Understanding Principal Certification Standards

Principals are responsible for leading schools in a variety of ways. They help develop and uphold school board policies and mission statements, lead instructors and create a network of support for staff and students alike. Although academic performance standards and objectives are developed at the local, state and national levels, principals work to see them through at the building level.

It should come as no surprise that aspiring principals must undergo extensive education and training to obtain their positions. Although the requirements and degree path for principal certification vary from state to state, most certifications require some mixture of education, experience and assessment. Some states borrow from the policy standards set forth in 1996 by the Inter-state School Leadership Licensure Consortium, developed by scholars and practitioners from across the United States with funding from the Wallace Foundation.

In general, certification requirements include anything from a required number of hours of teaching experience, field or administrative experience to internships, exams and advanced degrees.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, principal candidates are required to first obtain a bachelor’s degree and teacher certification. Most states also require a master’s degree or educational leadership certificate from a nationally accredited program. Although degree-conferring university programs are widely recognized, some states, such as New Mexico, allow prospective principals to obtain a national principal certification from accreditation boards like the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards.

Whiles some states might accept a degree or certification from any accredited university or organization, a few states accept only those accreditations and degrees granted by specific state-approved institutions. For example, Texas lists 129 educator preparation programs approved by the state for principal certification.

Many states also require additional certifications and/or trainings for principal certification. To be considered for a principal position in Indiana, prospective principals must obtain CPR certification as well as receive suicide prevention training. While many educational leadership programs include such state-mandated certifications, candidates must be aware of the training requirements for any specific state.


Demonstrated experience in teaching, administration and educational leadership may be required of principal candidates. For example:

  • North Carolina asks for three years of teaching experience; but no administrative or leadership experience is required.
  • In comparison, Nebraska requires at least two years of teaching experience and at least 250 hours of internship in educational leadership.
  • For some states, different types of educational experience are viewed as interchangeable. For instance, in Pennsylvania candidates must have three years of “professional experience in an educational setting that is related to the instructional process,” which leaves the determination of what counts as professional experience open to interpretation.


Most states require the successful completion of a licensing exam before they will issue a principal certificate. Quite a few states use nationally accredited exam options like the all-online ETS school leadership assessments. Two of their currently most popular exams are the School Leaders Licensure Assessment and the Praxis II: Education Leadership Assessment. A list of state assessment requirements is available to determine what tests to take and how to best prepare for them.

Other states, such as Texas and Oklahoma, independently develop and implement their own assessments for principal certification rather than turn to nationally accredited organizations.

Each state is different, but there are tools available to help prospective principals identify their career paths and certification requirements. One example is found on the Education Commission of the States website, a comparison chart with state-by-state principal certification requirements.

To begin the process of becoming a building principal in Ohio, investigate Youngstown State University’s Master of Science in Education – Educational Administration (With Principal Licensure Option) online. This degree program offers comprehensive preparation for educational leadership, including rigorous coursework and practical applications in real-life clinical experiences.

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s M.S.Ed. in Educational Administration (With Principal Licensure Option) online program.

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