Difference Wiki

Dean vs. Principal: What's the Difference?

Edited by Janet White || By Harlon Moss || Published on November 11, 2023
Dean refers to a senior official in charge of a college or university faculty. Principal refers to the head administrator of a primary or secondary school.

Key Differences

A dean typically oversees academic departments within a college or university. In contrast, a principal is the chief administrator of a primary or secondary school, managing overall operations.
Deans are often involved in faculty affairs, curriculum development, and research initiatives. Principals, however, focus more on student discipline, staff management, and school policy enforcement.
Deans usually report to higher university officials like provosts or presidents. Principals often report to a school district's superintendent or a school board.
A dean's role is often specific to a particular faculty or division within a university. A principal, on the other hand, has a broader role encompassing the entire school.
The position of a dean is more common in higher education settings, whereas the role of a principal is typically found in primary and secondary education.

Comparison Chart

Education Level

Primary/Secondary School


Faculty management, curriculum oversight
School administration, policy enforcement

Reporting Structure

Reports to university higher-ups
Reports to school district or board

Role Focus

Specific to a faculty or division
Encompasses the entire school

Common Setting

Higher education
Primary and secondary education

Dean and Principal Definitions


An administrator in a university.
The dean addressed the budget concerns.


The head of a school.
The principal introduced the new teachers.


A senior academic official.
The dean approved the new course.


Chief administrator of a school.
The principal oversaw the school renovation.


Overseer of academic departments.
The dean implemented new research policies.


Leader in primary or secondary education.
The principal set new safety protocols.


Head of a college faculty.
She became the dean of the law school.


Enforcer of educational policies.
The principal implemented a new grading system.


A leader in educational affairs.
The dean spoke at the graduation ceremony.


Manager of school operations.
The principal handled the scheduling issues.


An administrative officer in charge of a college, faculty, or division in a university.


First or highest in rank or importance.


An officer of a college or high school who counsels students and supervises the enforcement of rules.


Of, relating to, or being financial principal, or a principal in a financial transaction.


Is a principal involved in teaching?

Principals may have teaching backgrounds but primarily focus on administration.

Does a dean teach classes?

Some deans may teach, but their primary role is administrative.

Can a dean become a principal?

Yes, but it would involve transitioning from higher education to primary/secondary education.

Can a principal make school-wide policies?

Yes, principals often create or enforce school-wide policies.

Do deans handle budgetary issues?

Yes, deans are often responsible for managing their faculty's budget.

Who hires school principals?

School districts or school boards typically hire principals.

Do deans have a role in admissions?

They may have a role, particularly in graduate or professional programs.

Can a principal influence school culture?

Absolutely, principals play a key role in shaping school culture.

Do deans handle student discipline?

Rarely, as this is usually managed at the department or faculty level.

Are deans involved in research initiatives?

Yes, especially in universities with a strong research focus.

Do principals work during the summer?

Many principals work year-round, including during summer.

Can principals affect curriculum changes?

Yes, though they often work with teachers and district officials on curriculum matters.

Are deans involved in fundraising?

Often, especially for research funding or scholarships.

How long does one serve as a dean?

Tenure varies, but some deans serve for multiple years or even decades.

Do deans have assistants?

Yes, deans often have administrative staff or assistants.

What qualifications are needed to be a dean?

Typically, a higher education degree and substantial academic experience.

Can a principal have a Ph.D.?

Yes, though it's more common for deans to hold Ph.D. degrees.

Can a principal fire teachers?

Principals can recommend termination, but final decisions often involve the school board or district.

Do principals interact with parents regularly?

Yes, principals frequently communicate with parents on various matters.

Is being a principal stressful?

It can be, given the broad range of responsibilities and challenges.
About Author
Written by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.
Edited by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.

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