How to Get a Job in Higher Education Administrator Careers

Administrative openings at colleges and universities are increasing as of 2011.
Administrative openings at colleges and universities are increasing as of 2011. (Image: Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

When most people think of work at a college or university, the professor role first comes to mind. But there are a variety of non-academic careers available in higher education. One of these is as an administrator, managing the day-to-day, behind-the-scenes operations of an institution of higher learning. Administrative positions exist across various units, including student services, academic affairs, information technology (IT), admissions and financial services.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, administrative openings at colleges and universities are on the upswing because of an increase in student enrollments and incumbent retirements. Competition for some positions is on the decline because of fewer applicants. As of 2011, higher education administrators earn anywhere from $45,000 to more than $160,000 a year.

Earn a four-year degree from an accredited institution of higher learning. A bachelor's degree can generally be in any area to obtain entry-level work experience in a given institutional unit. For example, a bachelor of arts degree in psychology can work fine in student services, admissions or public affairs. However, a bachelor of science in mathematics translates well into a bursar, advancement or records job.

Gain at least one to three years of work experience. Submit a resume and cover letter tailored for an entry-level job in the institutional unit of interest. Most college administrators have at least a few years of hands-on skills in their area of employment. Some were former professors who transitioned into non-academic management. Others had related job experience from the workplace outside of the academic realm. No matter the route, higher education administrator positions require practical knowledge gained from sustained employment in the industry or a related position in the private sector.

Earn a master's degree or higher if needed for the job you seek. A degree in counseling, student personnel services or higher education administration is standard for some units like counseling, academic affairs and library services, while a doctorate is necessary for top administrative positions such as dean, provost, vice president or university president. Additionally, many dean positions also require tenure rank of full professor.

Format your resume and cover letter for a higher-education administration position. Because academic credentials are the minimum entry requirement, highlight your education first, then professional experience. Tailor your cover letter to the specific job requirements of the position for which you are applying, using the same wording to create a match.

Apply for administrative positions. Submit your resume and cover letter online or through the mail to the hiring manager. Websites like, and are devoted to college and university career search and application. Use these to familiarize yourself with the types of administrative openings in your state or region of the country, as they vary widely. You may also apply through their application portals on university websites.

Tips & Warnings

  • Network and ask your associates in higher education if there are current openings for administrative jobs available in their departments. Most jobs are unpublished.

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