School Principal: Educational Requirements to Become a Principal

School principals must have significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

School principals are required to have a bachelor's and master's degree in education, as well as a teaching license and teaching experience. A principal license may be typically required.

Essential Information

School principals, sometimes referred to as education administrators, are the decision-makers who oversee school policies, curricula and faculty. Principals must often have an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science or Doctor of Education in Educational Administration. They also usually have teaching experience. Principals may also be required to hold state-issued licenses in teaching and education administration. An internship is also sometimes necessary.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in education and minimum of master's degree in education administration generally required
Other Requirements Teaching experience, internship, teaching license and principal license often required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6%
Median Salary (2015)* $90,410 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Educational Requirements for a School Principal

Bachelor's Degree in Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most principals enter the profession after obtaining sufficient experience as a teacher ( While private and public schools vary on specific requirements for teachers, most mandate that applicants earn at least a bachelor's degree. Students considering teaching preschool through middle school could matriculate to a bachelor's degree program in education. Students preferring to teach high school frequently need to major in the subject they would like to teach and take additional education classes.

Teacher Education Program

Regardless of their chosen path, students must complete a teacher education program that includes core classes in child development, psychology and behavior. Advanced classes focus on curricula development and teaching methods. Students may have the option of taking supplemental training that discusses teaching children with special needs or guidance for gifted students. Teacher training can be found as postbaccalaureate certificate programs or as part of bachelor's or master's degree programs.

Teaching Experience

As part of a teacher educational program, students are required to teach or assist a licensed teacher for a specific number of weeks or classroom hours. These opportunities provide students with real experience directing a class, preparing assignments and managing students. After completing academic and experience requirements mandated by the state, graduates can qualify to test for a teaching license.

Graduate Degree in Educational Administration

Principals at private schools aren't required to have an advanced degree; however, principals in the public school system typically must hold at least a master's degree in education administration or a related field. Students can earn a master's degree in 2-3 years or a doctoral degree in 4-5 years. Courses cover topics in school finance, educational policy, leadership and legal issues. Class discussions often delve into concepts ranging from school culture to motivation theory. Electives can include instruction on implementing cross-cultural communication programs or helping students develop critical thinking skills.

Principal Internship

Most graduate degree programs require students to complete a principal internship, performing administrative duties and assisting principals and school staff. During an internship, aspiring principals gain insights into a number of topics, such as dealing with state requirements and handling student-parent meetings. Internships generally require the completion of a predetermined number of hours and may last several semesters. Before becoming a principal, graduates might need to obtain a state-issued school administrator license or endorsement.

Salary and Career Outlook for a School Principal

In May 2015, the BLS noted that the median annual salary of education administrators (principals) in elementary and secondary schools was $90,410. However, earnings in the field can vary greatly depending on location. For example, BLS data shows that those working in New Jersey made an average of $124,560 in 2015, while principals in West Virginia earned, on average, $67,890. Employment of school principals is expected to increase 6% from 2014-2024, based on BLS reports, which is the average for all occupations.

Job growth for principals is expected to be stable through 2024. Applicants must complete a master's degree in education, have a teacher's license and have teaching experience. They may also need to have a principal's license before they can be employed as a principal. Salaries vary based on location.

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