School Principal: Educational Requirements to Become a Principal

Oct 03, 2019

How to Become a Principal

Principals may oversee the daily operations of elementary, middle, or high schools and help supervise students and staff. To become a principal, students typically need formal education, work experience, and professional licensure. Learn more about each of the requirements to become a principal of a school here.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Principal?

Principal education requirements usually consist of a master's degree. Most commonly, this master's degree is in an area of education administration or educational leadership. These degree programs typically award a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Education (MEd) degree and are often available in online formats. Some of these programs can be completed in as little as 12 months.

Master's degree programs in educational leadership often have a principal licensure track or have the license embedded in their coursework. Some programs may require practicum experiences for hands-on learning and/or a capstone experience. Students in these programs may take courses in subjects such as:

  • Leadership
  • Ethics/legal issues
  • Community relations/leadership
  • School operations
  • School budgeting
  • Assessment
  • Data literacy

Are There Other Principal Qualifications?

Other qualifications for principals include having a certain number of years of teaching experience and holding a school administrator license. Typically, teaching experience needs to occur before completing a master's degree, while the license can be obtained during or after a master's program. Find out more about these additional requirements below.

Teaching Experience

Principals are usually required to have multiple years of teaching experience before becoming a principal. This means working as a teacher in an elementary, middle, or high school classroom for several years.

Requirements for becoming a teacher vary by state. For example, aspiring teachers in Ohio take different state licensure exams than aspiring teachers in Illinois. In general, teachers need to hold a bachelor's degree, complete a student-teacher program, and obtain their state teaching license/certification.


As mentioned, many principals need to have a school administrator license to teach in public schools. Those in private schools may not have the same licensure requirements. School administrator licensure requirements vary by state, but most commonly require applicants to have their master's degree and pass an exam. Applicants are also likely to need to submit to a background check. Some states may provide alternative routes to licensure for those without a master's degree in education.

Principal Career Overview

Degree Required Master's degree
Other Requirements Teaching experience, licensure
Annual Median Salary (2018)* $95,310 (for elementary, middle, and high school principals)
Estimated Job Growth (2018-2028)* 4% (for elementary, middle, and high school principals)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Principals usually work full-time during the normal school day, but may also attend events or meet with parents and other community members during evenings or weekends. Unlike teachers, these professionals do not usually get summers off and work year-round.

Principals are responsible for overseeing the activities of students and teachers and working to create a safe learning environment for everyone. They also help coordinate the curriculum and manage the school budget. Other job duties may include, but are not limited to:

  • Evaluating teachers
  • Creating class schedules
  • Developing training programs for teachers
  • Disciplining students
  • Implementing security standards for the school
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