Every college student in America is intimately familiar with the office of the university registrar at their alma mater. The academic calendar on their website is a first stop for such critical information as registration, drop dates, finals week, and, of course, the coveted dates for Spring Break.
Throughout the course of their career, students will share their highs and lows with the registrar’s office… struggling to have their AP or transfer credits recognized, successfully registering for a popular course, dealing with an incomplete, making the dean’s list, and finally, hopefully, fulfilling all the necessary requirements to earn and be awarded their diploma.
Every significant event that occurs in a student’s university career will be recorded for them by the registrar’s office.
Nor does it end with graduation. For most students, all their interactions with their school after they depart will be through the registrar’s office, too, getting records for jobs and grad school applications.
Faculty, too, spend a lot of time with the registrar’s office: getting classrooms assigned and classes scheduled, reporting grades, going through curriculum review.
You can see how the registrar’s office is a central part of the academic experience for both instructors and students. So it should also be pretty clear that registrars themselves need to be professional education leaders at the top of their game.
What Does a Registrar Do?
Put simply, the registrar runs the office in charge of student registration and all academic records at their university. Every detail of every student’s education, for all time, is kept by the registrar’s office. That means from enrollment to graduation, all official interactions that a student has with the college ends up on file, including:
Because all those details have an important bearing on a student’s career, both academically and after graduation, registrars have an extremely important and busy position in the college hierarchy. The information has to be accurate, secure, and private… except in cases where it has to be released appropriately to other schools, prospective employers, and students themselves.
How the Modern Registrar’s Office Came to Be
Registrar might sound like a bit of an awkward term to the modern ear, but it beats the original title for the role. During the medieval period, keepers of record for a university were known as the beadle.
They were often students elevated to a position of trust, carrying books, taking attendance, and, most importantly, keeping records of matriculation and the granting of degrees. As the sole reference for a graduate’s educational bona fides in an era before distributed indexing and record-keeping, this was a particularly weighty responsibility.
In time, the job fell to faculty members as a part-time position. But with enrollment growing through the industrial revolution, record-keeping quickly became a full-time role.
When computers became common on college campuses in the 1960s and ‘70s, some of their first official uses were in the registrar’s office. Today, a facility with technology and databases is a critical part of the registrar’s job. But an appreciation of history and tradition is part of the office, and while they are happy to no longer be called beadles, registrars consistently show respect for their forerunners.
Registrars are also typically responsible for evaluating credit transfer requests for students coming in from other schools, comparing and evaluating coursework for the local university counterparts. They may also oversee classroom assignments, course schedules, and other coordinating details for university professors, staff, and students. And they track class enrollment and priorities to keep courses from being oversubscribed.
Some school registrars have expanded into other valuable services for students, such as assisting with voter registration.
That all adds up to make it a high-stakes role. Accuracy and consistency are key. So is adherence to state and federal laws regarding information handling and privacy, include the critical FERPA (Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) rules.
Even at the smallest schools, this is far bigger than a one-person show. That means registrars manage a staff of dozens, or even hundreds. Registrars aren’t the ones picking up the phones to deal with student requests or schlepping boxes of records around a warehouse. But they are responsible for creating policy, training staff, and directing and overseeing their work in such tasks. And it can serve as a steppingstone to higher levels of educational leadership since it’s a window into all the most critical academic functions.
That’s unquestionably a leadership role, and it’s a leadership role in which complete and careful understanding of the realm of education is key.
What Kind of Degree Should You Earn to Become a University Registrar?
Like other leadership roles in higher education, university registrars do not require any sort of state licensing or certification. Your qualifications for the job are up to the college or university doing the hiring.
In some ways, however, that only increases your need for the right academic qualifications and experience. After all, a license serves as notice that someone has achieved a certain critical level of relevant skills and expertise. As an applicant for a registrar position, your CV will be the sum of your qualifications. It had better be good.
Something that always looks good when applying for higher education leadership jobs is a degree relevant to the field.
Many registrars come in from the field of student counseling and often have undergraduate degrees in school or educational counseling. The background in communication, advising, and conflict resolution can be valuable as a registrar.
On the other hand, so are the traditional slate of leadership skills developed through educational leadership or educational administration degrees. Particularly at larger schools, a registrar will always hold or pursue a graduate degree. So a Master of Education (MEd) in Educational Leadership, or a Master of Arts in Educational Administration or similar are always a solid choice.
These are standard degrees pursued by educational leaders for primary, secondary, and post-secondary roles. They offer a range of specialized leadership and management training specific to the education industry, including classes in fields like:
And they typically involve a practicum or internship placement to help you hone the relevant skills in a real-world position.
Naturally, as graduate-level programs, they also involve significant research and a capstone project or thesis that involves original thought and a demonstration of your mastery of skills acquired along the way.
Educational Leadership Degree Specializations to Develop Key Registrar Skills
MEd programs in educational leadership can be found with several types of concentrations that are particularly valuable for future registrars. On top of the general managerial and leadership skills the job requires, registrars also benefit from strong organizational and administrative skills. You can find them in MEd concentrations such as:
These degrees focus on overall challenges in modern education administration, but specifically on how to build and manage effective and efficient teams in the industry. For a professional who needs to make the trains run on time as much as a university registrar, coursework in these key areas proves invaluable:
It all comes together to provide the skills needed to serve in a role that involves serving both students and staff.
College Registrar Salary – How Much Will You Make as a University Registrar?
So after earning an advanced degree and landing a university registrar position, what can you expect to make in salary every year?
Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically track salaries for registrar positions. Instead, they go into the same bucket as deans, provosts, and other various managers and administrators in colleges and universities. BLS places them in the category for postsecondary education administrators.
For 2021, the average salary for all those positions was $96,910 per year.
The average is a reasonable place on the scale to find most registrar positions since the job is neither at the top nor the bottom of the hierarchy.
But there will be differences in compensation depending on the school’s size and the level of responsibility the registrar takes on. BLS does break out different average salary levels for four-year versus junior colleges, which helps illustrate the difference:
As education professionals, registrars also enjoy the excellent pension, healthcare, and vacation benefits that are common to the field.
But most registrars take on the position from a sense of duty and respect for the importance the registrar’s office holds within a university. If you’re the sort of educational leader who likes being the linchpin in the operation of your school, heading up the registrar’s office is the role for you.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Postsecondary Education Administrators reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed May 2023.