University Administration

What it is

The classic “alt-ac” path, performing any number of college or university functions other than teaching or research. The three areas most relevant to humanities and social science PhDs are Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and Communications. Academic Affairs centers on curricular and programmatic issues. Student Affairs is concerned with the whole student, providing a wide range of services and resources. Communications is a broad category that includes marketing, public affairs and fundraising, all of which involve substantial amounts of writing.

Starting points

Any staff position that does not require faculty experience is a good starting point for a university-based career. Staff positions become available year-round as people leave or as new positions are created. Look to your own university.


Once in, you can switch units relatively easily to follow your interests and eventually become Director of your area. Or, you can move to a different institution, or even to a different type of institution, such as a hospital or government agency. Salaries are about the same as faculty salaries and can be higher once you move beyond the entry level. Benefits are usually excellent.


All humanities and social science disciplines can potentially enter administration. Some staff positions require subject matter expertise, giving those PhDs an advantage, but even then, skills and experience will be primary.

Personality and outlook

Because there are so many different kinds of positions, almost anyone can find a good fit in university administration. Consider the types of things you enjoy doing, and look for staff roles that include those activities plus others you’d like to learn. Social and soft skills are important in all positions, more in some than in others.


A modern university is a complex organization. Study the university website to learn the units; drop in on various offices; conduct informational interviews. Seek out part-time positions or internships in units that interest you or where you have an existing relationship. Gravitate towards service assignments that will expose you to new facets of the university. Take a class related to higher education administration.

Real Life Examples