What does a Principal do?

Before tackling the typical educational requirements, we look at the job duties and responsibilities for the position.

The school principal is an administrative role. Similar to the president or CEO of a company, they oversee the operation of their school. As with most senior management positions, they make crucial decisions that affect the day-to-day activities of schools. Some of these include the evaluation of teachers, determining the performance of the curriculum, hiring staff, and communicating with parents. They may become involved in disciplinary issues, as well as ensuring the safety of the teachers and pupils. In this role, principals may need to suspend or expel students accused of bullying, vandalism, drugs in school, and other acts of violence.

The principal also acts as a liaison between the school district’s administrative staff and teachers. They may attend area or community meetings as an ambassador for their school. These professionals disseminate information and policies dictated by the state board of education and the local school board.

How essential is a Doctoral Degree?

Before earning the preferred degree, it is essential for future principals to obtain adequate teaching experience. This requirement can vary from one year to several years. Anticipate a minimum of five years of experience, in addition to the possibility of supervisory or coaching background with an educational system.

A job posting for a Middle School Principal in Asheville, North Carolina, states that candidates need at least five years working in education in an administrative or supervisory capacity.

Individuals who aspire to reach the leadership level should consider a Master of Arts or Science in Educational Leadership or Administration. Both degrees explore instructional and administrative leadership, school law, fiscal responsibility, and organizational theory. Samples of courses include educational psychology, cultural diversity, finance, public relations, instructional leadership development, and methods of leadership.

You can take your graduate program online as you continue to teach. Capella University offers four choices online:

  • Master of Education – Teaching and Learning
  • Master of Science in Education
  • Master of Science in Education Innovation and Technology
  • Master of Science in Higher Education

Each track has specific topics of focus. The M.S. in Education includes courses in Early Childhood Education, Instructional Design, and Leadership.

The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Education and Human Development has online and on-campus programs for aspiring principals. The school has graduate degrees, graduate certificates, and post-master’s certificates. Their Educational Leadership and Administration has a Master’s degree, Post-Master’s Certificate, and an Education Specialist graduate program. All of these selections should appeal to individuals set on career advancement. Graduates will understand the theory and practice of learning and gain administrative skills.


A random review of job postings for principals places an emphasis on a master’s degree. A graduate degree will suffice for most principal positions. It would be more prudent to gain the requisite experience instead of spending years earning a doctorate. Individuals who aspire to progress to a superintendent or related administrative job will benefit from a terminal degree.  Two common ones are an Ed.D. and the Ph.D. in Education. There are differences between them.


A doctorate in education focuses on educators who want to continue or resume teaching. The curriculum leans towards expanding knowledge as an educator through research that enhances learning. This degree suits those who wish to conduct research in education or inspire others to make changes in teaching methodology. Graduates with a Ph.D. in Education may write for respected academic journals and present material at conferences for educators and administrators.

Walden University, for example, has 11 specializations for doctoral students. A shortlist includes Early Childhood Education, Technology, Learning, Organizational Research, and Higher Education Leadership. Ph.D. recipients will be eligible for jobs as a principal, superintendent, or associate professor.


A Doctor of Education is for individuals who prefer to assume leadership roles within a school district or state education system. The degree also benefits those who see themselves in elementary and secondary school administration or related positions providing educational direction. Examples are a county administrator, a director of special education, director of curriculum and assessment, deputy superintendent, superintendent, and chief academic officer.

The Ed.D. has more areas of specialization depending on your career path. There are tracks of Administrative Leadership, Higher Education Leadership, Reading and Literacy Leadership, Curriculum and Instruction, Health and Physical Activity, and College Teaching and Learning.

Additional Resources:

If I want to become a superintendent, is a Master’s Degree enough, or do I need a Ph.D.? 

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

What are the differences between a certificate and a Master’s Degree in Child Development?

Does becoming a Middle School principal have different requirements from a High School principal? 

What does a school superintendent do? 

What is No Child Left Behind?

I hear students are more likely to cheat in their online Master’s courses. Is that true?

What is the Difference between a Degree in Psychology and Psychological Science?

What is a postdoctoral research position in the field of psychology?