Those studying education and thinking about their futures often want to know what they need to do to become a principal. Whether you want to work in an elementary school, high school or even middle school, you need some experience working with students in that age range. You also need strong organizational skills, a deep understanding of budgets and critical thinking skills. While some of the required skills are those you can learn in the field, you’ll learn others in a good college program.

Study Education

To become a principal at any level, you usually need to go to college first and earn a degree in education. Most programs require that you do a student observation experience, which means going into the field and watching teachers at work. You may also do a student teaching experience of your own that lets you take over a classroom, work with students, assign work and teach classes in your area of expertise. Once you graduate, you can look at the licensing requirements for teachers in your states. Most states require that teachers have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree before working with students.

Gain Teaching Experience

While it’s possible to find work as a principal without working as a teacher first, it’s extremely hard. Most school districts look for applicants who have both education and experience. Those districts also look for candidates with strong leadership and administrative skills. While working as a teacher, look for opportunities that help you demonstrate those skills or develop skills in those areas. You might volunteer to run a club or organization, take over study halls or work in the office when not teaching classes. Principals usually have at least five to 10 years of experience in the education field.

Go Back to School

Depending on your state, you may need to work on a master’s degree in education before working as teacher. If you want to work as a school principal, you also need to go back to school. Many colleges offer master’s programs in educational leadership or school administration that can help you become a principal. These programs focus on the skills that you need outside of the classroom. You’ll learn about budgeting for classes and salaries, the importance of hiring the right teachers and fundraising opportunities that can help schools raise more money for clubs and activities.

Pass Your State’s Requirements

Before applying for a principal job, make sure that you understand the requirements for principals in your state. Most states only let teachers work as principals if they have graduate degrees. You usually need to pass a background check too that shows you have a clean record. Many felony convictions will prevent you from working as a principal or even working as a teacher. The salary associated with the job can make all your hard work worth it though. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, principals make a median salary of more than $90,000 a year, not including perks like vacation time and health insurance.

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Working as a principal requires more administrative work than some expect. You’ll spend long hours going over budgets, meeting with parents and disciplining students. If the job interests you, then you need to study education, gain some teaching experience, get your graduate degree and pass your state’s requirements to become a principal.