Assistant Principal Careers: Job, Education and Salary Information
An assistant principal, also known as a vice principal, is an entry-level position in educational administration that helps the principal in the overall running of the school. The job is fast-paced and requires multitasking to hold a leadership position in interactions with students, teachers and parents. It may be stressful at times as well, as you will need to ensure the safety of the students and make sure that your school meets federal and state student/teacher performance guidelines.
Some assistant principals view the role as a stepping-stone to becoming principal, while others are content to stay in the role for their career. If you’re a teacher who aspires to be an assistant principal, you’re in good company. A survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) found principals averaged 14 years as a teacher before moving into an administrative role.
Our guide offers insights into the required education, salary and job outlook of the assistant principal profession. Browse through the content or use the following links to jump to your desired destination:
At-a-glance: assistant principals
|Elementary school||Middle school||High school|
|Education||Bachelor’s; master’s preferred||Bachelor’s; master’s preferred||Bachelor’s; master’s preferred|
|Typical study time||4-6 years||4-6 years||5-10 years|
|Median salary||$71,893||$64,398 – $94,673||$68,274 – $98,079|
*Figure is for elementary, middle and high school assistant principals and principals combined.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, National Association of Elementary School Principals and National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Assistant principal job description
When you think back to when you attended school, you may remember your vice principal as a stern man or woman who kept the students in line. And while assistant principals are usually the first ones to handle behavior problems, the role has evolved beyond being just a disciplinarian and operations manager to also include instructional leadership.
According to Catherine Marshall and Richard M. Hooley, authors of “The Assistant Principal: Leadership Choices and Challenges,” an assistant principal’s job description is malleable:
“The assistant principal seldom has a consistent, well-defined job description, delineation of duties, or way of measuring outcomes from accomplishment of tasks. Along with fixed, assigned tasks, assistant principals pick up multiple jobs every hour.”
The authors contend assistant principals do many of the same tasks as principals, but without the title:
“They spend a majority of their time dealing with issues of school management, student activities and services, community relations, personnel, and curriculum and instruction. However, they lack the position, power and status of the principal.”
In larger school districts, there may be more assistant principals per school, and each may specialize in a specific subject area, such as history or math.
“I had a principal in my elementary school that I got along really well with (probably saw him more than I needed to see him as a kid) but he helped me become the student that I became, and then as I grew up in high school and going into college I really wanted to work with students like me, so education was a perfect opportunity for me to do that.” — Travis Shillings, assistant principal at Brassfield Elementary School, Raleigh, North Carolina
View Shillings and other Assistant Principal of the Year finalists from Wake County Public Schools in Raleigh, North Carolina:
Who makes good assistant principals?
Someone who has:
- Effective communication skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Strong interpersonal skills
- Critical thinking skills
- Good judgment
- Administrative and organizational skills
- An ability to uphold rules and regulations while tolerating ambiguity
You will have to be comfortable in many different work environments, including but not limited to:
- Field trips
- Parent-teacher-faculty meetings
- Official functions
Take a look at a day in the life of Assistant Principal Bev Tepper, who works at Lake Orion High School in Lake Orion, Michigan:
Assistant principal job duties
While no two days are the same, typical job duties for an assistant principal include:
- Enforcing attendance rules.
- Meeting with parents to discuss student behavioral or learning problems.
- Responding to disciplinary issues.
- Coordinating use of school facilities for day-to-day activities and special events.
- Working with teachers to develop curriculum standards.
- Observing teachers and evaluating learning materials to determine areas where improvement is needed.
- Coordinating transportation for students.
- Hiring and training staff.
- Ordering equipment and supplies.
- Maintaining systems for attendance, performance, planning and other reports.
- Supervising grounds and facilities maintenance.
- Walking the hallways and checking in on teachers and classrooms.
- Responding to emails from teachers, parents and community members.
Then there are those miscellaneous special projects, which run the gamut of buying decorations for the eighth-grade dance, organizing a talent show or writing a grant for a literacy program.
Elementary school vs. middle and high school duties
The role of assistant principal at an elementary school is different from at a middle school or high school. A study by the Wallace Foundation found elementary school principals were more involved in the educational process than secondary school principals, and this extends to assistant principals as well. This involvement includes developing the curriculum, coaching teachers on instructional methods and assessing student learning. Elementary school APs also interact more with parents than APs in a secondary school.
Assistant principals at middle schools and high schools spend more time with disciplinary actions and less with instructional leadership. This is due to students’ raging hormones and increased freedoms. High school APs have an extra level of responsibility with monitoring truancy as some students have cars and can leave campus. As a result, high school and middle school APs interact more with students and spend less time with teachers or in meetings.
Listen to Assistant Principal Michael Tucker talk about his job at Brandon High School in Ortonville, Michigan:
Pros and cons of being an assistant principal
- Every day is different.
- The role is usually a precursor to becoming school principal.
- Spending time with children and making a difference in their lives.
- Little time for reflection or planning.
- Disciplinary issues can consume many hours in the day.
- Daily responsibilities can be all-consuming, and overtime is often necessary to catch up.
Education requirements for assistant principals
Principals and vice principals typically need a master’s degree, preferably in educational leadership, education administration or related field, in order to qualify for the role. Many states require master’s degrees for certification.
According to the BLS, about 45 percent of principals have master’s degrees and 13 percent have a doctorate.
Elementary, middle and high school principals
- Less than high school diploma: 0.7%
- High school diploma or equivalent: 5.1%
- Some college, no degree: 9%
- Associate degree: 5%
- Bachelor’s degree: 22%
- Master’s degree: 44.7%
- Doctoral or professional degree: 13.5%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
A survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) showed an even higher incidence of principals with advanced degrees: According to a 2004 survey, 60 percent of NAESP members had a master’s degree and 8 percent had a doctorate.
Certification requirements for assistant principals
Most states require public school principals to be licensed as school administrators. The requirements for licensure differ between states. In addition, some states require principals to pass a test and take continuing education classes to maintain their license. Most states require a background check as part of the certification process.
You do not have to have a school administrator license to be an assistant principal in a private school, but it can’t hurt.
Salary range for assistant principals
Salaries for assistant principals vary based on geographic region and school district size. The National Association of Secondary School Principals conducted a survey in 2010 and found the average salaries ranged from $64,398 to $94,673 for middle school assistant principals and from $68,274 to $98,079 for high school assistant principals. Salaries on both coasts run higher than the middle of the country and in school districts with more than 25,000 students. The lowest salaries are found in the Southwest, and in school districts with less than 2,500 students.
Elementary school principals earn an average of $71,893 annually, according to a survey by the National Association of Elementary School Principals.
Middle school assistant principals
|Geographic region||Mean of lowest salaries paid||Mean of average salaries paid||Mean of highest salaries paid|
High school assistant principals
|Geographic region||Mean of lowest salaries paid||Mean of average salaries paid||Mean of highest salaries paid|
Source: National Association of Secondary School Principals
Employment projections for assistant principals
Employment for educational administrators is expected to grow at a rate of 6 percent from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. This is slower than average from other professions. The number of job openings is based on school enrollment, and while enrollments are expected to rise, state and local budgets are also a factor. It’s expected there will be more job openings in the West and South, and fewer openings in the Northeast.
Professional development for assistant principals
It’s important for assistant principals to engage in professional development to stay up-to-date on educational trends and to hone leadership skills. There are a number of ways to grow professionally:
- Ask the principal for new responsibilities
- Offer to develop a new program and measure the results
- Enroll and participate in a professional association
- Find a mentor or coach
- Take continuing education classes
Benefits of continuing education
Most states require assistant principals to take continuing education courses in order to keep their certifications current. Many of these courses can even be taken online or through a professional association.
Professional associations for assistant principals
Enrolling in professional organizations provide opportunities to network and access to journals and research.
- National Association of Elementary School Principals: http://www.naesp.org/
- National Association of Secondary School Principals: http://www.nassp.org/
- American Federation of School Administrators: http://afsaadmin.org/
Best of the Web: our favorite assistant principal websites and Twitter handles
Favorite assistant principal blogs and websites
- Daniel McCabe
- Murphy’s Musings
- Fearless Teacher
- Boo Yah Education
- Cohen, Assistant Principal
- Tahanto Assistant Principal BlogSpot
- Connected Principals
- Principal Profiles
Favorite assistant principal Twitter handles
- John Mikulski: @JohnMikulski
- Sandy Heiser: @SandyHeiser
- Heather Hurley: @H270
- Mark Otto: @MarkOttoNYC
- Jake Steinmetz: @JakeJSteinmetz
- Christy Lamb: @christylamb41
- Jaysen Anderson: @jaysenanderson
- Kayla England: @kaylaengland35
- "Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals
- "Occupational Outlook for Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Education Administrators, Elementary and Secondary School
- "2010 Principal Salary Survey," National Association of Secondary School Principals