How Long Does It Take To Become a Principal? (And Other FAQs)

Updated September 7, 2022

Becoming a principal can be a rewarding career for people who enjoy combining teaching experience with administrative duties. Because it can be an enormous responsibility, there are several steps that can take years when preparing to become a principal. Learning what you might need to do can help you determine if this is the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss how long it takes to become a principal, along with other frequently asked questions.

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How long does it take to become a principal?

The length it takes to become a principal can vary depending on your career path. Many principals earn their master's degree and teach for a few years before applying to become a principal. This might take eight or more years, depending on the time to complete your education and how many years you teach. Many positions require at least two years of teaching experience.

What does a principal do?

Principles oversee the teachers, students and administrative professionals within a school. The main duties of these roles include:

Reviewing curricula and class offerings

Principles are responsible for ensuring that the school's curriculum can help students meet their learning objectives. This can involve working with teachers and administrative professionals to review and revise curricula each year. They may also decide on what classes they may need to add, how they structure prerequisites and how they might tier different levels of competence.

Related: How To Write a Curriculum

Managing teachers

Principals hire and manage the teachers for their schools. They often recruit and interview teachers, review applications and provide them with learning resources to start in their school. Throughout the school year, principals can observe classrooms to assess teacher performance. Typically, after these observations, they discuss the teacher's successes and the areas where they may improve. Principals often help their teachers develop their skills in leadership, confidence and fairness.

Communicating with parents

Principles ensure the school maintains a positive relationship with students' parents and the community. Many school activities might require parent volunteers and input. Principals might send regular emails to parents to update them on any policy changes or events and provide communication channels so parents can provide feedback or request meetings when needed.

Assessing student success

Principals might evaluate student metrics, such as standardized test scores or proficiency levels. If standardized scores are lower than expected, they may suggest updates to the curriculum or learning objectives to help improve student performance. They often review comparative data from students and schools across the country and establish their own measures for success. It's important that principals communicate these goals and standards clearly to the teachers so they know what to strive for in their classes.

Determining policies

Principles may have certain policies shared with them to meet federal or local requirements, but they often develop their own school policies. This can include dress codes, lateness, absenteeism or other disciplinary policies. They ensure that teachers, staff, students and parents all have access to and understand the school policies to ensure compliance.

What are the requirements to become a principal?

The requirements for a principal can vary depending on what grade level the school is, location and if it's a public or private school. Most school districts require at least the following :


Many districts require their principals to have at least a master's degree. This can be in general education, educational leadership or educational administration. It can help to have a specialization in certain areas, depending on the school. For example, you might specialize in adolescent education if you hope to pursue a career in a high school school.


To better understand teachers' needs, schools often require classroom experience. This can vary, but schools might hope to see you have one to five years of experience. As principals also oversee the overall administration of a school, some roles may require administrative experience for a few years. You may find more success in a principal role if you work as a vice, assistant or associate principal, where you can learn more about the role.

Related: Principal Cover Letter Examples and Templates


There might be several certifications you need to earn to become a principal. Often, principals earn a teacher's certification after observing classes and student teaching. Along with a teaching certification, you might need to take classes to earn an administrative certification. To earn these, you might take classes on leadership, curriculum design and interviewing techniques. Each state has its own requirements, so before applying to principal jobs in other states, consider reviewing their requirements and if you can use your credentials.

Related: Q&A: How Long Does It Take To Be a Teacher?

Other requirements

Principals often need to fulfill additional requirements upon hire. This can include verifications like undergoing background checks, taking drug tests and having a valid driver's license. Schools may choose to perform reference checks to learn more about potential principals from people with whom they've worked.

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What skills does a principal have?

There are several key skills principals have to be successful in their roles:


As the top-ranking professional in a school, being a principal requires leadership skills. This can include influencing teachers, helping their staff can grow professionally, making school-wide presentations and representing the school at outside events. A good principal can inspire their teachers and students to learn and grow and ensure the school is a positive space in the community. Being a leader, it's important that they can make decisions confidently and encourage support from staff, parents and students.


Principals often determine innovative solutions in various situations. With curriculums, you may have to think critically about how changes can affect other aspects of student learning. Similarly, there are many educational technology tools that a school might use to enable new ways of learning. Being innovative means assessing what might be possible and how a school can achieve goals and improve.

Read more: What Are Innovative Thinking Skills?


Principals communicate constantly with parents, students, staff and faculty. Effective communication for principals can include active listening to understand others' concerns and following up to ensure others understand their mission. To communicate well, principals could learn what information and tone are important when talking with parents, students or staff, as effective communication can be different for each audience.


Principals manage many tasks throughout the school year. The ability to multitask for them means to prioritize and switch between tasks with little disruption. For example, a principal may have to discipline a student, observe a classroom and sign paperwork all in a single day.

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