Vice Principal Career Guide

A vice principal, also commonly known as an assistant principal, is an assistant educational administrator. The primary responsibility of an assistant or vice principal is to help the school’s principal with daily administrative duties. This guide provides further information on what vice principals do, how to become one, and salary and job outlook information.

Vice Principal Job Description

A vice principal may be the only employee in that capacity or may be one of several, depending on the size of the school. A candidate for this career should display leadership qualities, determination, confidence, and strong decision-making abilities. Because their job entails a range of duties, assistant principals must possess excellent communication, organizational, and interpersonal skills. The ideal vice principal shows a desire and capacity to work with children. The job of vice principal is a rewarding career choice but can also be stressful and involves numerous day-to-day tasks. A work schedule of over 40 hours per week is common as vice principals act as mentors and counselors to students and conduct parent interviews in addition to daily administrative tasks.

The overarching duty of a vice principal is to assist with defining and enforcing policies and guidelines for students, staff, and faculty at the school. This involves interaction with school employees and administrators as well as school boards from the district to the state level. To this end, vice principals are heavily involved in conceptualizing the goals of their school and identifying objectives for instruction and extracurricular programs. Because of the scope of their administrative duties, which may include certifying and hiring teachers and staff, most vice principals work a regular workweek through summers and school holidays.

Adult & Continuing Education Degrees and Programs

Vice Principal Requirements and Common Tasks

Becoming a vice principal in a public school involves obtaining a master’s degree in education (M.Ed.) or higher, ordinarily in a specialty such as education administration or leadership. Graduate degrees in school administration also include Educational Specialist (EdS) degrees, Doctor of Education (EdD) degrees, and PhDs in Education. Many vice principals start out in a teaching capacity and then advance through the ranks. Some vice principals spend their career in this role; others use the assistant position as a learning experience and preparation before advancing to other administrative roles. In their assistant capacity, vice principals typically assist with planning class schedules and approving supply orders submitted by school faculty and staff. Many handle student attendance and discipline problems at the administrative level, from coordinating policies to supervising and directing student suspensions and expulsions.

Vice principals also share responsibility for creating a safe school environment, including reviewing and evaluating adherence to school and building codes; planning emergency drills, evacuations, and lock-downs; and reviewing injury and incident reports. Vice principals commonly supervise support services for special needs students as well as special programs for students and the wider community. These duties are an extension of a vice principal’s participation in curriculum planning and development for students. Many vice principals also share responsibility in the hiring process, planning and coordinating professional development for school faculty and staff, and in the teacher evaluation process.

How to Become a Vice Principal

As the commonly accepted entry-level requirement for vice principals is a master’s degree or higher and several years of experience in teaching, prospective vice principals at public schools should begin their career paths by earning a bachelor’s degree and seeking teacher certification. Both the bachelor’s and graduate degree programs completed should typically be approved by the state board of education in order for graduates to qualify for licensure. The common steps to becoming a vice principal are:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in a teachable subject that includes a teacher preparation program.
  2. Complete a student teaching internship at the grade level(s) where you intend to pursue certification.
  3. Take your state’s required tests for teacher licensure.
  4. Apply for your teacher’s license.
  5. Gain three to five years of experience as a classroom teacher.
  6. Complete a master’s, specialist, or doctoral degree program in school administration, educational leadership, or a related subject, which in most states must include an administrative internship in order to qualify for licensure.
  7. Take your state’s required tests for a school administrator’s license.
  8. Apply for your school administrator’s license.
  9. Begin applying to open vice principal positions.

According to O*NET OnLine, 44% of respondents believe that those working in kindergarten through secondary education administration need a post-master’s certificate, while 37% said a master’s degree is required.1 A master’s degree in education administration, educational leadership, or a related area of study provides specific preparation for a career as a vice principal. While earning a master’s degree, many prospective vice principals work as classroom teachers to gain further experience, especially since many schools require classroom teaching experience for school leadership roles.

Vice Principal Salary and Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not specifically report data for vice principals, but they fall under the BLS category of education administrators in kindergarten through secondary school. The median salary for this group was $101,320 per year as of May 2022.2 This group is projected to see job growth of 5% between 2021 and 2031.3 Administrators in postsecondary education make a similar median annual salary of $99,940, with stronger job growth prospects of 7% from 2021 to 2031.4,5

Vice Principal Career Interviews

Helpful Skills and Experience

Accumulating experience as a classroom teacher is strong preparation for becoming a vice principal, as this experience provides a ground-level understanding of school operations that vice principals will use when working with students and faculty. Vice principals should be outgoing with energetic interpersonal skills since much of their work is done in a cooperative environment. Leadership and organizational skills are equally important to perform this job successfully.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Assistant School Director
  • Assistant School Leader
  • Assistant Principal
  • Assistant Dean
  • Assistant School Head
  • Education Administrator
  • Vice Principal

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Do I need certification to become a vice principal?

Answer: In most states, vice principals and other administrators must be licensed as education administrators to work in public schools. Many private schools require state licensing as well. Qualifying for an education administrator license typically involves earning a master’s degree, though in some areas there are alternative pathways to certification. You can find out more about requirements in your state by checking with your state board of education.

Question: What career paths are available to vice principals?

Answer: Vice principals can advance their careers in school administration by becoming a principal or a school district officer or administrator (such as superintendent). Some vice principals go on to work in postsecondary administration. Because of the scope of the duties involved, this career can also lead to management and executive positions in business, especially in businesses specializing in education services.

Question: How much do assistant principals make?

Answer: While the BLS does not report the average salary for vice principals, we use the data they provide on education administrators since it includes assistant principals. The median annual salary for this group was $101,320 as of 2022.2 Salaries for vice principals will depend on many factors, including years of experience, education, other qualifications, and the location of the school.

1. O*NET OnLine, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/11-9032.00
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119032.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/elementary-middle-and-high-school-principals.htm
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Education Administrators, Postsecondary: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119033.htm
5. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Postsecondary Education Administrators: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/postsecondary-education-administrators.htm