Should I Become an Administrative Assistant?

An administrative assistant can pursue jobs in almost every industry. Learn about their daily tasks, requirements, and average salaries.

portrait of Marisa Upson
by Marisa Upson

Published August 11, 2022

Edited by Amelia Buckley
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Should I Become an Administrative Assistant?
Image Credit: Tom Werner / DigitalVision / Getty Images


What Does an Administrative Assistant Do?

Administrative assistants play a key role in keeping an office organized and a business running smoothly. They work in almost every industry and perform a wide variety of daily tasks. While their duties vary based on the organization, most can count on answering telephones and emails, processing mail, scheduling meetings, and performing basic bookkeeping.

Depending on the size of the operation, administrative assistants may report to an executive secretary or their department manager. Tracy Carroll, an academic administrative assistant at Missouri State University, says, "The best part of my job is the variety of tasks and the creativity I get to utilize."

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Ready to start your journey?

A Day in the Life: Administrative Assistant Tracy Carroll

According to Carroll, each day may include prioritizing between many different tasks. These include:

"There may be several additional tasks not even mentioned," says Carroll, reflecting on her daily responsibilities.

“Every day is a new day to learn something new or build upon current knowledge.”

Where Do Administrative Assistants Work?

Administrative assistants usually work in office settings in virtually every industry. Some of the most common workplaces include the following:

Administrative assistants may also work from home as virtual assistants or remote workers. These assistants may support a department, an entire business, or an individual. Generally, they assist a department in a larger firm or a whole office in a smaller business.

Administrative and executive assistants share similar responsibilities, but at different levels. An executive assistant usually provides support for top executives. These tasks, however, usually center around complex responsibilities and project management. They offer a higher level of support, which may include preparing reports and conducting research.

Pros and Cons of Administrative Assisting

Pros of Administrative Assisting

There are job opportunities in nearly every industry Days are varied and filled with different tasks and responsibilities The position offers opportunities for advancement, such as senior administrative assistant and office manager Those who enjoy working from home may find positions as virtual assistants Many employers only require a high school diploma for this position Administrative assistants interact with numerous people throughout the day, including coworkers, clients, and vendors [/checklist]

Cons of Administrative Assisting

Administrative assistants usually carry a heavy workload Depending on the position and employer, some assistants can find the demands stressful Assistants may need basic knowledge in many areas, like bookkeeping, event planning, and coordinating schedules The median pay is lower than the national median wage for all workers Those looking to work in specific industries, such as healthcare or law, may need additional training Some tasks may feel tedious [/checklist]

Is Secretarial Science Right for Me?

If you've been in any type of office setting, you've undoubtedly seen administrative assistants at work. They are the ones answering the phones, opening the mail, typing up spreadsheets, scheduling appointments, and performing many other tasks to ensure the office runs smoothly. It takes someone with precise attention to detail to perform the many tasks required.

Carrol's advice for someone pursuing a career in this field is:

“Be flexible and open to suggestions and research new ways of accomplishing tasks. The most challenging part of my career is forgiving myself when I don't get it right all of the time.”

Administrative assistance could be right for you if…

Necessary Skills for Assistants

Successful administrative assistants maintain a smooth-running office. This requires some creativity and the ability to improvise. It also mandates maintaining a positive work environment, despite rising stress levels. These professionals are often the first person a visitor meets, so they must have good communication skills and a calm demeanor even under pressure.

This career can be an excellent fit for those who excel in positions requiring organization and structure. A different career may better suit those who prefer creative freedom and an impromptu work environment.

The best administrative assistants are:

Education

Many employers require a high school diploma for entry-level administrative assistant jobs. Candidates also need a thorough understanding of word processing and spreadsheet programs. Training in medical and legal terminology may be required for those interested in positions in healthcare or law.

Earning an associate degree in administrative assistance or a business degree can provide additional career opportunities. Many programs offer concentrations in the medical or legal field. Additionally, degree-holders may find increased earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2021, professionals with an associate degree earned on average about $154 more per week than those with just a high school diploma.

Assistant Salary

An administrative assistant's salary depends on their employer, location, industry, and experience level. According to the BLS, administrative assistants earn a median annual wage of $39,680, with the top 10% making above $63,100 as of May 2021. Areas that offer the highest salaries include Washington, D.C. and Massachusetts, with average wages of $51,690 and $49,820, respectively.

Administrative assistants can increase their earning potential by continuing to improve their skills. For example, the BLS reports that legal administrative assistants earn a median yearly salary of $47,710, and executive administrative assistants make $62,060.

Frequently Asked Questions About Administrative Assisting

How much can I make as an administrative assistant?

While the BLS reports a median annual wage of $39,680 for this career, an administrative assistant's salary varies significantly. Influencing factors include the industry you work in, your level of experience, and your location.

For example, industries that offer the highest level of employment include the local government and postsecondary institutions. These industries provide average annual salaries of $45,810 and $42,750, respectively.

States with the highest employment levels include California and New York. These states offer higher-than-average pay, with respective average yearly wages of $47,930 and $44,570. The metropolitan area with the highest concentration of jobs is Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the average salary for administrative assistants is $41,590.

How can I find administrative assistant jobs?

First, decide which industry appeals to you. Then, seek job postings in that field. There are different job search sites for various industries. For example, HigherEdJobs posts positions strictly for higher education, an ideal site for those looking to work in an academic environment.

Other job search sites on the internet include ZipRecruiter, Monster, and Indeed. LinkedIn is also a good resource for open positions.

If you'd like to work as a virtual assistant, these sites — as well as Upwork, oDesk, and FlexJobs — offer remote job postings. Make sure to research these carefully before applying. Then, apply to these positions with a professional and updated resume.

Can I become an administrative assistant without a degree?

Many employers do not require a college degree for administrative assistant positions. These entry-level roles can get you in the door in industries that excite you. If you'd like to work in the medical or legal fields, consider attending courses at a community college, bootcamp, or trade school where you can learn the industry-specific terms.

With or without a degree, prospective administrative assistants need specific skills and a solid understanding of word processing, spreadsheet programs, and database software. Some employers provide on-the-job training to help you get acquainted with their particular business protocol and industry.

Do I need a degree to become an administrative assistant?

No, you do not need a degree to become an administrative assistant. However, for those who would like to advance in their career, an associate degree in administrative assistance or a bachelor's degree in business can help you stand out from the crowd and lead to higher-paying positions, such as executive assistant.

Experience in the field can help administrative assistants increase their earning potential without a degree. Certificate programs can also help professionals expand their skills in key areas without the financial investment of a degree.

With Advice From:

Tracy Carroll is an academic administrative assistant in the Department of Geography, Geology and Planning at Missouri State University (MSU). She holds a BS in housing and interior design and a graduate certificate in planning and development from MSU. Her professional experience includes work in real estate, interior design, and executive assistance.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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