How to Become a School Principal in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become a school principal. Learn about degree options, licensure requirements, the job duties these administrators perform and employment prospects in the field to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Principal Licensure degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a School Principal Do?

As a school principal, you act as the head administrator at an elementary, middle or secondary school. Principals are responsible for counseling and disciplining pupils, overseeing and evaluating staff, implementing and assessing academic programs and schedules, managing budgets, and executing safety procedures. The following chart provides more information about this administrative career.

Degree Required Master's
Education Field of Study Educational leadership, educational administration
Key Responsibilities Supervise, hire and fire teachers, develop curricula, set policies, prepare budgets, represent the school
Licensure Commonly required
Job Growth (2014-24) 6%*
Median Salary (May 2015) $90,410*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What is a School Principal?

As a principal, you hire, supervise and evaluate teachers as well as assigning duties to staffers, participating in curriculum development, setting school policies and preparing budgets. You also represent the school before the public, school boards or other administrative bodies. Most school principals hold advanced degrees.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree in Teaching

Bachelor's degree programs in teaching are commonly oriented towards elementary, secondary, early childhood or special education. Secondary teaching programs further offer concentrations in such areas as math, science, history, language arts or social studies. In these programs, you can expect to learn about student testing and evaluation, lesson planning, teaching methods and classroom leadership. Accredited programs meet state requirements for teacher education and prepare you to pass the teaching licensure exam.

Step 2: Accumulate Teaching Experience

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most school principals started out as teachers (www.bls.gov). Teaching provides you an opportunity to experience from the bottom up how teachers interact with administrators and each other, how policy decisions affect classroom outcomes, how schools allocate resources and what challenges teachers face on a daily basis. There is no set number of years you need to teach before transitioning into administrative positions, but some schools may have experience requirements.

Step 3: Earn an Advanced Degree

The BLS reports that you need to earn at least a master's degree in educational leadership or educational administration to work as a public school principal. Doctoral programs are available as well. Programs in educational administration cover school law, curriculum development and evaluation, school finance and budgeting, educational politics, community relations and counseling. Some offer internships or practicum courses that give you administrative experience in a school environment. Programs accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (www.ncate.org) provide the proper prerequisites for licensing as a principal.

Step 4: Obtain a School Administrator License

In most states, you need to have some graduate training if not a full master's degree to be eligible for a school administrator license. Some states require you to pass a licensing exam. In addition, some state regulations require you to earn a given number of continuing education credits to maintain a license. Private schools are not subject to state regulations, but they may maintain similar standards.

Step 5: Obtain a Principal Job

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that employment of elementary, middle and secondary school principals would increase six percent from 2014-2024. While enrollment was expected to go up in that decade, possibly prompting the construction of new schools, the BLS said that such construction would depend on state and local budgets and that certain geographic areas might consolidate or even close some schools. According to the BLS, the South and West would see the most growth, with the Midwest remaining even and the Northeastern United States expected to experience a decline in school enrollment.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Some related careers include school counseling, instructional coordination and postsecondary education administration. School counselors help students achieve their academic goals. Instructional coordinators must develop, implement and assess instructional materials. Postsecondary education administrators have many of the same responsibilities as grade school administrators, except at the college or university level. However, depending on what area they're assigned to oversee--such as student life or admissions--some additional tasks may be specific to that purpose.

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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