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School Administrator: How to Start a Career in School Administration

A school administrator must have a master's degree and several years of teaching experience. Learn about the necessary education, experience and licensing to see if this is the right career for you.

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School administrators specialize their education at the master's level with a degree in school administration or educational leadership. Prior to that, they can gain their necessary experience either in a related administrative position or as a teacher. Requirements vary by state, but most school administrators need to obtain licensure.

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Essential Information

School administrators hold leadership roles within the education system, overseeing teachers and other personnel and ensuring efficient operations of one or more schools. They typically start out as teachers and need at least a master's degree to advance to an administrative position.

Required Education Master's degree
Other Requirements Experience as either a teacher or a related administrative position
Projected Growth (2014-2024)* 7% (preschool); 6% (secondary); 9% (postsecondary)
Average Salary (2015)* $52,760 (preschool); $92,940 (elementary and secondary); $102,610 (postsecondary)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Aspiring school administrators might earn a bachelor's degree in elementary education, secondary education, special education or a related field. They also could earn a bachelor's degree in the subject they wish to teach and then obtain a certificate or higher-level degree to fulfill teacher education requirements. Education-related bachelor's programs typically include student teaching and observing in a real classroom under the supervision of an experienced teacher.

Step 2: Acquire Teaching License

In the U.S., all public school teachers must obtain a state license before they can teach. Each state sets its own requirements for licensure, but all states require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, complete an accredited teaching program and have student teaching experience, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Applicants for licensure usually must prove their teaching capabilities by taking one or more exams. Many states implement rules for maintaining licensure, such as earning a master's degree or completing continuing education courses. Private school teachers may not be required to hold licensure.

Step 3: Obtain a Teaching Position

Teaching positions were expected to be most abundant in subjects like math, science and foreign languages, and they'll likely be easier to attain in inner-city and rural communities (www.bls.gov). Additionally, bilingual and minority teachers may find more opportunities available to them as enrollment rates for minority and non-English-speaking students grow. State and local education budgets play a vital role in determining how many teachers are employed within a community.

Step 4: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Public school administrators generally need at least a master's degree in education administration or educational leadership, according to the BLS. These programs typically include classes such as education law, curriculum improvement, ethics, leadership and school financial procedures. Graduate students also might be required to intern in a school administration setting.

Step 5: Achieve School Administrator Licensure

Licensure is often required of school administrators. Graduate-level training is a typical requirement for this license, although each state sets its own parameters. Some states require prospective school administrators to pass an examination and have supervised practical experience. Continuing education classes are needed to maintain licensure in some states.

The BLS estimates slower-than-average 6% job growth for elementary, middle and high school principals in the years 2014-2024. The BLS predicted for the same decade that job opportunities for preschool/childcare center directors would increase 7%, which is as fast as the national average for all occupations, and jobs for postsecondary educational administrators will increase 9%.

The BLS reported in 2015 that education administrators for elementary and secondary school earned an average annual salary of $92,940. In the same year, preschool/childcare center education administrators earned an average wage of $52,760, and postsecondary education administrators earned $102,610.

School administrators who come from a teaching background typically start at the undergraduate level with a degree in education or their subject of choice, before becoming a licensed teacher. Whether you were previously a teacher or an administrator, a master's degree in school administration is the basis for any prospective school administrator and often serves as a requirement for licensure. Job growth for school administrators is projected to be steady for the foreseeable future; salaries vary by position.

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