The independent, trusted guide to online education for over 24 years!

How to Become a Principal | A GetEducated Career Guide

Portrait of a black woman principal.

Principals occupy one of the most important positions in our education system. They are responsible for guiding and leading students to success both inside and outside the classroom. Principals need to manage people and resources effectively and inspire and motivate their staff. If you are thinking of becoming a principal, there are a few things you need to know. This guide will walk you through how to become a principal, from deciding if it is the right career for you to finding the right program and getting certified.

Becoming a School Principal Overview

School principals play an essential role in education. They are responsible for the school’s daily operations and providing educational leadership. To become a school principal, you will need to have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in education administration or a related field.

You will also need several years of experience working as a teacher or administrator in a school setting. Some states also require school principals to be licensed or certified.

The job of a school principal is both demanding and rewarding. As the principal, you will ensure that your school provides a safe and positive learning environment for all students.

You will also be responsible for developing and implementing educational programs, hiring and supervising staff, and managing the budget. To be successful in this role, you will need strong leadership skills and effectively communicating with parents and staff.

Do you believe you have what it takes to become a school principal? Let’s find out.

Who is a School Principal?

A Principal is the head of a school. They are responsible for the overall success of the school. Principals manage budgets, oversee instruction and ensure the school operates within the education policies. It takes many years of experience and preparation to become a principal.

There are several routes you can take to becoming a school principal. The most common way is to become a teacher and work up the ladder. However, there are other ways to become a principal as well.

No matter which route you take, there are some common steps you will need to follow. We’ll look at them in detail later.

Overall, becoming a school principal is doable and rewarding. You will have the opportunity to make a real difference in students’ lives.

How to Become a Principal in 7 Steps

With an understanding of what the principal role entails, the next question is: how does one become a principal? There are seven basic steps to becoming a principal.

1. Acquire a Bachelor’s Degree in Teaching or Education

The first step is to obtain a bachelor's degree in teaching or education. Most principals have a bachelor’s degree, and many have a master’s degree or even a doctoral degree.

Principal preparation programs are available at online and on-campus colleges and universities across the United States. Those who want to become assistant principals need only an undergraduate degree but may also complete a graduate program in educational leadership.

2. Become a Certified Teacher

Earning a teaching certification is the second step to becoming a school principal. Most states require that principals be certified teachers. To become certified, you will need to complete an accredited teacher preparation program.

Once you have completed your teacher preparation program, you must take the National Teacher Exam (NTE). The NTE is a standardized test that measures your teaching and learning concepts.

After you have passed the NTE, you will need to apply for a teaching license in the state where you want to work. Each state has its licensing requirements, so be sure to check with your state’s Department of Education.

3. Gain Experience as a Teacher

To become a principal, it’s essential to have experience as a teacher. Principals often advance from the teaching ranks, so having experience in the classroom is necessary.

Working your way through the teaching ranks will allow you to develop leadership skills and experience to be a successful principal.

It’s recommended to have at least three years of teaching experience before becoming a principal. This will allow you to hone your skills and understand what it takes to be a successful teacher.

4. Get a Master’s Degree in Educational Leadership / Education Administration

While not all states require principals to have a master’s degree, it is recommended. A master's degree in educational leadership will prepare you for the challenges of being a principal.

The program will cover instructional leadership, educational law, and school finance. You’ll also have the opportunity to take courses in your area of interest.

A master’s degree will make you more competitive for jobs and give you the knowledge and skills to be an effective leader.

5. Become Certified as a Principal

Most states require principals to be certified. The certification process varies by state but generally includes taking exams and completing a certain number of hours of professional development.

Becoming certified will show that you have the knowledge and skills necessary to be a successful principal.

It’s also important to note that some states offer alternative certification programs for those with a master’s degree in another field. These programs can fast-track your path to becoming a principal.

6. Find a Job as a Principal

Once you have the experience and education needed to become a principal, it’s time to start looking for jobs. There are many ways to open positions, but the most common is through the principal job market.

Here are some ways to get started:

  • Use job search engines – Many online job search engines can help you find open positions in your area. Enter “principal” into the search engine and add your location. You will then be given a list of open positions in your area.
  • Check with your state’s department of education – Each state has a department of education that keeps track of open positions. This is an excellent resource if you’re looking for a job in a specific state.
  • Network with other principals – If you know any other principals, they may be aware of open positions that haven’t been made public yet. It’s always good to network with others in your field, as they can be a great resource.

7. Work as a Principal

The job of a principal is both rewarding and demanding. As the person in charge of an entire school, you will be responsible for the education of hundreds – sometimes thousands – of students.

You will also manage a large staff, budget, and facilities. To become a principal, you will need to have several years of experience working in education and earn a master’s degree in educational administration or a related field.

Working as a principal can be rewarding. You will have the opportunity to shape young minds and help mold the future leaders of our society. However, it is essential to remember that being a principal is also a lot of work.

You will often find yourself working long hours, and your days will be filled with meetings, lesson planning, and other administrative duties. If you are considering becoming a principal, it is crucial to ensure you are ready for the responsibilities and challenges that come with the job.

Education Requirements for School Principals

Most school principals have a master’s degree in education administration or leadership. Some states require principals to have a doctorate. You will need at least five years of teaching experience to become a principal, but three is usually enough.

Many programs that lead to a career as a school principal include coursework in educational psychology, curriculum development, and instructional methods. These programs also include an internship or practicum component, allowing aspiring principals to gain practical experience leading a school.

Overall, principals need to go through the following educational routes:

Bachelor’s Degree in Education

An undergraduate degree in education is a prerequisite for most principal certification programs. It is also a good foundation for those who want to become principals.

You will take general and specialized education classes during your undergraduate years. This preparation will give you the basic knowledge to understand the complexities of running a school.

Master’s Degree in Educational Administration or Leadership

The second education milestone for aspiring principals is to obtain a master’s degree in educational administration or leadership. There are many good programs available, both online and on campus.

Earning a graduate degree is an essential step in demonstrating one’s commitment to the field of education and one’s professional growth.

You’ll study a diverse range of topics throughout the course, including:

  • Assessment of instruction
  • Improvement of instruction
  • School leadership and management
  • Education legal issues
  • Educational funding
  • Personnel administration
  • Cross-cultural teaching

With such a well-rounded curriculum, you’ll be in an excellent position to enter the field of education as a principal.

Most programs also require a student teaching component, where you’ll get to put your new skills into practice in an actual classroom setting. This is an excellent opportunity to gain valuable experience and networking contacts.

Doctorate (Optional, depending on the state)

If you’re aiming to become a principal, getting a doctorate may be optional, depending on the state you wish to work in. However, many principals have a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or a Ph.D. in educational leadership. A doctorate can give you an edge when applying for jobs and help you earn a higher salary.

Getting a doctorate usually takes around three to five years of full-time study. You’ll need to complete coursework, pass exams, and write and defend a dissertation.

As a doctoral candidate, you’ll deepen your knowledge of education theory and research methods during your studies. You’ll also learn how to apply this knowledge to solve problems in schools and districts.

Principal Certification (usually obtained through a program)

To become a principal, you will need to get a certification. Additionally, you will need to complete a program typically offered by colleges and universities. The duration of the program varies, but it generally takes between two and four years to complete.

There are also online programs available that may take less time to complete. The certification program will provide you with the necessary knowledge and skills to become a successful school leader.

Upon completing the certification program, you will be eligible to take the Principalship exam. This will qualify you to become a certified principal.

Special Degrees for Principals

Most school districts require their principals to have a master’s degree in education or administration.

However, a few states have leadership standards that require the principal to have a degree in something other than education. These degrees include:

Business Degree

A business degree can give principals the skills to understand finance, marketing, and human resources. This degree also teaches leaders to make sound decisions based on data and research.

Psychology Degree

A psychology degree can help principals understand the behavior of students and staff. Additionally, this type of degree can give leaders the tools to create a positive and productive learning environment.

Law Degree

Many school districts require their principals to have a law degree. This is not always the case, but it is becoming more and more common for districts to want their principals to be experts in educational law.

A law degree will give you the knowledge and skills to navigate complex legal situations as a principal.

Public Policy

The role of a principal in public policy is to advocate for the best interests of their students and faculty. They work towards improving the quality of education for all and creating an environment where everyone can feel safe and respected.

To become a successful principal in this domain, it is essential to understand education policies. It is also necessary to build relationships with policymakers and other key stakeholders.

Social Work

While working as a principal, you will also be performing social work. This includes working with parents, students, and the community to resolve any issues.

As a principal, you are responsible for creating a safe and welcoming learning environment for all students. You will also need to maintain positive relationships with the parents of your students and the community at large.

Counseling Degree

Part of being a successful principal is to have the proper education. A counseling degree from a reputable school will give you the skills you need to counsel both students and staff.

Additionally, you will need to effectively communicate and reason out with parents, teachers, and administrators. A counseling degree will allow you to do all of these things.

10 Best Principal Certifications in 2022

There are many different certifications for principals, but not all are equal. Here are the ten best principal certificates that you can get in 2022:

1. Principal Training Certificate (PTC)

This is a 2-year program that is designed for aspiring or current principals. Provided by the Principal Training Center, the PTC program is one of the most comprehensive and well-rounded programs available.

It covers topics such as school law, curriculum development, finance, and human resources. Participants will also receive mentorship from experienced principals. With this certificate, aspiring candidates will be well-prepared to take on the role of principal.

2. Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification

If you want to become a school principal, obtaining your Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is excellent. This certification will allow you to demonstrate your knowledge and skills in leading and managing projects.

To obtain your PMP certification, you will need to have at least four years of experience leading and managing projects and 35 contact hours of project management education.

3. Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS)

The Certified Advertising Specialist (CAS) credential is sponsored by the Promotional Products Association International (PPAI). The CAS demonstrates mastery of promotional products knowledge and offers proof that the individual can provide expert guidance to clients on the best way to use promo items to reach their marketing goals.

To become a CAS, you must pass an exam covering all aspects of the promotional products industry, from market research and product selection to delivery and fulfillment. The exam is offered twice a year, in April and October.

To qualify to take the CAS exam, you must have at least two years of experience working in the promotional products industry. You must also submit a letter of recommendation from your employer or client.

4. Certified Manager Certification (CM)

The Certified Manager Certification (CM) is a globally recognized management certification offered by the Institute of Certified Professional Managers (ICPM). The CM Certification recognizes managers who have demonstrated excellence in their field and are committed to continuous learning and professional development.

This certification is awarded to those who complete ICPM’s rigorous examination, covering all management aspects, including leadership, strategic planning, human resources, finance, and marketing.

5. Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)

To become an SPHR, you must first have at least two years of education or training after high school and two years of professional working experience.

You will also need to pass an exam administered by the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI). The SPHR designation is the highest level of certification that HRCI offers.

There are a few ways to prepare for the SPHR exam. You can purchase study materials from HRCI, take a prep course, or self-study using HRCI’s body of knowledge as a guide.

6. Educational Certificate: K-12 (Ed:)

This is another necessary certificate for aspiring principals. The K-12 Ed: certification is a requirement for principals in most states. The certification demonstrates that you have the knowledge and skills to manage a school at the elementary or secondary level.

To become certified as a K-12 educator, you must complete an accredited teacher preparation program. After completing your program, you must pass a state-level certification exam.

7. Certified Professional Counselor

As pointed out earlier, counseling is among the essential requirements for the principal position. If you are not certified as a professional counselor, now is the time to become one.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) are the central certifying bodies for counselors in the United States.

8. Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE)

A Microsoft Certified Educator (MCE) is an educator who has passed exams that certify their skills in using Microsoft technology in the classroom.

Earning this certification demonstrates your dedication to incorporating technology into your teaching practice and proves that you know how to use Microsoft tools to help students achieve success.

9. IT Information Library Foundations Certification (ITIL)

More on technology, cloud services, and virtualization are given in this certification. ITIL covers a broad range of incident management, change management, and problem management.

You will learn how to optimize the use of technology within an organization by adopting these practices. After completing this certification, you will understand how to use technology to drive business value.

10. Certified Management Accountant (CMA)

Because principals are in charge of school budgets, they need basic skills and in-depth financial accounting and management knowledge. One way to become well-versed in these areas is to earn the Certified Management Accountant (CMA) credential.

The CMA program is offered by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) and is designed for business professionals who want to develop their financial skills and knowledge. To be eligible for the CMA exam, you must have at least two years of full-time work experience in education, accounting, or financial management.

The CMA exam is a four-part, computer-based test covering financial planning and analysis, performance measurement, decision analysis, and risk management. With this knowledge, principals will make informed decisions about their school’s budget and financial operations.

With these ten certificates, principals get the skills and knowledge needed to lead schools into the future. Earning these certificates will help principals become better educators and leaders in their schools.

Advancement Opportunities for Principals

Yes, there are opportunities for advancement among principals. In some cases, a principal may be promoted to a superintendent position. A principal may also choose to move into an administrative role at the district level.

Some principals may even decide to pursue a career in higher education. Ultimately, the possibilities are endless for those who wish to continue their careers in education as principals.

To advance, principals need to do the following:

  • Pursue Higher Education

This can be getting a doctorate in educational administration or a related field.

  • Specialize in an Area

Some principals specialize in certain areas, such as curriculum development or student discipline. This allows them to become experts in their field and be better equipped to handle the challenges of being a principal.

  • Become Involved in Professional Organizations

Being involved in professional organizations can help principals stay up-to-date on the latest trends and research in education. It can also help them develop relationships with other professionals who offer them advice or mentorship.

  • Take on Leadership Roles

Principals who take on leadership roles in their schools or districts are often more ambitious and career-oriented. This can help them stand out when it comes time to apply for promotions or other advancement opportunities.

  • Publish Research

Principals who engage in research and publish their findings can help to improve the educational system as a whole.

Principals can also use this type of work to showcase their expertise in their field and make them more competitive for advancement opportunities.

Average Salary for Principals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for principals was $98,490 in May 2020. The top 10% of earners make more than $152,500 per year, while the bottom 10% earn less than $65,150 per year. This makes it one of the highest paying jobs in education.

These aren’t bad figures, but there’s always room for improvement. So, what can you do to make sure you’re in that top 10%? Advancing is an excellent way to ensure you are among the best paid.

Work Environment for Principals

The work environment for a school principal can vary depending on the type of school. In a private school, the work environment is usually more relaxed. The focus is more on the students’ academic achievement and less on standardized testing.

In a public school, the work environment is more hectic. This is because they must follow more state and federal government mandates.

The hours for a school principal can also vary. In a private school, the hours may be more flexible. In a public school, the hours are more controlled. The school principal is usually expected to be at the school during regular school hours, plus additional time for meetings and other events.

Overall, most principals work full time, and some work for over 40 hours every week. Principals may also need to work on weekends or evenings to attend school or district events.

What Do Principals Do? – 10 Key Responsibilities of Principals

What is the work of a principal? Some of the most important roles carried out by principals are:

1. Principals Oversee Daily School Operations

Overseeing the daily operations of a school is one of the most important responsibilities of a principal. This includes making sure all classes are running on schedule, managing the budget, ensuring the fulfillment of safety protocols, and more.

2. They Manage School Budgets and Logistics

Becoming a principal is not just about being a great educator. Principals also need to manage their school’s budget and logistics to be influential leaders. This includes everything from ordering supplies to ensuring that the school building is up to code.

3. They Advocate for Their Student and Teachers

Principals are the faces of their school and are responsible for promoting and marketing their school to the community. They also play an important role in fundraising and grant writing.

In addition, principals advocate for their students and teachers by working with local, state, and federal officials to ensure their schools have the resources they need for a conducive teaching and learning environment.

4. Monitor and Report the Teachers’ Performances

School principals have to evaluate the performances of their teachers and give feedback. They also have to handle complaints from parents or other stakeholders. To do this, they need to communicate with their staff effectively.

5. Interview and Hire Personnel

One of the most important aspects of becoming a principal is hiring the proper personnel. Principals interview candidates for various positions and make sure they select the best person for the job. This includes finding good superintendents hiring teachers, support staff, and administrators.

Because of this, principals need to be great interviewers. They must ask questions, listen carefully to candidates’ answers, and make informed decisions.

6. Build a Positive Relationship with the Community

A strong relationship with the community is key for principals. They need to build trust and communicate effectively with parents, students, and other community members. Principals also need to represent the school positively.

7. Principals Need to Review and Implement School Policies

The implementation of school policies is one of the primary responsibilities of a principal. Reviewing and implementing policies helps to ensure that all students are fairly treated and that the school operates consistently.

Principals should also be familiar with the laws and regulations related to schools to ensure that their school complies with all legal requirements.

8. Guide and Counsel Teachers

A principal is responsible for the education and development of teachers in the school. They need to ensure that teachers are well-trained and have the necessary resources to perform their duties effectively.

A principal should also provide guidance and support to teachers when needed. In addition, principals need to evaluate teachers’ performance and give feedback that can help them improve.

9. Handle Disciplines

A principal is responsible for maintaining discipline in the school. They need to develop and enforce rules and regulations designed to promote a positive learning environment.

A principal should also be able to handle disciplinary action when necessary. In addition, a principal needs to work with parents and the community to resolve discipline issues.

10. Handle School Emergencies and Crises

Lastly, principals are responsible for handling school emergencies and crises. This includes coordinating with law enforcement, evacuating the building, and supporting students and staff during and after a crisis.

They will coordinate with law enforcement and other first responders to ensure that everyone is evacuated safely and that the proper steps are being taken to resolve the emergency.

After an emergency, the principal’s job is to support students and staff. This may include working with counselors to provide counseling services, helping students and staff process what happened, and ensuring that everyone has the resources to recover.

These are some of the key roles and responsibilities of a principal. As you can see, principals have a lot on their plate! But with the right skills and experience, you can be successful in this role.

Benefits of Becoming a Principal

There are many benefits to becoming a principal. Principals have a great deal of responsibility, but they also have authority and autonomy in their schools. They can make a real difference in the lives of students and staff.

Some benefits of becoming a principal include:

  • Making a difference in the lives of students
  • Having autonomy and authority in the school
  • Developing leadership skills
  • Getting to know the community
  • Working with a great team of educators
  • Helping to shape the future of education

Drawbacks of Becoming a Principal

There are also some drawbacks to becoming a principal. One is the workload. They have many responsibilities, such as overseeing curriculum and instruction. They also need to deal with parents, teachers, and administrators.

Another drawback is the time it takes to become a principal. It usually takes several years of teaching experience before being considered.

Finally, principals can be held accountable for the performance of their schools. If a school does not meet academic standards, the community, parents, and even the government may blame the principal.

Despite these drawbacks, becoming a principal can be a gratifying experience.

Take the Next Step

The most crucial step of becoming a school principal is getting the proper education. This means studying educational administration, leadership, and policy.

Almost all states require that principals have at least a master’s degree in one of these areas from an accredited university or college.

Fortunately, many great online programs can help you meet this requirement. We’ve compiled a list of the best accredited online education degrees to help you find the right fit.

You’ll GetEducated in the right way and be better prepared to lead in your district as a certified principal. Find a program today!

Browse Now

Search Over 1,600+ Schools with 30,000+ Degrees