Registrars are not born, they are made. And some are forged by fire: hired or promoted into the position with little or no training, onboarding, or experience. Many new to the profession learn by doing, picking up the essentials as they go.
Additionally, the role of the registrar can vary substantially from institution to institution, depending on size and mission, meaning sometimes even moving between institutions may feel like starting anew.
“Often, the registrar position doesn’t come with a manual,” said Brandy Piner, Senior Associate Registrar at UT
Health San Antonio, “so new registrars are either building processes from scratch or reliant on staff to tell them how things work.”
For those getting started, starting over, or moving up, three registrars with combined decades of experience offer their thoughts on what they wished they’d known at the beginning of their careers.
Along with Piner; Heather Abbott, Deputy Registrar at Yale Law School; and Dan Weber, University Registrar at Northeastern Illinois University, serve as part of the faculty for the upcoming online Registrar 101 course
(held three more times this year.)
1. Get the big picture
. Locate your office within the campus context. Ask: what is the role of the registrar from your organization’s perspective? How does the registrar fit into the whole?
“There are many different ways to be a registrar, depending on your institution,” Abbott said. “Some offices are driven by technology, others by academic policy and compliance; some registrars have a very narrowly defined job function,
others are the hub of a huge wheel, connecting disparate departments across campus.”
Investigate your relationships with other offices on campus and know where your responsibilities touch or overlap. Talk to those offices about how you think shared functions are working — know your office's role in their processes. (For example,
talking with financial aid about course registration, advisors about early alert, or faculty about curriculum changes.)
This will lead organically to the age-old and keenly important question: Why are we doing it this way?, building trust and collaboration between offices and sewing future possibilities.
2. Square away the details — especially compliance. Determine those day-to-day, cyclical, and calendered tasks for which your office is responsible. This is the “nuts and bolts” portion of your job, the part where you learn
each process backwards and forwards.
“Take processes you are learning about and document them,” Piner recommended. “And as you improve on those processes, keep the documentation up to date, so you can hire outside the registrars’ office, and the office can
And familiarize yourself as much as possible with compliance
of your office, especially FERPA
, because you are now the
“When you take advantage of a professional development opportunity, like a conference or class, you’ve suddenly gained 34 new registrar friends across the country in similar situations to yours,” Piner said. “Professional associations
and peers offer you a lifelong knowledge resource if you latch on to them.”
“Especially for people working in small offices, a professional network gives a broader sense of what registrars can do and how they do it,” Abbott added.
4. Seek targeted professional development early and often. Registrar 101 offers essential information to anyone working in the registrar’s office, and both current and new staff.
“Fortunately, REG-101 is available to registrars, assistant registrars, associate registrars, and other registrar's office staff who are looking to learn more about or progressing within the profession,” Weber said. “In fact, I wish
I’d taken it sooner. I think I could have benefited from having taken it earlier than one year into my assistant registrar position.”
About REG 101
“It’s almost a survey course,” Weber said. “You get a lot of information about the profession — both broad knowledge of the role and the specifics of how to do a particular part of the job. And you also realize you’re
not alone — there are other schools like yours, with registrar’s offices doing the same thing you are.”
All of the above topics, and more, will be explored in the online course, which will be held three more times this year. Check out the schedule.