CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a school principal.

Step 1

Is becoming a school principal right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do school principals do?
Career Satisfaction
Are school principals happy with their careers?
What are school principals like?

Still unsure if becoming a school principal is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a school principal or another similar career!

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Step 2

High School

If you are interested in pursuing a career as a school principal, there are a variety of high school courses that could be beneficial in your educational journey. Here are some courses that may be helpful:

  • Leadership: This course could help you develop leadership skills that are necessary for a principal, such as communication, problem-solving, and decision-making.
  • Education: Courses in education, such as education psychology, teaching methods, and curriculum development, could provide you with an understanding of the field of education and the different aspects of teaching and learning.
  • Management: A course in management could help you learn how to effectively manage resources, people, and finances, which are important skills for a principal.
  • Communication: Effective communication is crucial for a school principal. Taking courses in public speaking, debate, and communication could help you develop strong communication skills.
  • Ethics: As a school principal, you will be responsible for upholding high ethical standards. Taking courses in ethics could help you develop a strong moral compass and make ethical decisions.
  • Technology: Technology is becoming increasingly important in education. Courses in technology, such as computer science, could help you stay up-to-date on the latest trends and developments in educational technology.
  • Social Sciences: Social sciences courses, such as psychology, sociology, and anthropology, could help you better understand the social and cultural factors that affect education and student development.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

To become a school principal, there are certain formal education requirements that you must meet. These requirements may vary depending on the state or country where you plan to work, but in general, you will need to have at least a bachelor's degree in education or a related field and several years of teaching experience. Here are some details on the formal education needed to be a school principal:

  • Bachelor's degree: A Bachelor's Degree in Education or a related field is usually required to become a school principal. This degree program will provide you with a solid foundation in education theory, teaching methods, curriculum development, and educational psychology.
  • Teaching experience: Most states and school districts require school principals to have several years of teaching experience before they can become a principal. The exact number of years required may vary, but it is typically at least three to five years of classroom teaching experience.
  • Master's degree: In addition to a bachelor's degree and teaching experience, many school districts also require school principals to have a Master's Degree in Educational Leadership, Educational Administration, or a related field. A master's degree program typically takes two years to complete and focuses on advanced topics such as school finance, educational policy, and leadership.
  • Certification: Many states require school principals to be certified or licensed to work as a principal. Certification requirements vary by state, but they usually involve completing a certification program, passing an exam, and meeting certain experience and education requirements.
  • Continuing education: Once you become a school principal, you will be required to complete ongoing professional development and continuing education to keep up with the latest trends and best practices in education. This may involve attending conferences, taking courses, or participating in professional development programs.
Step 4

Teaching Certificate and Principal Certification

In the United States, the specific certifications required for school principals vary by state, but most states require principals to have a valid teaching certificate and a principal certification or endorsement.

To obtain a teaching certificate, individuals typically need to complete a teacher preparation program at an accredited college or university, which includes both coursework and student teaching experience. Additionally, some states require prospective teachers to pass a state-specific test of teaching competency.

Once an individual has a teaching certificate, they may be eligible to pursue a principal certification or endorsement. This typically involves completing a master's degree or other advanced degree program in educational leadership or administration, along with a certain number of hours of supervised administrative experience. In some states, individuals may also need to pass a state-administered principal certification exam.

In addition to state-level certifications, there are also national certifications available for school principals. For example, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers a certification for principals who demonstrate high levels of expertise and leadership in their field. The requirements for this certification include a portfolio of work, video submissions, and a written exam.

Step 5

Continuing Education

Continuing education for school principals is crucial for maintaining their effectiveness and ensuring that they stay up-to-date with the latest developments in education. Here are some options for continuing education for school principals:

  • Professional Development Workshops: There are many organizations that offer workshops and training sessions for school principals. These workshops cover a wide range of topics, such as leadership, communication, and curriculum development.
  • Online Courses: There are many online courses available that cover a range of topics related to school leadership. These courses can be completed at the principal's own pace and are often more affordable than traditional graduate programs.
  • Conferences: Attending education conferences is an excellent way for school principals to learn about new developments in education and network with other educators. There are many conferences held throughout the year that are specifically designed for school principals.
  • Mentoring: Experienced school principals can serve as mentors to newer principals, providing guidance and support as they navigate their roles. This can be a valuable way for principals to continue learning and growing in their profession.
Step 6


The requirements for school principal licensure in the United States vary by state. Some states require that school principals obtain a license or certification to work in their position, while others do not.

In general, states that do require licensure for school principals will typically require candidates to hold a master's degree in education or a related field, complete a state-approved principal preparation program, and pass a licensure exam. Other requirements may include a minimum number of years of teaching experience and a background check.

It's important to note that even in states where licensure is not required, many school districts will still require principals to hold a license or certification as a condition of employment. Additionally, obtaining licensure can be beneficial for principals as it may increase their job prospects and earning potential.