Principal Graduate Degree Programs Overview

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

A principal is the head administrator of a school at the preschool through high school level. Principals set policies and goals, oversee teachers and support staff, and report directly to the district superintendent. Aspiring principals must complete a principal certification course. Courses focus on leadership practices in areas of instruction, curriculum development and program assessment.

The prerequisites to earn a principal certification include a master's degree in school leadership or administration, three or more years of prior teaching experience, applicable current teaching license, and recommendations from administrators and teachers at the applicant's current school.

After completing the program in two years or less, students must apply for certification through their respective state board of education.

Certificate Program in School Leadership

Depending upon the school, coursework can be taken as part of a master's degree curriculum or completed as part of a non-degree program. Classes consist of seminars in school leadership as well as an internship or practicum. Topics addressed in this program include:

  • Public school law
  • Program evaluation
  • Foundations of educational administration
  • Instructional theory and design
  • Educational leadership
  • Curriculum development

Current Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS,, the rate of job growth for school principals is expected to go up four percent between 2019 and 2029. The BLS stated the median salary of education administrators was $98,490 in 2020.

Continuing Education and Certification

Those who wish to pursue higher degrees can do so through a Ph.D. or Ed.D. program. Upon completion of a doctoral program, students will be eligible for certification as a superintendent. Students can also pursue related degrees in organizational leadership or education instructional leadership. In many states, graduates need to take continuing education classes in order to keep their certifications current. Working principals can often enroll in stand-alone courses that don't lead toward degrees.

Earning a principal certification can be accomplished as part of a graduate program or on its own. The goal, either way, is to delve into administrative and academic issues that affect schools and equip principals to address them.

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