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Administrative Assisting Programs and Schools

Administrative assistants (also known as secretaries) handle office logistics, correspondence, and other clerical and organizational responsibilities within a company. Their duties typically include organizing and maintaining electronic records and files, replying to emails and phone calls, and operating office equipment such as fax machines and conference systems. Secretaries and administrative assistants work in a broad range of industries, including education, government, the private sector, medicine and law. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), secretarial and administrative assistant positions are expected to grow by 12 percent nationally between 2010 and 2020, a rate that is about as fast as the national average for all occupations.

Secretaries and administrative assistants play an important role in a company’s communications with both its employees and outside parties, such as other companies or potential customers. They are often essential to the logistics within a company, from planning business meetings to coordinating corporate events. Secretaries typically interact with many people, including fellow workers, visitors to an organization, and company clients.

The minimum level of education for secretaries and administrative assistants is generally a high school diploma, but individuals can also gain helpful office, grammar and computer skills through various programs available at vocational schools and community colleges. While certification is not required, it may be helpful in certain fields of secretarial work, such as in law and medicine, or for secretaries who would like to demonstrate their skills in specific administrative tools, such as Microsoft Office.

If interested in a career as an administrative assistant, the following questions are helpful to consider and investigate:

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What types of administrative assistant jobs exist?

Many different companies employ administrative assistants and secretaries to help them with organizational and office management duties. Types of administrative assistants include but are not limited to:

  • Medical Office Secretaries assist physicians and medical scientists with transcribing oral medical reports, recording and organizing medical history and other information, coordinating communications between medical personnel and patients, and keeping track of patient billing and insurance information. To learn more about medical office secretaries and their career path, read Careercolleges.com’s article on the subject.
  • Legal Secretaries write and organize legal documents and also prepare legal messages including summonses, subpoenas, complaints, responses and motions. They work under the direction of attorneys and/or paralegals, and assist these individuals with legal research such as reading through relevant legal journals and confirming citations in legal briefs.
  • Administrative Assistants in the Private Sector perform organizational and communications duties within a corporate office in order to help a company run smoothly.
  • School Secretaries handle the communications between teachers, parents, school administrators and students. They also organize administrative information and coordinate office logistics. School secretaries generally keep track of student information and also schedule principals’ meetings with parents, students and other school officials.
  • Executive Secretaries typically have larger and more complex administrative tasks and manage scheduling and communications for top executives.

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What subjects do secretary training programs cover?

Administrative assistant training programs are available at vocational schools, technical schools, community colleges and through some high school programs. They typically end in a certificate or diploma and familiarize students with such topics as office skills, professional writing and basic accounting. Subjects covered in these administrative assistant education programs may include the following:

  • Excel Spreadsheets—how to use Microsoft Excel to organize numerical data and keep accurate records. How to format an Excel worksheet, create informative charts and manage Excel workbooks.
  • Computer Applications—an overview of the basic computer applications that are important to the secretarial or administrative assistant role, including computer operating systems such as Windows or Mac OS.
  • Word Processing—how to use Microsoft Word to create and organize important administrative documents.
  • Business and Professional Writing—the forms and styles of written communication that are important to a business setting.Practice in proofreading and editing, task-oriented writing, and daily communication such as emails and letters.

In addition to general administrative assistant training programs, programs for specific training in such fields as medical administrative assisting and legal secretarial work also exist. Specialized courses for medical office assisting include medical transcription, medical laws and ethics, and medical terminology. Legal secretary training programs may include courses on the American court process and legal system, legal writing and terminology, and law office procedures and practices.

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What certifications can secretaries earn, and how might they be helpful?

While administrative assistant certification is not required for this profession, it may provide individuals with proof of their competency in essential skills, particularly in certain fields of secretarial work. Certification candidates must typically take an examination and/or fulfill certain educational and professional requirements. In general, the organizations providing these certifications and exams have eligibility guidelines, preparation instructions and practice materials on their website. For example, the International Association of Administrative Professionals offers the Certified Administrative Professional (CAP) certification, and outlines the prerequisites for its exam on its website. Certifications in certain software-related skills are also available. For example, the Microsoft Office Specialist certification can prove one’s competency in software like Microsoft Excel, Word, PowerPoint and Outlook, and requires candidates to pass an exam.

Certifications for secretaries and administrative assistants within specialized fields also exist. Legal secretaries may benefit from an Accredited Legal Secretary (ALS) certification from the legal professionals association NALS. Another legal secretary certification is the Certified Legal Secretary Specialist (CLSS) from Legal Secretaries International. For medical office secretaries, The National Healthcareer Association offers the Certified Medical Administrative Assistant (CMAA).

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What are the general responsibilities of an administrative assistant?

The typical responsibilities of administrative assistants and secretaries who do not work in a specialized field include but are not limited to:

  • Answer phone calls, answering callers’ questions, taking messages and transferring calls
  • Record, maintain and organize information in databases
  • Receive visitors to a company or organization and direct them to the right people or places
  • Create and manage paper or electronic files of company information, such as records of company correspondence
  • Manage scheduling and hosting of company events
  • Schedule, confirm and keep track of appointments for customers, clients or supervisors
  • Operate office equipment, including fax machines, phone and conference systems, printers and copiers

Although the core responsibilities of all administrative assistants and secretaries are generally consistent, variances exist depending on one’s industry and specific place of employment. For example, while secretaries at private corporations write and file documents related to company communications and transactions, legal secretaries create, submit and process legal documents such as motions, subpoenas and appeals, in addition to conducting legal research. And while general administrative assistants schedule appointments for customers and/or their fellow colleagues, medical office assistants schedule and confirm appointments specifically for patients and their health care providers, and complete health insurance and billing forms.

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What tools and technology do administrative assistants and secretaries use?

Administrative assistants across different fields typically use the following tools and technology:

  • Database software
  • Microsoft Excel and other spreadsheet software
  • Word processing software
  • Scanners, photocopiers, printers and other office equipment

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What is the typical job environment for an administrative assistant or secretary?

Secretaries and administrative assistants typically work in comfortable office spaces. They generally spend long hours sitting at a desk and computer in order to manage electronic communications, databases and recordkeeping. Some secretaries work from a home office, and are called virtual assistants. Hours for this profession are typically the standard 40-hour workweek, though secretaries and administrative assistants may be asked to work overtime for special company events or meetings.

Since they frequently interact with people outside of the company at which they work, secretaries and administrative assistants are often responsible for representing a company’s culture and values to the larger public. As secretaries and administrative assistants advance in their careers and gain more managerial responsibilities, their role becomes increasingly more important to the organization and image of a company.

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How can administrative assistants and secretaries advance their careers?

Administrative assistants typically advance their career through professional experience. Secretaries and administrative assistants who advance their skill set and take the initiative to gain a broader understanding of their company may be promoted to higher-level administrative positions such as executive assistant, executive secretary, office manager or clerical supervisor. Advancement paths may also depend on one’s field within administrative assisting or secretarial work. For example, legal secretaries may advance to become paralegals through additional education, training and/or professional experience, while medical office assistants may advance to become a medical office manager.

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What professional associations are available for administrative assistants to join?

Professional administrative assistant associations can provide individuals with numerous benefits, typically including a community of fellow professionals, discounts for certain services and merchandise, training sessions and networking events. For example, The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP) is a non-profit association that supports office professionals through training workshops, merchandise discounts, certification opportunities, networking events and other services.

Associations are also available for secretaries in specialized fields. NALS is a professional legal association that provides legal secretaries with continuing education options, networking and speaker events, access to certain publications, opportunities to earn certifications, and discounts on certain products and services, while The Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals (AHAP) offers medical office assistants benefits such as job search tools, networking opportunities, access to print and online publications, and webinars.

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What is the outlook for secretary and administrative assistant jobs?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov), overall employment of secretaries and administrative assistants in the U.S. is expected to grow 12 percent nationwide between 2010 and 2020, a rate that is about as fast as the national average for all occupations. However, employment growth rates vary widely across specialties. For example, medical administrative assistants are expected to see a 41 percent increase in employment growth from 2010 to 2020 according to bls.gov, while the projected employment growth for legal secretaries is expected to be 4 percent within this same time frame. Below is a chart of the expected growth rates of the main specialties within administrative assisting:

Expected National Growth From 2010 to 2020

Medical Secretaries


Executive Administrative Assistants and Secretaries


Administrative Assistants and Secretaries excluding medical, legal, and executive positions


Legal Secretaries


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

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What is the median administrative assistant salary?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) the median annual wages for secretary and administrative assistants across various specialties in the U.S. were the following as of May 2011:

Median National Annual Wage in 2011

Medical Secretaries


Executive Administrative Assistants and Secretaries


Administrative Assistants and Secretaries excluding medical, legal, and executive positions


Legal Secretaries


Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2012

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Related Careers:

  • Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks typically create and maintain financial records for companies. They write up an organization’s transactions, update financial statements and check the accuracy of financial records.
  • Court Reporters generally write verbatim records of court events and proceedings, as well as certain public speaking events. Court reporters may also create television captioning for public events.
  • General Office Clerks typically fulfill various administrative duties, including but not limited to typing up documents, answering phone calls and filing papers.
  • Information Clerks typically help companies collect and organize various forms of data, and also respond to customer inquiries and concerns.
  • Medical Records and Health Information Technicians input, organize and maintain medical information in electronic and paper-based systems.
  • Receptionists perform administrative duties for companies, including answering phone calls, receiving visitors, and supplying customers and clients with relevant information.
  • Paralegals assist lawyers in a legal office by conducting research for cases, writing and organizing documents, and handling various legal communications.

Sources and Additional Information:

"http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Office-and-Administrative-Support/Secretaries-and-administrative-assistants.htm" | Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, OOH (2012-2013 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"http://www.iaap-hq.org/" | The International Association of Administrative Professionals (IAAP)
"http://www.ahcap.org/" | Association for Healthcare Administrative Professionals
"http://www.nhanow.com/home.aspx" | National Healthcareer Association
"http://www.legalsecretaries.org/" | Legal Secretaries International, Inc.
"http://www.microsoft.com/learning/en/us/office-certification.aspx" | Microsoft Office Certifications
"http://www.nals.org/" | NALS Online
"http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-6014.00" | ONet Online: Secretaries and Administrative Assistants
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436013.htm" | Medical Secretaries, OES (May 2011), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436014.htm" | Secretaries and Administrative Assistants, Except Legal, Medical, and Executive, OES (May 2011), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436011.htm" | Executive Secretaries and Executive Administrative Assistants, OES (May 2011), Bureau of Labor Statistics
"http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes436012.htm" | Legal Secretaries, OES (May 2011), Bureau of Labor Statistics

Kaitlin is a content writer and editor for CareerColleges.com and CityTownInfo.com. She received her Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English Literature, and aspires to be a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction. She enjoys tutoring students in writing and social dancing on the weekends.