Principal Certification and Certificate Program Overviews

Students wishing to pursue a career as a principal can pursue a master's degree in educational administration or educational leadership, or earn a post-master's certificate. Certification is required for this profession, and in some cases, continuing education is also necessary.

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, both of which take approximately two years to complete. In these programs, students generally learn about leadership theories, education law, staff management practices and educational technology. Students might also have the opportunity to complete an internship at an elementary, middle or high school. In some cases, prospective students might need to hold a current teacher's license in order to enroll.

  • Program Levels : Master's degree, post-master's certificate.
  • Educational Administration Program Fields: Educational administration, educational leadership.
  • Prerequisites: A bachelor's degree is required for a master's degree; a master's degree is required for a post-master's certificate.
  • Online Availability: These programs are commonly available online.
  • Program Length: A master's in educational administration takes 36-48 credit hours; a master's in educational administration takes 39-45 credit hours; a post-master's certificate takes 32-36 credit hours.

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.

In addition to classes, most degree programs require a thesis or research project and many require an internship. Common course topics students may encounter include:

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

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 must have a bachelor's degree and usually need to have previous teaching experience to be considered for admission.

Program coursework generally covers 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.

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

Programs cover educational theory, leadership and administrative topics. Some programs also include an internship. Topics of study include:

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

Popular Career Options

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

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Job growth for principals is expected to increase 6%, which is a slower than average rate, during the period from 2012 to 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics ( Job prospects should still be fair 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 $78,778 as of July 2015. Middle school principals earned $85,751, and high school principals earned $85,906 at that time.

Continuing Education Information

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.

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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