How Do I Become a Public School Principal?

Public elementary, middle, and secondary schools are managed by educational administrators called public school principals. Becoming a public school principal can be achieved by gaining teaching experience, completing graduate education, and meeting state licensure requirements. Schools offering Principal Licensure degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Teaching Experience

If you've set your sights on being a public school principal, then you may first want to become an educator. Most states require teachers with administrative aspirations to gain experience in the classroom before being promoted to the main office, according to the Education Commission of the States ( In fact, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that most public school principals began their careers as teachers. About half of these educators held other administrative positions, such as vice principal or department head, prior to becoming principal. Public school principals without teaching experience may start their careers as librarians, guidance counselors, or curriculum specialists.

Important Facts About Becoming a Public School Principal

Median Salary (2014) $89,540 ('for elementary and secondary school education administrators')
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 6% ('for elementary, middle, and high school principals')
Working Environment Public elementary, middle, and high schools
Key Skills Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, leadership ability, strategic planning, negotiation, problem solving, and interpersonal skills
Similar Occupations School and career counselor, post-secondary teacher, instructional coordinator, career and technical education teachers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics


Most public school principals hold graduate degrees or professional diplomas, in addition to bachelor's degrees. According to O*Net Online, as of 2014-2015, 63% of U.S. principals working in elementary and secondary schools hold a master's degree, and 21% hold at least a post-master's certificate. Each state has its own established education and training requirements for public school principals. Many graduate schools with education degree programs also have principal training programs. Before embarking on a public school principal education program, check your state's requirements.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that many states require public school principals to hold a school administrator license or certification (different terms are used depending on the state). In addition, public school principals may need a teaching license. State requirements for school administrator licenses vary, but may include:

  • Earning a master's or doctoral degree in education or leadership
  • Completing a state-approved college or university principal preparation program
  • Having minimum teaching experience
  • Participating in a public school principal mentoring program
  • Passing a principal certification assessment

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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