Bursar Job Description
Bursars manage financial operations for faculty, student, and staff accounts at colleges or other schools. They also oversee financial aid resources and tuition and fee structures. This is a skilled position that requires a bachelor’s degree and previous experience in the financial industry. Bursars work in traditional office settings with a desk and computer at a university or other type of school. This is a full-time position that works during standard business hours. Bursars report directly to financial directors or other executive-level university staff.
Bursar Duties and Responsibilities
No two bursars are exactly alike, as specific skills vary from employer to employer. However, after analyzing online job postings, we identified several core duties and responsibilities common to the job:
Oversee Accounts Receivable Functions
Bursars are responsible for overseeing and directing all general accounts receivable functions. This includes reporting on student accounts, managing meal and housing plans, and monitoring student billings.
Counsel Students in Financial Matters
Students who have financial problems or general financial aid questions can schedule an appointment with the bursar, who discusses financial matters with students as they pertain to tuition and other university costs. Bursars counsel students who can’t pay tuition through traditional means and provide them financial aid options.
Develop and Distribute Informational Publications
Bursars are responsible for developing and distributing information publications to students and their parents about current financial aid options. These publications act as educational materials to guide students in matters of tuition and financial aid.
Create and Implement Collections Processes
Sometimes students can’t pay their tuition and other expense on time, and bursars are responsible for creating and implementing appropriate collections processes. These plans often include hardship waivers and installment plans.
A bursar rarely works alone; some even manage a team of staff. Their team often includes student employees. Overseeing a team includes managing conflict and helping student employees build appropriate professional skills they can apply after graduation.
Bursar Skills and Qualifications
Bursars are knowledgeable in the world of finances and financial aid. They’re empathetic and know how to deliver good and bad news in the most sensitive way, especially to students who are trying to pay for their education. Employers typically require bursars to have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration, or another related field. Employers also prefer to hire candidates with one to three years of experience in a bursar’s office. Successful bursars also possess and can demonstrate the following skills and qualifications:
- Customer service – bursars who have previous customer service experience are often highly successful. Customer service experience gives a bursar the skills they need to work directly with students and parents
- Knowledge of current financial aid practices – financial aid practices tend to change and evolve, even between different universities. Bursars are knowledgeable about current financial aid practices and know how they affect students and overall policies
- Project management – since bursars often need to implement changes and new programs, they possess project management skills. They know how to take an idea from conception to implementation
- Empathy – tuition and financial aid can be a difficult subject, especially for students with little to no income. Bursars are empathetic and know how to listen in order to get to the root of a student’s financial problem
- Interpersonal communication skills – bursars are skilled communicators, especially through written means. They can convey their ideas clearly and effectively to a variety of different audiences that range from students to faculty to parents
Tools of the Trade
Bursars often use the following tools on a daily basis:
- School accounting software (Cashnet, School Diary, Tuition Express)
- Microsoft Office (especially Word and Excel)
Bursar Education and Training
Most employers require bursars to have at least a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business administration, or a related field. A master’s degree in these fields also helps bursars pursue greater roles within a university’s financial organization.
Bursars often undergo some kind of on-the-job training when they’re first hired. This basic training allows new bursars the opportunity to learn their employer’s school accounting system and familiarize themselves with current financial aid practices.
Bursar Salary and Outlook
According to PayScale, bursars make an average yearly salary of around $53,000. This salary fluctuates depending on experience, whether the university is private or public, and location. Top-earning bursars make around $80,000 per year, while low-earning bursars make around $40,000 per year. Bursars typically receive full benefit packages that include paid time off, health insurance, and more. They also often have the unique opportunity to receive a discount on university tuition for themselves and their children.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that bursars – listed under the accountants and auditors category – can expect 10 percent job growth over the next decade.
Read some of these helpful resources to learn more about this career:
Federal Student Aid – to learn more about the current state of affairs in the financial aid world, and to learn what students do to get financial aid, you can look at the FAFSA website. This website is where students go to apply for federal student aid, and bursars must be familiar with it to help students and parents use it
Accounting Coach Blog – Accounting Coach is a popular website that helps accountants stay current on their accounting knowledge. Its blog is also incredibly helpful for accountants across all industries. It’s updated regularly and provides an easy way to find specific topics through a comprehensive table of contents
The Work of the Bursar: A Jack of All Trades? – this book contains essays from 17 different writers and takes a deep dive into the world of bursars. The essays touch on topics like how bursars can be leaders in a time when universities are constantly changing. This book is great for bursars who want to see what others are doing in the field and how they can become more of a leader
Accounting Made Simple – with over 280 five-star reviews, this book is a helpful resource for accountants and bursars. It’s a relatively short read – at less than 100 pages – but it can help you understand accounting principles in a quick and efficient manner. It covers topics like reading and preparing financial statements and calculating financial ratios