School Psychology Degree and 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. Since school psychology is a specialization of psychology, no further specializations (also called concentrations, specialties, or emphases) are typically offered in those degree programs.

    Most students entering a school psychology graduate program 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 master’s degree in school psychology, some have a specialist degree, known as an Education Specialist (EdS) or Specialist in School Psychology (SSP or PsyS), and others elect to pursue a Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). Most states require a minimum of a specialist degree to become licensed and, according to NASP, no states require a doctoral degree for licensure in school psychology.2 In many states, including Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, a master’s degree in school psychology (including a year-long advanced practicum) is required to become licensed; with the practicum included, the master’s in school psychology is considered a specialist-level degree. Another common requirement for state certification is NASP certification as a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). Most graduates seek jobs in K-12 public school systems, but others pursue employment in private schools, hospitals or clinics, and universities.

    Quick Facts

    • There are 198 colleges and universities with school psychology programs.3
    • 1 school offers a certificate in school psychology.3
    • No schools offer an associate’s degree in school psychology.3
    • 2 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in school psychology.3
    • 196 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in school psychology.3

    For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

    Table of Contents
    School Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
    Top-Ranked School Psychology Degree Programs
    Best Value Schools with On-Campus School Psychology Programs
    Select School Psychology Degree Programs
    School Psychologist Career Information
    Becoming a School Psychologist
    Job Description
    Salary and Job Outlook
    Additional Resources
    Frequently Asked Questions

    School Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework

    In an advanced school psychology degree program, students will study both the psychology and education fields and participate in a supervised internship before they are able to become licensed. Good school psychologists will be knowledgeable about the school system, teaching and learning methods, and the psychology and development of children. They should also have good communication, problem-solving, and analytical skills.

    Students entering a school psychology program should have a minimum GPA of 3.0, but some schools require a higher GPA to be competitive. A doctoral program typically takes between four and seven years to complete, while a specialist program takes around three years to complete full-time, and a master’s degree takes one to two years of full-time study 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

    Top-Ranked School Psychology Degree Programs

    US News & World Report’s Best Doctoral Educational Psychology Programs 2020

    • Stanford University (#1)
    • University of Michigan-Ann Arbor (#2)
    • University of Wisconsin-Madison (#3)
    • Vanderbilt University (#4)
    • University of Maryland-College Park (#5)
    • Michigan State University (#6 tie)
    • University of California-Berkeley (#6 tie)
    • University of Texas-Austin (#8)
    • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (#9)
    • Teachers College, Columbia University (#10)4

    Best Value Schools with On-Campus School Psychology Programs

    The table below shows the not-for-profit colleges and universities with school psychology programs offering the best value to students. To determine this best value list, we researched schools offering on-campus graduate programs in school psychology with an undergraduate net price of under $20,000 per year and an undergraduate graduation rate of 75% or above. In addition to these factors, we include the applicable degrees, US News & World Report rankings, and percentage of faculty with tenure.

    SchoolGraduate Degree(s)US News National Rank4Grad Rate3% Tenured Faculty5Net Price3
    University of Washington-Seattle CampusEdS School Psychology w/ Cert.;
    PhD School Psychology
    #59 tie84%51%$9,443
    University of North Carolina at Chapel HillPhD School Psychology#30 tie91%43%$11,100
    Indiana University-BloomingtonEdS School Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #89 tie77%42%$12,488
    Brigham Young University-ProvoEdS School Psychology#66 tie83%46%$12,979
    University of FloridaEdS School Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #35 tie88%52%$15,283
    University of GeorgiaMEd Educational Psychology;
    MA Educational Psychology;
    EdS Educational Psychology;
    PhD Educational Psychology
    #46 tie85%54%$15,934
    University at BuffaloMA Educational Psychology & Quantitative Methods;
    MA School Psychology w/Adv. Certificate;
    PhD Counseling Psychology/School Psychology;
    PhD Educational Psychology & Quantitative Methods
    #89 tie75%35%$16,120
    James Madison UniversityMA/EdS School PsychologyNR83%41%$16,154
    University of DelawareMA/EdS School Psychology#89 tie82%57%$16,286
    Michigan State UniversityEdS School Psychology;
    PhD School Psychology
    #85 tie79%50%$16,684
    Texas A & M University-College StationPhD School Psychology#66 tie82%49%$19,554

    Select School Psychology Degree Programs

    Traditional Education Specialist Programs

    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, during which 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 coursework 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 Barry fulfills NASP’s educational standards and will adequately prepare graduates to apply for a school psychology license in the state of Florida.

    Brigham Young University

    Brigham Young University’s (BYU) Counseling Psychology and Special Education (CPSE) division of the School of Education offers an EdS in School Psychology that is approved by NASP. The program prepares graduates to work in K-12 schools upon graduation, working with teachers, students, and parents to solve problems, design and carry out interventions, and create safe learning environments for children. 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 45%, and a GPA of 3.0 or higher is recommended. The program takes three years to complete, with the last year being devoted to a full-time, 1,200-hour supervised internship in an elementary or secondary school setting. 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.

    Indiana University-Bloomington

    Approved by NASP, Indiana University-Bloomington offers preparation for a practitioner career as a school psychologist through its EdS degree in School Psychology, leading to licensure in Indiana and eligibility for licensure in other states. Comprising 65 credit hours taken over two years, the EdS degree at Indiana University focuses on three primary areas: professional studies in school psychology, psychological foundations, and research/inquiry methods. Courses include Academic Assessment and Intervention; Behavioral Analysis and Consultation for School Psychologists; and Developmental Psychopathology of Childhood and Adolescence. A school-based practicum is taken each semester of the first two years and all students participate in a 1,200-hour full-time internship at a school during the third year to gain real-world experience. All students also select a minor (normally in counseling or special education). The program culminates with a capstone project or comprehensive examination. Most graduates work in public and charter schools as psychologists, though some work in private schools.

    Traditional Doctoral Programs

    Michigan State University

    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 as a stand-alone program (terminal degree). MSU’s PhD program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and both programs are approved by the NASP and the Michigan Department of Education (MDE). The PhD program distinguishes itself from other programs with its communities of practice, a curriculum with developmental and contextual perspectives, and scholarship and inquiry. The four primary goals that define MSU’s program include foundational knowledge, professional practice, research and inquiry, and professional conduct. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s or a master’s degree, and master’s degree holders may be able to have some requirements waived. A minimum GPA of 3.0 for the last two years of undergraduate coursework and 3.5 for graduate work is required. Of approximately 40 applicants, eight to 10 students are admitted each year. On average, the PhD program takes five to six years to complete, including the internship, while the EdS program takes about three years of full-time study to complete. Graduates of both programs are qualified to become Certified School Psychologists in Michigan as well as Nationally Certified School Psychologists (NCSPs).

    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    The University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW-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 by US News & World Report in the Best Graduate Schools for Educational Psychology category. The doctoral program at UW-Madison is based on the 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 and includes an MS degree, which takes three years. Year five is spent completing a full-time internship. UW-Madison also offers a new Master of Science (MS) Educational Specialist Certificate in School Psychology, which takes three years to complete and prepares graduates to be licensed as school psychologists in Wisconsin.

    Online and Hybrid Programs

    Chicago School of Professional Psychology

    The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (the Chicago School) offers an online Doctor of Education (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 adjust 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: Higher Education Learning and Technology, K-12 Education Learning and Technology, and Instructional Design. Coursework includes Cognition across the Lifespan and Technology’s Impact; Proseminar in Technology and Education; and Integrating Technology in Learning Systems. A total of 60 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.

    Eastern Washington University

    Eastern Washington University (EWU) offers an Educational Specialist (EdS) in School Psychology. EWU’s EdS is offered as a hybrid or a completely online program designed especially for working professionals. Most students are educators, counselors, or working in the psychology field. Both students with undergraduate and graduate degrees are accepted into the program, but the bachelor’s degree should be in psychology, education, or a related field and include coursework in research methods, statistics, abnormal psychology, and developmental psychology. Those entering the program with a bachelor’s degree must also have at least 150 hours of related professional experience for the hybrid program and at least three years of full-time teaching experience or five years of related professional experience for the online program. The EdS program uses a science-practitioner model, preparing students to practice as a school psychologist. EWU’s program covers topics like student and program evaluation, development of academic and social-behavioral intervention plans, and research. Most coursework is online, with weekly synchronous meetings as well as one three-day in-person training requirement each year for the online program, and with two weekly synchronous online classes and two to three days per quarter of in-person training for the hybrid program. Students have the option to complete the online program in an accelerated track that can be completed in two years (including summer) or three years in the full-time track. The hybrid program takes three years to complete. Each option includes a1,200-hour internship in school psychology. Other requirements include a minimum GPA of 3.0, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores (for undergraduate applicants only).

    School Psychologist Career Information

    How to Become a School Psychologist

    Becoming a licensed school psychologist requires a minimum of a master’s degree in school psychology (sometimes an education specialist degree or higher) along with meeting the standards set by your state’s board of psychology. This may include gaining experience in the field as well as passing an exam and seeking NASP certification. While the requirements to become licensed vary by state, the common steps to becoming a school psychologist are:

    1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s in psychology or a related field.
    2. Earn an accredited specialist-level degree in school or educational psychology.
    3. Apply for a provisional school psychologist certificate and become provisionally certified in your state.
    4. Gain experience in school psychology.
    5. Pass any exams required by your state.
    6. Seek the NCSP credential from NASP, if required for full certification in your state.
    7. Apply for and receive a school psychologist license.
    8. Begin practicing as a professional school psychologist.
    9. Complete any continuing education required by your state to keep your credential current.

    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 work with educators to evaluate and improve school performance. They also help to diagnose and work to treat developmental, social, and learning issues in students and may help implement individualized education plans (IEPs) for students who require special education services. School psychologists also consult with students, parents, teachers, and administrators concerning children’s academic or behavioral problems. According to NASP, school psychologists work 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

    With a master’s or specialist degree in school psychology, you can get a job as a school psychologist in most states. 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.2 Possible job titles for school psychology degree holders include:

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

    Salary and Job Outlook

    The average salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), was $87,450 in May 2019.6 The highest-paid school psychologists were found in the child daycare services industry (averaging $120,130), while psychologists who work in elementary and secondary schools average $80,180 per year.6 The highest-paying states for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists are Oregon ($112,010), California ($111,750), and Washington DC ($106,900).6 Approximately 113,270 of these psychologists were employed in 2019, with the highest employment levels in the states of California, New York, and Texas, respectively.6

    The outlook for school psychologists is positive. According to Projections Central, the profession is expected to grow by 14.7% through 2028.7 This growth is much faster than the average growth expected for all occupations over the same time period.7

    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): 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 group that formed the Journal of School Psychology (JSP) in the early 1960s. The organization seeks to advance scientific research and broaden awareness of the profession of school psychology.

    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.2 Specialist-level programs typically award an EdS, SSP, or PsyS, but some award an MA, MS, or MEd. As long as the degree earned is a specialist-level degree, the title typically 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 become professionals who are qualified to bridge psychology and education to address issues related to 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.

    Does the APA accredit master’s in school psychology programs?

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

    What is the difference between a school counselor and a school psychologist?

    While both types of mental health professionals work in a school setting, school counselors typically focus more on improving the emotional health of students through individual and group counseling, while school psychologists work to improve behavioral symptoms and academic issues through testing and targeted research. School counselors also tend to assist students with college and career planning, whereas school psychologists do not. Both school counselors and school psychologists must be licensed through the state in which they work, which typically involves obtaining an advanced degree, completing supervised experience, and passing state exams.

    1. American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/school
    2. National Association of School Psychologists: https://www.nasponline.org/
    3. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
    4. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
    5. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
    6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193034.htm
    7. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: https://projectionscentral.org/Projections/LongTerm