What is the Best Degree for Becoming a School Principal?

Not everyone with a passion for teaching becomes the principal of a school, but for some people, it’s a natural progression. If you have an enthusiasm for making schools effective and healthy, you might want to move in this career direction. Once you’ve decided on that path, you need to consider what additional schooling is needed in order to become a principal.

It Usually Starts With Teaching

It’s not just a coincidence that most principals start out as teachers. The progression is encouraged by many states because it makes sense that an effective principal will understand a classroom inside and out. A key part of any principal’s job will be supporting teachers in their challenges. It’s difficult to do that without some firsthand knowledge of what those challenges are.

Most people on track to become principals begin with an undergraduate degree in education and teacher’s certification. You may teach for a few or many years before moving on to your goal of becoming a principal, but be assured that those years in the classroom will be invaluable. Taking leadership positions and finding opportunities to work alongside the school administration could be important steps in helping you learn whether or not the principal’s role is the right one for you.

An Advanced Degree and Further Certification

Being a principal requires excellent organizational and people skills, and it almost always requires further education. A Master’s in Education is generally seen as the best preparation.

A Masters in Education differs from a Master of Arts in Teaching, an advanced degree that many teachers opt to pursue. Rather than focusing primarily on skills needed for classroom teaching, an M.Ed. offers a wider range of educational studies. There are different M.Ed. specializations. The degrees that will provide the best groundwork for becoming a principal will likely be a Master’s in Educational Administration or Educational Leadership.

These degrees will help you learn skills you need to set goals and objectives for your elementary, middle or high school. U.S. News and World Report has compiled a list of some of the best graduate schools for educational administrators and supervisors. These programs focus on providing the supervisory skills needed to become a good principal. Organizational management, budget management, grant writing and understanding curriculum standards and development are a few of the skills a principal needs.

While you may remain a principal for your whole career, you may decide to move into other administrative roles. Many principals later become district superintendents. Depending on your ultimate goals, at some point you may want to pursue a doctorate, although it isn’t always necessary. Generally the master’s degree and principal’s certification are enough. You will also want to check with your state regarding how often your certification will need to be renewed or updated, and if continuing education is needed for that process.

Being a school principal can be demanding but rewarding. Principals are not just the goal setters, they’re standard bearers who inspire others to stay focused. A principal can set the tone for an entire school, so you’ll need enthusiasm and energy as well as knowledge. Choose your degree program with care to ensure that you’ve received the best possible training.