Elementary, Middle, or High School Principal

Job Description

Principal with three teachers in school library, group portrait
••• Yellow Dog Productions / Getty Images

A principal manages an elementary, middle or secondary school and is responsible for everything that goes on in it. Also called a school administrator, he or she establishes educational goals for his or her school and makes sure the teachers and staff meet them.

It is the principal's job to represent the school within the school district and the community at large. He or she may delegate some duties to one or more assistant principals.

Quick Facts

  • Principal's median annual earnings are $94,390 (2017).
  • 251,300 hold this job title (2016).
  • Principals work in public and private elementary, middle, and high schools.
  • They usually work full time during regular school hours and often in the evenings and on weekends when they have to meet with students' families or attend special events.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is good. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment growth that is the same as the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

    Roles and Responsibilities

    Find out what job duties you can expect to have as a school principal. These are from job announcements we found on Indeed.com:

    • "Supervise the instructional programs of the school, evaluate lesson plans, and observe classes"
    • "Use student performance data to assess teaching and learning effectiveness"
    • "Confer with teachers, students, and parents concerning educational and behavioral problems in school"
    • "Ensure compliance with all laws, network policies, and civil regulations"
    • "Keep the staff informed and seek ideas for the improvement of the school"

    How to Become a School Principal

    To have a career in school administration, you will have to start as a teacher. After getting experience in the classroom, earn a master's degree in education administration or educational leadership.  Admission requirements for these programs usually include a bachelor's degree in education or school counseling.

    In most states, public school principals must be licensed school administrators. In addition to completing your master's degree, you will also have to pass a written exam and a background check. Private school principals typically don't need a license. 

    Where to Go From Here

    For many individuals, becoming a school principal is the highest they can expect to, or will want to, climb in the educational field. Others strive for further career advancement. Those who work in smaller schools, for example, may become principals of larger ones. Others may become school district superintendents or presidents of educational institutions.

    What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed in This Career?

    To succeed as a principal, you need specific personal qualities with which you were either born or acquired through life experiences. They are:

    • Leadership Skills: As a principal, you will have to lead a team of teachers and other school staff members to the common goal of providing an excellent education for your students.
    • Interpersonal Skills: Your ability to negotiate, persuade, and coordinate your actions with those of other people is essential to your success as a leader. You will also need to be able to establish good relationships with your students and their parents.
    • Communication Skills: Good leaders also need superb listening and speaking skills.
    • Problem Solving: When running any entity—including a school—the ability to identify and fix problems is crucial.
    • Critical Thinking: When solving problems or making decisions, principals must identify various solutions and options before choosing the best one.

    What Will Employers Expect From You?

    Here are some requirements from job announcements found on Indeed.com:

    • "Supervisory skills including staff assignment, monitoring staff development, and evaluating staff effectiveness"
    • "The ability to connect and communicate effectively and frequently with faculty members, administration, and parents"
    • "Exercises planning skills for self, others, and student scheduling"
    • "Ability to maintain materials of a highly confidential nature"
    • "Strong strategic visioning skills"
    • "Ability to establish and maintain effective working relationships"

    Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

    Your interestspersonality type, and work-related values should play a part in your career choice. Do a self assessment to learn about your traits and if you have the following ones, think about becoming a principal:

    Related Occupations

    Description Median Annual Wage (2017) Minimum Required Education/Training
    Teacher Instructs students in various subjects


    (see teacher salaries by state)

    Bachelor's Degree in Education / Master's Degree required in some states
    College Administrator Manages operations at a college or university $92,360 Master's Degree or Ph.D.
    Hospital Administrator Oversees medical and health services $98,350 Bachelor's Degree in Health Administration or Management, Business Administration, Public Health Administration, or Nursing / Master's Degree Preferred

    Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited November 12, 2018).