How to Become a School Administrator

Three Parts:Obtaining the Right CredentialsObtaining the Right ExperienceFinding the Right Position

Some people enter a career in education aspiring to a position as a school administrator, such as an elementary, secondary, or high school principal or a university admissions officer. However, others develop the desire later in their profession. It is important to lay out your plan on how to become a school administrator before beginning the venture.

Part 1
Obtaining the Right Credentials

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    Earn a bachelor's degree in education. Most school administrators begin their careers as teachers, and although this is not always a requirement, a degree in education nearly always is.
    • You can earn an associate's degree at a community college before entering a four-year school, if desired. Be sure that your degrees are from accredited institutions.
    • Work with a college adviser to specify a particular grade level group and/or subject matter for your degree plan. If you know what area of school administration you'd like to work in, it helps to specialize your education degree to this area (for instance, a degree in secondary education for work as a secondary school principal).
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    Get your teaching license. This process can vary depending on your geographic area.
    • Generally, you will need to take several required tests, then apply for your teaching license upon successful completion of the tests.
    • Some states have different requirements for teacher testing. You may be asked to take the PRAXIS or other standardized test.
    • You can apply for, and receive, your teaching license after you have passed all required tests.
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    Earn an advanced degree in school administration. A master's in school administration will prepare you for leadership, legal issues, diversity training, and data-driven school development, all crucial aspects of successful administration.[1]
    • Most people spend a number of years teaching after completing their teaching certification, and then go on to earn their advanced degree. But you can also work on the degree concurrently (enrolled part time, or taking night or online classes).
    • You will need to get a Master's, Ed.S. or Doctorate in school administration before or after receiving a teaching job.
    • Consider online classes, but be sure that the school you choose is accredited and has a good reputation in your industry. For a list of top online programs in school administration, visit
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    Become licensed as a school administrator. This process, like the teacher licensing process, can vary by state and region.
    • Take and pass the state test that correlates with school administration. You will receive your school administrator license after you have passed the test.
    • In some cases, you do not need a license to be an administrator. Typically, private school and post-secondary school administrators are not required to have a license, while public, elementary, and secondary school administrators do need one. Check the guidelines in your area.

Part 2
Obtaining the Right Experience

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    Gain experience as a teacher. After receiving your teacher's license, you will need to gain at least a few years of experience as a teacher before you can move into a school administration position, which are senior positions and highly competitive.
    • Typically, administrators are required to begin as teachers and then advance into assistant principal positions before becoming administrators. However, some people with other very relevant experience are able to find positions as administrators without ever teaching. District policies vary, but as a rule, teaching experience is helpful in the process.[2]
    • It is helpful to be very active in the school and district where you teach. Take on roles as team and school improvement leaders, attend school functions and take part in data evaluations. Focus your attention on initiatives that you can quantify, like bringing up scores on standardized tests or increasing PTA memberships.
    • Keep a careful record of the initiatives and programs that you contribute to, as these will all be a part of your portfolio when you apply for administrative positions.
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    Create a portfolio of your work. When you begin the process of applying for open administrative positions, you will need evidence that you have a vision for school leadership and development. A portfolio is a very extensive resume or curriculum vitae with details and evidence about your professional development.
    • A portfolio can be created on the computer as a PDF and then printed (making it easy to add additional pages), or you can use a high quality leather binder. Feel free to include things like photographs and newspaper clippings, actual newsletters you have written, etc. Think of it as a very professional and polished scrap book.
    • Your portfolio should contain, at the minimum, categories for Education and Qualifications, Evidence of Professional Excellence, and Service and Activities. You can also have a more personal section containing your interests and hobbies, but its not required.[3]
      • Education and Qualifications should include a list of degrees, certificates, and licenses (as well as high quality photocopies of each one), academic honors, and transcripts, as well as information about any workshops you have attended.[4]
      • Evidence of Professional Excellence should include information about initiatives you have started or participated in, teaching evaluations, conferences attended, presentations, reviews, letters of recommendation, and samples of your work as a teacher and in any other administrative jobs you have held.[5]
      • Service and Activities should include information about any volunteer work you have done, beginning with work related to the school, district, or education more broadly, and ending with work that is unrelated (such as community or church volunteer service). Also include information about professional affiliation and leadership roles.[6]
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    Gain experience as an assistant principal. Many districts prefer that principals have experience as assistants before moving into the senior position. Similarly, many university administrators begin their careers as professors.
    • As an assistant principal, focus on gaining experience budgeting, working as a liaison between parents and teachers, and identifying the school or district's biggest areas for academic improvement.
    • As with your teaching experience, be sure to document the initiatives and programs that you work on for your portfolio.

Part 3
Finding the Right Position

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    Locate open positions. For jobs in elementary and secondary school administration, you will complete a job search as geographically broad as you like. In post-secondary administration, you will generally wait for open positions in your institution, or if you have some administrative experience or tenure as a professor, you can seek open positions at other institutions.
    • Try using online websites devoted to jobs in education, like run by Education Week.
    • Keep an updated profile on and, and network with professionals at other institutions to locate open positions.
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    Apply for open positions. While the application process can vary, there are certain things you need to have ready to simplify the process.
    • Most applications are done online, so you will need access to high speed internet service and the ability to upload relevant documents.
    • You will need a cover letter, which you should customize to each particular job.
    • You will need a resume.
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    Interview and land a job. The process can be nerve-wracking, but you have done so much work to gain the experience and skills needed for this position; remember that you are qualified and dedicated.
    • Hiring boards will ask you to present a professional portfolio if you are considered for a job, which is where all the previous experience will come in handy. Bring your professional portfolio to every interview, which you have ideally already created through the years as you gained educational and teaching experience.
    • You will also take part in interviews. The interview will be with school directors and supervisors. For university positions, you will interview with the dean, the provost, and/or a search committee organized by the dean or provost and comprised of other faculty members from your institution.


  • Start a portfolio as soon as you begin courses for your Bachelor's degree and continue adding to it throughout your career. A professional portfolio is a wonderful tool if you are seeking a principal's position or simply wishing to transfer as a teacher to a new area.

Things You'll Need

  • Bachelor's degree in education.
  • Teaching license.
  • Professional portfolio.
  • Advanced degree in education administration.
  • School administrator license.

Article Info

Categories: Administrative Careers