Daniel O’Driscoll
University Registrar
Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI

Life of A Registrar

My family and friends are fully aware that I work at a University.  Yet, people always assume that I am a professor and that I get spring break and the summers off.  I can’t blame them for not understanding the profession I am passionately committed to and have chosen as my life’s work.  How could I when I myself didn’t know what a Registrar was until I started working in higher education.  When students in elementary school are asked what they want to be when they grow up, I doubt very much say they want to be the ‘official custodian of academic records at an institution of higher education.’  Neither did I, but here I am.

When I graduated with a degree in business from college, I took a job as an accountant for a pharmaceutical company.  After a year of helping a public company earn a significant profit, I decided I needed a career change and was determined to secure a position that involved helping people.

I took a $20,000 pay cut and got my first position as a staff assistant in a Financial Aid Office.  After six months in the position, I moved to a higher level (and higher paying) position in the Registrar’s Office at the same institution.  Within fifteen years of that first job, four institutional moves, a marriage and a child, I am now the Registrar of a university and have quadrupled that starting salary. I couldn’t be happier.

As I moved up, I learned a great deal about how a university operates and the complexities of being a Registrar.  I am often amazed by the breadth and the complications of some of the situations I must navigate.   While it is my primary and legal duty to be the official custodian of student records and the protector of student data, the job is much more. I may need to walk a student in crisis over to the Counseling Center one day and appear before the faculty union to respond to an academic grievance the next.

As a department manager, I supervise a staff, make sure they are providing the correct information and excellent customer service on the telephone, electronically or in person to those who contact our office.   I negotiate contracts with third party vendors, meet with the Controller’s Office to create (and sometimes reduce) budgets and work with Human Resources to address staff concerns.

Sometimes, I can be found serving pancakes to exhausted students right before finals at Midnight Breakfast or checking student ID cards as they enter the annual spring concert. This is when I know that I am in the right industry, when I see students’ faces smile and recognize me as the person who helped them figure out their fall schedule, or told them what courses they still need to graduate.

My staff play a similar role assisting students.  We all work the front desk advising students on a wide range of issues. One day it might be explaining how study abroad works, while another staff member is explaining to a senior how to get a transcript to apply to graduate school.  Sometimes we work with the admissions counselors to make sure transfer student credits are awarded.  During peak periods such as pre-registration, add/drop and commencement week, we assist hundreds of students a day.

The role of a Registrar has evolved over the last decade and continues to evolve as the landscape of higher education changes.  While the Registrar is responsible for overseeing processes such as registration, grading, degree conferral, course scheduling, enrollment reporting, transfer credit evaluations, curriculum management, and creating the academic calendar, I also play an integral role in the University’s retention efforts, assist in the strategic planning process and provide support to institutional research projects and enrollment management initiatives.

One of my most important roles is being a change agent.  I am often tasked with having to find new and creative ways to get the work done.  This involves having to understand systems and technology, and knowing how to get buy-in from faculty. I am expected to implement these changes accurately, on time and often under budget. At the same time. I am mentoring students who are on academic probation and resolving classroom scheduling issues.  A registrar frequently attends a lot of meetings- faculty senate, curriculum committee, and academic deans council.

A great deal of a registrar’s job is spent ‘putting out fires’.  Whether it is dealing with an angry parent, speaking with an upset student, trying to correct a system issue or having to change a process to conform to a new federal regulation, a registrar’s job is multifaceted. One thing is true, no semester is ever the same, and while everyone isn’t always happy with the decisions made by my office, it is a great career and I am honored to be a Registrar.

For more information on the registrar profession:

American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)


Salary: The average total compensation for the job of Registrar in the United States ranges from $67,724 to $101,555 with the average starting salary of $82,430.