Do You Need a Master’s in Education Degree To Become A Principal?

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Updated August 4, 2020

As teachers become experienced in the classroom and begin to understand more about how they could change a school's direction through administrative work, they begin to evaluate their graduate-level education plans and wonder whether a Master's in Education is needed to become a principal. As with so many issues in public education in the United States, there is no clear-cut answer for teachers nationwide. There does exist a general idea of how much education is required and what teachers should be study as they pursue a career in educational leadership, school administration, and other, more managerial functions at all levels in the typical school district.

Most States Require a Master's Degree to Become a Principal

It's not a universal requirement, but the vast majority of states in the United States do require principals to have obtained both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. The important thing to note, however, is that this usually does not have to be a Master's in Education. Aspiring principals can certainly pursue that degree and enjoy all of its benefits as they enter into administrative roles in their district, but it's only one of a handful of degrees that will help principals do their job.

Many principals seek alternative graduate-level coursework, resulting in a Master's of Teaching, or MAT. Some seek content-specific graduate degrees, like a Master of Science in Mathematics, a Master of Arts in English, and other degrees that help them add value and context to classroom discussion in these subject areas. These are also perfectly valid degrees for aspiring principals, and show a high degree of commitment to teaching, specialization, and content knowledge.

Administrative Certification is Another Near-Universal Requirement

Most states don't require just a master's degree for their principals. In fact, a large majority of states require all interested administration applicants to have at least a post-baccalaureate certification in school administration or educational leadership. These programs are typically offered in the evening, and usually comprise between 18 and 33 credits total. Their focus is primarily on how to manage school personnel, other teachers, the budget, student disciplinary issues, curriculum decisions, and even emergency situations during the school day. This certification is granted only after the completion of those courses, as well as a passing score on a certification exam administered by the same group that developed the PRAXIS-I and PRAXIS-II teacher licensure exams. Information on these tests can be found on the Educational Testing Service website.

Teaching Experience is Another Common Requirement

While many states and schools are focused on the educational credentials of aspiring principals and other school administrators, this is not their only area of focus. In fact, most schools require their principals to have been an active teacher for a minimum of three years. Most states require a longer period of teaching experience of between five and 10 years for their principal candidates. They may also want to see experience in administrative functions, like assistant principal positions, curriculum consultants, school board intermediaries, and other roles that extend beyond the classroom.

Related Resource:

Top 10 Online Doctoral Programs in Educational Leadership
Top 10 Best Online Master's in Education Degree Programs

Great Opportunities Exist for Those with the Right Qualifications

Principals are a key part of today's schools and districts, and they typically bring a wealth of educational and teaching experience to the fold upon being hired. That education may be an M.Ed. degree from a local university, but a Master's in Education is not needed to become a principal if the candidate has other graduate-level degrees and extensive teaching experience in a variety of settings.

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