colleges; State, Local, and Private $87,520
Source: BLS

School administrators enjoy a growing job market. The majority of educational administrators either work in elementary and secondary schools or at colleges, universities, and professional schools. The BLS projects the demand for higher education administrators to grow 10% by 2026 and demand for K-12 principals to grow 8%.

While earning a degree in school administration, students can improve their competitiveness in the job market by building a professional network, pursuing certifications and licenses, and learning how to highlight their accomplishments on a resume. School administrators benefit from several sites offering interview and resume tips, career guidance, and job postings. The NAESP Career Center provides information for elementary and middle school principals, while the NASSP Career Center supports high school principals seeking employment. Other administrators may find the resources at the AASA Job Bulletin helpful.

  • American Association of School Administrators Founded in 1866, AASA advocates for administrators and superintendents. The organization provides professional development resources, networking opportunities, and certifications. AASA also publishes journals, research papers, and books. Members can qualify for awards and scholarships. The association offers a career center with job openings and the ability to post a resume.
  • National Association of Secondary School Principals A professional organization for high school principals, NASSP promotes school leadership, offering professional development resources, a scholarly journal, hands-on strategies for principals, and awards. The association hosts conferences and events, which offer networking opportunities, and administers the National Honor Society.
  • National Association of Elementary School Principals Representing elementary and middle school principals, NAESP dates back to 1921. NAESP’s many publications cover leadership topics, scholarly research, and trends in education. Members also benefit from an annual conference, webinars, and the association’s career center.
  • National Education Association The NEA dates back to 1857 and represents over three million educators, including school administrators. The association hosts events and meetings, offers grants and awards, and connects members with state and local affiliates. The NEA also offers resources and research on the role of school administrators in successful schools.
  • National School Boards Association A national organization representing over 90,000 school board members, NSBA hosts an annual conference and other events, provides professional development resources like webinars, and offers school law resources on the legal developments and challenges schools face.
  • Resources for School Administrators A Thought.com page devoted to school administrators, the site features articles on professional roles, strategies, and tips for administrators. The material covers topics like school websites, grade retention, and educational leadership philosophies.
  • U.S. Department of Education State Contacts The federal Department of Education provides a database of state-level agencies in charge of education. The list includes state departments of education, higher education agencies, special education agencies, and state agencies that license teachers and administrators.
  • Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation The CAEP is the accrediting agency for educator preparation programs. Prospective school administrators should always choose an accredited program to ensure their degree meets licensing requirements. The CAEP provides a database of accredited programs that students can use to check a program’s status.