A History Degree and a Career in Registrar Work: an Unexpected Match

No kid wants to be a Registrar when they grow up. I didn’t. I suppose that is because I didn’t even know what a Registrar was until I was in college. I suspect the case to be the same for many others. And even then, the Registrar was just the office who coordinated schedules and processed transcripts, right? Well yes, and much more. I’ll get to that later.

In the 10th grade, I had the most wonderful AP European history teacher. I fell in love with history. I just knew I wanted to be like that teacher I had in high school. I had every intention of molding the minds of high-schoolers with analysis of primary source documents and lively discussion over my favorite historical periods. Even today, I’m drawn to articles on European history or historical fiction novels, and don’t even get me started on following the British Royal family on Instagram.

My career at Emmanuel started as an undergrad as a history and secondary education major. The college history classroom was one of my favorite places and I wanted to recreate that experience for grades 9-12 and hoped to one day be a professor myself. My love of history only deepened at Emmanuel.

I fell into the world of higher ed when I realized my chosen career of history teacher, after 4 years of study at Emmanuel and one year of teaching post-graduation, was not for me. An email from a former professor asking if I needed textbooks, prompted a confession that I wouldn’t be teaching the next year and I sought advice as to what to do with my history degree. And so, I ended up back at Emmanuel in the Office of the Registrar as a Registrar Services Representative. Today, eleven years later, I am the Registrar at Emmanuel College. I’ve found my career. While probably not initially apparent, a degree in history gave me the skills I needed to advance and succeed within the Registrar’s Office.

The Registrar, as explained by Kimra Schipporeit, is a historical position in and of itself, dating back to at least 1446 in Oxford, England. (12) Of course we facilitate registration and process transcripts and provide enrollment verifications to defer your student loans and get discounts on car insurance, but we also provide historical data and enrollment information to departments to inform course offerings, demand for new programming or other decision making on campus, maintain and update the student academic record including grades, major declarations, academic exceptions, build the academic curricula into the student information system, review degree requirements and clear students for graduation, evaluate transfer credit, enforce academic policy and we actually have a big role in the commencement ceremony!

Registrars must be detailed oriented. We are the “custodian of the student academic record” and maintain historical records of transcripts (even going back to our first class starting in 1919!), college policy, curriculum adjustments, academic exceptions, graduation records, and ensure students are on track for graduation. We prepare meticulous lists for various departments on campus for honor societies, course offerings and provide information for federally mandated reporting. Details and accuracy matter. If historians can be stereotyped for obsessing over details, I think we can lump registrars into that category too. Maybe with the exception of the library, we are the academic historians of the college.

Registrars know the details…but also understand the big picture. The Registrar’s Office is, I would argue, an unsung hero in higher ed. We are the hub of the College, the “heart” if you will, according to, University Registrar Emeritus Dennis L. Geyer. (27) We are one of the few departments whose day to day responsibilities involve working intimately with Academic Affairs and Faculty, Academic Advising, Admissions, Residence Life, Student Financial Services, Study Abroad and International Programs and Student Affairs. Because of these relationships, registrars need to be able to view both the macro and the micro..and how they intersect and impact one another. Being so connected, we are able to anticipate how actions, policies, or procedures impact other stakeholders and factor this into our own practice or decision making, when others who do not have connections may not be able to make these same assessments. A degree in history helps you understand interconnectivity and knowing what and how the details executed impact the big picture.

Registrars are research minded. In our efforts to improve our own efficiencies and experiences for students or assist the College in decision-making, the Registrar’s Office is often tasked with researching policies and practices at other institutions. The work we do helps to inform policies and procedures that impact curricula or the student experience. The skills one develops in writing history papers and researching secondary sources, primary source documents, and peer reviewed journals, are useful in many professions, including mine.
Registrars need to be excellent communicators. We communicate with many departments on campus, including faculty, as well as with students and often their families. My preparation as a history major taught me to write comprehensively, anticipate future questions, and use data and evidence to support my position. In writing this way, a registrar can provide the College with information they need for decision making, or for a student to clearly understand college policy and requirements needed to graduate on time, or the rationale for developing a new policy or process on campus. Often I need to write diplomatically, explaining policy or process, and in a such a way as to temper any feelings of dissatisfaction a student may have had when they first approach us. Words (and the way they are communicated and supported) matter.

In 2014, I earned my Master of Science in Management from Emmanuel College (see how great this place is, I can’t leave!). While I would have loved to have received a graduate degree in history, I took advantage of the options available to me at Emmanuel, and in an area that I was also starting to gain a passion- management and process improvement. Surprisingly, I found that the skills that I had acquired earning my undergraduate history degree, prepared me for graduate school and I think set me apart from some of my peers with other backgrounds. My research skills, ability to properly cite sources, and to understand the cause and effect, were easily transferable in defending positions I had taken for projects on process improvement, leading teams, organizational development and strategic planning and management. The skills then that I acquired in graduate school directly impacted my professional advancement within the College.

I think it’s easy for someone who doesn’t love history to ask what you are going to do with a history degree…especially if you are unsure if you want to be a historian, or a teacher, or go to law school. But studying history gives you so much. I may not be discussing the Renaissance with 14 year olds or grading 5 paragraph essays, but I put my history skills I learned here at Emmanuel to use every day, while I wait for the next “Maggie Hope” historical WWII spy fiction novel to drop in February 2020, and still get to do some of the things I loved about teaching without actually teaching-but that might be a different post for the Education Department…

Works Cited:
Geyer, Dennis. “Managing the Registrar’s Office.” Registrar’s Basic Guide, by American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. 2018. pp. 27-32.
Schipporeit, Kimra. “The Role of the Registrar.” Registrar’s Basic Guide, by American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. 2018. pp. 3-8.