How to Become a School Psychologist
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School psychologists help students overcome emotional, academic, and behavioral challenges. They connect students and families with support services and help educators build safe classrooms. A rewarding and fulfilling career path, school psychologists also earn above-average salaries, with a median income of nearly $77,000 per year.
Unlike many other psychology careers, school psychologists do not need a doctorate. However, they need a graduate degree to earn a state license to practice. States also require an extensive internship or practicum to gain hands-on training.
This page explains how to become a school psychologist, including the educational and internship requirements for school psychologist jobs. It also introduces salary and job growth data, common school psychology courses, and resources to help school psychology students enter the workforce.
What Does a School Psychologist Do?
School psychologists work with students, teachers, parents, and community mental health providers to address learning and behavioral problems. School psychologists may counsel at-risk students, train educators on how to create safe classroom environments, and teach parenting skills to students. School psychologists also conduct psychological evaluations and recommend programs to support struggling students.
Many school psychologists also conduct research into topics like behavior management, mental health interventions, and effective instruction. They apply research through evidence-based programs and policies. Most school psychologists work in a public school setting, where they coordinate with teachers, principals, and parents to support learners.
School Psychologist Salary & Job Growth
School psychologists benefit from above-average incomes and strong job growth. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school psychologists earned a median annual income of nearly $77,000 in 2019. The annual wage for the top 75% of earners exceeds $100,000 per year, while the bottom 25% of earners make around $58,000 per year.
Salaries for school psychologists vary based on factors like education, job setting, experience, and location. For example, school psychologists who work in K-12 public schools, outpatient care centers, and doctors' offices earn salaries above the profession's average. In several states, including California, New Jersey, and Oregon, school psychologists earn an average salary of more than $90,000 per year
In addition to above-average salaries, school psychologists also benefit from strong job growth. The BLS projects much faster-than-average job growth for psychologists between 2018 and 2028.
Four Steps to Becoming a School Psychologist
Wondering how to become a school psychologist? The following steps outline the education and licensure requirements needed to work as a school psychologist.
During a school psychology program, students take classes on topics like behavioral analysis, the psychology of learning, and research methods. Programs also incorporate internship or practicum requirements to give students hands-on experience in the field.
School psychologists can begin looking for a job during their graduate program. Networking with professionals in the field and building connections during an internship can help school psychology students enter the workforce.
Preparing to Become a School Psychologist: Schools and Programs
Courses in School Psychology Programs
Many colleges and universities offer school psychology programs at the bachelor's and graduate levels. During a bachelor's degree in psychology, students learn foundational concepts and methods in the field while taking specialized courses in school psychology, the behavioral process of learning, and educational psychology.
At the graduate level, school psychologists can earn a master's degree, a specialist-level degree, or a doctoral degree. In many states, school psychologists must complete at least 60 graduate credits to earn licensure or certification.
When researching school psychology programs, prospective students should consider factors like enrollment options, cost, and admissions policies. Candidates should also research a potential program's accreditation status, length, and practicum or internship requirements to find the best school psychology program for their needs.
Research Methods in School Psychology
Students explore the techniques and principles used in educational research. Students conduct research reviews and critique their methods while learning how to design their own research processes. The class prepares learners to write a thesis or research-based project as part of their degree.
School psychology students examine behavioral assessment methods to identify the causes of behavioral problems and create effective behavioral interventions. Coursework covers evidence-based behavioral assessment techniques, such as interviews, observations, and descriptive assessments. The class also introduces students to the process of designing and conducting behavioral assessments.
This class covers systematic instruction methods, assessment procedures, and the role of psychologists in placing students into appropriate educational programs. Learners study the implementation process for intervening with learners. They also explore different methods to promote academic, communication, and social skills, such as direct instruction, incidental teaching, and task analysis.
Behavior Principles of Learning
In courses on the behavioral principles of learning, students examine research and scholarship on the psychological principles behind learning. Topics may include student motivation, the influence of schedules, and respondent conditioning. The class integrates concepts like behavior analysis into the assessment and intervention process for working with learners.
School Psychology Practicum
During a practicum, students complete supervised field experience under the guidance of a licensed school psychologist. They may shadow a school psychologist in an educational setting, work directly with students, or complete other activities to build the skills required for careers in school psychology.
Accreditation for a School Psychology Program
Prospective school psychologists should research a school's accreditation status before applying. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor. Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two.
Accreditation benefits students in several ways. For example, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and transfer credits from accredited institutions. Additionally, many professional licenses and certifications require an accredited degree.
Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) grants accreditation to school psychology programs that meet high standards for educating students. Many states only certify or license school psychologists who attended a NASP-accredited program.
The U.S. Department of Education provides a searchable database of accredited schools and programs.
School Psychologist Specialties
School psychology students can specialize their training by focusing on subfields, like research or practice. Many school psychology programs let graduate students focus on specific age groups, like early childhood or adolescence. While most school psychologists work in public schools, some also work in preschools or private school settings.
Accredited school psychology programs incorporate an internship, which offers students another opportunity to specialize their skills. By choosing the setting of their practicum, students can prepare for specific career paths after graduation. Pursuing a specialty can increase students' job opportunities after graduation.
Components of a Successful School Psychologist Career: Skills, Credentials, Tools, and Technology
Since school psychologists must interact with students, parents, educators, and administrators, they need exceptional interpersonal and communication abilities. They also need patience and empathy, particularly when working with struggling children.
In addition to these skills, successful school psychologists must meet the education requirements for their field. In most states, school psychologists must complete at least 60 graduate credits and a 1,200-hour practicum to earn a license to practice. Most states also require candidates to hold a school psychology degree from an NASP-accredited program.
Professionals can optionally pursue the nationally certified school psychologist credential, offered by NASP, to stand out on the job market. The credential requires a graduate degree and internship in school psychology, as well as passing scores on the school psychology Praxis II exam.
School Psychologist Professional Organizations
Professional organizations help school psychologists transition from graduate school into the workforce. Many organizations provide professional development support and guidance for current and aspiring school psychologists. In addition, professional organizations offer networking opportunities, access to new research in the field, and career centers with job opportunities.National Association of School Psychologists
NASP represents over 25,000 school psychologists, including graduate students. In addition to providing professional development resources, NASP publishes the School Psychology Review journal and provides targeted resources for graduate students and early-career professionals.American Psychological Association
The largest professional organization for psychologists in the U.S., APA represents over 121,000 researchers, educators, and students. The association hosts an annual conference with networking opportunities, connects students to scholarship opportunities, and provides professional development resources. APA also publishes books, journals, and databases on psychology.Division 16: School Psychology
The APA division devoted to school psychology, this organization brings together researchers and practitioners in the field. Members share professional practice resources and information on school psychology. Members also receive access to a scholarly journal and a quarterly newsletter to stay current in the field.Association of Educational Therapists
The national professional association for educational therapists, AET dates back to 1979. Educational therapists offer personalized instruction and advocacy for children with learning problems. The association sets standards for the field and provides resources for professionals, including certification and training opportunities.American School Counselor Association
ASCA connects professionals in the school counseling and mental health fields. The association offers an online professional networking site, an online resource center, and professional development opportunities. Other resources include surveys, lesson plans, and parent handouts. Members can attend free webinars to receive continuing education units and contact hours.
Related Careers at a Glance
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Doctoral Degree preferred
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Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
What do Related Occupations Make?
While most school psychologists are employed in public education, a number of alternative career paths and similar occupations can be considered. These include clinical psychology, occupational psychology, social work and other psychology-related areas, as well as roles outside psychology. Students can look into positions in education such as teaching, counseling and school administration, which may have their own professional qualifications. The tool below offers salary estimates for these and other related fields.School Psychologist and Related Job Salaries
Related Careers at a Glance
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