School psychologists work collaboratively with parents, teachers and students to create a positive learning experience. These professionals apply their knowledge and skills to improve the learning environment while helping with behavioral issues and fostering the emotional health of students at every stage of their academic lives. Putting students’ needs first while still supporting teachers to create a safe and healthy learning environment can be challenging, but quite rewarding, with the potential to have a lasting positive impact on the lives of young people. Becoming a school psychologist requires many years of postsecondary schooling, along with specific licensing and professional certification. Read on to find out more about school psychology careers, requirements for school psychology degrees, components to a successful career and employment outlook.
School psychologists work directly with students of all ages, both individually and in groups, to improve academic performance, resolve behavioral, emotional, personal and social issues, learning disabilities, and serious problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, or help with crisis situations. This involves bringing together parents, teachers and other education professionals and creating plans and solutions for resolution. School psychologists employ a variety of clinical therapies and behavior management techniques with the ultimate goal of helping students reach their full potential. School psychologists typically work on campus in public school districts or private educational institutions with elementary, middle and high school students. They may also work at colleges and universities, day care centers, juvenile detention facilities, in private practice or at research centers.
During their school years, students of all ages may experience issues such as bullying, family trauma, learning disabilities or behavioral issues. Regardless of the issue, school psychologists are on the front lines of addressing those concerns. According to The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), a school psychologist’s typical job duties will include the following:
Completing these tasks effectively requires an advanced level of education and a diverse skill set. Professionals in this field take a multi-faceted approach to help students not only succeed in school, but also help them develop into active and productive members of the community.
As with many careers, a school psychologist’s salary will vary based on location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data from May 2015, the mean annual wage for U.S. school psychologists is $76,040, with the top paying states being District of Columbia, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and California. This map can be used to compare salaries from state to state.
According to the BLS, between the years 2014 and 2024, job growth for clinical, counseling and school psychologists is estimated at 19 percent. Although competition is strong, job prospects are good for those looking into school psychology careers, partly due to the limited amount of graduates holding school psychology degrees. In addition, the use of psychological services in educational is expanding as society is becoming more aware of the connection between mental health and learning outcomes. To get a better picture of what job outlook and growth looks like from state to state, use the chart below.
Even if you have just started working on a bachelor’s degree, it’s never too early to start planning ahead. Research graduate schools that offer school psychology degrees. Zero in on the ones that fit your needs, and make sure they are accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists or the American Psychological Association. Take a look at what is required for acceptance into graduate school--specifically what is required to earn a school psychology degree, what pre-requisites courses are required, minimum GPA and cost of tuition.
It’s not necessary to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology in order to be accepted into a school psychology program, however, a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related degree may better prepare you for a school psychology career. To become certified to work as a school psychologist, most states require individuals have at least a post-master’s degree level of education. By earning a bachelor’s degree in a psychology or related area of study, you may already have some of the pre-requisites for graduate school under your belt.
In order to work as a school psychologist, you will need to earn an Ed.S (Education Specialist), which is considered a post-master’s degree. Some students enter a graduate program with a bachelor’s degree, while others already have a master’s degree (M.A., M.S. or M.Ed.) and are ready to pursue an education specialist or doctoral degree. Typically if you are starting graduate school with a bachelor’s degree, you can earn your master’s degree while you are working towards your Ed.S. Furthermore, an Ed.S can be turned into an Ed.D (Doctor of Education) or Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy), if you decide to go all the way. The education specialist degree is a great option for those who know they want to pursue a school psychology career working with school aged children, while earning a doctoral degree gives a few more options, especially to those wanting an emphasis on research.
Although not a requirement in all states, a National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential is standard for school psychology professionals. Requirements for the NCSP credential include a graduate degree in school psychology, preferably from a NASP-approved program; a 1,200-hour internship program, of which at least 600 hours must be in a school setting, and a passing score on the Praxis II school psychology examination. A certain amount of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours are required to maintain NCSP certification.
Following NCSP certification, graduates apply for licensure in the state where they wish to work. Employment in a public school setting generally requires certification by the state’s department of education. Many state licensure requirements mirror those of the NCSP credential, and certain states use proof of NCSP certification as a minimum requirement for a license to practice.
Requirements vary from state to state, so interested students should research them as early as possible, preferably before beginning the postsecondary education process.
For those considering a school psychology career, a bachelor’s degree in psychology is a good choice, as it will provide a firm foundation for future studies and a path to a wide variety of careers. Students will gain the basic knowledge of psychology, research and statistics and will explore subjects such as mental health, child psychology and human development. Examples of classes for this degree are: Introduction to Research Methods, Introduction to Behavior Analysis, Cognitive Psychology and Physiological Psychology.
As with a psychology degree, a social work degree is a good stepping stone towards a school psychology degree because it provides a foundation of knowledge regarding human behavior and motivation. In addition to classes, field experience is a large part of this degree, and provides valuable experience working with individuals, children, families and groups in the community from all socioeconomic backgrounds to solve personal and social issues. Examples of courses include: Introduction to Psychology, Human Behavior Theory, Social Welfare Policy and Social Work Practice.
Although school psychologists typically do not need to be certified to teach, students pursuing school psychology degrees may find it helpful to have a background in education. A bachelor’s degree in education can provide knowledge of child development, teaching methods and behavior management. Examples of courses required for this degree are: General Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Human Development and Student Assessment Methods.
Students entering graduate school to pursue a school psychology degree will have already completed a bachelor’s degree, and possibly a master’s degree, such as a M.A., M.S. or M.Ed. Typically students have earned a master’s degree in psychology, education or another related field of study, however, most programs will accept credits earned in other degree programs.
Once accepted to a school psychology graduate program, students will work towards earning a post-master’s or concurrent Ed.S (educational specialist degree) or an Ed.D (doctorate in education). In addition to general admission requirements for the college or university chosen, students will be required to meet application requirements for the school psychology program. Schools can vary in what they require, so students should do their research and plan ahead to have all the necessary things in place prior to applying. Below are some items typically required:
Time to complete: 3-4 years
Basic requirements: Earning this degree typically requires about 30 additional credits beyond the 30 required for the master’s degree, plus an internship of 1,200 hours (about one year). Typically, students will complete a field-based research project. The graduate will then be eligible for state licensure and national certification through the National Association of School Psychologists.
This is a post-master’s degree, set between a master’s degree and a doctoral degree. Students may be able earn a master’s degree simultaneously with this degree. They may also be able to earn this degree while pursuing a doctoral degree.
These programs are geared towards students who wish to become school psychologists working with children in a P-12 setting.
An overview of neuroscience and disorders of the nervous system, along with look at evolution and genetics and psychological constructs such as learning, memory, and language and how they affect human behavior. Brain development, injury and disorders will also be discussed.
Crisis, Trauma, And Disaster Counseling An introduction to crisis, trauma and disaster counseling. Students will learn about mental health issues that may arise from these events, and how to effectively counsel students, faculty and families in a crisis situation. Cultural, ethical and legal aspects of such events will be reviewed.
This course will discuss current ethical and legal issues in school psychology. Responsibilities of the school psychologist will be outlined with appropriate response and problem solving when ethical and legal issues arise.
This course teaches the importance of classroom management in the K-12 setting, positive behavior support, and maintaining appropriate behavior to create positive academic and social experiences. Behavioral issues and discipline are covered.
Students will spend 1,200 supervised hours in a school or agency setting in order to demonstrate competency, use and refine acquired knowledge and work towards professional development.
Time to complete: 3-5 years
Basic requirements: Students can be accepted with a bachelor’s, master’s or Ed.S degree, which determines the length of the program. Typically 120 credit hours are required, plus an internship of 2,000 hours (full-year) and a final dissertation is required to graduate.
This program provides more advanced training and specialization in school psychology with a strong emphasis on scientific research.
For students who wish to pursue a school psychology career in a wider variety of settings, such as with school age children, in colleges, universities, mental health centers, hospitals, private practice or research.
This class provides an overview of statistical analyses typically used in psychology, allowing the student to conduct and interpret statistical tests using technology and methodology, and applying this to research.
This course provides an in-depth study of the relationship between biological, social and psychological factors and the effect on human development through the entire lifespan.
Psychopathology A survey of abnormal psychology and clinical psychiatry, the factors that contribute to mental illness and treatment of issues. Students will work on developing diagnostic skills in a clinical setting.
Students learn about grant and fellowship funding opportunities relevant to school psychology graduate students and grant-writing techniques to obtain funding for research projects.
Under the direction and approval of a faculty advisor, students will plan and execute an original research project relating to school psychology, and write a dissertation upon completion of the research. The student will be required to go before the dissertation committee to orally defend the final dissertation.
In addition to working with school age children, several opportunities exist for school psychology graduates. While many with school psychology degrees choose to work in a school setting, others find opportunities to work with adults in colleges, universities, clinical settings, private practice, government agencies or in a research environment. Below are some examples of career paths available to school psychology graduates, with 2015 median salaries from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Child Psychologists typically work in a public or private setting assessing and often provide therapy to children experiencing varying degrees of social, emotional, developmental and mental issues. Examples of work environments for child psychologists include private practice, schools, child welfare agencies, mental health clinics and hospitals.
Career counselors can work with a wide range of people in a variety of settings, including colleges, government agencies, career centers and private practice. In a college environment, career counselors typically help college students find the right courses, programs and funding for the careers they wish to pursue. They may work in private practice counseling recently displaced workers or those looking into career changes. Career counselors can help people learn job seeking skills, and help those with disabilities enter the work force.
School counselors work primarily in K-12 public or private schools and colleges and universities counseling students in a variety of subjects, including academics, social and personal problems.
School psychologists with an Ed.D degree may have the opportunity to move into school administration, possibly at the college level. An example of such a position is the director of student services. The person in this position typically oversees admissions, counseling services, career services and financial aid. He/she may also be involved in school planning, budgeting and student activities.
Many school psychologists with an Ed.D or Ph.D can find opportunities to work at the college level in a professor role, with an emphasis on research in the field of psychology. A psychologist in this type of position can teach, but mainly focuses on designing and implementing research projects, directing students and other research faculty through research projects from start to finish and management of other grant-related duties.
School psychologists collaborate with students, teachers and parents to create a positive, safe and healthy learning environment. They must effectively and clearly communicate in order to establish trust, maintain relationships, counsel, develop and implement programs, and work towards systemic educational reform.
School psychologists must be compassionate and caring as they work directly with and often counsel children and families, with varying degrees of emotional, social and behavioral issues. They must appreciate the diverse social and cultural differences of students, families, and staff they work with, and treat everyone with respect and kindness.
School psychologists need to have problem solving skills in order to be effective. They also need to be flexible, stay organized and be able to thrive in an evolving environment, as they will often be pulled in several directions. School psychologists must be able to assess, support, plan, use intervention and develop programs to resolve issues and improve the lives of students, families and the community.
School psychologists must have commitment and persistence in order to make the changes needed to improve learning, development and mental health on a daily basis. They must know that many of the issues they will be faced with do not have quick fixes, and must be able to dedicate the time needed to serve students, families and the community.
School psychologists must have research skills and the ability to use sound scientific theory and data in decision making and apply researched based methods in counseling and development of programs in their professional practice.
School technologists will use basic office tools and technology, such as laptop and desktop computers, digital organizers, scanners, overhead projectors and special use telephones. In addition they will work with specific software such as:
Most states have strict education requirements for school psychologists. At a minimum, typically an Ed.S degree is required, although many graduates have an Ed.D or Ph.D. Although not required, the standard national credential for school psychologists is the National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) through the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Graduates must also apply for licensure in the state where they wish to work. Requirements vary from state to state, so interested students should research them as early as possible, preferably before beginning the postsecondary education process.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
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.
The APA is the largest association of psychology professionals in the United States. Its Commission on Accreditation is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as an accrediting agency for doctoral programs, including those in school psychology.
ISPA is an international association of professionals committed to promote school psychology along with the improvement of the mental health of school children throughout the world.
The NASP is the leading professional organization for school psychology professionals in the United States. This association also oversees the National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) certification program.
The SSSP was formed from the group that started the Journal of School Psychology (JSP). SSSP aims to promote, expand and advance school psychological services while promoting scholarship and research in the field of school psychology.
The clearest path to a successful career in forensic psychology is through a fully accredited degree program. Courses of study in forensic psychology can be found either online or on college and university campuses, both public and private. This search tool is built to help aspiring psychologists locate a program that can suit their needs.
Online degree programs may be an appropriate choice, particularly for those students who require extra flexibility in fitting a course of study into an already busy schedule. Those seeking a degree in forensic psychology can find online or hybrid programs available from both traditional colleges and universities and primarily online institutions. Doctoral programs may be less common online as they include extensive clinical experience in forensic facilities.