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Career Guide
School principal

If you’re passionate about education and leadership, making a difference and shaping young minds, you may be fit for the school principal career path. 

If you’re passionate about education and leadership, making a difference and shaping young minds, you may be fit for the school principal career path.

Career overview

A school principal plays a vital role in managing daily operations and cultivating a positive classroom environment. As a school administrator, responsibilities include recruiting and managing staff members, developing and upholding curriculum standards, mentoring students, evaluating faculty and coordinating professional development programs. School principals also act as supervisors, overseeing financial management, security protocols and adherence to state and federal standards for academic performance. 

School administrators can explore employment opportunities in different settings, such as public and private elementary schools, middle schools and high schools. In 2022, elementary, middle and high school principals held about 300,400 jobs in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of these professionals worked in local/public schools.

Career-relevant skills

In this role, principals may need to demonstrate these career-relevant skills: 

  • Collaboration
  • Leadership development
  • Educational leadership
  • Advocacy
  • Educational diversity
  • Equity
  • Educational policy 
  • Federal laws
  • Ethics
  • Academic achievement
  • Instructional strategies 
  • Curriculum development
  • Instructional leadership
  • School improvement models
  • Program development
  • Student diversity
  • Facility management
  • School funding
  • Financial management
  • Human Resources management 
  • Employee performance management
  • Hiring process
  • Organizational management
  • Partnerships
  • Public relations
  • Family and community engagement
  • Prioritization
  • Pedagogy
  • Teaching
  • Action research

Soft skills

Regularly used on the job

Critical thinking, active listening, judgement and decision making, coordination and time management are soft skills needed for the school principal career path, O*NET reports.

Salary range $83 – 131K

25th to 75th percentile

Elementary, middle and high school principals within the 25th and 75th percentiles earned between $83,050 and $131,180 in 2023, according to nationwide statistics from BLS.[1]


Projected annual job opportunities

From 2022 to 2032, national job growth for elementary, middle and high school principals is projected to be minimal, BLS reports. However, about 20,200 positions may open yearly, mainly due to retirements and career changes.[1]

[1] Salary ranges are not specific to students or graduates of University of Phoenix. Actual outcomes vary based on multiple factors, including prior work experience, geographic location and other factors specific to the individual. University of Phoenix does not guarantee employment, salary level or career advancement. BLS data is geographically based. Information for a specific state/city can be researched on the BLS website. The BLS Projected Growth for 2022-2032 is published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This data reflects the BLS’ projections of national (not local) conditions. These data points are not specific to University of Phoenix students or graduates.

Education and experience

A school principal chats with students outside

To pursue the school principal career path, you may start off as a classroom teacher, where you can gain valuable teaching experience and insights into effective instructional methods, classroom management and curriculum design. To qualify as a teacher, a bachelor’s degree is required. 

As teachers demonstrate leadership qualities, they may advance to supervisor roles such as department head or assistant principal. It is important to research the requirements in your state before pursuing the school principal career path. Transitioning to a school administrator position may entail earning additional education credentials, such as a master’s degree focused in education leadership or education administration. To work in a public school setting, school principals will likely need to obtain a state-issued certificate or license.

Master's programs in education leadership or education administration equip future school leaders with the skills needed to manage staff, formulate budgets, establish school objectives and build community relationships. To be eligible for these programs, candidates usually need a bachelor’s degree in education, counseling or a related field. 

As a principal, you can climb the career ladder to the superintendent level — overseeing an entire school district — or take on other roles within the school administration. You can also transition into an instructional coordinator position, developing and implementing curriculum and overseeing teaching standards. As you continue your professional development, you may also choose to further your education by pursuing a doctoral degree

University of Phoenix offers master's and doctoral programs with this profession as a career outcome. One major difference between the two programs is that the University’s doctoral program does not lead to licensure as a principal or any other professional licensure, while our master’s program does. With our unique approach, you can concentrate on courses, spanning 6-week intervals, one at a time. 

Master of Arts in Education/ Administration and Supervision

In this master's program, you will engage in a curriculum that adheres to national standards established by the Professional Standards for Educational Leadership (PSEL). This degree is designed to prepare you for K-12 principal licensure. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to immerse yourself in a real-world administrative internship, acquiring valuable field-based experience in school administration.

You'll learn how to: 

  • Design and implement school leadership practices to produce a positive impact on P-12 student learning
  • Evaluate effective professional practice
  • Apply professional ethics to leadership practices
  • Evaluate community factors to address the needs of diverse populations
  • Evaluate research and synthesize information from multiple sources

To earn this master's degree, you will need to complete 38 credits through 15 core courses and 1 elective course. This program is 19 months long.

Doctor of Education

Our Doctor of Education (EdD) program equips you with the skills to enhance performance and address intricate educational challenges through analytical, critical and innovative thinking.

You'll learn how to: 

  • Integrate the Scholar Practitioner Leader (SPL) Model throughout the doctoral journey and beyond
  • Cultivate a leadership identity that reflects a mature and strategic understanding of the tenets of leadership at all levels of educational organizations
  • Develop doctoral research that identifies and addresses opportunities for improvement in complex educational contexts

To earn this degree, you will need to complete 68 credits through 18 core courses. Completion of an 8-week online symposium is also required. This program is 42 months long. Please note that the EdD does not lead to principal licensure or any other professional licensure or certification.

Additional pathways

While our bachelor's degrees do not independently prepare you for a career as a school leader, they can prepare you for the master's program that leads to the principal career path. At University of Phoenix, we offer two bachelor's degrees within the education field of study — the Bachelor of Science in Education/Early Childhood Education and the Bachelor of Science in Education/Elementary Education. These programs are four years in length and, to earn one of these degrees, you will be required to complete 120 credits in core, general education, elective and clinical practice/student teaching courses.

A principal meets with teachers

How can University of Phoenix support me in pursuing my career goals?

Once you become a Phoenix, you'll gain access to our Career Navigator tools, which can help you evaluate career options, track career-relevant skills and discover job postings suited to your needs. From resumé building and interview preparation to networking and mentorship, University of Phoenix offers career services for life to all students and graduates. Dive deeper into our career services, resources and tools to find out how we can help you reach your goals.

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