Principal Education, Training and Certification Requirements

Sep 11, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a principal. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about schooling, job duties and licensure to find out if this is the career for you.

Principals are an important component to every school system and are usually required to have a master's degree from a four-year institution. Licensing requirements are dependent on the type of school they're applying to work for and continuous training is recommended to stay up-to-date with certain licensure requirements. Good verbal and writing skills are a must for this leadership position as well as experience in solid decision-making.

Essential Information

Principals oversee the curriculum and management of public and private schools. Many principals have a master's degree in addition to several years of teaching experience. A bachelor's may be acceptable for some private schools. Principals also often earn a doctoral degree. Graduate programs in educational leadership can prepare professionals to meet principal and school administrator licensure requirements in many states.

Required Education Master's typically required
Other Requirements License, certification and teaching experience generally required, training also often required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 4% (elementary, middle, and high school principals)
Median Salary (2018)* $95,310 annually (elementary, middle, and high school principals)

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

Required Education to Become a Principal

Many states require public school principals to have a minimum of a master's degree in education or educational leadership and administration. Educational requirements for principals of private schools vary by employer; while many private school principals and assistant principals have a master's degree, some are hired with a bachelor's degree in education. Some principals in public and private schools also have a doctoral degree.

Master's degree programs in educational leadership and administration include coursework in personnel management, budget allocation, educational law and ethics, curriculum evaluation and program planning. In addition to educational leadership skills, students gain an understanding of organizational management. Programs may take from 1-2 years to complete.

Principals often take continuing education courses throughout their careers to keep their state licensure current. Continuing education requirements for license renewal vary by state.

Required Training

Some principals spend several years in assistant principal positions; however, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a principal who has not worked as an assistant principal may be required to complete a period of training under the guidance of a mentor ( Aspiring principals often have a solid track record of leadership displayed during successful teaching careers. In addition to several years of teaching experience, employers may require expertise in working with a specific type of student, such those who are gifted, at-risk or have special needs.

Required Skills

Principals must have excellent written and verbal communication skills to interact with teachers, staff, parents and students. Principals must also have effective public speaking skills, strong decision-making ability and the ability to negotiate. In addition to being good leaders, principals must also be able to motivate students and staff. Strong budgeting and computer skills are essential, including proficiency with word processing and spreadsheet programs.

Certification and Licensure

In many states, principals of public schools are required to have school administrator or principal licensure, according to the BLS. Additional requirements may include a state teaching license. Licensure requirements vary by state, but often include a master's degree and a passing grade on a licensing exam. State licensing requirements do not apply to private school principals; however, licensure and a state teaching certificate may be required by some employers.

In most states, principals of preschools, also known as directors, must have additional certification, often including the National Administration Credential (NAC) issued by the National Child Care Association ( NAC applicants must complete a 5-day course and apply for renewal of the credential every two years. Most states also require preschool principals to earn a Child Development Associate (CDA) credential issued by the Council for Professional Recognition (

Becoming a principal takes a certain amount of dedication and drive to complete the work that's required for such a position. By keeping current with training opportunities and seeking out educational experiences that will strengthen their leadership skills, aspiring principals will have a greater chance of landing a job. Through 2028, employment opportunities are expected to grow at an average rate in comparison to other occupations.

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