How to Become an Administrative Assistant
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- Administrative assistants work in general roles or in specialized settings such as healthcare facilities and legal offices.
- Most positions require an associate degree, but jobs exist for those with high school or GED diplomas.
- Pursuing higher education can open doors to jobs with more responsibility and higher salaries.
Whether managing the calendar of a busy executive, directing incoming phone calls to their respective contacts, or distributing the day's mail, administrative assistants take care of vital components of daily office life. Some find jobs directly out of high school at small companies or local businesses. Others may decide to pursue an associate in administrative assisting degree and work in larger, more corporate settings.
Individuals can choose from generalist roles or specialized positions in areas such as healthcare or law. Keep reading to learn about what it takes to find an administrative assisting job.
What Do Administrative Assistants Do?
Administrative Assistant Duties
- Answer the telephone and direct calls or take messages.
- Handle all incoming communications, including mail, emails, and faxes.
- Keep up with digital and print filing systems.
Administrative assistants perform important roles in millions of businesses across the country and often serve as the first point of contact for new clients or customers. Their responsibilities can increase over time, especially for those who move into executive administrator or chief of staff roles.
Others decide to advance their careers by completing an associate or bachelor's degree. With this education level, they may become paralegals or legal assistants, administrative services and facilities managers, or operations managers. Whether a first-time college student or someone considering a career change, becoming an administrative assistant can provide a stable career option.
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What Are the Steps to Become an Administrative Assistant?
Individuals aspiring to administrative assistant roles must complete several steps to qualify for these roles. In this section, we walk interested candidates through the process and discuss the ins and outs of each step.
Step 1: Earn Your High School or GED Diploma
The first step to becoming an administrative assistant involves finishing high school and earning a diploma or passing the GED exam. Even if adult learners did not graduate high school, they can take some online GED classes to prepare to take the exam.
This step is quite important, as associate degree programs require applicants to hold either a high school or GED diploma to enroll. In addition, most administrative assistant roles require at least an associate degree.
Step 2: Earn an Associate Degree in Administrative Assisting
Earning an associate degree offers the most streamlined path into administrative assistant roles, with most programs requiring about two years of full-time study. Choosing a major can take some thought. Although associate in administrative assistant programs exist, some learners may feel more drawn to an associate in office administration. Other options may include an associate in communication, small business, or accounting. Students who do not want to commit to an entire degree can consider certificate programs.
Before making any decisions about which associate degree to seek, students may want to seek advice from their college's career services. Within administrative assisting associate degrees and certificate programs, students develop skills in the principles of bookkeeping, business office management, and customer relations management. They also gain business communication and supervisory leadership skills. Some learners may also complete an internship.
Many learners feel drawn to associate in administrative assisting programs because they cost much less than four-year programs. The College Board reports that in-district learners at community colleges paid an average of $3,800 in tuition and fees during the 2021-2022 academic year. Meanwhile, degree-seekers paid $10,740 and $38,070 for in-state public school tuition and private school tuition, respectively, during the same year.
Step 3: Get an Entry-Level Administrative Assisting Job
Landing a job after college can take some time, especially in competitive markets. That said, recent college graduates have plenty of resources at their fingertips to find a job. In addition to their college's career services, they can also network on LinkedIn and look for mentorship opportunities. Those who continue to find it challenging to get a job may consider completing an internship or a career bridge program.
As of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that administrative assistants earn median salaries of $39,680 per year. Those in the bottom 10% of earners received less than $28,920. Entry-level roles may pay somewhere between these two numbers given applicants have less experience.
Step 4: Consider Continuing Education or Specialization
Professionals working as administrative assistants who want to advance their careers can pursue continuing education options. Those who decide to work towards a bachelor's degree can transfer credits and graduate with just two years of additional study on top of their associate credentials.
Others decide to complete certificates that help them build targeted skills in business-related areas, such as marketing, public relations, accounting, communication, and finance. These programs typically require less time than a bachelor's degree.
Step 5: Pursue Higher Profile Administrative Assistant Positions
Pursuing continuing education offers several perks. Individuals who decide to complete a bachelor's degree can apply for jobs as executive administrative assistants. According to the BLS, professionals in these roles earned median salaries of $62,060 as of 2021. Individuals can also specialize in different fields, including:
Completing continuing education may also provide the opportunity to take on more responsibilities and pursue leadership positions. For instance, Payscale reports that individuals in chief of staff roles earn average salaries of $114,920 per year as of August 2022.
What to Know Before Becoming an Administrative Assistant
Before pursuing the required education to become an administrative assistant, students should review the most important aspects of choosing a postgraduate program.
Failing to attend a college that holds proper accreditation can cause issues with transferring credits, finding work, or pursuing continuing education. Online colleges should hold accreditation as well. Prospective learners should look for community colleges that hold institutional accreditation.
Becoming an administrative assistant often means completing an associate degree. While these programs typically cost much less than a bachelor's degree, prospective students must still understand true program costs. This involves comparing costs between online and on-campus programs, as well as carefully researching any hidden college costs.To help offset expenses related to earning an associate degree in administrative assisting, learners can look for business scholarships and apply for financial aid.
The BLS reports that administrative assistants earned median annual salaries of $39,680 as of 2021. Those in the top 10% of earners commanded salaries in excess of $63,100 per year. Individuals working as legal administrative assistants earned the second highest median salaries of $47,710 per year.
Salaries can also depend on location. Administrative assistants working in Washington, D.C. earn mean annual wages of $51,690, which is the highest in the nation, as of May 2021 BLS state data.
Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming an Administrative Assistant
What qualifications do you need to become an administrative assistant?
While some companies hire high school graduates, many look for candidates with at least some postsecondary training in secretarial and administrative assisting skills. Regardless of the type of training an aspiring administrative assistant decides to pursue, the best programs build skills and knowledge in office administration, professional communication, document processing, and interacting with customers. Those focused on legal or medical assisting may also need to learn specific terminology.
What is the fastest way to become an administrative assistant?
For many, completing an associate in administrative assisting provides the most streamlined path to employment. That said, these programs generally require two years of full-time training. For those looking to enter the field faster, pursuing a technical training course or certification may be a better option. Accelerated degree programs can also help learners enter the workforce sooner. Some high schools provide career and technical education training programs that students can complete alongside their high school coursework. These programs are also open to people who hold a high school or GED diploma and want to return to school for training.
How do I become an administrative assistant without a degree?
The answer to this question, at least for entry-level administrative assistant careers, depends largely on the employer. Not every company requires administrative assistants to hold a degree. But the pool of potential employers may shrink for those without postsecondary training.
That said, individuals who find a job without a degree can often build the skills and experience needed to continue climbing the career ladder without pursuing a degree. Those who want to transition into more senior-level roles, however, may need to return to school.
Can I become an administrative assistant with an online degree?
Yes. Completing an online degree in business or administrative assisting is a popular route for those who want to earn a postsecondary qualification but need more flexibility. Online programs can make it easier to balance personal and professional responsibilities alongside academics.Colleges and universities make no distinction between online and in-person degrees on diplomas. Students receive the same education regardless of the format of their studies. These programs frequently appeal to nontraditional students who did not go straight from high school into college, as they make it possible to fit in studies around existing schedules.
How much does an administrative assistant make?
According to the BLS, administrative assistants earned median annual salaries of $39,680 in 2021. Those in the top 10% of earners took home salaries in excess of $63,100, while the lowest 10% of earners received less than $28,920 during the same year. Individuals who work their way up to executive administrative assistant roles can earn the highest median salaries at $62,060 per year as of May 2021. Meanwhile, medical secretaries and administrative assistants earned the least at $37,450 per year in 2021. Legal secretaries took home median wages of $47,710 the same year.