Your Career as a School Principal

What Is It Like to Be an Education Administrator?

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 inside of 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

  • In 2016, principal's median annual earnings were $92,510.
  • 240,000 held this job title in 2014.
  • School 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 if they must 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 faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

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  School principals:

  • "Supervise the instructional programs of the school, evaluate lesson plans and observe classes"
  • "Collaborate with the other members of the patient's health care team in order to provide an appropriate plan of care"
  • "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, you will need to 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 as 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?

    • 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 actual job announcements found on

    • "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?

    Related Occupations

     DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2016)Minimum Required Education/Training
    TeacherInstructs students in various subjects$52,620-$58,030 Bachelor's Degree in Education / Master's Degree in some states
    College AdministratorManages operations at a college or university$90,760Master's Degree or Ph.D.
    Hospital AdministratorOversees medical and health services$104,340Bachelor's Degree in Health Administration or Management, Business Administration, Public Health Administration, or Nursing / Master's Degree Preferred


    Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited August 9, 2017).
    Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited August 9, 2017).