Become a School Psychologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Dec 11, 2019

Do I Want to Be a School Psychologist?

School psychologists conduct testing to determine student placement in special-needs classes, provide group and individual counseling, conduct educational and personality assessments and address behavioral problems in the classroom. These professionals must be comfortable working with children, and most work full-time. School psychologists make a higher-than-average yearly salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2013; however, they must also meet graduate-level educational requirements before getting started in the field.

Job Requirements

A specialist-level or master's degree and state licensure are required for entry-level school psychology positions. Students with interests in conducting research or teaching at the university level will need to consider earning a doctoral degree. The following table presents the standard requirements for school psychology positions, as documented by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree or Education Specialist degree. A doctoral degree is necessary for positions in research and academia
Degree Field School psychology
Licensure and Certification State licensure is required, and national certification is optional
Experience 1,200 hours of supervised internships, with at least 600 of those hours in a school setting, are required for licensure
Key Skills Good communication skills. For university positions, an ability to teach is required.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Earning a bachelor's degree is the first career step for prospective school psychologists. Students can earn a degree in a related field, such as education or psychology. Students that earn a degree in an unrelated field should be sure to take some key courses in areas such as abnormal psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, educational psychology and statistics.

Success Tip

  • Gain experience in a school psychology-related area. Volunteering or working with school-aged children may give students valuable exposure to the developmental and educational work of school psychologists. Such experience will not only help students refine their interests in school psychology, but will also show commitment to the profession, which will bolster their applications to graduate school.

Step 2: Complete an Education Specialist (Ed.S.) or Master's Degree Program in School Psychology

Graduate programs in school psychology go by a few different names, such as Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Education (M.Ed.) and Education Specialist (Ed.S.). Oftentimes, programs will combine a master's degree with the Ed.S. certificate. Regardless of the degree title chosen, students need to enroll in a program that is approved by NASP and will prepare them for state or national licensure.

NASP-approved programs typically consist of three years of study. In the first year, students take foundational coursework that teaches them about the scientific and professional roles of school psychologists. Coursework may include cognitive assessment, statistics and research methods, counseling techniques and psychopathology. The second year requires that students complete one or more practica while taking courses in advanced intervention and counseling techniques. The third year is devoted to a full-time internship that typically requires 1,200 hours, 600 of which must be in a school setting.

Success Tips

  • If possible, develop Spanish-language skills. Graduates with Spanish-language proficiency may find increased job opportunities in the subfield of English-as-Second-Language (ESL) education.
  • Consider gaining independent research experience. While most school psychology programs include some training in research methodology, students who want to eventually complete a doctoral degree may want to pursue additional opportunities for conducting independent research.

Step 3: Attain NASP Certification

The Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential is offered by NASP. To earn this credential, school psychologists must have completed a graduate program and internship in school psychology, preferably from an NASP-approved school, and achieve a passing score on the Praxis II school psychology exam. The NCSP is a voluntary certification, but many states require it or accept it in place of other licensure requirements.

Step 4: Become Licensed

School psychologists in all states must be licensed by the state. Licensure requirements are usually very similar, if not identical, to the requirements for the NCSP credential, and individuals may only have to provide proof of their NCSP certification in order to obtain state licensure. Graduates without the NCSP certification will have to present proof of their graduate degree, internship experience and passing score on the Praxis II school psychology exam.

Step 5: Determine the Need for a Doctoral Degree

Although not required for most entry-level school psychologist positions, an increasing number of school psychologists have begun earning a doctoral degree. Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) programs can be entered either directly from a bachelor's degree or after completing a master's degree. Students who have completed a master's degree and school psychology internship may be more competitive candidates. Bachelor's degree graduates will need to meet course prerequisites and demonstrate a commitment to school psychology through gaining research or work experience.

A doctorate in school psychology usually involves 2-5 years of study and research, an internship and a dissertation. Doctoral graduates may command better salaries as specialists and may have wider opportunities, including college and university teaching and research and agency positions.

Expert Contributor: Jennifer Levitas Jennifer has a Ph.D. in Psychology. She's taught multiple college-level psychology courses and been published in several academic journals.

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