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CAREER GUIDE Master of Science, Educational Leadership

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Career guide: school principal.

A day in the life of a school principal is typically long, stressful and full of unknowns. To take on a career as a school principal, you must be equipped with strong leadership, management, and organizational skills. The Master of Science Educational Leadership degree — paired with your experience as a classroom teacher — will help prepare you for this challenging and rewarding career move.

If you're a licensed classroom teacher with some experience under your belt, and you have a passion for positive leadership in a school setting, you are ready to advance in your career by becoming an instruction-based principal, vice principal, or assistant principal. As an educational leader, you'll have an opportunity to shape the school that you run by creating an inspiring and safe environment for educators and the students they teach.

Job listing growth 2016–2026.

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Career opportunities.

Graduates of the M.S. Educational Leadership program can expect to go from experienced, licensed teachers to highly effective instruction-based principals or vice principals. Completion of coursework will give you skills and knowledge in:

Positions in the field.

  • Governance, finance, law, and leadership
  • Performance excellence criteria
  • Workforce focus
  • Student, stakeholder, and market focus
  • Training and development manager
  • Practicum in educational leadership
"Coming back to get my master's degree after obtaining my bachelor's degree from WGU was the absolute best thing I could have done. I never dreamed before obtaining my bachelor's that I would get a master's degree, but WGU was such an amazing experience I was excited to continue." Tammie Montgomery
M.S. Curriculum and Instruction

Job market forecast.

Employment of elementary, middle, and high school teachers is projected to grow 8 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This employment growth will be driven by increases in school enrollments. As more and more students enroll in school, it's likely that additional schools will continue to open to accommodate those kids, resulting in a need for assistant principals and principals.

Job opportunities will vary some by region of the country. Because population and student enrollments are projected to grow faster in the South and West, job opportunities for principals may be better in those parts of the country. In the Midwest, enrollment is expected to remain steady, and enrollment in the Northeast is expected to decline.

Following a decline in the 1970s and early 1980s, enrollment began rising in the latter part of the 1980s and continued to increase throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Between 2000–01 and 2012–13, public school enrollment increased by 2.6 million students, reaching a total of 49.8 million students. From 2012–13 to 2024–25 (the last year for which projected data are available), total public school enrollment is projected to increase by 6 percent, to 52.9 million students.  

Job Growth 2016-2026

Work environment.

Principals work in private or public elementary, middle, and high schools. Some work in public magnet and charter schools, while others work in private religious and secular schools. School and classroom size will vary depending on locale. Unlike most teachers, principals usually work full time, year round. During the summers, principals typically prepare for the upcoming school year by completing tasks like hiring staff, scheduling building maintenance, and ordering supplies.

Professional organizations.

If you're focused on advancing your position from teacher to principal, a quality education and the right resources will get you on the fast track to success. The following organizations may offer you some additional direction regarding your career development:

Job search resources.

Are you ready to jump into the challenging and rewarding realm of education leadership? Here are a few dependable job search resources to help you find the perfect principal job:

Salary stats.

Taking the leap from classroom teacher to school principal may significantly increase your earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for elementary, middle, and high school principals was $92,510 in May of 2016.

Of course, salaries will vary from state to state depending on local budgets. You can check local salary statistics online at Career One Stop.

Principals typically work full time and throughout the summer. They may also work during evenings to meet with parents or attend concerts and athletic events.

Average Salary of Jobs with Related Titles


If you're serious about becoming a school principal, vice principal, or assistant principal, you'll need to acquire the proper credentials by earning an industry-current degree in Educational Leadership via an accredited institution.

The right master's degree program will prepare you for managing school operations, including curricula coordination, daily school activities, and oversight of teachers and school staff.

Most principal positions require in-classroom experience as a licensed teacher.

With the multifaceted career of school principal, you'll wear many hats and play countless roles. From disciplinarian and listener to marketer and leader, it's important to prioritize and delegate when needed. You may consider contacting the schools in your area to learn more about their programs and the need for educational leaders.

Your career’s next step: Earn a degree.

Ready to jump-start your career in teaching? The next step could be earning your M.S. Educational Leadership. Accredited, competency-based WGU offers this degree online for at a surprisingly affordable flat-rate tuition. Flexible enough for a working adult’s schedule with the option to accelerate, your degree may be closer than you think!