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Top Online Graduate Certificate Programs in School Leadership

Are you interested in earning your school leadership certificate online? Dive in to explore some of today’s best programs, review their curricula, weigh the benefits of the graduate certificate, and review possible costs.

Author: Emily Kelley

Editor: Mark Earnest

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Young professionals sit in a circle surrounded by desks facing an african american woman who is speaking to the group.

Deeply caring educators make a genuine difference in so many ways. This can include navigating a school through tough issues with budgeting or questions from parents and others on curriculum. This leadership can also directly help students in an increasingly turbulent world, as effective mentoring can be critical for success inside and outside school walls.

Online school leadership certificates make it easier for educators like you to affect the lives of other educators, students and their families. The best programs enable you to balance your studies with work, family, and other obligations. Still, it’s understandable to have questions about costs, what you specifically learn, and which school is the best choice.

To help you make a sound, well-informed decision, we have put together the following guide. Read our guide below to learn about standout programs offering certificates, the varied types of curricula, and how long it might take to earn the certificate, among other highlights.

College Spotlights: School Leadership Graduate Certificate Programs

To showcase some great programs available to you, we are profiling a few high-quality online school leadership certificate programs below. These accredited programs offer the affordability and flexibility you need to reach your education goals.

Sul Ross State University

Logo of Sul Ross State University, featuring the initials "SR" in green with a red border, and the name "Sul Ross The Frontier University of Texas: School Leadership" in green.

This Texas university offers its principal as instructional leader certification to certified teachers who have earned an approved master’s degree and have at least two years of teaching experience. The program centers on developing leaders who want to be instructional coaches, instructional coordinators, assistant principals, or principals. The program includes 27 hours over four semesters, but enrollees with a master’s degree in educational leadership can transfer up to 12 credit hours for equivalent courses.

Besides full accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), Sul Ross State offers online students the benefit of its experience with distance learning. Its program has been offered 100% virtually for 15 years now, and it is one of the oldest online programs in Texas. According to the school’s online learning information page, its online programs are also ranked among the best in the U.S. for affordability and flexibility.

University of Kansas

Logo of the University of Kansas featuring large, bold initials "KU" in blue with the full institution name above in smaller green font, emblematic of their renowned School Leadership certificate programs.

Using an innovative technique that simulates a virtual school district, the online post-master’s graduate educational administration certificate program at the University of Kansas is for students who have a master’s degree in an educational field, a current teaching license, and at least three to five years of experience working in schools.

Students can complete the program’s 24 credits in 12-16 months with course topics including educational policy, management strategy, and socioeconomic factors relevant to administrative decisions. Although most graduates are seeking roles as principals, this certification opens the door to leadership roles such as assistant principal, department head, athletic director, superintendent, school board president, and district director.

The university’s virtual school program is called Jayhawkville, and it includes hypothetical administration scenarios for 30 simulated schools that span all settings—rural, urban, and suburban—to represent diverse student demographics. The program culminates in a portfolio project and a supervised internship that allows students to apply their learning in the real world.

George Mason University

Logo of George Mason University featuring stylized green text "George Mason" with a gold feather integrated into the letter "M" representing its online graduate certificate programs.

Learners enrolled in the 24-credit education leadership graduate certificate program at George Mason University in Virginia acquire the necessary skills to enter roles such as principal, dean, athletic director, curriculum specialist, professional development coordinator, and special education director. Applicants must have a master’s degree, a valid teaching certificate, and at least two years of full-time teaching experience. In-state students pay $709.70 per credit, but the Virginia educator discount brings that amount to $603.25. Out-of-state students pay $909.70 per credit.

The program guides students in the intricacies of change at various levels—school, community, and organization—using a multifaceted approach that includes group discussions, case studies, lectures, simulations, on-the-job training, and internships. While the program is available 100% online, there is also a blended option for students who prefer some in-person components.

Top Reasons to Earn an Online Grad Certificate in Educational Leadership

Now that you have reviewed a few examples of some of the high-quality programs available let us reassure you that earning your school leadership certificate online is a smart choice with many benefits. Check out the list of advantages below to consider your next move.

Benefit #1: Online programs have the flexibility to fit your life.

As an educator, you know that work doesn’t stop when the school day ends. Schools that offer education administration certificates online understand this and allow you to balance your studies with a full-time job and other responsibilities. You can complete coursework whenever and wherever it is convenient for you.

Benefit #2: You will be qualified for more job opportunities.

In addition to roles as principal and vice principal, a certificate in educational leadership also qualifies you to take on the responsibilities of a curriculum specialist, athletic director, school board president, and professional development coordinator, among many others.

Benefit #3: You will increase your earning potential.

According to May 2022 wage estimates published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, education administrators from kindergarten through secondary earn an annual mean wage of $101,320. Compare that to the wage estimate for preschool, elementary, middle, secondary, and special education teachers—$62,390. It’s not difficult to see the advantage there.

What You’ll Learn in an Education Administration Certificate Program

Specific content includes some variance for each program, including specialized courses in topics like instruction or special education. In spite of these differences, most education administration certificate programs share several common topics.

Generally, your coursework helps you to master skills such as effective leadership, clear communication, complex problem-solving, critical thinking, decision-making, and sound management approaches. No matter which leadership role you enter, expertise in these areas is crucial to your success and foundational to any program. To get a better idea of what you’ll be learning, we’ve detailed some of the most popular courses and their descriptions below.

Popular Courses

Leading Schools and Communities

Leadership or principalship courses give an overview of educational leaders’ major responsibilities. You will examine how leadership impacts people, the educational system, and society. Another common focus of this and similar courses is evaluating your inherent leadership traits and developing them into your own leadership style.

Education Law

These courses provide an overview of laws and policies that affect teachers, administrators, students, and parents in educational settings. You will learn how to conduct leadership duties in accordance with state and federal laws and the individual rights of all parties in an educational system.

Resource Management and Human Resources

A combined course in resource management presents the basic functions of finance and HR, including laws, ethics, and politics that govern each of these areas. The HR management portion of courses often involves prevention and intervention in case of antisocial or behavioral problems while also understanding and addressing the contributing factors.

Staff Evaluation and Development

These courses are where you will learn to exercise effective leadership through assessing and improving staff performance. They usually provide exposure to the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) standards, which are adapted for each state and guide administrators in making informed evaluations.

Internship

The internship is a culminating on-site skills development experience carried out under the supervision of an advisor. You will be placed in an authentic educational setting and perform duties tailored to your individual needs as a student. This component of the program allows you to apply your knowledge in real-world situations.

Specialized School Leadership Certificates You Can Earn

From specific roles, such as principal, to leading international or religious schools, there are several specialization options available while earning an educational leadership certification online. The categories below contain a few of the specializations available in programs across the country.

School/Educational Leadership

The primary goal of a school leadership or educational leadership certificate program is leadership as a principal for a school. You will learn the major duties and responsibilities of this role and how to apply effective management practices. The program at William James College focuses on teaching leaders to foster equity, inclusivity, and beneficial teaching practices on their campuses.

Education Administration

An online education administration certificate program equips you with skills for leadership positions in virtual education programs. The program at Fitchburg State prepares you for roles such as director of online enrollment management, online course administration, and online program regulatory coordinator.

International Education Administration

A certificate in international education administration, such as the one you can earn through Endicott College, goes into the individual skills that are needed to be a successful administrator in educational roles around the world.

Catholic School Leadership

Programs in Catholic school leadership incorporate faith-based practices into their courses. The program at Merrimack College, for example, prepares administrators to oversee faith-based curricula and school culture, as well as use faith-informed management strategies.

What Can You Do with an Educational Leadership Graduate Certificate?

Most educators with a certificate in educational leadership become principals or vice principals, and those are still roles in demand. According to Projections Central, jobs for elementary and secondary education administrators are projected to grow by around 6.6% over the next 10 years.

Beyond those roles, the educational leadership certificate program may lead to a surprisingly large variety of other education management roles. Some of the jobs available to people with this certification include professional development coordinator, superintendent, dean, instructional coach, special education director, and athletic director.

Accreditation for Education Administration Graduate Certificate Programs

The most important step in researching certificate programs is to verify the school’s accreditation status. Ensure that the school you’re considering holds a solid regional accreditation from one of six regional accrediting commissions in the U.S. They review institutions to make sure they offer a quality educational experience.

An additional specialized mark of quality in education programs is accreditation through the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). You can find accreditation information on universities’ websites or search for it through the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Costs & Financial Aid for Online Graduate Certificate Programs

Before you embark on a certificate program, you need to have a plan to pay for it. The best option is financial aid that you won’t have to pay back, like grants and scholarships.

Some schools offer a number of in-house scholarships, such as Sul Ross State University, which has an entire brochure dedicated to scholarship opportunities. Federal loans such as those through the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program may be another option for you, but access to these funds depends on whether your chosen program meets its qualification criteria. Private loans may be a more likely source of funding. You can apply for these through lending institutions such as Sallie Mae Bank. For more information about paying for your certificate program, make sure to take a look at our financial aid page.

What Your School Leadership Graduate Certificate Might Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Est. Tuition

18

$665

$11,970

26

$513

$13,338

18

$235

$4,230

Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate School Leadership Certificates

What is the difference between a graduate certificate in school leadership and a master’s degree?

On the surface, it may seem difficult to discern the difference between these two programs. However, the two courses of study are fairly different. A master’s degree requires a much larger investment of time and money than a graduate certificate because it contains more credits. Master’s programs are also designed to help you form broad, deep knowledge of your field, whereas graduate certificate programs enable you to quickly develop a targeted set of skills.

In spite of these differences, you can often apply the credits you earn in your school leadership certificate program toward a future master’s degree in the same subject. For more information about master’s degrees in school leadership, visit our educational leadership and educational administration pages.

What are the admissions requirements for online educational leadership certificate online programs?

You must meet certain standards and qualifications before you can gain entrance to an online school leadership certificate program. Although these specific admissions requirements can vary from school to school, most institutions share at least some similarities in applicant criteria. Check out the common requirements listed below to get a general overview of what you will need.

  • Prior master’s degree in an education-related field (master of education, master’s degree in English education, master’s degree in mathematics education, etc.)
  • Valid teaching certificate
  • Verifiable teaching experience — the amount varies, but most programs list a minimum of two or three years in a public or private school.
  • Minimum cumulative GPA (usually 3.0 or higher)
  • Letters of recommendation from immediate supervisors who hold education leadership positions

How long will it take to finish my school leadership graduate certificate online?

You can expect to spend about one to two years completing your school leadership certificate online. One example is the program at George Washington University, which has a total of 18 credits and takes one year to complete. Earning an 18-credit certificate through the American College of Education takes only 11 months. Other programs, like the 26-credit certificate at the University of Alaska Anchorage, take two years to finish. To a certain degree, online programs allow you to complete your studies at your own pace, so it’s possible that the actual time to complete it may vary depending on how many courses you can handle at one time.

Can I earn my graduate certificate in education administration 100% online, or do I need to take classes on campus?

No graduate certificate in education administration can be completed 100% virtually. Although the majority of your classes will not require in-person attendance, an on-site, supervised internship is a crucial component of any of these programs. This experience adequately prepares you to handle authentic education leadership scenarios and solidifies the knowledge that you acquire in your foundation courses. It will also enable you to develop the confidence you need to pursue actual leadership positions when you are finished with your studies.