Question: What Degree is Required to Become a School Principal or Administrator?
Answer: To become a school principal or administrator, most states require a master’s degree in education or educational administration, plus two to five years of professional experience in education. However, as requirements vary by state, educators interested in becoming a school principal should carefully review the requirements for their state of residence in order to determine what is required.
Each state has different licensure requirements for school principals or school administrators. Most states require school principals or administrators to hold a bachelor’s degree in education, counseling, or a related field, and a master’s degree or higher in a school principal or educational administration program. Depending on the state, additional requirements may include completion of a certain number of field experience hours through a student’s preparation program, having an active teaching license with one to six years of classroom teaching experience, and passing state-specific assessments or credentialing examinations.
Some states also require the completion of specific courses, training in particular areas, or a specific number of credit hours in a graduate administrative program. Certain states also require that the graduate program be approved by their state, or be certified by a body such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). Several states also allow educators who have already earned their master’s degree to complete training programs in school leadership in order to prepare for credentialing or students may be able to pursue an Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree program.
It is important to note that every state, plus the District of Columbia, has standards in place to guide school leadership credentialing. Each state publishes its own school leader standards or follows published standards such as the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders (PSEL) published by the National Policy Board for Educational Administration (NPBEA). Because requirements vary by state, it is imperative that educators interested in transitioning into school leadership positions review specific requirements for their state of residence before enrolling in an academic training or graduate program.
Note: While the majority of states require a master’s degree or higher to become a school principal, a select number of states only require a bachelor’s degree as part of their credentialing requirements.
Additional Requirements to Become a School Principal or School Administrator
As noted above, most states require school principals or administrators to hold a valid teaching license with one to six or more years of teaching experience. Those seeking state licensure or certification as a school administrator or principal should verify whether a teaching license and teaching experience outside that state meets state requirements. (Note: According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “Principals in private schools are not required to have a state-issued license.”)
Several states require additional certification or training in areas applicable to the schools in their communities. These may include special training, certification, endorsement, or coursework in teaching English language learners, special education, teaching exceptional students in the regular classroom, suicide prevention, alcohol and drug-related disabilities, dating violence, sexual abuse assault awareness and prevention, cross-cultural communication, educational law, state history, human relations training, and literacy.
Almost all states require a passing score on a school administrator assessment. For example, Indiana requires a passing score on the Indiana CORE Assessment: School Administrator, Alabama requires a passing score on the Praxis II: Educational Leadership assessment, and New Jersey requires a passing score on the School Leaders Licensure Assessment.
As an example of the full requirements to qualify for a Standard Professional Principal Certificate in grades P-12 in Arizona, the candidate must:
- Hold a master’s degree from an accredited institution
- Complete an educational administration program for principals of at least 30 credits with specific courses in school law and finance
- Complete a principal practicum or have two years of supervised principal or assistant principal experience
- Hold teaching certification and have proof of three years of teaching experience in grades P-12
- Hold endorsement in English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual Education
- Pass the principal section of the Arizona Educator Proficiency Assessment
Additional Training Options to Become a School Principal or School Administrator
Several states specifically allow for non-traditional innovative or experimental preparation programs for educators interested in becoming school administrators. These may include educator preparation programs offered through a state’s department of education, intern programs in administrative service, an individualized administrative training program in collaboration with a school district, or programs designed by a regional educational service center or a private administrator training organization.
Additionally, for highly qualified candidates who already meet the minimum degree requirements, some states may waive the typical requirements of a graduate degree specifically in school leadership or administration. This may include completing the preparation program under the mentorship of a currently employed, highly-effective building-level administrator, or holding a master’s degree in education with a certain number of hours of leadership experience. In these cases, a state may allow a graduate administrative preparation program provider to reduce internship hours or waive certain courses for students who have fulfilled those requirements through previous coursework, work experience, or alternative learning experiences.
Finally, some states allow out-of-state applicants to be issued a non-renewable credential to work as a school administrator or school principal while completing all of the state’s requirements. There are specific requirements to be eligible for this option and they vary by state, so educators in this situation should review state-specific requirements carefully before enrolling in an academic training program. Upon completion of all of the state’s requirements, candidates may apply for full state licensure or certification.
Degree Requirements by State and State Entity
Following is a table identifying many of the initial degree requirements by state and the state entity responsible for certification or licensure for school principals and administrators.1 (Note: Educators should always visit their state board of education for the most up-to-date and complete requirements for their state of residence as requirements can change over time.)
|REQUIRED DEGREE & CREDENTIALS
|Alabama State Department of Education
|Master’s degree; completion of an Alabama-approved instructional leadership program
|Three years full-time professional educational experience with at least one year of full-time P-12 teaching experience
|Alaska Department of Education and Early Development
|Master’s degree or higher with three credits in multicultural education or cross-cultural communication; completed an approved school administration program; completed training in alcohol/drug-related disabilities, dating violence, youth suicide, and sexual abuse/assault awareness and prevention
|Three years of work experience as an elementary or secondary teacher or special services provider with the required credentials
|Arizona Department of Education
|Master’s degree or higher; completion of educational administration program for principals of at least 30 credits with courses in school law and finance
|Three years of teaching experience in grades P-12 with endorsement in English as a Second Language (ESL) or Bilingual Education
|Arkansas Department of Education
|Master’s degree or higher in education, educational leadership or a licensure content area; completion of teacher evaluation professional development program
|At least four years of P-12 experience as a licensed classroom teacher, library media specialist, or school counselor
|California Commission on Teacher Credentialing
|Bachelor’s degree; California teaching credential, designated subject teaching credential, or services credential in a program of professional preparation; completion of a specialized or professional preparation program in administrative services
|At least five years of full-time classroom teaching experience or pupil services experience in California or another state
|Colorado Department of Education
|Bachelor's degree or higher plus completion of an approved principal preparation program or an approved alternative principle program
|At least three years of full-time experience as a licensed or certified professional in elementary or secondary school in Colorado or another state
|Connecticut State Department of Education
|Master's degree plus 18 semester hours of graduate credit beyond the master's degree in a planned program of administrative or supervisory preparation with specific course areas required; completion of a course of study in special education and other required subjects
|Fifty school months of successful teaching or service experience
|Delaware Department of Education
|Masters degree in a CAEP-accredited educational leadership program or a state-approved educator preparation program; valid Delaware teaching license
|At least 5 years of teaching experience
|District of Columbia
|Office of the State Superintendent of Education
|Master's degree or higher; completion of a state-approved educator preparation program for educational administrators
|At least two years of full-time P-12 teaching, instructional leadership, or educational services experience
|Florida Department of Education
|Master's degree or higher; several completion pathways including an educational administration, administration and supervision, or educational leadership program with other requirements, master’s degree in a different subject plus completion of a modified Florida-approved educational leadership program, or a Florida-approved educational leadership training program through a Florida public school district
|The Georgia Professional Standards Commission
|Educational Leadership Tier I Certificate or a Standard Professional Certificate in Educational Leadership Tier II plus an approved Educational Leadership Tier II certification program
|Hawaii State Board of Education
|Attend the Hawaii Certification Institute for School Leaders (HICISL) through the state department of education
|Be a certified teacher employed by the Hawaii Department of Education public school system with at least 4 years of K-12 teaching experience or at least 3 years of K-12 teaching experience with a K-12 administrator license or master's degree in educational administration or leadership
|Idaho State Board of Education
|Master's degree; completion of a state-approved program with at least 30 credits of graduate study in school administration or school principalship
|Complete and administrative internship in an Idaho-approved program or have one year of experience as a P-12 administrator; have four years of full-time work experience with P-12 students
|Illinois State Board of Education
|Master’s degree or higher; completion of an approved principal preparation program with coursework in teaching exceptional children, literacy, and teaching English language learners
|At least four years of teaching or school support personnel experience in an Illinois school or approved out-of-state school
|Indiana Department of Education
|Master's degree or higher; completion of a building level administration program; instructional or school counselor license in at least one content area
|At least two years of teaching experience, plus valid CPR certification, and a suicide prevention training certificate
|Iowa State Board of Education
|Master's degree; completion of specific courses and experiences as defined by the Iowa State Board of Education; completion of an Iowa approved P-12 principal and P-12 supervisor of special education program
|Three years of P-12 teaching experience or six years of teaching and administrative experience with at least two of those years in teaching
|Kansas State Board of Education
|Master's degree with verification of the completion of a graduate-level school leadership program
|At least five years of work experience in a state accredited school as a standard teacher or School specialist, earning a professional-level license, professional clinical license, or a full technical certificate
|Kentucky Education Professional Standards Board
|Master's degree; completion of an approved program of administrative preparation
|Three years of teaching experience
|Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
|Master's degree in a competency-based educational leadership program; valid Louisiana teaching certificate or comparable out-of-state teaching certificate
|Three years of teaching experience in the area of certification
|Maine State Board of Education
|Masters degree in any field; completion of a Maine-approved program for principals that meets the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards; completion of coursework in teaching exceptional students in the regular classroom, federal and state civil rights and education laws, and special education law
|At least three years of teaching experience
|Maryland State Department of Education
|Masters degree; completion of one of three required preparation pathways
|27 months of teaching, professional, or certified specialist experience
|Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and
|Masters degree that includes a 500-hour supervised practicum; or a 500-hour administrative internship with a trained mentor; or approval through a panel review; hold Sheltered English Immersion Endorsement
|At least three years of executive leadership or management experience, school teaching or administrative experience
|Michigan Department of Education
|Master’s degree or higher; completion of a Michigan-approved school administrator program with at least 18 semester credits in P-12 school administration
|Not specified (Inquire with agency)
|Minnesota Board of School Administrators
|Specialist or doctoral degree; or a bachelor’s degree plus 60 semester credits in a terminating graduate degree; completion of 320 hours of school field experience as an administrative aide to a principal
|Three years of teaching experience
|Mississippi State Board of Education
|Master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree in education administration; five-year educator license
|Three years of experience
|Missouri State Board of Education
|Missouri teaching certificate; master’s degree in educational leadership that includes a course in psychology and education of the exceptional child
|At least two years of successful teaching experience
|Montana State Board of Public Education
|Master’s degree in educational leadership or education-related master’s degree; completion of an accredited K-12 educator preparation program
|At least three years of teaching experience
|Nebraska State Board of Education
|Master’s degree in educational administration or leadership;completion of a teacher education program; completion of human relations training and special education training
|Two years of P-12 teaching experience or professional experience as a school administrator, psychologist, or counselor
|Nevada Commission on Professional Standards in Education
|Master's degree or higher in educational administration with completion of at least 24 semester credits in school administration and organization, supervision and evaluation of instruction, school finances, human resources, school law, curriculum, and educational research
|Three years of K-12 teaching experience
|New Hampshire State Board of Education
|Masters Degree in educational leadership
|At least five years of teaching experience
|New Jersey Department of Education
|Master's degree or higher in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction, or leadership and management; completion of 30 graduate credits in the master's program or in addition to it that meet the Professional Standards for School Leaders; completion of an internship in educational leadership in the roles and responsibilities of a principal
|Five years of educational experience
|New Mexico Public Education Department
|Master's degree or higher with at least 18 semester credits in an educational administration program; completion of a supervised administration apprenticeship
|Four years of work experience as a teacher or school counselor
|New York State Education Department
|Masters degree or higher; completion of an educational leadership service school building leader program or regular school leadership program
|Three years of classroom teaching or pupil personnel service experience
|North Carolina State Board of Education
|Master's degree in school administration from a public school administration program, accredited college or university program, or an equivalent education training program approved by the North Carolina State Board of Education
|At least three years of teaching experience
|North Dakota Education Standards and Practices Board
|Master’s degree in educational administration or a master's degree in an approved subject with courses in leadership, educational law, curriculum and instruction, school policy, educational finance, and K-12 administration
|At least three years of teaching experience, administrative experience, or a combination of the two
|Ohio Department of Education
|Master’s degree; completion of an approved administrative preparation program
|Two years of successful teaching experience, or two years of successful work experience in pupil services
|Oklahoma Commission for Educational Quality and Accountability
|Master's degree; completion of an approved educational administration program with a focus on curriculum and instruction and building-level leadership skills
|At least two years of successful classroom teaching experience
|Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission
|Master's degree or higher; completion of a graduate program in school administration; completion of a course on Oregon School Law and Finance
|Three years of full-time licensed educator experience
|Pennsylvania Department of Education
|Completion of a state-approved master’s degree or higher principal certification program
|At least three years of professional school experience
|Rhode Island Department of Education
|Master's degree or higher; completion of an approved administrative certification program
|At least three years of P-12 educational experience
|South Carolina Department of Education
|Master's degree; completion of an approved K-12 principal or supervisor preparation program; valid K-12 South Carolina Educator’s Professional Certificate
|At least three years of teaching experience
|South Dakota Board of Education
|Masters degree in education; completion of an internship including all job responsibilities in principalship
|Three years of professional experience in a K-12 school with one year of classroom teaching or direct student contact
|Tennessee Department of Education
|Completion of a Tennessee-approved instructional leader preparation program
|At least three years of educator experience
|Texas State Board for Educator Certification
|Masters degree or higher; completion of an approved principal preparation program
|Two years of teaching experience
|Utah State Board of Education
|Master's degree or higher; completion of a board-approved educational leadership licensure program or a NASDTEC-issued educational leadership license; Utah educator license
|At least three years of educational experience in a Utah school or at least one year of educational experience in a Utah school plus three years of educational experience in another state
|Vermont Standards Board for Professional Educators
|Master's degree; completion of an administrative internship; competence in the Vermont Core
|At least three years of P-12 teaching experience
|Virginia Department of Education
|Master's degree; completion of an approved program in administration; completion of a supervised internship with exposure to diverse settings and student populations
|Three years of full-time work experience as instructional personnel with Virginia licensure
|Washington Professional Educator Standards Board
|Masters degree; completion of an approved principal preparation program; valid teaching certification
|Three years of school-based student instructional experience
|West Virginia Department of Education
|Masters degree; completion of a state-approved educational leadership program
|Three years of teaching or management-level experience
|Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction
|Master's degree or equivalent leading to principal certification
|Three years of full-time classroom teaching, school counselor, school social worker, or school psychologist experience with at least 540 classroom teaching hours
|Wyoming Professional Teaching Standards Board
|Completion of an educational leadership program
|Hold Wyoming teaching licensure
Pathways to Become a School Principal Based on Educational Background
Pathways to becoming a school principal or administrator vary based on prior education, training, certifications, and work experience. Below are three pathways for educators including those with a bachelor’s degree, those with a master’s degree, and educators who are interested in changing states. These pathways should be used for example purposes only as specific actions and requirements will vary depending on an educator’s state of residence, and their academic and professional background.
Requirements for Teachers, Counselors, or Educational Services Personnel with a Bachelor’s Degree
For teachers and educators who work in educational services with a bachelor’s degree in education or a related field, one pathway to becoming a school principal is included below.
- Inquire with your state about the specific school principal or administrator credentialing requirements.
- Fulfill the required years of classroom teaching and/or administrative experience.
- Complete a master’s degree in school administration, school principalship, or educational leadership as prescribed by the state credentialing organization. Many educators continue to teach while pursuing their master’s degrees. (Note: In most states, the program must be state-approved or nationally accredited.)
- Fulfill the special course requirements and additional training as specified, such as state history, educational law and finance, cross-cultural communication, special education, ESL, literacy, substance abuse training, suicide prevention training, and the like.
- Complete the field experience requirements prescribed by the state, which may include administrative practicums and internships. These are typically included in a master’s degree or school administration training program.
- Pass the prescribed assessments or examinations outlined by each state, and apply for school principal or administrative credentialing.
Requirements for Teachers, Counselors, or Educational Services Personnel with a Master’s Degree
A pathway for teachers, counselors, and educational services personnel who have already earned a master’s degree in education is included below.
- Inquire with the state about the specific school principal or administrative credentialing requirements.
- Complete an approved graduate program (e.g., graduate credits in school leadership, graduate certificate, or Ed.S. program) or training program in school principalship, school administration, or educational leadership. This can be completed through higher education programs, state-approved or offered programs, or innovative or alternative administrative education pathways as specified by each state.
- Meet all state requirements, including professional teaching or educational services credentials and experience; specific course requirements; endorsement or certification requirements in a focus area such as bilingual education, special education, or alcohol/drug/sexual abuse/suicide awareness and prevention.
- Earn a passing score on the assessment required by each state, and apply for school principal or administrative credentialing.
Requirements for School Principals or Administrators Licensed in Another State
For school principals or administrators who are interested in moving to a different state, requirements for this process vary by state. Educators and administrators should review the following for the state where they would like to pursue licensure.
- Scenario 1: All in-state requirements must be met, regardless of credentials in another state, including state-administered tests or assessments.
- Scenario 2: Candidates can earn state certification if they hold a comparable credential in another state and have valid fingerprint clearance. No other requirements must be met.
- Scenario 3: All state education, work experience, and certification requirements must be met, and the applicant must satisfy the basic skills requirements of the state.
- Scenario 4: A candidate may earn certification in the new state if they hold a certificate, license, or credential issued by a National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC) member state. No other requirements must be met.
Some states may issue a one to three-year interim or provisional credential to allow school administrators to continue to work while they complete any additional state-specific requirements. This may include specific coursework, CPR certification, a Literacy Skills Test, ESL or Sheltered English Immersion Endorsement, suicide prevention training, educational leadership assessments, and others as described above.