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How Do I Become a University Chancellor?

Becoming a University Chancellor requires a blend of academic prowess, leadership skills, and administrative acumen. Typically, you'll need a doctoral degree, extensive experience in academia, and a proven track record in leadership roles. Are you ready to embark on this challenging yet rewarding career path?
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

University chancellors act as chief executives of an individual campus or university system and need a broad set of skills in addition to experience in the educational field. The path to this career can be highly variable, as the selection process is not consistent between educational institutions and neither are the requirements for the job. Generally, a person who wants to become a university chancellor should plan on getting a PhD in education or a related field, along with acquiring business skills, possibly through a master's in business administration (MBA) program.

Universities select chancellors in a number of ways. Some hold elections where members of a board or organization decide who should become a university chancellor. Candidates for the election may nominate themselves and usually need to maintain campaigns to win votes. Other universities use a search and hiring committee to identify candidates and hire them, or may openly advertise the position and select from among the applicants.

Businessman with a briefcase
Businessman with a briefcase

As a chief executive officer, the university chancellor needs business and fund-raising skills. While day-to-day operations are the responsibility of other university officers, a person who wants to become a university chancellor does need to know how to read and formulate budgets and financial reports. He also needs experience in the education field; many chancellors are former professors, while others may have more administrative experience through other positions in the chancellor's office.

Personal integrity and a good record in the community can also be important. A person who wants to become a university chancellor will be the public face of the university in interactions with the community. Public outreach can include everything from resolving conflicts between town and gown to working on community education programs. Universities tend to prefer candidates with excellent recommendations and a record of community service and active involvement in their communities. A very well qualified candidate may be a poor choice if she appears reclusive or brusque, so it is important to cultivate people skills.

A candidate who wants to become a university chancellor may want to consider jobs not just in education, but also in the business world. Some universities hire from outside the educational community to get executives with broader perspectives and experiences. Some are former chief executive officers for large corporations who may seek or be offered chancellorships in association with their interest in education and community service. For people who are not working in education, it can be advisable to keep track of events in college and university systems through conferences, magazines, and other publications.

How Much Does a University Chancellor Make?

Depending on the location and status of the university, the salary of a chancellor can range anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000. While the spectrum spans quite the stretch, the average compensation for chancellors in the United States falls somewhere around $285,000.

Mind the Gaps 

If you think that no salary range could have the potential for a $400,000 gap, think again. The duties and prestige of chancellors depend significantly on the university, its traditions, and the funding available. Consider chancellors as synonymous with the CEO of a business, despite a difference in decision-making; it makes sense that the salary of a CEO would vary tremendously between a start-up and an established institution. The way that chancellor pay fluctuates is similar.

The salary of a chancellor depends not only on the university's location in the United States. University chancellors across the globe have dips in pay grades and ranges, in addition to gaps in monikers and duties. Depending on the organizational system in place at a particular university, the chancellor may also be referred to as:

  • Principal
  • Head dean 
  • Rector 
  • Vice-chancellor 
  • Provost 
  • Principle magister

What Do University Chancellors Do? 

Continue to think about university chancellors like the CEOs, or chief executive officers, of the university world.


The only difference is that the chancellor typically runs for election rather than creating the business or being recruited for hiring and onboarding. To determine the position of the chancellors, a board of trustees will evaluate the credentials of the people running and make a choice that best suits the needs and the vision of the university.

To have the best chance at an appointment, candidates for chancellor often run on community-backed platforms. Local businesses and organizations support their election. However, pledges of support aren’t quite enough. The board that elects the chancellor looks for a specific set of credentials to satisfy the basic requirements necessary for overseeing the university.

In addition to a degree, because it is higher education, ten or more years of advanced management are generally required for the role. Detailed experiences include but are not limited to:

  • Board collaboration and direction 
  • Fiscal and budgetary planning 
  • Administration governance 
  • Program initiation and follow-through
  • Donor drives and fundraising growth 
  • Public relations and press contacts 
  • Emergency operations and protocols 

Once elected, the chancellor technically answers to the board. However, the board relinquishes the ultimate power to the chancellor in day-to-day decision-making and is only called upon for significant adjustments or policy changes. The board can also remove the chancellor should they decide duties are not being fulfilled as appropriate for the university's future.


For the most part, chancellors act as either omnipotent visionaries and figureheads or CEOs. They oversee what is being implemented at the university campus, the progress in action, and the needs for the future. However, just like the salaries between chancellors, their duties will also vary.

Confusing Titles 

The naming crossover is often confusing for people who adhere to a traditional corporate hierarchy. In some instances, chancellors answer to the university's president if there is a more extensive interconnected university system. The president, in these cases, would act more like a CEO of the more comprehensive design and the chancellor than like the president of the company.

General Commitments

In other instances, the university chancellor controls the entire university system and makes the majority of the significant decisions. It is this role that is most like a CEO. The chancellor in this position makes all critical decisions, consults with the budgetary team about finances, talks with marketing about the presentation, and often has round tables with student panels, among other day-to-day engagements. Generally, the chancellor will report back to the board on matters discussed with the vice-chancellor and the university president.

Who Appoints the Vice-Chancellor of University?

The vice-chancellor’s role is typically extended on offer alone. While many candidates complete coursework and networking in hopes of becoming vice-chancellor, there is no election. Several candidates will be interviewed when a position comes available, and the strongest of the few will take on the role.

In many cases, the vice-chancellor focuses more on the faculty aspect of the university. To be considered, unlike the chancellor, the most advanced degree in their field of specialization is required. While chancellor can sometimes get away with a master's degree alone, a vice-chancellor requires a Ph.D. A tenured professor almost always fills the vice chancellor's role. The dynamic between an administrative background and an academic background helps balance the pragmatic oversight of successful universities.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments


I have a PhD degree in Earth Science, and doing research at a University. However, one of my relatives from overseas wants me to take in charge of building a medical-related college in Australia.

Where should I start? Should I go get another PHD of education and MBA according this Article?

Thanks in advance.

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