How to Become a High School Principal

How to become a high school principalHigh school principals carry a lot of responsibility for their teachers, students, and families. A positive high school experience can mean better options for college and career for young people, so becoming a high school principal is a surefire way to be able to impact the lives of youth and learn solid decision making and leadership skills. Depending on your current job experience, education level, and motivation to advance quickly, you can take a number of different steps to realize your goal of becoming a high school principal and have a real impact on students, teacher, families, and, ultimately, the future.

The Principal Pathway: To Teach or Not to Teach?

Many high school principals arrive at their position via the classroom. Knowing the challenges and demands of a high school teacher’s job can give principals a sense of empathy and solidarity with their staff, and it can help greatly with student rapport.

If you’re not yet teaching, your first step should be to identify a mentor with principal experience, either at a high school or via an online teaching program. Setting up virtual correspondence can help you get a better sense for the job and allow you the opportunity to ask meaningful questions about your potential future career.

Master's Degree
1 to 5 years
Find Related CareersSOURCE: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

While a good mentor can definitely help you clarify your high school principal plans, you will still likely need to begin this career path with a teaching job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most principals do start their careers as teachers. There are many programs available designed to fast-track school leaders who are interested in applying their leadership skills from another industry towards a job in educational leadership, however, but the more traditional route has been to begin in the classroom before moving up the principal’s desk.

Finding Resources: Professional Development and Certification

Becoming a high school principal requires adequate schooling and certification through accredited institutions.

First, you’ll need a Bachelor’s degree. This degree doesn’t need to be in Education, but if you’re beginning your journey at square one, education coursework, whether online or in the traditional classroom, can get you up to speed more quickly.

Next, you must work to establish a solid track record of leadership and earn your Master’s degree. There are a number of traditional master’s programs available to give you all the skills you need to qualify for most high school principals jobs, but more and more non-traditional programs are being created to identify and develop promising new leaders in education. Alternative certification programs abound, from courses at a local university to online learning opportunities that allow you to study coursework in your own time while continuing to teach or begin student teaching.


Like teaching, the work of being a high school principal is one of constant learning. Plan on finding and pursuing opportunities for professional development long after you net the job of your dreams. Online programs and professional organizations are often a great way to keep current with your skills and find motivation and inspiration to further both your career and the teachers and students in your charge.

Looking Ahead: Career Prospects

Becoming a high school principal will open up a wider field of career possibilities in the education field. The work requires collaboration and challenging decision making, and many principals find the rigor and variety very satisfying. Some principals go on to focus purely on the academic side of education and become educational consultants for schools, districts, or private curriculum companies. Former principals may also go on to manage and lead on the local or state level and serve as a superintendent. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the median pay for high school principals was $86,970 in May 2010, which makes this more attractive, salary wise, than a typical career as a classroom teacher.

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