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How to Become a School Principal

Written by: Wilson College   •  May 21, 2024
A smiling school principal stands outside of a school building.

School principals are trained educators with years of experience. They are responsible for providing a safe and welcoming environment while encouraging school pride and maintaining educational standards.

School principals need to be excellent communicators with advanced leadership skills, which can help them excel in their role and inspire their students, teachers, and staff.

Those wondering how to become a school principal should begin by learning the key duties for the role as well as the experience and education requirements to become one.

What Does a School Principal Do?

School principals ensure that all aspects of a school run smoothly. They have a wide range of responsibilities, including monitoring educational standards, managing budgets, overseeing the staff, and ensuring the safety and well-being of the students. They are also responsible for enforcing school policies, counseling students, and acting as mentors and disciplinarians.

Key Duties of a School Principal

As part of their duties, school principals occasionally observe classes to make sure the curriculum meets local and state regulations. During these observations, they may interact with students to gauge their understanding of each subject being taught.

Additional duties of a school principal include:

  • Planning school events
  • Hiring staff members
  • Providing reports to the school district
  • Evaluating teacher performance
  • Enforcing school district codes

School principals usually work a 40-hour workweek but may also work evenings and weekends during busy seasons or to attend school-sponsored functions. They may also work during the summer to prepare for the new school year.

Steps to Become a School Principal

School principals have many duties, including administrative and social tasks. They must be adept at managing projects with tight deadlines, interpreting legal documents, and working efficiently in a fast-paced environment. While specific requirements vary from one district to another, the first step in becoming a school principal is to obtain an advanced degree in education.

1. Earn a Master’s Degree

To become a school principal, candidates must earn a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field. School principals are also required to earn a Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree. An M.Ed. program provides aspiring school principals with the leadership, communication, and psychological skills necessary for a successful career in education. The program allows students to develop their teaching skills using theories, research, and classroom experience.

A typical curriculum includes:

  • Early childhood education
  • Leadership
  • Special education
  • Educational psychology
  • Educational technology 
  • Learning and development

2. Earn a Certification

In addition to higher education, individuals who aspire to become a school principal must earn a teaching certificate or license. In fact, some states require school principals to keep this license up to date throughout their careers. Candidates should check with the local educational board to determine the license requirements of a specific state.

3. Gain Work Experience

School principals must have experience teaching in a classroom. This experience allows them to work effectively with students from diverse backgrounds and varying levels of education. Additionally, it teaches them how to adhere to guidelines set by the district and conduct student self-assessments.

Although there is no rigid requirement, most schools prefer candidates with at least one to five years of teaching experience. Some also favor applicants with management experience.

Working with a mentor can also prepare candidates for the day-to-day nuances of the position. By working with a current school principal, they can gain valuable insight into how to address sensitive situations and handle emergencies. 

4. Develop Key Skills

School principals are skilled communicators, which is highly advantageous since most of their daily duties involve interacting with students, parents, staff, and outside agencies. They must effectively communicate information and actively listen to understand and respond to important details.

To work as a successful school principal, one must also possess the following skills: 

  • Problem-solving
  • Decision-making
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Conflict resolution

Leadership is a highly valued skill for school principals as they need to make quick decisions with confidence.

School Principal Salary and Job Outlook

The median annual salary for school principals was $101,320 as of May 2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The exact salary for school principals may vary based on level of education, years of experience, job location, and the specific school or institution.

The job outlook for a school principal shows little change from 2022 through 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is due to a limited number of principal positions open per school; however, this number is expected to change if more schools open. Despite limited growth, 20,200 new positions are expected each year until 2032. Most of these openings result from school principals leaving the workforce.

Make a Difference as a School Principal

Aspiring school principals can improve their skills and credentials by earning a Master of Education degree from Wilson College Online. This self-paced program explores important topics such as cultural diversity, individual learning needs, and positive behavior support. Each module prepares graduates to work in various teaching environments, including leadership positions such as a school principal.

Prepare for your future in education with Wilson College Online.

Recommended Readings:

What Can You Do With a Master’s in Education?

How to Become a High School Teacher

Master of Teaching vs. Master of Education: What’s the Difference?


EducationWeek, What Does a School Principal Do? An Explainer

Indeed, What Does a Principal Do?

Teach, How to Become a School Principal

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals

U.S. Department of Education, A Day in the Life of a Principal

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