A Day in the Life of a College Administrator

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The life of a student – for those seeking a Doctor of Education or otherwise – is replete with regular class periods, projects and assignments. It’s appropriate that this is the case, given that repetition is the wellspring of pedagogy.

woman smiles outside building while holding binder

But there’s nothing routine about the life of a higher education administrator. Much of what these professionals do on a day-to-day basis is determined by what the college or university is in need of at any given moment.

At the same time, though, there are a few work-a-day commonalities that higher education administrators share. The following will detail what some of these include, along with some first-hand knowledge from those who have been there and experienced what it’s like.

As detailed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the duties of higher education administrators generally fall into four categories: admissions, registrar, student affairs and academic policy. Some administrators’ day-to-day dealings may be in only one of these areas, but it isn’t unusual for them to be involved in all of them, if not more.


Higher education administrators often determine the overall makeup of a university’s student body – both in size and scope. With capped resources, administrators have to decide how many people will be permitted entry, typically determined by their qualifications and what supplementary resources schools have available to provide education services.

The working world is highly competitive, so it’s no surprise that those seeking college degrees are near record levels. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, in 2016, approximately 3.1 million seniors graduated from high school. Of these, 69.7 percent enrolled in a college or university. That’s only a few percentage points shy of the all-time record, set in 2009, when college enrollment among high school seniors was 70 percent.

In addition to assessing how many students can be admitted, college administrators participate in recruitment initiatives, providing prospective students with information on why they ought to consider applying to advance their career-related objectives and aspirations. This often entails visiting workshops and high schools – sometimes in other parts of the country or world – to meet students face-to-face.


Even in an increasingly paperless society – 26 percent of students prefer digital course materials rather than the printed variety, according to a recent survey from the National Association of College Stores, up from 24 percent in 2015 – the application process requires a plethora of paperwork. Organizing and maintaining these documents is the registrar’s bailiwick. More specifically, administrators in the registrar’s department provide scheduling and registration information for students so they know when and where classes are held, the credit hours specific courses satisfy and coordinate with faculty members to ensure that classrooms are available at the specified time periods.

The school calendar is a lengthy one, making registration services something that is usually confined to the first few months of a term or semester. However, with more universities admitting students on a rolling basis, registration may be done throughout the academic year.

Registrars also help plan commencement ceremonies for graduating seniors and produce reports that help further the university’s goals as a new class makes its entry and those already attending transition to the next phase of their academic careers.

Student Affairs

Though the thrust of the university experience takes place inside the classroom, it’s only one component of campus life. Much of the remainder falls under the student affairs umbrella and administrators play a key role.

Housing is a major component of student affairs. Thanks in large measure to the internet, more schools – both undergraduate and graduate – provide services that enable students to commute or take classes online. However, many schools still have student bodies that predominantly live on-campus. Administrators are responsible for ensuring students’ housing-related questions and concerns are satisfied.

Extracurricular activities also fall under the student affairs banner. From organized and intramural sporting events to performance art programs and drama clubs, administrators will frequently coordinate these events so students can more fully participate in the university experience. Student participation improves their chances of success in the classroom and beyond. Indeed, according to a recent survey from Gallup, college students who self-professed to be involved in an activity were over 1.5 times more likely to be hopeful for the future and more than two times more likely to have strong grade point averages.

Academic Policy

Last but not least, policy-making is a major component of a college administrator’s responsibilities. Often in consultation with the college president, administrator duties traditionally include establishing management budgets and coordinating the activities and initiatives of specific disciplines.

This is also the arena in which administrators determine who will be teaching which classes. Some of the most accomplished individuals in professional life had greater teachers who inspired them to pursue greatness. Norman Francis, who serves as president for a Louisiana-based university, wrote in the Association of American Colleges and Universities that teacher quality can make or break an institution of higher learning:

“The model of higher education has evolved, in some ways radically, but has at its core the need for qualified instructors and a cadre of students who are interested in learning from them,” Francis explained. “At the heart of the matter is quality teaching, meaningful experiences, and learning that is measurable and relevant.”

He added that the teachers universities select, whoever they may be, must prioritize the educational experience for students first and foremost, noting “students are [the] priority. We exist to educate students.”

And that’s just the beginning. Upon graduating with a Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership from Maryville University, you’ll find out for yourself just how multifaceted a day in the life of a higher administrator can be.

Recommended Reading

Is an Ed.D Right for You?

3 Benefits of Earning an Ed.D in Higher Education


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Postsecondary Education Administrators

The Wall Street Journal – College Enrollment Among High-School Grads Nears Record High

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – College Enrollment and Work Activity of High School Graduates News Release

National Association of College Stores 

Gallup – Why Schools Should Inspire Students to Do What They Do Best

Association of American Colleges & Universities – Faculty Quality—A Forty-Year Perspective from a University President