How Many Years of College to Be a Principal?

How Many Years of College to Be a Principal?

Individuals need many years of college to be a principal and typically need a master’s degree in education leadership or administration. The school principal is often the individual whose name invokes fear in many students. However, they are also the individual behind all the beautiful things a student gets to experiment with 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.

Education Requirements for Principals

Most school districts require principals to have a master’s and several years of teaching experience. A principal with only a bachelor’s is extremely rare, but it can happen.

Principals usually earn a master’s degree in Education Leadership or Education Administration. Master’s programs prepare aspiring principals to set goals, manage staff, and create budgets. These programs also train principals to be leaders and how to work with students, parents, and the community.

  • MS in Educational Leadership
  • MS in Educational Administration

Some prospective school principals may seek a more advanced in education administration. For example, some earn a PhD in Education, an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree, or a Doctor of Education (EdD). 

Work Experience

In addition to education, principals need several years of teaching experience. Typically, they teach the same group or school level they plan to work in as a principal. This may include kindergarten and elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, and teaching high school.

Principals generally have experience in both the classroom and school administration before reaching the position. Experience in administrative roles is typically the preferred preparation for the job. So, it is not uncommon for these professionals to work in the role of Vice Principal or Assistant Principal before they become a school principal.

What are Important Qualities for a Principal to Have?

In addition to education and work experience, principals need several skills and traits to be influential leaders.

Communication skills

Principals regularly communicate with students, parents, and teachers. They need skills to relay information effectively about behavioral and academic issues. And they need to be excellent listeners to understand complex problems. They also need to know how to facilitate communication between the community, employees, and local and state governments.

Critical-thinking skills

Principals analyze student testing procedures and results to determine if the school needs improvements. They must assess all the available options and then help students achieve the best results.

Decision-making skills

Decision-making skills are an essential quality for principals. They are responsible for the operation of the entire school and must consider many factors when making decisions.

Interpersonal skills

Principals work with teachers, parents, superintendents, and the school board. These professionals must develop and maintain positive working relationships with all parties.

Leadership skills

Principals establish the policies and procedures for the school. In addition, they set educational goals for students. Leadership is key to motivating staff and students to achieve goals and enforce policies.

Problem-solving skills

Principals must be able to analyze problems and then implement appropriate solutions. Problems could be with students, staffing, or a parent concern.

How Many Years of College to Be a Principal?

What are the Steps to Become a Principal?

Below is a common path prospective principals take to become school principals.

  1. earn an undergraduate degree, a bachelor’s degree in education or a related subject with a teacher preparation program is typical
  2. complete a student teaching internship
  3. pass your state’s tests for teacher licensing or teaching certification
  4. apply for a teaching license or teaching certificate / certified teacher
  5. obtain a classroom teaching position
  6. gain three to five years of teaching experience
  7. earn a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree in education administration or a related subject
  8. pass your state’s tests for school administrator licensing
  9. demonstrate leadership and management skills
  10. apply for your school administrator license
  11. begin applying to administrative positions
  12. research qualifications for principals in the school the individual aspires to work
  13. apply for a principal position or principal jobs

How Long Does it Take?

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 find a teaching job. So, many colleges offer online master’s programs for these working teachers..

Distance learning can benefit teachers because they’re gaining teaching experience while 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 a graduate degree.

BS in Education4
MS in Education 2

So, it takes six years to complete the base education requirements for a principal. Student teaching and the years individuals spend gaining teaching and also administrative experience are in addition to the education requirements.

Licenses and Certifications for Principals

In most states, principals who work in public schools must have a school administrator license. The licensing requirements may differ from state to state, but most require the principal have a master’s degree.

A candidate that does not have a master’s degree 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 to pass a criminal background and also pass a certification exam. State licensure is not a requirement for principals who work in private schools.

What Do Principals Do Every Day?

The elementary, middle, or high school principal directs the overall operation of the school. They set academic goals and ensure teachers have the resources and training to meet them. Principals may establish and supervise additional school programs, such as counseling, extracurricular activities, and before-school and after-school childcare.

The duties of principals vary by state, district, and school. Principals may have additional resources and staff in large schools and also district resources to help them achieve goals. In a small school, they may wear multiple hats and do many jobs. Overall, principals must ensure schools are safe, have the money they need, and provide students with an education. Below are some of the daily tasks of elementary, middle, and also high school principals.

  • create a positive learning environment
  • manage school activities, teachers, staff, and also support personnel
  • establish and also oversee class schedules
  • develop, implement, and maintain curriculum standards
  • enforce discipline to maintain the safety
  • oversee student learning and classroom management
  • discipline students
  • observe teachers and evaluate their teaching performance
  • meet with parents and teachers to discuss student progress and behavior
  • assess test scores and prepare reports on student achievement data
  • organize staff professional development programs 
  • manage the school’s budget, and schedule maintenance, and order school supplies
  • establish and coordinate security procedures for students, staff, and visitors for the entire school

Job Outlook for Principals

Principal positions for elementary, middle, and high school continue to experience steady job growth. Their employment outlook depends on the number of new schools opening and also the number of new students enrolling. The US. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that principals should see a five percent job growth from 2021 to 2031.

Elementary, middle, and high school principals held about 292,200 jobs in 2021. Below are the largest employers of elementary, middle, and high school principals.

SchoolPercent Employed
Public Elementary and Secondary Schools76%
Private Elementary and Secondary Schools18%

Salary for Principals

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) wage report, principals earned a median annual wage of $98,420. Those at the lowest ten percent earned $61,480, while the top 90 percent earned $153,520 or more. In addition to salary, principals typically have excellent health, retirement, and pension benefits that come with the job.

Additionally, they usually receive an annual cost of living increase and a salary increase with each year of experience. By contrast, principals in the private sector may earn considerably less. Principals with more professional or educational qualifications may earn a higher salary. Moving from one district to another may also facilitate a salary increase.

The top-paying states for school principals and administrators are:

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

Are There Advancement Opportunities for Principals?

Yes, there are opportunities for advancement among principals. For example, a principal may be promoted and accept a superintendent position. Or, they may move into a district administrative role. Some even decide to pursue a career in post-secondary higher education. The possibilities are endless for principals who want to advance their careers in education. To advance, principals need to do the following:

Pursue Higher Education

Earning a more advanced degree qualifies these professionals for more advanced roles. A popular choice is a doctorate in educational administration or a related field.

Specialize in an Area

Some principals specialize in areas like curriculum development or student discipline. These specializations train them in a particular focus area. So, they are experts in this field and equipped to handle the challenges of being a principal.

Join a Professional Organization

Joining a professional organization helps principals stay up-to-date on the current trends and latest education research. It also helps them develop relationships with other professionals who can offer career advice or mentorship.

Earn a Certification

Beyond state and local licensing requirements, principals can earn a certification. These credentials show an employer that an individual is a self-motivated learner. Below are few of the certifications some principals earn.

  • Principal Training Certificate (PTC)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification
  • Certified Manager Certification (CM)

Take on Leadership Roles

Leadership roles in schools or districts are for more ambitious and career-oriented professionals. Principals that take on leadership roles stand out among their peers when they apply for promotions or other career advancement opportunities.

Publish Research

Some principals publish research that helps improve the educational system. This level of academic contribution can make a principal a more competitive candidate for advancement opportunities.

Why Become a School Principal?

There are many benefits for individuals who pursue this career path. Principals have a lot of responsibility, but they also have considerable autonomy at their school. So, they have the power and flexibility to make a real difference in students’ lives.

Some benefits include the following:

  • Make a difference in the lives of students
  • Have autonomy and authority in the school
  • Develop leadership skills
  • Get to know the community
  • Work with a great team of educators
  • Help to shape the future of education

Where Can a Licensed School Principal Work? 

A licensed principal can work in any school as long as they have a certification for that level. A principal can expect different duties and pay to depend on whether they work in a public, charter, or private school.

Public School

Public schools offer free education for all students at all levels. In a public school, the district mandates the curriculum. These schools usually have very diverse student populations. Public schools are typically more diverse in social and economic areas and ability levels.

Private School

Parent pay for their children to attend private schools. However, the school chooses the curriculum. So, private schools tend to enroll more affluent students and frequently have a religious group affiliation.

Charter School

Charter schools are the in-between option. These schools are usually free because they are part of the public school system. However, they can accept or reject students based on the school’s criteria. Sadly, a charter school can turn away students for things that a traditional public school would have a legal requirement to support. For example, they can reject students who need numerous accommodations. 

School Principal Professional Organizations

National Association of Secondary School Principals

The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is a nationwide organization for principals. The organization seeks to transform education through school leadership, recognizing that the fulfillment of each student’s potential relies on great leaders in every school committed to the success of each student.

National Association of Elementary School Principals

The National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) is a professional organization that serves elementary and middle school principals and other education leaders in Canada, the US, and overseas.

International Confederation of Principals

The International Confederation of Principals (ICP) is a global association for school principal organizations to discuss the challenges that face school leaders in every community.

Your Career as a School Principal

Principals have leadership positions with a lot of responsibility, whether 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.