Many educators choose their field because of a desire to make a difference in the lives of young people. While making the jump from teacher to principal means that you’ll no longer be in the classroom working directly with kids, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a profound effect on their development while also enjoying a significant pay raise.
In fact, research shows that when it comes to affecting student learning, strong leadership is second only to classroom instruction.1
But how do you become a principal? There’s obviously a certain level of required education and you must have experience, but it may not be as complicated as you think.
What Does a School Principal Do?
Contrary to what you often see in the media, the responsibilities of a school principal extend far beyond disciplining wayward students. While that is a key aspect of the position, a school’s top administrator is also tasked with the following duties:
- Supervision of all students, staff, and faculty
- Designing school policy
- Creating a line of communication between teachers and parents
- Maintaining school funding
- Managing the school budget, payroll, and maintenance costs
- Hiring staff and faculty members
- Creating academic calendars
- Coordinating academic, athletic, and extracurricular activities
- Maintaining standards for curriculum and academic performance
Of course, the roles of a principal also vary within the field. For instance, an elementary school principal is expected to work in a closer and more personal capacity than a principal in a far larger high school. Conversely, a high school principal is expected to handle a more complex network of school operations than a principal in a small elementary school.
While duties occasionally differ, the general expectations for every school principal remain the same.
School Principal Salary and Career Outlook
Making the jump from teacher to principal comes with a significant jump in pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a high school teacher in 2020 was $62,870, with a slight decrease to $60,810 for elementary and middle school teachers.2
However, the median salary for principals in elementary, middle, and high schools in 2020 was $98,490.3
It’s important to note that there are a number of variables that determine the salary of each individual school principal, including their level of experience, the location of their school, and their level of education.
With projected job growth of about 8% between 2020 and 2030, the job outlook of a school principal is on par with the average occupation and slightly better than other management occupations.
Keep in mind, employment growth is dependent on many different factors including student enrollment, the number of schools overseen, and state and local budgets. Projections do not guarantee job growth.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as a School Principal
Before you learn how to become a school principal, you may want to ask yourself if it’s the right job for you. As with any career, being a school principal is not necessarily for everyone. You might enjoy a job as a school principal if you:
- Feel comfortable in a leadership role
- Are good at multitasking
- Have strong organizational skills
- Are a strong communicator
- Find fulfillment in providing guidance
On the other hand, being a school principal may not be for you if you:
- Dislike confrontation
- Can’t handle a heavy workload
- Have trouble connecting with children
- Are averse to criticism
- Don’t work well under pressure
There’s a reason why you’ll likely get a significant pay raise when you move from teacher to principal. The workload is greater, the pressure is higher, and the stress can be too much for some people.
That being said, as a school principal, you have a greater opportunity to affect change in your community and a greater means to provide for your family.
Steps to Becoming a School Principal
How do you become a high school principal? Well, you can’t just apply for the job. In almost any case, you’re going to need to follow these steps:
Step One:Earn a Degree
Most school principals earn experience as a teacher before moving to an administrative position. This requires a bachelor’s degree, preferably in secondary education. You must also earn your teaching certificate through a student teacher program. This process typically takes between 4-5 years.
Step Two:Earn Additional Experience
Acquiring experience in the classroom is almost always the next step toward becoming a school principal. At a minimum, 1-5 years of teaching experience is needed before you can be considered for an administrative position. More often than not, people that make the transition from teacher to principal have significantly more experience than that.
Step Three:Complete a Graduate Degree
A master’s degree is also a typical prerequisite for becoming a school principal. The graduate programs required generally focus on leadership and administration within the field of education. You can earn your master’s degree in 2-4 years, but it could take longer if you need to gain experience as a teacher.
Step Four: Become Certified/Licensed
Many states require school principals to earn their license in school administration, which involves passing a licensure exam. In general, you’re only permitted to take a licensure exam if you have a certain amount of teaching experience under your belt and you hold a graduate degree. Note that specific requirements vary from state to state.
How Long Does it Take to Become a School Principal?
How do you become a principal quickly? You don’t…because you can’t. The role of a school’s top administrator is too important and requires too much hands-on experience to be easily attained.
If you’re interested in this career path, then you need to be willing to commit a number of years to it. The precise number of years required depends on a number of factors, from how fast you earn your degrees to how much experience the school is looking for. You also need to keep in mind the specific licensing and certification requirements in your state.
School Principal Requirements
Earning Your Bachelor’s Degree
You can earn your bachelor’s degree and go through a student teaching program in about 4-5 years, but it’s also possible to fast-track your degree if you’re willing to become a more-than-full-time student.
Teaching experience plays an important role in becoming a principal. There is no fast-tracking the classroom experience required to become a school principal, which is often five years or more. In fact, the average amount of teaching experience for a school principal is about 10.5 years. Most principals average around 5.5 years of previous administrative experience.
Earning Your Graduate Degree
Earning your master’s degree tacks on another 2-4 years, unless you choose to earn it while working as a teacher. If you need at least five years in the classroom, then you can stretch those 2-4 years of graduate school out over that time, which can help to reduce your workload.
In total, you can expect a minimum of about 10-12 years of schooling and work experience combined to become a school principal.
Do I Need to Be a Teacher to Become a School Principal?
If you’re wondering how to become a principal without first being a teacher, then you may be disappointed to find out that you most likely cannot. In almost every case, you must have teaching experience in order to become any sort of administrator, let alone the top administrator of the school.
These requirements are generally dictated not only by the school but also by state law. So, if you’re truly committed to figuring out how to become a principal without becoming a teacher, you must first find the states in which these laws do not exist.
Best Degrees to Have to Become a School Principal
The type of college-level education that you should seek out when you’re looking to become a school principal depends on the type of school you’d like to work in. For instance, if you’re interested in working in an elementary school, then a degree in early childhood development or elementary education are both worthwhile options.
But how do you become a high school principal? Well, the best place to begin that journey is with an undergrad in secondary education. While you can get a job as a teacher with a non-education degree (provided your degree is in a teachable subject), you’re likely to be a better candidate with a degree in education if you’re interested in an administrative position.
For your master’s degree, your two main options are a master of education in educational leadership or a master of education in educational administration. Either one of these degrees not only leads to the necessary credentials to become a school principal, but they also provide you with the knowledge necessary to expand your understanding of the world of education beyond the classroom.
10 Best Schools for School Principals from Universities.com
Many schools offer master’s degrees in educational administration, but some are more highly regarded than others. To help you sort through them and find the cream of the crop, here are the top 10 schools in the country as ranked by Universities.com.
- Texas Christian University
- Boston College
- University of Georgia
- University of Florida
- University of Washington – Seattle Campus
- Saint Joseph’s University
- University of Maryland – College Park
- University of Hawaii at Manoa
- New York University
- Salisbury University
If you’re looking for other schools that offer programs for becoming a school principal, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find theperfect school for you!
Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a School Principal?
Simply searching for “how do you become a principal” online will turn up a ton of useful information for you, but you can also check out the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).
Any remaining questions you have can likely be answered by NASSP, which offers plenty of useful advice on the Career Development section of their website.
How Many Years Does It Take to Become a Principal?
Assuming that you take an average amount of time to complete your undergraduate and graduate degrees, in addition to acquiring a minimum of five years’ teaching experience, it will take at least 11-12 years to become a school principal.
What Degree Do I Need to Become a Principal?
You need an undergraduate degree in an education field and a master’s degree in either educational administration or educational leadership to become a principal.
Is It Hard Being a Principal?
Being a school principal can be a stressful and difficult job, full of various responsibilities. It can be a very hard, but rewarding, job, depending on your personality.
Do Principals Get Paid?
Yes, the median pay for a school principal in 2019 was $96,400.
For close to two decades, Sarah Harris has worked as a professional writer covering every niche and topic imaginable. Prior to her writing career, Sarah attended Emerson College in Boston where she graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Communication. She currently resides in Agoura Hills, California with her husband, two young children and two cats.
Leticia Gonzalez is an honors graduate from Columbia University Teachers College. She is currently a Principal in South San Francisco, CA. Her career in education has spanned almost 20 years and has included working in the elementary, secondary, and at the college level.
What are the requirements to be a principal? ›How do you become a principal in New Mexico? ›
You must have a current Administrative License from the New Mexico Public Education Department or a current Administrative license from another state. All applicants must also complete the Gallup Insight Questionnaire (included in the job application) to be considered for a position.What are the principal competencies in New Mexico? ›
The New Mexico Principal Leadership Competencies and Indicators include five standards: Instructional Leadership; Communication; Professional Development; Operations Management; and Scope of Responsibility in Secondary Schools.How many years before you can be a principal? ›
On average, the amount of teaching experience needed to become a principal is usually between 1-5 years. After you possess the benefit of classroom experience, you'll become eligible for programs like the Educational Leadership degree, which generally requires at least two years of teaching experience for admission.Is becoming a principal hard? ›
It is very hard to become a principal.
Education is a highly rewarding career, but it is often considered an extremely high-stress one as well, so along with education requirements, one must be able to handle a high degree of stress.
Principals counsel students. Elementary, middle, and high school principals oversee all school operations, including daily school activities. They coordinate curriculums, manage staff, and provide a safe and productive learning environment for students.How much does a principal make in NM? ›
How much does a School Principal make in New Mexico? The average School Principal salary in New Mexico is $104,712 as of January 26, 2023, but the range typically falls between $92,486 and $117,788.What is the process to become a principal in the school? ›
To become principal, candidates must have a master's degree in education administration or educational leadership at an accredited college or university. In some schools, candidates with bachelor's degree may join as a principal but mostly post graduate degree is required. Some school systems need the higher degree.How do principals get their job? ›
All principals begin their careers as teachers, and they must gain several years of experience as a teacher prior to pursuing a role as principal—typically one to five years, depending on the school. As leaders of their classrooms, teachers create a positive atmosphere in which students can learn and build confidence.What are the 4 basic competencies? ›
- Unconscious incompetence.
- Conscious incompetence.
- Conscious competence.
- Unconscious competence.
What are the 3 basic competencies? ›
The 3 Competency Categories
Competencies fall into three main categories: Core, Cross-functional and Functional. All are important, but there is a hierarchy.
- #1. Build Relationship: ...
- #2. Develop people. ...
- #3. Lead change. ...
- #4. Inspire others. ...
- #5. Think critically. ...
- #6. Communicate clearly. ...
- #7. Create accountability. ...
- Tip: Use the seven universal competencies as a framework for feedback.
At just 25-years-old, Kenneth Gorham is the youngest principal at Movement School. I'd be lying if I said this truly didn't feel like a dream.What is the youngest principal? ›
As the youngest principal in Movement's history, Kenneth Gorham broke the mold of what many think a principal should look like.How do I go from teacher to principal? ›
- Graduate with a bachelor's degree. ...
- Earn your teaching certificate. ...
- Gain professional experience in educational settings. ...
- Pursue a master's degree in education. ...
- Diversify your skills and experience. ...
- Understand your state's requirements. ...
- Apply for a position.
Responsibility. Principals have a greater workload than teachers do. They are no longer responsible for only a few subjects with a handful of students. Instead, a principal is responsible for every student, every teacher/coach, every supporting member, and every program in their building.Why do principals quit? ›
Heavy workloads, administrative tasks, little time for instructional leadership, and other issues are taking a toll on school principals. Teachers are also asking for better treatment, higher salaries and emotional support. Those who consider leaving the profession say they'll leave: In the next year: 14%What are the benefits of being a school principal? ›
- 401(k) retirement plan.
- Medical insurance.
- Flexible schedule.
- Disability insurance.
- Paid time off.
- Life insurance.
- Tuition reimbursement.
- Relocation assistance.
- Oversee day-to-day school operations.
- Manage school logistics and budgets.
- Set learning goals for students and teachers based on national curricula.
- Monitor and report on teacher performance.
- Present data from school performance to board members.
- Research new resources and techniques to improve teaching.
- Ten Things NOT to do as a Principal.
- Think you only have to wear a pant suit to work. ...
- Forget about the Parents: The parents of our students are our greatest allies and partners in education. ...
- Lock Yourself in the Office: A key piece to my principalship has been my portable office.
Is school principal a stressful job? ›
A recent survey found 85 percent of school principals are experiencing job-related stress and 48 percent are dealing with burnout.What is the highest paid position in a school? ›
- School Superintendents — $127,310 per Year. ...
- Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals — $98,420 per Year. ...
- Postsecondary Education Administrators — $96,910 per Year. ...
- Postsecondary Teachers — $79,640 per Year. ...
- Instructional Coordinators — $63,740 per Year. ...
- School and Career Counselors and Advisors — $60,510 per Year.
Average salary for a School Principal in India is 8.2 Lakhs per year (₹68.3k per month). Salary estimates are based on 4213 latest salaries received from various School Principals across industries.What state pays principals the most? ›
|Total School Principal Jobs:||123|
|Highest 10 Percent Earn:||$137,000|
- They're Committed to Achieving Performance Outcomes. School principals have a lot of different interests to navigate. ...
- They Maintain Order and Structure. ...
- They Promote Accountability. ...
- They Treat Teachers Like Professionals. ...
- They Develop Strong Relationships.
The primary distinction is that the master's in teaching focuses more directly on teaching and classroom management. In contrast, the master's in education is a broader degree, applicable to a classroom career but also to jobs in administration, curriculum development, and education policy.What are three important qualities that elementary middle and high school principals need? ›
- The ability to establish and share a vision of academic success.
- Encouraging cooperation and collaboration among teachers, staff, and students.
- Developing leadership skills in school staff.
- Helping teachers and students reach their fullest potential through continuous learning opportunities.
- 1- Leadership skills.
- 2- An ability to adapt and innovate.
- 3- IT skills.
- 4- Communication skills.
- 5- An ability to delegate.
- 6- Be decisive.
- 7- Problem-solving skills.
- 8- An ability to prioritize.
Some companies may call it “senior staff.” The principal position is equivalent to a group (or senior) manager if you are on a managerial career path. Naturally, the next step for a principle IC is director (or VP) equivalent, often accompanied by the title “distinguished” (or “fellow”) in the IC ladders.How many decisions do principals make in a day? ›
On a typical day, a principal will make about 300 decisions. At the end of the day the principal may ask, “What percent of my day was spent making decisions about education?” It is difficult to stay focused and upbeat when day after day the principal is bogged down in “administrivia.”
What is required to be a principal in PA? ›
Principal (75) Traditional Route
Holds a baccalaureate degree from a regionally or nationally accredited college/university. Satisfies the requirements set forth in section 24 P.S. § 12-1209 relating to good moral character. Provides verification of three years of relevant professional experience.
- Complete an approved principal licensure program at an Illinois institution.
- Complete all state-mandated training and examinations.
- Have successfully completed the internship experiences.
- Hold a master's degree.
Experience requirement: 8 years of successful full-time public school certificated service, with no fewer than 3 years as a teacher. In addition to or concurrent with the 8 years, at least 2 years must have been at an elementary, middle or senior high school with no fewer than 2 years in an administrative position.What are the requirements to become a principal in Texas? ›
- must hold a master's degree from a university that is accredited by an accrediting agency recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB) (outside source) ...
- hold a valid classroom teaching certificate.
- have two years of creditable teaching experience as a classroom teacher.
At this time, only Pennsylvania-certified educators are eligible to apply for the Graduate Certificate for Principalship. Students who do not currently have (or who will not have by the completion of the program) a minimum of three years of school (teaching) experience should not apply for principal certification.How much do PA principals make? ›
|Average annual salary for principals by years of experience|
|State||Average annual salary||10 years or more|
While ZipRecruiter is seeing salaries as high as $113,473 and as low as $34,535, the majority of Elementary School Principal salaries currently range between $57,409 (25th percentile) to $82,974 (75th percentile) with top earners (90th percentile) making $101,811 annually in Pennsylvania.How much do elementary principals make in Illinois? ›
As of Feb 20, 2023, the average annual pay for an Elementary School Principal in Illinois is $63,859 a year.What is a Type 73 certification in Illinois? ›
The purpose of the School Service Personnel Certificate K-12 (formerly Type 73 Certification) is to enable students that have a prior master's degree in counseling or a related area to meet Licensure/Endorsement requirements for the Educator's License with a School Counseling Endorsement in the State of Illinois.How do you become a school administrator? ›
To become a school administrator, a Level 2 qualification in administration is usually required unless you are applying for a school administration apprenticeship but even then relevant qualifications can help put you ahead of the competition.
How much are principals paid in California? ›
How much does a School Principal make in California? The average School Principal salary in California is $128,270 as of February 27, 2023, but the range typically falls between $113,306 and $144,294.How do I get a principal certification in California? ›
- Official, unopened transcript documenting completion of a Commission-approved administrator's educational preparation program, or other approved educational program.
- Copies of score reports of examinations passed.
- Verification of Employment form (completed and signed by your employer)
How much does a School Principal make in Texas? The average School Principal salary in Texas is $112,764 as of February 27, 2023, but the range typically falls between $99,608 and $126,851.How much does principal certification cost in Texas? ›
Upon enrollment, you are responsible for this fee of $3,500 paid over seven months at $500.00 per month.Can you make money as a principal? ›
But it can be a financially rewarding career for those who are up for the task. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a school principal in the United States is around $98,420. In addition to their base salary, principals may receive bonuses or performance-based incentives.