How to become a school principal
Interested in becoming a school principal? From training teachers to having heart-to-heart talks with students, principals are the people of leadership who keep schools running smoothly on a daily basis. Being the principal of a school is not a 9-to-3 job with summers off, however. These professionals work long hours, weekends and during the summer. They may be expected to keep pace with the changing nature of education in our country through taking continuing education courses, attending conventions and more.
Some school districts are facing budgetary troubles, but even with this fact the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that there will be job growth for school principals, around the same rate as the average for all national occupations. Elementary, middle and high school principals are expected to see about 8 percent growth nationally through 2026.
Here's what you should know in your quest to become a school principal, including what degree could be useful, administrator or teacher job growth outlook, what educational leadership entails, and more. When you're done, consider checking out the best schools for educational leadership, too.
What are some of the responsibilities of a school principal?
Principals might have varying job responsibilities depending on whether they work in an elementary, middle or high school, but some tasks are part of the job regardless of the education level. These educational leadership tasks might include:
- Recruit, train and hire staff and administrators
- Observe teaching methods and curriculum materials
- Meet with students' parents to discuss the behavioral problems of particular students
- Help with establishing personal development opportunities for teachers in the school
- Interact with the student body of their school
- Set school standards and develop methods to achieve them, including helping shape curriculum in the classroom
What are the educational requirements for becoming a principal?
A degree is involved, of course. Initially, the path to becoming a school principal can be very similar to becoming a teacher. Some of the first steps might include:
Earning a bachelor's degree in the subject you wish to teach or earning a bachelor's degree in education or school counseling; these teaching-friendly degree programs are often offered as both traditional and online degrees
- Earning a teaching certificate
- Completing student teaching hours under the supervision of a master teacher
- Earning a teaching license and pass state exams
- Gaining 1-5 years of teaching experience as an educator
At that point, teachers who want to become principals might pursue the following educational steps geared toward more leadership responsibilities:
- Earn a master's degree in education, education leadership, educational administration or other master's level instructional educational field
- Complete a school administrator licensing program
These requirements and degree programs may vary by state. Please consult your state board of education for specific information or visit Teach.org, the Department of Education's website for educators and more info on master's degrees or credentials that can help your career.
How much can school principals make?
Naturally, this depends on where you accrue your teaching experience, whether in a private or public school classroom or work environment. The BLS reports that the annual mean wage for school principals was $97,440 in 2017 and this can vary across educational administrations across your state.
The following five states had the highest annual mean wage in 2017, as reported by the BLS:
- Connecticut: $128,690
- New Jersey: $128,570
- New York: $124,210
- California: $118,810
- Washington: $112,150
For a quick reference guide and to find out more about working in the education field, from school administrators in private schools to charter and other public schools, check out the infographic below.
- Summary report for Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School, O*Net OnLine,
- Occupational Employment and Wages: Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
- Elementary, Middle and High School Principals, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,