Principal Certification and Certificate Program Overviews

Read about graduate-level studies for aspiring school principals. Learn about degrees and certificates awarded and courses taken in each type of program as well as continuing education options. Get detailed information about licensure and certification in this field.

Essential Information

Principals provide leadership and overall management of elementary and secondary schools. To become a certified or licensed principal, individuals must complete a graduate-level program. Principals usually complete a master's degree or a post-master's certificate program in educational administration or educational leadership. In these programs, students generally learn about leadership theories, education law, staff management practices and educational technology. Students might also have the opportunity to serve in an internship at an elementary, middle or high school. Some programs might offer studies online. In some cases, prospective students might need to hold a current teacher's license in order to enroll.

Master's Degree Programs in Educational Administration

Master's degree programs in educational administration prepare students for principal certification. Students learn the management skills necessary for administrative positions in public and private schools, school districts and other educational organizations. Graduate programs in educational administration require a bachelor's degree. Some programs require a teacher's license and previous teaching experience.

Program Coursework

Degree program requirements range from 36-48 credit hours of coursework. Most require a thesis or research project and many require an internship.

  • Technology in education
  • Curriculum development
  • Personnel management
  • Education law
  • Leadership development

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Job growth for principals is expected to be average during the period from 2010-2020, according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics ( Job prospects should be good due to expected increases in student enrollment at schools during this same time period, the BLS reports. According to, school principals at the elementary level earned median salaries of $76,506 as of October 2013. Middle school principals earned $84,179, and high school principals earned $89,223.

Licensing, Certification and Continuing Education

Most states require principals to have at least some graduate-level training and to pass a licensing exam. Some states require continuing education in order to maintain licensure. As of 2009, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, the most recognized organization for teacher certification, was in the process of developing professional certification programs for school principals.

Master's Degree Programs in Educational Leadership

Master's degree programs in educational leadership are similar to programs in administration in that they provide the necessary training to become licensed principals. Educational leadership programs may take a broader focus, preparing students for other leadership positions beyond school administration. Students are required to hold a bachelor's degree and usually need to have previous teaching experience.

Program Coursework

Programs require between 39 and 45 hours of coursework in educational and leadership theory. Topics might include:

  • School law
  • School and community relations
  • Research in education
  • Education technology
  • Program evaluation

Post-Master's Certificate Programs in Educational Leadership and Administration

Post-master's certificate programs are designed for individuals who already hold a master's degree and are seeking licensure as educational administrators or principals. Some programs are developed for educators with a current teaching license. Other programs are aimed at individuals in other fields, such as business administration, who wish to enter into the educational administration profession.

Educational Prerequisites

Post-master's programs, as the name suggests, require a master's degree. Some programs require a current teaching license.

Program Coursework

Programs require between 32 and 36 credit hours of coursework covering educational theory, leadership and administrative topics. Some programs include an internship. Topics of study include:

  • Educational leadership theories
  • Education law
  • School districts
  • Budget planning
  • Teacher and staff evaluation

Popular Career Choices

In addition to administration positions within schools, graduates of educational leadership programs are prepared for a variety of leadership positions working on education-related concerns outside of schools. Some career choices both within and outside of schools include:

  • Principal
  • Assistant principal
  • District administrator
  • Academic department chair
  • Lead teacher
  • Curriculum coordinator
  • Education advocate
  • Educational policy specialist
  • Corporate trainer

Continuing Education

Professional organizations, such as the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals, provide opportunities for professional development and continuing education. Principals can enroll in classes or attend education conferences.

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