How to Become a School Principal: Career Advice & Information

Overview & Salaries


Everyone knows that principals are in charge of schools. But what does being in charge actually mean? Mostly, it means a lot of responsibility—for supervising teachers and staff, for making sure everything is well-run and that the school is safe. It also means dealing with serious disciplinary problems, and overseeing the school curriculum. Being responsible for educating of hundreds of kids—thousands, in a big school—is a very big responsibility, but it’s an important job.


Annual salaries for school principals will vary depending on your experience, education level, and expertise. In 2013, the average annual salary for senior education administrators, including school principals, working in the U.S. was $90,840 per year.

For more information on what parts of the country have the most opportunity for school principals, click through to our Best Places to Work tab for information on the number of people employed and the average salary in each state.

Discover the Best Cities and States to Work as a School Principal

Texas has the greatest number of employment opportunities for education leaders, with 22,320 positions offering a yearly average salary of $76,020. California is second, with just over 20,000 education leaders earning an average salary of $102,090.

The metro areas employing the most school principals are:

  • New York-White Plains (12,160)
  • Chicago-Joliet (7,440)
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach (5,100)

The metro areas employing the highest concentration of school principals are:

  • Decatur, IL (3.75 per thousand jobs)
  • Yuba City, CA (3.71 per thousand jobs)

The metro areas employing the best-paid school principals are:

  • Nassau-Suffolk, NY (average annual salary $138,440)
  • Punta Gorda, FL (average annual salary $137,220)

Employment and Salary Information for School Principals

Use our interactive map below to find out which areas of the United States are currently experiencing the greatest amount of growth and job availability for graduates looking for a career as an educational leader. The associated information has been gathered from Bureau of Labor statistics, representing data collected in 2012.

Why Become A School Principal?

It takes hard work (and usually graduate school) as well as many years’ experience to become a school principal, but for many educators the effort is well worth it. Here are a few of the reasons why:

  • Help people achieve their dreams. Any school helps its kids achieve the careers and goals, and ultimately their dreams. Helping a school run smoothly helps to make that happen.
  • Pays very well. The average annual salary for school principals is more than $90,000 per year.
  • Impress the kids. Remember being sent to the principal’s office? Imagine being the principal.
  • Make big decisions. From who gets hired to what gets taught, school principals can exert a huge influence on the education kids get.

School Principal: What You Need To Know

School principals need multiple skill sets. They need to be experts in education: what makes a good or a bad teacher, or a strong curriculum. They have to lead and manage others and must be excellent with people. And since they often get the tough disciplinary cases, they need to be good with the kids, too. A working knowledge of these skill sets will help to set you apart from other candidates.

  • Strong Organizational and Administration Skills
  • Communication
  • People Management
  • Expert Knowledge of Teaching
  • Discipline and Student Management
  • Understanding of Curriculum

Feel like you’ve got a lot to learn? Get more information about school principal careers, degrees, and applicable courses from one of the schools below.

Degree Options for School Principal Careers

Bachelor’s degree

There are sometimes opportunities for those with extensive experience in teaching and school administration to take over the role of a school principal.

Master’s degree

Most public and private schools will require aspiring school principals to have a master’s degree in education leadership or administration. These programs are widely offered, including courses that teach students how to train and supervise teachers and staff, manage school budgets, set institutional goals, and work with parents or other community leaders.


Many states also require principals become licensed as school administrators. Getting a license usually involves passing a test and some continuing education.