Secretary: Career Summary & Educational Overview

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a secretary. Get an overview of the requirements, degree programs and job duties to find out if this is the career for you.

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A secretary typically performs various office duties, such as answering calls, scheduling meeting and appointments, and handling payments. Most secretaries are trained on the job, so postsecondary education isn't required, though it may be in certain industries. There are certificate and associate programs offered that teach the basic skills.

Essential Information

Secretaries and administrative assistants are essential members of an office team. Besides typical clerical duties, they might conduct research, manage information and supervise other administrative employees. Most secretaries only need a high school diploma or its equivalent to qualify for work; on-the-job training is common. Positions also exist at the executive level and in the legal and medical fields, which could require specialized education and/or knowledge.

Required Education High school diploma or equivalent; college-level training may be necessary for medical or legal secretaries
Additional Requirements On-the-job training
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all secretaries and administrative assistants
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $36,500 for all secretaries and administrative assistants

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Profile for Secretaries and Administrative Assistants

Secretaries and administrative assistants perform a variety of administrative and clerical duties, including scheduling, training and communicating with clients, management and employees. They usually need to be knowledgeable about the use of office equipment and might be responsible for accounting, correspondence and reporting tasks.

As office responsibilities increase, some positions require a specific skill set. Executive assistants could need to be familiar with research methods, project management and travel arranging and be comfortable working with high-level personnel. Legal and medical secretaries are often required to have an understanding of the terminology and procedures associated with those industries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that office tasks previously handled by management staff have shifted to administrative assistants and secretaries due to improved automation systems and organizational changes (www.bls.gov).

Career Outlook

The BLS reports that employment opportunities for secretaries and administrative assistants in general were expected to increase 3% from 2014-2024. Projections by the BLS indicated that the healthcare industry would offer the most employment growth for secretaries.

Salary Information

Average annual earnings varied by job title in 2015. At the time, the BLS reported that the median annual salary for executive secretaries was $53,370; and it was $43,200 for legal secretaries. Medical secretaries earned a median of $33,040, and general secretaries and administrative assistants earned $33,910 annually, according to the BLS.

Educational Overview

Although individuals can find work as secretaries with just a high school diploma, there are relevant college programs that can teach fundamental office skills and software, contributing to an individual's marketability in the workforce. Prospective secretaries could pursue an office administration degree or certificate offered by several community colleges and vocational schools. The curricula of these programs teach students clerical and technical skills, such as keyboarding, office procedures and business math. Some programs offer training specific to legal and medical secretarial work.

Some executive secretary positions require a bachelor's degree. Majoring in business or a field related to a student's job goals could provide sufficient training and allow students to gain practical experience through internships. The core curricula of business programs include coursework in accounting, management and marketing.

While the educational requirements can vary by industry and employer, the majority of secretaries only need a high school education and on-job training. However, some may choose to complete coursework to boost their knowledge. Jobs are not expected to increase much for secretaries over the next few years, but the rapidly-growing healthcare industry may be an exception.

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