How Can I Become a High School Principal?

Read about a career as a high school principal. Learn about education and licensing requirements, salary and job outlook to see if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Principal Licensure degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a High School Principal?

High school principals supervise students and staff, manage schedules and budgets and oversee all other aspects of the operation of a secondary school. Most principals come from the teaching ranks and are involved in curriculum development and assessments, as well as school activities, student counseling and outreach to parents. They also represent their school in a variety of settings, including in meeting with superintendents, community members, and media professionals, if necessary. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know for this career.

Degree required Master's degree for most positions
Field of Study Education administration, educational leadership
Licensure State license for public high school principals
Job Growth (2014-2024) 6% (for elementary and secondary school principals)*
Average Salary (2015) $92,940 (for elementary and secondary school principals)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Get Your Degree

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that most principals at public schools hold at least a master's degree, although principals at private schools may only need a bachelor's degree. You could start by earning a bachelor's degree in education with an emphasis in a secondary education subject such as math, science or English. This could be a good option because, according to the BLS, many principals begin their careers as teachers.

Another option would be to enroll in a bachelor's degree program in your chosen subject area, followed by a post-bachelor's teacher certification program. Both programs will expose you to the teaching profession through a student teaching internship, which typically occurs in the last year of the program and is designed to meet state teacher certification requirements.

Once you complete your bachelor's degree program, you could enroll in a Master of Science in Education (M.S.Ed.) program with a concentration in educational administration or leadership. Some schools offer M.S.Ed. programs with a school principal endorsement, while others offer school principal endorsements as graduate certificate programs. Master's degree programs generally take 2-3 years to complete and graduate certificate programs require about a year of study.

Become a Certified Teacher

If you have a bachelor's degree and complete your student internship, you can apply for teacher certification through your state board of education. You could be required to take certification exams administered by your state, or the Praxis Series teacher assessment exams, administered by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). These exams are a mandatory licensing requirement in many states. The Praxis II exam is commonly used to test secondary teachers in their subject area. You'll have to pay testing and licensing fees, as well as fees to cover criminal background checks.

Get Teaching Experience

Although all states are different, most boards of education require applicants for school principal licenses to have 3-5 years of teaching experience. Some states, including Massachusetts, also require principals to complete an induction program. After you get certified, you can begin working as a teacher and fulfilling experience requirements.

Get a High School Principal License

Each state has different certification requirements for high school principals; however, almost all states will require you to hold a license. In some states, you could begin with a level I, or initial license and then progress to a level II certificate after gaining a few years of experience. Some states might also require you to take Praxis School Leadership Series exam or state assessment exams. Just like when you apply for a teacher's license, you'll need to pay fees and pass background checks for a school principal's license.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

You may prefer to become a principal for an elementary or middle school and work with younger students, in which case the education requirements would be the same. If you are less interested in the administrative side of education, you may consider working as a high school teacher if you want more day-to-day involvement with students. This position requires only a bachelor's degree in secondary education, though licensure is still necessary. You also may be interested in becoming an instructional coordinator. These professionals are involved with designing and delivering new curricula for schools and making sure they're implemented properly. A master's degree is the baseline requirement for instructional coordinators.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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