Earn a Principal License: Qualifications and Requirements

Sep 14, 2019

An education administration license is typically required as a credential for principals. Get some quick facts about the education and experience necessary to qualify for a principal job.

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Earning a license to work as a principal begins after the completion of a master's degree program. While not all requirements are the same across the country, some qualifications for licensure include extensive teaching experience, a background check and an examination.

Essential Information

Principals are generally required to earn a master's degree before pursuing certification or licensure. However, each state has its own requirements for principal licensure or certification. Licensure and certification requirements can be clearly stated and documented by school boards and other governing bodies. Personal qualifications, including experience and education, are always considered. Teaching experience and certification is also often required.

Required Education Master's typically required
Required Experience Teaching experience and certification, licensing test and university recommendation often required for licensure
Skills Necessary Interpersonal and communication skills, organizational and decision-making skills
Projected Job Growth (2018 - 2028)* 4% (for all elementary and secondary education administrators)
Median Salary (2018)* $95,310 (for all elementary and secondary education administrators)

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

Qualifications for Principals

Through various assessments and other processes, the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP), in conjunction with the American Psychological Association (APA), analyzed what leadership skills and personality traits were needed by to be a successful school principal. ( The NASSP developed a skills assessment, which is used to identify strengths and needs in principals and principal candidates, and to plan programs to improve or develop necessary skills (

The NASSP determined that some of the important qualifications for principals were an ability to efficiently organize and coordinate people and information, being able to make sound decisions and carry them through. Key traits include confidence, professionalism and creativeness. Solid interpersonal skills and the ability to communicate well were also identified as strengths.

Requirements for Licensure

Licensure is a typically required for principals or education administration professionals in most states. Some requirements are common to many of the states that require licensure. For example, the applicant must have a valid teaching certificate. Sometimes it must be current or even being used; more often, it needs to have been valid and used within a certain timeframe. A stated number of years of experience as a teacher, or as another school leader - such as a curriculum specialist or a department head - is also a frequent requirement.

Almost all public school districts require a master's degree, preferably in educational leadership or education administration, although a degree in curriculum and instruction is often acceptable. Many states require or prefer a recommendation from an approved university. Universities in these states usually work that recommendation into their degree programs. An individual seeking a principal license must also pass a licensing test for school leadership knowledge and undergo a background check.

Some states give a temporary certification; the individual then has approximately one year of probationary time in a principal's position. At the end of a successful period, licensure is granted. In some states, the license must be renewed periodically; in a few states the licensure is permanent.

Most employers look for principals that have a master's degree in educational leadership or a similar topic. Candidates should also have strong communication, organizational, and intrapersonal skills. Licensure, another requirement for principals, is almost always required, although what is needed to obtain licensure depends on the state.

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