An assistant principal—sometimes called a vice principal—is a school's second-in-command. The assistant principal engages more deeply in day-to-day management than the principal does; think of them as the school's COO and CEO. Assistant principals don't get paid as well as COOs, but they do pretty well for themselves all the same.
Assistant principals—sometimes called vice-principals—play an integral role in their schools, managing a number of day-to-day operations. An assistant principal’s duties include:
And they manage all this while scheming and conniving to become principal, which is impressive (even if it’s not always true).
This is a high-level administrative job that requires solid credentials. Assistant principals typically have teaching experience—between five and ten years—and a master’s degree in education, often with a specialization in school administration.
As an assistant principal, you will earn an above-average salary and have a big say in what happens at your school. So, how much do assistant principals make? We’ll cover that and more, including:
According to ZipRecruiter, assistant principals can earn anywhere from $33,500 to $99,500 annually. The national average is $70,802 per year. Indeed reports an average annual salary for assistant principals of $74,077, while Glassdoor fixes the average assistant principal salary at $86,254 per year.
Location can be a major factor in an assistant principal’s salary. Glassdoor reports that vice-principals in New York City earn an average salary of $108,027, while vice-principals in Santa Fe, New Mexico earn $75,066 per year. In Phoenix, Arizona, vice-principals earn $66,742 annually.
To put these numbers in perspective: school principals earn a median annual income of $95,310, according to the BLS.
Before you limit your school administration job search to the vice-principal role, consider other available options. These include:
Superintendents are among the top-paid education administrators, garnering an average annual salary of $116,619 per year. Their assistant gets paid handsomely too, earning an average of $107,442 per year.
The salary for curriculum administrators is more on par with that of assistant principals. These professionals earn an average of $73,282 per year. You will almost certainly need a master’s in curriculum and instruction to advance in this field.
Elementary and secondary schools employ the vast majority of school administrators. According to the BLS, employment levels and mean wages for all elementary and secondary school administrators, by occupation, are as follows:
You may be reading these numbers and thinking, “Oh, man, I’ve gone into the wrong field. I should have been a superintendent!” Well, maybe. But remember: there are a lot more vice-principal jobs out there than superintendent jobs; and, many superintendents were once assistant principals. There’s hope for you yet.
The salary medians for professionals with a master's or doctorate in Education Administration range from $75,000 to $320,000 depending on the location, degree, and qualified job position. (
A Doctor of Education (EdD) or PhD can advance a career even further than a master’s—meaning more responsibility and better pay.
|University and Program Name
You don’t technically need to be a teacher before starting a career in school administration, but it is highly recommended. Assistant principals spend a lot of time interacting with and managing teachers; classroom experience is essential to fulfilling those obligations with understanding and empathy.
It doesn’t really matter what subject you teach, but if you want to be an assistant principal at a specialized art school, teaching science is probably not your best bet. Similarly, if you hope to become a vice-principal at an elementary school, spending 10 years in a high school won’t be as helpful.
The average teacher earns just under $60,000 per year.
The best way to become a teacher is to earn a bachelor’s degree in education and pass your state’s licensure exam.
A bachelor’s in education is a four-year degree. Not only will your bachelor’s train you to teach effectively, but it will prepare you to earn a master’s degree in school administration or education; you will almost certainly need one of these degrees to become an assistant principal. If you earn your bachelor’s in a non-education field, you can still get the requisite training at the undergraduate level. Just enroll in a teacher preparation program.
Each state has different requirements for becoming a teacher, but in general you must:
Most states require teachers to pass the Praxis exam as part of their licensure process. Some states, such as Massachusetts, administer their own exams.
There is no specific degree path that leads to the role of assistant principal. A number of degrees are appropriate, including:
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill offers a two-year MSA that can be completed in-person or in a hybrid online/on-campus format. It prepares teachers to “move into leadership positions at schools” or “assume influential roles within state, regional, or national organizations that focus on educational professional development, research, or policy-making.”
The University of Illinois at Urbana – Champaign offers a number of graduate programs under the umbrella term of “educational administration and leadership.” The programs are designed for “practicing educators at all levels with at least two years of successful full-time experience as an educator” who want to take a licensing exam to become an assistant principal or principal, or “learn how to increase their effectiveness as an educational leader.” The University of Illinois offers the following degrees for administrators:
The EdM and CAS can also be completed off-campus.
Other schools with school administrator degree programs include:
Nearly every state university system offers graduate degrees in education with a focus on school administration. These programs are worth looking into, as they are convenient (there’s probably a campus not too far from you) and more affordable than private university offerings.
If convenience and flexibility are among your priorities, consider earning your master’s degree online. You’ll be able to study from home (or on the bus, train, or airplane, thanks to mobile apps) on your own schedule, and you can earn your degree from a well-regarded school. Universities offering this degree online include:
As you consider graduate programs, remember to keep your state’s licensure requirements in mind. Most programs tailor their instruction to the specific licensing regulations of the state in which they are located. You may want to attend a program in Florida, but if your ultimate goal is to work in Vermont, that could eventually pose problems. Returning to the land of maple syrup with a Tommy Bahama diploma could impede your application for licensure.
Given the pay raise that principals usually receive, it is worth knowing what it takes to move up the ladder. Here’s some good news: the qualifications for principal are the same as the qualifications for assistant principal. If you can fill the number two slot, you’ve got what it takes—on your resume, at least—to be number one.
If you aspire to become a principal, you should seriously consider completing a principal training course. Your options include:
Some assistant principals aspire to the principalship, or even to a job at the district level. Others may see the mix of responsibilities assigned to the assistant principal—which includes a lot more face-to-face interaction with teachers and students, and a lot less budget-wrangling with suits—as optimal. Either way, becoming an assistant principal is an excellent option for those who want to earn a solid living while positively impacting the lives of students and faculty every day.
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