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School Psychology Degree Career Guide

School psychology is a specialty recognized by the American Psychological Association (APA) that is focused on the science and practice of psychology in school settings, including children, families, learners, teachers, and the schooling process in general.1 School psychologists work in schools with students, families teachers, and others in the school system to promote positive learning environments for everyone involved. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), a specialist degree in school psychology is considered an entry-level degree for a job in school psychology.2 Courses in school psychology may be taken at the undergraduate level as electives for a general psychology degree, but the degree as a specialty is typically offered at a higher level. As a result, school psychology degrees, which are related to educational psychology degrees, are usually advanced.

Most students entering a school psychology graduate program will hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology or education. Those who hold a bachelor’s degree in another field may be required to take some prerequisite courses. Some school psychologists hold a specialist degree, known as an Educational Specialist (EdS) or Specialist in School Psychology (SSP), and others elect to pursue a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). While some master’s programs do exist in school psychology, they are typically seen as a springboard to a higher degree because a master’s alone does not make graduates eligible for certification. Graduates will typically seek jobs in the K-12 public school systems.

School Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework

In a master’s or doctoral school psychology degree program, participants will study both the psychology and education fields, including a 1,200-hour supervised internship before they are able to practice in the school system. Good school psychologists will be knowledgeable about the school system as well as teaching and learning methods and have good communication skills, problem-solving skills, and analytical skills.

Prospective students entering a school psychology program should have a minimum GPA of 3.0. A doctoral program will typically take between three to seven years to complete. Students in school psychology programs will learn about assessment, how to identify risk factors, consultation, mental health interventions, behavioral interventions, how to give instructional support, special education services, and crisis response. Sample coursework may include:

  • Behavioral Disorders in Children
  • Cognitive Assessment
  • Consultation in School Psychology
  • Internship in School Psychology
  • Practicum in School Psychology
  • Psychology of Classroom Discipline
  • Research and Issues in School Psychology
  • Roles and Functions of School Psychology
  • Social and Emotional Assessment and Intervention
  • Theories of School-Based Psychological Interventions

Profiles of School Psychology Programs

While school psychology programs are offered at the master’s and specialist levels, the APA only accredits doctoral programs. The NASP, however, accredits both specialist- and doctoral-level programs.

Specialist Programs

Michigan State University: MSU offers a PhD and an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree in school psychology. The graduate programs are ranked #4 in US News and World Report’s Best Graduate Schools for Educational Psychology. A Master of Arts (MA) in school psychology is included with enrollment in the EdS or PhD programs, but it is not a stand-alone program or a terminal degree. Approved by the NASP, the EdS program emphasizes a developmental and systems approach to learning and focuses on four primary goals for its students. It seeks to impart foundational knowledge, professional practice, research and inquiry, and professional conduct. The EdS typically takes three years to complete, which includes two years of coursework and one year of an internship. Acceptance into the program is competitive and successful applicants tend to have a GPA of 3.5 or greater with above-average scores on the GRE.

Barry University: Barry University offers a school psychology program that allows students to get a Master of Science (MS) in school psychology, which seamlessly transitions into a Specialist in School Psychology (SSP) degree. Students in the MS program will take a total of 30 credits before moving onto the SSP track, where they will take 41 credits. Barry welcomes full-time or part-time students. Full-time students can complete both the MS and the SSP in three years, including two years of class and one year of a fieldwork internship. Prospective students who already hold a master’s degree in a related subject may be able to enter the SSP program directly. Students of the MS program must maintain a 3.4 GPA to be admitted into the SSP program. Completion of these two programs at BU fulfills the NASP’s educational standards and will adequately prepare graduates to apply for a license in the state of Florida.

Brigham Young University: BYU offers an EdS in school psychology that is accredited by the NASP. The program prepares graduates to work in K-12 schools upon graduation. To be admitted, prospective students should have a bachelor’s degree, with a preferred concentration in education or the social sciences. GRE scores should be within the top 50%, and a GPA of 3.5 or higher is recommended. The program takes three years, with the last year being devoted to a full-time internship. Courses include Ethics and Professional Roles and Standards, Human Growth and Development, Consultation with School and Family, Child Social/Emotional Assessment, and Intervention, Crisis Intervention, and Learning Theories.

Doctoral Programs

University of Wisconsin-Madison: The University of Wisconsin-Madison offers a program in school psychology, established in 1960, which leads to a PhD in educational psychology. The program is accredited by the APA and has also been ranked #1 by US News and World Report in the Best Graduate Schools for Educational Psychology category. The doctoral program at UW-M is based on a scientist-scholar-practitioner model, with an emphasis on research and preparing students for careers in academia. Program goals and objectives include research and evaluation; assessment; professional issues; human relations; intervention; consultation; human abilities and diversity; and schools and schooling. A minor in prevention and intervention science is offered to students of the school psychology program. The program takes five full years to complete but includes an MS degree, which takes three years. Year five is spent completing a full-time internship.

Michigan State University: MSU offers both an EdS and a PhD in school psychology. Both degrees include an MA in school psychology, but the MA is not offered aside from enrollment in one of the terminal programs. MSU’s program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and approved by the National Association of School Psychologists. It is further approved by the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). The PhD program distinguishes itself from other programs due to its communities of practice, a curriculum with developmental and contextual perspectives, and scholarship and inquiry. The four primary goals that define their program include foundational knowledge, professional practice, research and inquiry, and professional conduct. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology, education, or a related field. Those with a master’s degree in one of those subjects are also eligible to apply. A minimum GPA of 3.0 for undergraduate coursework and 3.5 for graduate work. Of approximately 40 applicants, eight to ten students are admitted each year. On average, the EdS program takes about three years to complete, and the PhD program takes five to six years to complete, including the internship.

Online Degrees

Eastern Washington University: EWU offers an Educational Specialist in School Psychology Respecialization (EdS). EWU’s EdS is a hybrid online distance learning program designed especially for working professionals. Most students are educators, counselors, or working in mental health or psychology-related fields. Both students with undergraduate and graduate degrees are accepted into the program. Those entering the program with a bachelor’s degree must have taught full-time for three years or have five years of relevant professional experience in a closely-related field. The EdS program uses a science-practitioner model preparing students to practice as a school psychologist. EWS’s program covers topics like student and program evaluation, development of academic and social-behavioral intervention plans, and research. Students have the option to complete the program in two or three years, including summer sessions. Both options include a full-time, 1,200-hour internship. Other requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores (for undergraduate applicants only).

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology: The Chicago School offers an online EdD in Educational Psychology and Technology. The curriculum prepares students to bridge the gap between research and professional practice, being able to identify and assess teaching and learning challenges and adjusting curricula to better address students’ learning needs. The online program attracts working mid-career teachers, school administrators, curriculum specialists, counselors, corporate training directors, and other related professionals. Three concentrations are offered to students: Organizational Learning and Technology, Higher Education, Learning and Technology, and K-12 Education, Learning and Technology. A total of 60 total credits are required for the degree, as well as two on-campus residencies, of two-and-a-half days each. Part-time students can expect to earn their degree in three years, but five years is the maximum time allowed to complete the coursework.

School Psychology Job Description

With a degree in school psychology, most graduates will work in the K-12 public school system although a few may work in clinical or hospital settings or universities, treating school-age children and addressing school-related problems. School psychologists need to understand the dynamics of classroom environments and effective instructional practices, as they will work with educators to evaluate and improve school performance. They will also help to diagnose and work to treat developmental problems related to the school, social problems, and learning disabilities. School psychologists will consult with students, parents, teachers, and administrators concerning children’s academic or behavioral problems. According to the NASP, school psychologists work hard to:

  • Improve academic achievement within schools
  • Promote the positive behavior and mental health of students
  • Support diverse learners and address diverse learning needs
  • Create safe, positive school climates for children and school employees
  • Strengthen relationships between families and schools
  • Improve school-wide assessment and accountability

What Jobs Can You Get with This Degree?

With a PhD or EdS in school psychology, you can get a job as a school psychologist. The NASP maintains that a minimum of specialist-level training is required, which consists of at least 60 graduate semester credits, including a 1,200-hour internship. Possible job titles include:

  • Bilingual school psychologist
  • Educational Diagnostician
  • Educational psychologist
  • High school psychologist
  • Middle school psychologist
  • Pediatric school psychologist
  • School psychologist

Frequently Asked Questions

What kind of degree do I need to be a school psychologist?

According to NASP, school psychologists need to complete a minimum of a specialist-level program to be qualified. Specialist-level programs typically award an EdS, but some award an MA, MS, or MEd. As long as the degree earned is a specialist-level degree, the title doesn’t matter. A specialist-level degree involves 60 graduate semester credits, along with a 1,200-hour internship.

How long does it take to get a degree in school psychology?

Specialist programs typically take around three years to complete, including the internship, and doctoral programs typically take around five or six years to complete.

What is the difference between a school psychology degree and a child psychology degree?

A school psychology degree prepares graduates to be a professional who is qualified to bridge psychology and education to address issues related to the school, but not limited to children. The breadth of a school psychologist’s work includes not only interacting with children, but also with educators, administrators, and parents and families. A child psychology degree prepares graduates to become doctoral-level clinical psychologists specializing in children, with a focus more on the child than the school environment.

School Psychology Salary And Job Outlook

The average salary for a clinical, counseling, and school psychologist, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $75,090 in May 2017.3 The highest-paid school psychologists were found in hospitals (averaging $83,910), while psychologists who work in schools average $74,470 per year.3 The average highest-paying states for school psychologists are New Jersey ($97,790), Hawaii ($95,500), and Alaska ($96,350).4 Approximately 108,060 clinical, counseling, and school psychologists were employed in the US in 2017, with the highest employment levels in the states of California, New York, and Texas.4

The outlook for school psychologists is positive. According to the BLS, the profession is expected to grow by 14% through 2026.4 This growth is much faster the 7% average growth expected for all occupations over the same time period.4

Additional Resources

  • APA’s Division of School Psychology (Division 16) – Represented by School Psychology Quarterly, this division exists to represent the interests of school psychologists and the children, teachers, and families they serve.
  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) – The NASP is a professional organization dedicated to helping children thrive in both school and at home. It seeks to empower school psychologists by promoting professional development, diversity within the field, and life-long professional learning.
  • International School Psychology Association (ISPA) – Established in 1972, the ISPA is dedicated to promoting the work of school psychologists worldwide and offers benefits like access to their newsletters, reduced conference rates, and access to other school psychology resources to its members.
  • Society for the Study of School Psychology (SSSP) – The SSSP is a descendant of the same group that formed the Journal of School Psychology (JSP) in the early 1960s. With 112 members, the SSSP restricts its membership to 150 total members and invites three to five new members per year, by nomination. The organization seeks to advance scientific research and broaden awareness of the profession of school psychology.

References:
1. American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/school.aspx
2. National Association of School Psychologists, “A Career in School Psychology: Selecting a Master’s, Specialist, or Doctoral Degree Program that Meets Your Needs:” https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/becoming-a-school-psychologist
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-5
4. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm
5. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm