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Career Guide
School principal

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

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

What is a school principal?

A school principal plays a vital role as school leader in managing daily school operations and providing a safe and productive classroom environment. The school principal job description includes various responsibilities, including recruitment and management of staff members, developing and implementing curriculum standards, counseling students, evaluating faculty and organizing professional development programs. They also act as supervisors, handling financial management, security procedures, and ensure the school meets state and federal standards for academic performance. 

As a school administrator, you 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, BLS notes. 

In their 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 proces
  • 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, management of personnel resources and being service-oriented are vital soft skills that can significantly enhance your performance as a school principal, according to O*NET.

Salary range $80 – 128K

25th to 75th percentile

Elementary, middle and high school principals within the 25th and 75th percentiles earned between $80,290 and $128,740 in 2022, 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] 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.

Education and experience

A school principal chats with students outside

Many aspiring school leaders begin their careers as classroom teachers, where they gain valuable experience and insights into effective teaching 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 heads or assistant principals.

It is important to research the requirements to become a school principal in your state before pursuing this career path. Transitioning to a school administrator position may entail additional education, such as a master’s degree in education leadership or education administration. To work at a public school, it will most likely be necessary for school administrators to obtain a state-issued certificate or license.

Master's programs in education leadership or education administration equip future principals with the skills needed to manage staff, formulate budgets, set objectives and engage with parents and the community. 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 become a superintendent — overseeing an entire school district — or take on other roles within the school administration. You can also transition to a position as an instructional coordinator, 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 an 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 the master’s program does. With our unique approach, you can concentrate on one course at a time, spanning 6-week intervals. 

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 program 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 a master's program which leads to the principal career path. At University of Phoenix, we offer two bachelor's degrees within the education field of study, which are 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 becoming a school principal?

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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