Principal Degree Program Options with Career Information

Principals are licensed education administrators who are responsible for overall school management. Most public schools require principals to have graduate degrees in educational leadership or educational administration.

Essential Information

Master's degree programs in educational administration prepare students for administrative positions at public and private schools, including principal positions, or for administrative positions with school districts and other education organizations. Educational leadership programs sometimes take a broader view of administration and incorporate more theory and educational policy into the curriculum. Post-master's certificate programs in educational administration are also available.

These programs typically entail 36-48 credit hours. Prerequisites usually include a bachelor's degree; however, a few programs are open to those with a current teaching license and previous teaching experience. To graduate, students often need to complete a thesis project.

Master's Degree Programs in Educational Administration

Most educational administration programs are meant to prepare students for the principal licensing process. Topics of study include:

  • Curriculum development
  • Human resources in schools
  • Educational law and regulations
  • Leadership development
  • Technology in the classroom

Master's Degree Programs in Educational Leadership

Similar to educational administration, master's degree programs in educational leadership prepare individuals for management positions within schools and other education organizations. Applicants typically need a bachelor's degree and previous teaching experience. The curriculum provides sufficient training for becoming a school principal. Course topics might include:

  • School law
  • Community relations
  • Research methods in education
  • Technology in the schools
  • Assessment and evaluation
  • Educational policies

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

A third option for becoming a licensed principal is to complete an educational leadership and administration post-master's certificate program. These programs have been designed for students who have already earned master's degrees. Some programs are designed to attract individuals from other fields into educational administration. Other programs are designed for current teachers who hold master's degrees but still lack the training necessary to become principals.

This program focuses on the skills needed to become an effective administrator, including educational theory, leadership skills, and administrative topics. Courses might include:

  • Theories of educational leadership
  • Education law and ethics
  • School district administration
  • Budgeting and finance
  • Assessment and evaluation

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS,, elementary, middle, and high school principals should see a 6% rate in job growth during the 2014-2024 time period. This rate is about average for all occupations. The BLS also states that the median salary for this field was $90,410 in May 2015. More specifically, according to, middle school principals earn a median salary of $87,453 and high school principals earn a median of $85,628 annually, as of January 2016.

Continuing Education

Most public schools require principals to be licensed by the state. Licensing requirements typically include graduate-level training and passing licensing exams. Continuing education may be required to maintain licensure. Professional organizations including the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards will provide opportunities for continuing education.

Aspiring principals can seek graduate degrees in education leadership or administration, with curriculum going over various aspects of managing schools. Principals of public schools usually have to attain licensure after graduation to begin their careers.

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