[2023] How to Become a School Psychologist in California

School psychology is a rewarding career that puts you at the forefront of helping shape the development of schoolchildren. From identifying the unique academic needs of students to developing targeted interventions that address behavioral issues to training teachers to be more aware of the needs of their students, school psychologists can impact an educational system in many ways.

To prepare for such an important job in California, you’ll have to follow a specific protocol that includes getting the proper college education and fulfilling California’s licensure requirements. Only then can you join the ranks of educators in K-12 schools.

Use this guide as a reference for beginning your journey to becoming a school psychologist in the Golden State.

What are the Requirements to Become a School Psychologist in California?

The requirements for working as a school psychologist in California vary slightly, depending on whether you were trained in California or out of state. What’s more, there are educational and licensure requirements you must fulfill.

Below is a quick breakdown of these requirements, so you have a clearer picture of what you need to do to pursue work in California.

Educational Requirements

California requires that school psychologists have an undergraduate degree from a regionally-accredited institution as well as a post-baccalaureate degree in school psychology or counseling (60 credits, minimum).

Many school psychology graduate programs are at least 60 credits and require three years of study to complete. This means you will need a total of around seven years of college to meet these educational requirements.

If you graduate from a California college or university, it must be from a California-approved professional program in school psychology. The program must include a practicum component in which you work directly with schoolchildren.

If you graduate from a program outside of California, you must additionally verify the veracity of the program. For example, programs accredited by NASP – the National Association of School Psychologists – meet California’s standards for school psychologist preparation.

If you are unsure if your education meets California’s requirements, you can ask a California Commission on Teacher Credentialing-approved institution to evaluate your preparation and make a formal recommendation that you have met the state’s educational requirements for school psychologists.

Licensure Requirements

California requires that prospective school psychologists meet several requirements before licensure is granted.

First of all you will need to obtain a graduate degree consisting of a minimum of 60 units specializing in school psychology and also completed the required supervised field experience with school-age children.

In addition, you must provide:

  • Verification that you have completed a practicum (graduate degree) with schoolchildren (e.g. a letter from your college or university on official letterhead).
  • Verification of your credentials (e.g. a copy of your out-of-state credential).

Furthermore, your college or university must submit a recommendation on your behalf to become a school psychologist.

Then, you must complete the basic skills requirement, which can be done in many different ways. After this, you must submit to a background check, including fingerprinting and pay the application fee.

To retain your licensure, you have to submit a renewal every five years. However, California does not require continuing education credits as part of the renewal process.

Additional details about the educational and licensure requirements for working as a school psychologist in California can be found on the NASP website and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing website.

How Long Does It Take to Become a School Psychologist?

As noted earlier, California requires that you have an undergraduate degree and a post-baccalaureate degree to work as a school psychologist. If you study full-time, an undergraduate degree typically takes four years. A 60-credit graduate degree – like those required for school psychologists in California – usually takes about three years to finish.

All told, you should expect to spend a total of seven years in college preparing to become a school psychologist. However, that timeline can be shorter or longer, depending on your specific circumstances.

What is the Salary of School Psychologists in California?

According to US News and World Report, the median annual salary for school psychologists is just under $80,000 per year. This is the median salary for all school psychologists across the nation, not just California. In many school districts in California, school psychologists make much more money.

For example, US News and World Report points out that school psychologists in Santa Rosa, California, make $138,550 per year. In Los Angeles, that number is $125,020 per year. San Diego ($121,490) and Oxnard ($120,830) aren’t far behind. The statewide average salary for school psychologists in California is $115,830, which is the highest yearly salary of any state.

It’s important to note that your specific salary may or may not fit in with these numbers. For example, suppose you are a recent graduate from a school psychology program and don’t have any work experience in the field. In that case, your salary is very likely to be well below the state average.

By contrast, if you have worked in the field for 20 years, your salary is likely to be well above the state average because you will be 20 steps further on the pay scale.

As explained above, some cities have higher salaries than others – the Santa Rosa City Schools pay better than the Sacramento City Unified School District. So, the district in which you work has a very real impact on the salary you earn.

Even the specific educational setting in which you work can affect your pay. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that school psychologists working in elementary and secondary schools earn $83,160 per year on average.

However, school psychologists employed in the educational support services sector make $89,730 per year. That’s not a small difference!

Are School Psychologists in High Demand in California?

Nationally, psychologists are in no more demand than the average job – the BLS predicts a growth rate of around six percent in the next ten years.

However, California has the largest number of school psychology jobs of any state, and it isn’t even close. The BLS reports there are 8,480 school psychology jobs in California, while Texas, which is second on the list, has 6,690 school psychology jobs.

Obviously, not all of these jobs are vacant. However, the fact that California has a very large population of schoolkids and a very high number of school districts might work in your favor when it comes time to find a school psychologist job.

Is It Stressful Being a School Psychologist?

Like any job, being a school psychologist has its fair share of stressors. On the one hand, you will likely have a heavy caseload of students with whom you work. The more students for which you are responsible, the more stress you are likely to experience.

On the other hand, you will work with children that might have significant academic, behavioral, emotional, or psychological problems. Working with children that have such significant issues takes a healthy amount of patience, empathy, understanding, and time. It’s not easy work, so stress is likely to occur.

Another source of stress to be aware of is the breadth and depth of work on your plate. The number of responsibilities for school psychologists is enormous. You might be required to provide counseling services to some students, academic support to others, and help guide parents and guardians through the educational system as well.

Additionally, school psychologists often work with classroom teachers and administrators to identify and implement interventions for at-risk students. You will be responsible for psychological testing, participating in individualized education plan (IEP) meetings, and responding to emergencies (e.g., a suicidal student or another mental health emergency) as well.

Though there are many sources of stress in this job, there are also many sources of joy. The work you do with students can have a lifelong impact on their academic, social, and emotional functioning. The guidance you provide parents and guardians can also significantly improve their relationship with their child and the manner in which they engage with one another.

Being a school psychologist is hard work, and burnout is certainly a possibility. But there are also many opportunities to see the value in the work you do. Making a positive difference in the life of just one student makes all the hard work with it!

What is the Difference Between a School Psychologist and a School Counselor?

School psychologists and school counselors share a lot in common. For example, both professions require advanced degrees and training as well as state licensure to work in public school systems. Both jobs obviously revolve around providing psychological services to students as well.

But the manner and type of work that school psychologists and school counselors do with students differs quite a bit.

For example, school psychologists focus mostly on students with specific needs. As noted above, students with academic, emotional, behavioral, or psychological issues are typically referred to a school psychologist for testing and evaluation.

School counselors, on the other hand, usually work with the general population of students. Rather than testing and evaluating students, school counselors might provide individual and group therapy, academic guidance, and help with college applications.

Another way to think of this difference is that school psychologists operate on a micro level – specific issues and specific students – while school counselors work on a macro level and address much more general topics.

Still, both professions aim to enhance the learning environment, provide critical support for student growth, and integrate activities that encourage academic, social, and emotional growth in schoolchildren.

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