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How to Become a High School Principal

Drexel University School of Education

Within their high-ranking administrative position, principals play a critical role in educating kids. Most people think of a principal as a school’s chief disciplinarian, but principals take on a wide range of responsibilities that encompass almost every aspect of running a school.

Because principals have a more diverse set of responsibilities than teachers, becoming a principal means it’s necessary to develop experience in management and leadership. In other words, completing school principal educational requirements involves all the hard work of becoming a teacher and more.

But for people with the right motivation, the effort is well worth it. Below you can learn more about high school principal qualifications and the typical path that people take to become a high school principal.

What does a High School Principal Do?

High school principals oversee all operations of their school. Principals are trusted leaders who must not only guide the day-to-day operations of the school, but also inspire their teachers to teach, their staff to serve and their students to learn. Daily tasks for a high school principal can vary depending on the school, but typical responsibilities include:

  • Manage and set expectations for teachers, staff, and other personnel employed by the school
  • Develop and implement standards for the school and district’s curriculum
  • Manage the school’s performance and ensure all personnel are aware of the school’s goals and working towards them
  • Evaluate teacher performance and provide constructive feedback to help them improve where needed
  • Make hiring decisions for new teachers
  • Manage the school’s budget and expenses including supplies and maintenance
  • Provide reports to the district and state including test scores, issues, and student and teacher achievements
  • Enforce school and district codes and rules and make decisions on disciplinary action when needed

Steps to become a High School Principal

Earn your Bachelor’s degree

Principals often start out as teachers gaining years of experience in the classroom before moving into the leadership role of a principal. A bachelor’s degree in education is the typical path principals start with, but it is not required. A principal may have earned a degree in a science or business field and later obtained a post-bachelor’s teaching certificate. The most important thing is teaching experience as some states may require a certain number of years of experience to be eligible for administrative leadership roles. Other school roles such as that of a school counselor or specialty subject are also ways principals can gain experience besides teaching in a classroom.

Earn a master’s degree in a relevant field

What are the requirements to be a school principal? In addition to a bachelor’s degree, becoming a high school principal generally requires that applicants possess a Master’s degree. The degree is typically focused in educational leadership or educational administration, since those are the skills that experienced educators need to learn to pass certification.

For example, prospective principals may look to a Graduate Education Program like the MS in Human Resource Development, or the Online Master’s of Science Degree in Educational Administration. Students who already possess a Master’s degree are able to directly enroll in Drexel’s Principal certification program to start working directly toward achieving professional certification.

Learn from experience in a professional setting

As stated above, experience is critical to become a successful high school principal. Requirements will vary from district to district, but principals will typically have 1-5 years of experience either as a teacher or in another role within a school. School experience is necessary since principals oversee the operations of their school and are responsible for evaluating and helping their teachers grow.

Earn a License in School Administration

In addition to a bachelor’s degree, teaching experience, and a master’s degree, most states require school principals to possess a license in school administration. High school principal qualifications and requirements for licensure vary on a state-by-state basis. However, being admitted to licensure exams usually requires a graduate degree, and sometimes requires prior work experience.

Reasons to Become a Principal

Deciding to leave the classroom and take on a new role in academia is a big decision. There are many ways to create a positive learning environment for students, and not all of them involve teaching. But why become a school principal, and who should consider making the switch?

  • Becoming a principal can be a great choice for people with broad interests. Because administrative positions allow you to work across several interrelated fields, from PR to management.
  • Problem-solvers will find no shortages of new challenges to take-on.
  • People with a passion for giving children high-quality educational experiences have the opportunity to make a bigger impact on the organization and management of their school.
  • Becoming a principal gives educators who are interested in career advancement the opportunity to pursue positions with even greater authority and oversight, like superintendent or postsecondary administrator.

If those types of challenges interest you, and you’d like to learn more about school principal education requirements, then take a moment to Request Information on how to become a high school principal through the Drexel School of Education.


What Degree Do You Need to Be a High School Principal?

Most principals begin their careers as teachers. The most common route to becoming a high school principal requires starting out as a secondary school teacher. For that, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree. Figuring out precisely how many years of college are required to become a principal are necessary depends on a number of factors. But in most cases, a Secondary Education Degree Program will be the most direct route to becoming a high school principal.

In addition to the roughly four years it takes to complete your degree, you’ll need a teaching certificate, which will require student teaching experience. Having acquired a few years of teaching experience, prospective principals begin working on the additional education required to achieve a school principal certification, as with the Principal Certification Program.

How Many Years of Teaching Experience Do I Need to Become a Principal?

Can you be a principal without teaching experience? While it’s possible in certain cases, it’s uncommon to find a principal who has not first been a teacher. Many positions require previous teaching experience. Lacking those credentials can greatly weaken your competitiveness as a job candidate.

On average, the amount of teaching experience needed to become a principal is usually between 1-5 years. After you possess the benefit of classroom experience, you’ll become eligible for programs like the Educational Leadership degree, which generally requires at least two years of teaching experience for admission.

How Much Do High School Principal's Make?

High school principal salaries vary based on a number of factors including the type of school, private, public, charter, the number of years of experience they have, and the location of the school, to name a few. According to, as of October 2021, salaries for a high school principal in the United States range from $85,845 to 136,848, with an average salary of $110,479. Glassdoor reports an average salary of $118,471 per year, while PayScale reports $91,584/year, further emphasizing that salary is dependent on numerous factors.

What skills does a principal need?

Given the number of responsibilities a high school principal has, organization skills are very important. There are also several more skills that are very helpful for a principal to have including:

  • Leadership and management
  • Conflict management
  • Budgeting
  • Evaluation
  • Vast knowledge of teaching and curriculum
  • Scheduling
  • Community relations