Education is a calling. There’s no question about it—no one does work this hard and commits to a philosophy of lifelong learning with this level of intensity, unless they are truly devoted to giving kids the knowledge and tools for a better life.
It’s just as true for educational administrators as it is for teachers. Teachers, at least, get most of the glory when it comes to scholastic success. Students remember that third grade teacher who got them over the stumbling block they hit with long division. Parents, school boards, and the press hold up shining examples of teachers who make great sacrifices and achieve great results with their classes.
Meanwhile, principals, superintendents, and other administrative faculty are satisfied knowing they have helped lay the groundwork for it all, providing support and resources for all the educators within their sphere – whether that’s an individual school or an entire district.
Certificate Programs Make the Extra Training Required for Educational Leadership Jobs Faster and More Affordable
You’re not aiming for a job in educational leadership for the money or the accolades, though. You do it because you know how much more effect you can have, and how much more you can do for your community and the next generation. It’s in your blood. You can’t help wanting to learn more, to help more.
This is really why you’ve made climbing the ladder and advancing your education your mission.
Just because education is in your blood doesn’t always mean you can take time out of a busy life and career to pursue it, though. Change comes quick in educational circles, and when the opportunity to take an administration job comes at you, you need to be ready to jump.
So a typical two-year master’s or EdS (Educational Specialist) degree, or an even-longer Doctor of Education (EdD) may be more time than you have to spend. Then, too, financial considerations are significant for educators in many parts of the country. And you know all too well how expensive the cost of college has become these days.
That means an educational leadership certificate lands right in the sweet spot for your personal and professional needs.
Post-Bachelor’s vs. Post-Master’s Educational Leadership Certificate Programs: Who These Options are Designed for
First, what exactly are educational leadership certificate programs?
Certificates in educational leadership are offered as either post-bachelor’s or post-master’s options. Of course, the option you go with depends on the degree you hold – but also the requirements in your state. In the large majority of states, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement for building-level or district-level administration licensure, in which case a post-bachelor’s option won’t cut it. In fact, you won’t even find post-bachelor’s options offered in those states.
Thirty-seven states require a minimum of a master’s degree for principal and superintendent licensure. That means the large majority of educational leadership certificates in the US are post-master’s options for educators who already hold master’s degrees and just need a handful of courses to meet the requirements for administrator licensing.
Think of certificates as a slice of a larger degree program that has any extraneous elements cut out. They get right down to the bare bones of leadership training for educational administrators and deliver exactly that, in a package that may range between 12 and 25 credits.
The classes themselves are typically the same type of instruction you would get in a longer degree program. But because they are packaged more tightly, they can be delivered faster and at a lower cost.
In many cases, those classes are part of what states often call a designed EPP (Educator Preparation Program) curriculum. That’s a fixed set of subjects that state licensing agencies require you to complete before you can be awarded an educational administrator license or endorsement. In states that also require a certain number of hours of supervised practicum or internship in the role, certificate programs may also include that experience.
Because EPP is set at a particular level (typically building-level or district-level), these programs are often specific to those particular types of licenses and tailored to the requirements of particular states.
In the thirteen states that do not officially require a master’s degree for school leader licensure, you may instead find certificates offered at the graduate or post-bachelor’s level instead.
Other certificates are labeled as graduate certificates as a reference to the level of coursework they offer, even though they may require you to already hold a master’s degree.
In some cases, acceptance into these programs require that you hold an active educators license and have a certain amount of experience under your belt. These frequently mirror state credentialing requirements for the endorsement the program supports.
You can find these kinds of certificates available with titles such as:
- Post-Master’s Certificate in Education Leadership and Administration
- Superintendent Certificate
- Graduate Certificate in School Administration and Supervision
- Post-Master’s Certificate in Curriculum and Instructional Strategy
- Post-Master’s Certificate in Instructional Leadership
- Post-Master’s PK-12 Special Education Certification
- Graduate Certificate in Early Childhood Education
Not all of these certificates automatically lead to professional licensure or certification, however. In some cases, they are simply an advanced course of study that does exactly what it says on the label: helps develop your advanced educational leadership skills.
One rule of thumb is that non-credit certificate programs will often fail to meet state licensing agency requirements. Of course, it’s important to ensure that the education leadership certificate you pick gives you the qualifications needed to meet your next career goal—so you’ll want to verify whether the certification will fulfill licensure requirements if that’s your intention.
When To Consider an Educational Leadership Certificate Instead of a Full Degree
Professional licensed educators are no strangers to the idea of continual career-long learning. It’s a built-in part of keeping credentials current in every state. And as long as you’re putting in that effort to satisfy professional development and continuing education requirements, for many, it just makes sense to go ahead and go for a full degree along the way.
Since you already earned a bachelor’s degree just to get into the field, that almost inevitably means a master’s degree… and sometimes even a doctorate.
But there’s a strong case for earning a certificate in educational leadership versus a full degree.
What’s the Difference Between a Certificate and Certification?
Not infrequently, educators come to certificate programs in one very particular scenario – suddenly finding themselves in line for a senior administrator position, without having the necessary education to qualify for state certification.
It’s worth taking a moment here to clarify the difference between a certificate, and certification.
An academic certificate granted through a university is simply proof you have finished a certain course of study in particular subjects. Just like a degree, it’s a description of your education, not your abilities.
Certification comes through the state licensing or endorsement process and is granted by the state board. It’s a measure of your tested ability, spanning a range of different qualifications. Those include, but aren’t limited to, your education.
So you may need an academic certificate from a university in order to get your building- or district-level certification, but they aren’t the same thing!
Certificates Custom Made for Specialized Roles in ECE and Special Education Administration
Post-master’s certificates are also a good fit for accomplished and licensed educational leaders who are looking at a change in specialization. Many states have specialized licensure requirements for early childhood education (ECE) or special education administrators, for example.
But what if you are working in ECE and want to transition to special education administration? Your master’s degree and education will all have gone into meeting state requirements for ECE endorsements.
So without starting over entirely, you can pursue a post-master’s certificate that will cover your EPP requirements in special ed, allowing you to swap licenses and jobs without missing a beat.
Are Graduate Certificates in Educational Leadership Worth It for College or University Administrators?
We’ve mostly talked about educational leadership certificates aimed at primary and secondary educational administrators so far, but they aren’t the only leaders out there in the academic world. There’s a whole thriving community of expert post-secondary educational administrators who need just as much training and knowledge in their positions. Are there certificates in educational administration for them?
The answer is yes, but the case for pursuing them isn’t quite the same.
The major difference, of course, is that post-secondary educational administrators are not licensed. There are no formal state requirements for those jobs. You just have to have a resume and the right skillset to impress a hiring committee.
A certificate program is one factor in building your skills and qualifications for higher education leadership jobs, but it’s not about meeting license qualifications as it is for K-12 administrators.
There’s also the fact that higher education tends to value higher education… you’re working with and often supervising staff who will tend to have higher degrees than you find in primary and secondary schools. When you are surrounded by masters and doctors, there are good reasons you might want to have similar qualifications.
So educational certificates for post-secondary administrators are not as common as they are for K-12 administrators. But there is still a case for them, and you will find both general and specialized programs that can be useful.
You will also have no trouble finding programs that offer a higher education certificate online, making your life a lot more convenient.
For example, many post-secondary administrators come to the field through their own professional college teaching experience. A faculty member in the mathematics department didn’t get there by studying educational leadership; their PhD is in statistical science or applied mathematics or algorithms and combinatorics or something similarly exotic.
But when they are in the hunt to become assistant dean, or perhaps already have that job and want to go further, suddenly those leadership skills become important. And rather than going back for a full degree in educational leadership, a certificate program might be a better option.
For higher education administrators, any of the educational leadership certificates noted earlier that don’t conform to specific state K-12 administration licenses could be a good choice. There are also many certificates that aim more squarely at the administrative problems faced by college admins, such as a Certificate Program in Student Affairs and Higher Education Administration or a Graduate Certificate in Higher Education Administration.
What You Will Find in the Curriculum for Educational Leadership Certificate Programs
The scope of study in certificate programs is generally quite curtailed compared to a full-on graduate degree in educational administration. To get the length and cost down to make these fast and effective, a lot of the supporting courses and depth have to stay on the bench.
So certificate programs have to focus on the essentials.
First, they absolutely have to incorporate any necessary EPP coursework for state licensing requirements in their field. That often includes a class specific to the professional role, such as principalship or superintendency. And it will have job-specific coursework such as:
Then, they squeeze in as much leadership and administrative training as they can hold without breaking the bank. Typically, this includes coursework such as:
Legal and Ethical Issues in School Leadership
Responsible leadership means becoming the backstop on matters of legal and moral importance. So certificates equip you with the formal knowledge of state and federal law and ethical reasoning to make the right calls.
School Finance and Resource Management
Leaders are also responsible for allocating resources and accounting for expenditures. Training in financial matters such as budgeting, audits, and accounting controls builds your skills in balancing the books.
Educational Personnel Management
Finally, leaders are also managers in most cases. So coursework in managing human resources in educational environments comes with many certificate programs.
Finally, depending on the state, some certificates may offer add-on coursework to get a particular specialized endorsement that requires extra EPP classes. That’s often the case where there are licenses in areas like special education administration that effectively extend basic admin credentials.
Some credits will also come through supervised field experience or practicum courses if these are required for your state endorsement.
How To Pick the Right School for Your Graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership
Picking the right school to earn your educational leadership certificate is no different from selecting any other graduate-level education. And as an educator already, you are intimately familiar with what goes into making a great learning experience.
Naturally, the first box to tick is the quality of instructors. A school that values professors and has a high bar for hiring those with the most on-the-ground teaching experience, the latest publications, and the most innovative research subjects is exactly where you would want to work. And so that’s where you’re going to find the most caring, must supportive, and most challenging professors to help you in your leadership journey.
When you’re engaged in coursework at the post-master’s level, you need to lean on your school more than ever. Research data, references, and faculty experts to consult in your particular areas of interest are all invaluable. They are especially necessary when you’re packing a lot of learning into a tight time window, as you certainly will be with a graduate certificate in educational leadership program.
Advising and Support
You might not think that someone so close to becoming a school principal or superintendent would need hand-holding through academic processes, but the truth is we can all use a hand from time to time. For busy professionals involved in checking the boxes on their qualifications, having a professional academic support and skilled advisors is a big time and sanity saver.
Reputations and Connections
Since you’ve already worked in schools, you understand that reputations are earned. So you probably already have a good idea what the best colleges in your area are, because their graduates, and the people who hire their graduates, aren’t shy about touting them. That creates a virtuous circle, where the best schools draw the best people and offer you some of the best networking connections, best internship opportunities, and best chances to land interviews with top employers in your area.
For some students, how the school handles transferability of credits earned in the certificate program may also be important. If you are pursuing a certificate as a way to fast-track your jump into a leadership role, but do intend eventually to go back and pick up a full master’s in educational leadership, then you want to be able to apply your certificate credits toward that degree.
It’s also sometimes easiest to work backwards, here; if you are looking for a certificate to fit EPP requirements, chances are your state licensing department already keeps a list of programs that are approved. So you can shorten your list considerably by starting only with options you know will fit the requirements.
Accreditation Is Just as Important for Leadership Certificate Programs as for Educational Administration Degrees
Of course, you also already know a shortcut for finding schools that hold most of these qualities: pick a school that holds CAEP (Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation) accreditation.
NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education) and TEAC (Teacher Education Accreditation Council) merged into CAEP in 2013, but plenty of schools still hold valid coverage under these former agencies until the time they renew under CAEP accreditation. In all cases, this type of accreditation means a program meets the highest standards in specialized educator preparation.
CAEP is the gold standard that state agencies count on when certifying EPP and ITP (Initial Teacher Preparation) degrees, so it’s a standard your certificate program has to meet in many states anyway.
But because CAEP already looks at many of the same indicators of quality that you will be interested in, it’s a good shortcut for establishing what certificate programs are worth investigating further.
You Are Probably Already Thinking of Earning an Educational Leadership Certificate Online
One other feature that gets a lot of notable attention when people are making their choices are online educational leadership certificates. There’s a good reason for that: the advantages of getting your school administration certificate online line up pretty closely with the advantages of post-graduate leadership certificates in general.
If you’re looking for something quick, inexpensive, and convenient to get qualified to work in school administration, it’s hard to beat what the online experience delivers.
With access from anywhere you can get on the internet, you’re not constrained by a campus classroom nearby. That means you avoid having to relocate, even if it’s only for a few weeks, and also broadens your options to programs all around the region. That makes it easier to find the perfect fit for your goals.
Not only do you not have to be in a specific classroom, but you usually don’t even have to be in class at a certain time. That’s because these programs deliver coursework asynchronously, posting lectures you can stream any time, and allowing you to complete and upload your coursework whenever it’s convenient.
At the same time, online programs keep you connected to your professors and classmates 24/7 through chat, online forums, or video conferencing. So you still get support wherever you are, whenever you need it.
Educational Leadership Certificate Programs Qualify You for the Same Positions as Master’s Degrees in Educational Administration
One big difference between how people approach certificates in educational leadership versus graduate degree programs is that they typically already have a line on a job when they are looking at certificates. A longer, more intensive graduate degree program isn’t something you enroll in on a whim. Degrees may be a more speculative effort—aimed at career changes that are still a few years in the future and haven’t been exactly nailed down yet.
In contrast, and reflected in the enrollment qualifications for many post-grade educational leadership certificates, students often come in the door with a very specific position in mind. They may, in fact, already be working on a provisional or temporary license in that position. Or their school board or superintendent may be encouraging them to apply for one that will be opening soon.
So you probably don’t actually have a lot of questions about what positions you will qualify for after you earn your certificate. They are right on the label:
It’s entirely possible that you will have earned a master’s degree to land one of those jobs already. In which case, you can use your post-graduate certificate to qualify for another.
Unlike a full master’s in educational leadership, however, a certificate program doesn’t come with the kind of broad-based preparation in leadership that will take you further down the road in professional education administration. So you’ll need to take care to aim specifically at the position you want when earning a certificate.
Certificates Reduce the Time it Takes to Meet Administrator Qualifications, But They Certainly Won’t Reduce Your Salary Protentional
The salary rates for these jobs are identical no matter what path you took to get there. If you were pursuing a certificate in order to land a specific position, you probably already know what you will be making down to the dime.
In general, though, you can turn to data tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for various educational leadership positions.
At the median, the salary levels found for 2021 in positions you may be eligible for with a master’s certificate in educational leadership look like this:
If you are on the hunt for a position as administrator at a college or university, post secondary educational administrators were paid an average of $96,910 that same year.
You can also expect the generally solid healthcare, retirement, and vacation benefits that most educators are accustomed to… although you won’t be getting your summers off anymore—educational leadership is exercised year-round.
But we already established that education is in your blood. So that’s a trade you’re willing to make.
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and employment figures for Postsecondary Education Administrators, Education Administrators, Kindergarten through Secondary, Elementary, Middle, and High School Principals, and Instructional Coordinators reflect national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.