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Vice Principal: Job Description & Career Info

Mar 10, 2020

Learn how to become a vice principal. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements to find out how to start a career as a vice principal.

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Should I Become a Vice Principal?

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Educational leadership or education administration
Licensure Vice principal/education administration licensure usually required to work at public schools
Experience Prior teaching experience often required
Key Skills Leadership, communication, interpersonal, and organizational skills; ability to effectively evaluate teachers and staff
Salary $98,750 (2018 average for all elementary and secondary school administrators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018)

Vice principals, also known as assistant principals, work alongside school principals to manage the administrative and educational components of an elementary, middle, or secondary school. They regularly interact with teachers, students, and members of the community so they need excellent communications and interpersonal skills. Vice principals also need leadership and negotiation skills to deal with student discipline issues. They must be adept in motivating students to turn negative behaviors into positive actions. Most assistant principals will need to have school budgeting and finance knowledge as well.

Most vice principals start out as teachers and then complete master's degree programs in education administration or educational leadership. Aspiring vice principals usually have a bachelor's degree and teacher certification prior to applying to these graduate programs, unless they enter a program specifically designed for individuals with a bachelor's degree in another field.

Advancement to a vice principal position can be demanding, but there is potential for high earnings compared to other positions in education. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, administrators in elementary and secondary schools earned an average annual salary of $98,750 as of May 2018.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Because vice principals normally start their careers as teachers, they must hold a bachelor's degree and state teaching credentials. Many colleges and universities provide bachelor's degree programs in elementary or secondary school education, which include classes in educational philosophy, classroom management, and student diversity. These programs usually take 4-5 years to finish. Education majors are also normally expected to fulfill a student teaching internship during the course of their program.

Step 2: Obtain a Teaching Certificate

Every state requires licensure for public school teachers before they can start teaching. Licensing standards differ by state, but most licensing boards expect candidates to earn a bachelor's degree and complete a supervised internship that includes classroom teaching. Candidates must pass a state licensing exam that tests literacy, subject knowledge, and teaching ability. Those who teach at the elementary level must pass a general teaching exam. Secondary school instructors usually need to pass both a general exam and a single subject test focused on the topics they wish to teach.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Before moving into school administration positions, many vice principals gain important communication and leadership skills by working as teachers. Teachers are responsible for developing curricula, evaluating students' work, and creating a safe learning environment. Acquiring work experience as an educator can provide a basis for understanding the teaching field, instructor responsibilities, and classroom practices. Also, states typically require a couple years of teaching experience in order for applicants to gain assistant principal licensure.

Step 4: Complete a Graduate Program

Teachers can prepare for advancement into vice principal positions by earning a master's degree in educational leadership or education administration. In certain states, aspiring vice principals may be able to enroll in a graduate certificate program for principals if they have a master's degree in another subject. Graduate programs in education administration typically take two years to complete and often expect students to hold teaching licenses and have teaching experience before enrollment. Courses may include curriculum development, administrative leadership, school law, and school finance. Students may also have to fulfill internships and capstone projects to graduate.

Step 5: Pursue License

Most U.S. states require public school vice principals to have a school administrator or assistant principal license. To be eligible for licensure, most states mandate that applicants earn a graduate degree. Candidates are often expected to complete a state licensing exam and may need to satisfy a practicum requirement under the supervision of a mentor. Specifications vary by location, but states usually permit individuals to add a vice principal endorsement to their current teaching license. Many states require individuals to obtain a certain score on the Praxis II exam after completing a master's degree program and securing a minimum amount of teaching experience. Those who wish to work at a private school may not need to earn licensure.

Step 6: Join a Professional Organization

Associations created for both school principals and vice principals are available. Individuals can turn to the National Assistant Principal Leadership Center within the National Association of Secondary School Principals to learn about opportunities for professional development and to keep their credentials current.


Vice principals usually serve as teachers before pursuing advancement by earning a master's degree and obtaining vice principal or education administration licensure.

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