Although the school principal is often the individual whose name invokes fear in many students, he or she is also the individual behind all the wonderful things a student gets to experiment while in school. Becoming a principal involves years of college as well as teaching experience. Here is an overview of what becoming a principal involves.


At the very least, school principals must have a bachelor’s degree and several years of teaching experience. It is worth noting that being hired as a principal with only a bachelor’s degree is extremely rare, but it can happen. Most schools require principals to have a Master’s Degree in Education Administration or Educational Leadership. U.S. News & World Report states a master’s degree in higher education administration teaches future principals how to be effective leaders.

Master’s degree programs prepare aspiring principals to set goals, manage staff, create budgets and work with students, parents and the community. Below is a common path towards becoming a school principal:

  • Earn bachelor’s degree
  • Gain teaching experience at several levels
  • Earn master’s degree
  • Demonstrate leadership skills
  • Research qualifications for principals in the school the individual aspires to work
  • Apply for a principal position

Bachelor’s degree programs usually take four years for full-time students to complete. Master’s degree programs take about two additional years to complete. Many teachers earn a bachelor’s degree in education and pursue a master’s degree once they’re hired as teachers. Many schools offer master’s degree education programs through distance learning.

Distance learning can be very beneficial to teachers because they’re gaining teaching experience while they’re earning a master’s degree. It also works well for aspiring principals because they should try to gain as much teaching experience as possible, which they can do while earning the graduate degree.

Related Resource: The Top 10 Most Affordable Accelerated Master’s in Education Online


In most of the states, principals working in public schools are required to be licensed as school administrators. The licensing requirements may differ from state to state, but most require the principal have a master’s degree. If the candidate does not have a master’s degree, he or she may still be eligible to become a school principal through alternative programs, but this also varies by state. Some states may require the future principal pass a criminal background and pass a certification exam. State licensure is not required for principals working in private schools.

Career Outlook for Principals

Elementary, middle school and high school principals continue to experience steady job growth. Their employment outlook is dependent on the number of new schools that open as well as the number of new students enrolling in school. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that principals should see a job growth of eight percent during the 2016-2026 decade.

According to a May 2017 BLS wage report, principals earned a median annual wage of $94,390. Those at the lowest ten percent earned $60,760, while the top 90 percent earned $140,780 or more. The top paying states for school principals and administrators are:

  • Connecticut
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • California
  • Washington

Principals have leadership positions with a lot of responsibility, whether they’re working in elementary, middle or high schools. Unlike other teaching positions that have summers off, principals usually work year-round. School principals spend the summer months ensuring the students have the best possible school year when they return in the fall.