Educational Psychologist Career Guide

The Basics

Our capacity to take in information, integrate it with existing knowledge, and use that learning to improve ourselves is one of many characteristics that make us uniquely human. But the processes by which we learn and develop are complex, and some are difficult to comprehend. Yet, psychologists have sought for decades to cultivate a better understanding of these processes such that they can develop more effective ways for children, adolescents, and adults to learn new skills, acquire new knowledge, and use that information to achieve their goals and improve themselves.

What is Educational Psychology?

Educational psychology is the application of psychological principles in an educational setting. Rather than focusing on treating mental health issues, as so many psychologists do, educational psychologists instead focus on helping students achieve their potential.

This work can be done because educational psychology focuses on developing a deep understanding of how humans learn. Educational psychologists explore various educational topics, from teaching strategies and learning styles to testing and assessment to behavioral problems that negatively impact a person’s ability to learn. While educational psychology has historically been focused on educational issues for children and adolescents, there is a growing focus on adult education issues as well.

What is the Role of an Educational Psychologist?

Educational psychologists perform a wide variety of job duties in a number of different settings. Most educational psychologists work in K-12 school systems. In this context, much of their time is spent assessing existing educational programs and developing new ones. An evaluation of student performance is an essential role as well. In some schools, educational psychologists are also charged with evaluating the effectiveness with which teachers deliver the curriculum.

In educational settings, psychologists often train teachers and support staff as well. For example, in a school with a large number of students with a low socioeconomic status, educational psychologists might conduct educator trainings to equip teachers with the skills they need to most effectively overcome the roadblocks that poverty presents to children. Likewise, educational psychologists might be tasked with developing programs that boost teacher morale or build a stronger learning community in K-12 schools.

Other educational psychologists, particularly those that have many years of experience working in the field, will opt to work in a college or university setting. Working at this level entails teaching courses in educational psychology and related subjects to students who wish to enter this field of work. Some educational psychologists at this level will conduct research as well, focusing on questions related to improving the delivery of educational programs.

Government agencies, like the Department of Education, both at the state and federal levels, offer further employment opportunities for educational psychologists. Individuals employed in this sector are most often involved in research and development of educational tools and assessments. For example, educational psychologists working for the Department of Education might be tasked with developing diagnostic tools to assess the efficacy of educational services delivered to K-12 students.

A related field of work for educational psychologists is accrediting bodies that oversee college and university programs. Organizations like the American Psychological Association might employ educational psychologists to evaluate training programs that prepare students for employment in this field of work. In this context, educational psychologists would examine data from a university’s program, including course offerings, graduation rates, and employment rates for graduates, and make recommendations for improving the program.

Research is another common duty for educational psychologists. Working for an academic institution, government agency, business, or as an independent consultant, educational psychologists can help educators at all levels develop new curricula, devise more appropriate intervention programs, and develop assessment instruments that make education more effective.

Why Educational Psychology is Important?

Likely the single greatest importance of educational psychology is its role in facilitating success for all students. This role is increasingly significant as today’s modern educational system, with high-stakes testing and rigorous performance standards, continues to become more and more complex. Educational psychologists represent one of the best resources for ensuring that teaching practices remain effective, that special education programs provide the support that special needs students require, and that parents and families take appropriate steps to support their child’s learning to ensure his or her optimal educational development.

What Education is Needed to Become an Educational Psychologist?

The most common pathway to becoming an educational psychologist begins with obtaining a bachelor’s degree. After four years of study at this level, in which students complete general education requirements as well as take numerous introductory courses in psychology, they are prepared to undertake advanced and specialized studies in educational psychology.

Those advanced studies occur in graduate school. Graduate programs in this field cover many topics, including the psychology of learning, cognition, research methodologies, pedagogy, and human development. Many educational psychology graduate programs confer Master of Education (M.Ed.) degrees, although some also issue Master of Arts or Master of Science degrees. Some programs also offer Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degrees, although they are less common for educational psychology programs.

While many opportunities for employment exist for master’s level workers, educational psychologists that have a doctorate will have the most career options available to them. A doctoral program usually lasts around five years, with several years of highly advanced and specialized coursework on subjects related to learning and cognition. Doctorate programs also require research, which is usually carried out independently by the doctoral candidate. A yearlong internship is typically required as well.

Because many educational psychologists work with student populations, they must often be licensed by the state as a psychologist and certified as an educational provider as well. Psychologist licensure generally require a doctoral degree. Some states have additional requirements, such as completion of a post-doctoral placement or an adequate score on a national board examination.

What is the Difference Between an Educational Psychologist and a School Psychologist?

The major difference between an educational psychologist and school psychologist is the way in which they apply their knowledge of psychology to solve problems. For the educational psychologist, there is a much broader focus on general education issues. For example, an educational psychologist might be interested in how to make teaching materials more accessible for students to improve their ability to learn. In short, educational psychology is concerned with the overall processes of education.

Conversely, school psychologists focus on individual issues that prevent learners from reaching their potential. Instead of working to make teaching materials more accessible for all students, a school psychologist might work one-on-one with a student to help him or her develop the skills and tools they need to be more successful in school. There is a much more clinical application of psychological knowledge in school psychology than there is in educational psychology.

What are the Disadvantages of Being an Educational Psychologist?

Individuals that seek employment as an educational psychologist should be aware of some of the disadvantages associated with working in this field. Like many careers in the field of psychology, workers employed as educational psychologists can face an extreme amount of work-related stress. Conflicts can be common between educational psychologists and colleagues, including teachers, administrators, and other education professionals. Parents and family members of students can also be a source of conflict and disagreement, which increases the stress level.

Another disadvantage to working as an educational psychologist is that some clients will be extremely difficult to work with. Some students will not want to be helped, which can be disheartening and frustrating for psychologists. Seeing little or no progress with certain clients can cause some educational psychologists to lose some of the joy they experience in going to work each day.

Constant interruptions are a disadvantage often cited by educational psychologists, particularly among those working in a K-12 setting. Time set aside to complete paperwork, conduct student evaluations, or to meet with colleagues can easily be disrupted by a phone call from a parent, a teacher that needs assistance, or an emergency elsewhere in the building. These interruptions throughout the day often mean that educational psychologists need to stay late or come in early to complete all their work.

What are the Advantages of Being an Educational Psychologist?

There are many distinct advantages to pursuing a career as an educational psychologist. Chief among them is that educational psychologists are in a position to help students learn, grow, and develop. Watching children gain confidence in their intellectual, social, and emotional abilities as a result of the work you’ve put in can bring psychologists a great sense of accomplishment and feelings of self-worth.

Additionally, educational psychology is a career field that should see high demand in the coming years. The potential for job growth in K-12 education is particularly robust, although opportunities should be strong in post-secondary and adult education settings as well. This is a distinct advantage for educational psychologists who seek employment but want several options in terms of their employment setting.

Educational psychologists also enjoy a more attractive work schedule than many other psychologists. For those that work in K-12 education, weekends, summers, and holidays off are a particular bonus. Even educational psychologists that work in other settings, such as college or universities, community learning centers, or for government agencies like the Department of Education, enjoy daytime working hours.

What is the Career Outlook for Educational Psychologists?

Educational psychology is a field that is experiencing relatively slow growth. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates 11 percent growth through the early part of the next decade, which is just about average for all occupations. However, as standardized testing and nationalized standards become more and more prevalent, public and private school districts will likely seek to hire more and more educational psychologists to help facilitate student success.

It should be noted as well that more job opportunities – and better ones at that – are available for individuals with a higher level of education and more experience. For example, an educational psychologist with a Ph.D. and five years of experience will have many more opportunities than a master’s level worker that recently graduated.

What Careers are Similar to Educational Psychology?

There are a wide variety of jobs that are similar to educational psychology, particularly in the education sector:

School Psychologist

As discussed above, school psychology, like educational psychology, focuses on issues related to teaching and learning but with a narrower focus on mental health issues, behavior management, and psychological assessment.

Child Psychologist

Child psychologists share the same clientele as educational psychologists but typically work in a clinical, rather than an educational setting. Both professions also share a focus on research, as well as an emphasis on evaluating clients and devising appropriate strategies and interventions to help them overcome obstacles in their lives. Entry-level careers in child psychology require at least a master’s degree in psychology. However, a doctoral degree is required for licensure purposes.

Occupational Psychologist

Although they usually work with adults in workplace settings, occupational psychology is not all that different from educational psychology in its purpose. Occupational psychologists seek to maximize the performance of employees, much like educational psychologists seek to maximize the performance of students. Another similarity is that occupational psychologists seek to develop work environments that are conducive to employee success, just as educational psychologists endeavor to make educational settings conducive to student success. Individuals interested in becoming an occupational psychologist may find entry-level work with a master’s degree in psychology. However, advanced studies, including a doctorate, are often required.

Teacher

Teaching is a closely related field to educational psychology, even though the training and job titles are different. The focus for teachers, like educational psychologists, is on maximizing the potential of each and every student. Several job duties are similar between these occupations as well, including involvement in educational research, evaluation of teaching methods, and developing innovative strategies for helping students learn. Unlike many jobs in the psychology sector, teachers may begin work with a bachelor’s degree and little to no experience.

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