The principal is the chief executive and the chief academic officer of a university or college in certain parts of the Commonwealth.

In the United States, the principal is the head of school at most pre-university, non-boarding schools.



Queen's University,[1] the constituent colleges of the University of Toronto, and McGill University[2] in Canada have principals instead of presidents or rectors, as a result of their Scottish origins. In addition, Bishop's University,[3] and the Royal Military College of Canada also have principals.



Many colleges of further education in England have a principal in charge (e.g., Cirencester College[4] and West Nottinghamshire College[5]).

At collegiate universities, the title of principal is used for the head of college at many colleges. These include:



In Scotland the principal is appointed by the University Court or governing body of the university and will be chairman or president of the body of academics. In the case of the ancient universities of Scotland the principal is president of the Academic Senate. The principal also holds the title of vice-chancellor, but their powers with regard to this position extend only to the awarding of degrees, as both the vice-chancellor and chancellor are titular posts.

United States


In 1999, there were about 133,000 principals and assistant principals in the United States.[8] In the early decades of public education,[clarification needed] the full title was "principal teacher", which accounts for the present-day title having an adjectival form, essentially being a shortened version of the original full title. Yet the terms head(master/mistress) and head of school are still used in older schools, such as in Louisiana and some southern small towns. School principals in the United States are sometimes required to have school administrator licensing, and often, a master's degree in educational administration.[9][10]


  1. ^ Office of the Principal Archived 2005-09-14 at the Wayback Machine, Queen's University, Canada.
  2. ^ The Principal and the Vice-Chancellor Archived 2017-03-09 at the Wayback Machine, McGill University, Canada.
  3. ^ "Principal Michael Goldbloom, C.M. - Bishop's University". Archived from the original on 2015-08-07. Retrieved 2017-09-08.
  4. ^ A New Principal for Swindon College Archived 2011-07-24 at the Wayback Machine, Swindon College, UK.
  5. ^ Janet Murray, The college principal Archived 2017-05-10 at the Wayback Machine. The Guardian, 3 June 2008.
  6. ^ "Senate membership" (PDF). Lancaster University. Retrieved 29 December 2022.
  7. ^ Colleges and Halls A–Z Archived 2010-03-23 at the Wayback Machine, University of Oxford, UK.
  8. ^ Digest of Education Statistics 2001
  9. ^ "Online Schools Offering Education Administration Degrees". Retrieved 12 July 2013.
  10. ^ Kate Rousmaniere, The Principal's Office: A Social History of the American School Principal (State University of New York Press; 2013) 197 pages