How to Become a School Psychologist – Career and Degree Guide [2024]

What is School Psychology?

School psychology is the practice of psychology as applied to children, their families, and school systems. It is at the crossroads of many disciplines, including developmental psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology.

With it’s deepest roots in psychology and education, school psychology is concerned with improving the educational experience of students through various interventions, programs, and policies that promote social, emotional, behavioral, and academic well-being. Well-being is promoted on various levels – individually with students or families, or system-wide with faculty, administration, or the student body.

There is a heavy focus on developmental psychology, which school psychologists use to ameliorate common problems that students encounter in school, such as bullying, poor academic performance, social isolation, and behavioral difficulties.

Health promotion is a significant aspect of school psychology as well, as school psychologists seek to address not just the intellectual and emotional needs of students, but also their physical needs.

Despite the connotation of the name, school psychology is not just concerned with school-aged children in private or public school systems. Rather, school psychology principles can be applied to learners of all ages in a variety of settings, from early childhood learning centers and colleges to mental health treatment centers and correctional facilities.

Additionally, while school psychology is primarily concerned with educational issues, it also includes a focus on social issues such as juvenile delinquency, violence, and substance abuse issues in the family or community setting.

Which Colleges Offer School Psychology Programs?

Listed below are some of the popular schools offering school psychology programs:

  • Capella University
  • National University
  • Grand Canyon University
  • Bary University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Michigan State University
  • The Chicago School

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists serve a variety of functions in the school setting. They work with students who are struggling academically by employing psychological and educational techniques to improve their performance. They design intervention programs that seek to help students get back on track, evaluate students for special services, and review testing data.

In elementary and secondary schools, school psychologists also offer therapeutic services to children with mental, emotional, and behavioral difficulties. School psychologists are also qualified to diagnose mental disorders.

Another important function of school psychologists is to consult with teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders regarding a child’s behavior, academic achievement, or other important issues that pertain to his or her schooling. School psychologists work with families to teach them strategies to address a host of issues, from managing a child’s behavior to helping their child improve their social skills.

Consultations about academic performance are also a central role of a school psychologist, and often involve working with individual teachers to improve the delivery of information, design lessons, and identify strategies for improving student achievement.

School psychologists often work with other mental health professionals in the school, such as school counselors and social workers, to devise strategies for supporting students’ emotional and social growth. This takes place both in the context of providing services to special needs students, but also to working with the entire student body as well.

School psychologists might design and implement school-wide strategies to prevent bullying or implement positive behavioral support systems. They may also work to improve the school climate through multicultural awareness programs or making adjustments to the physical environment of the school to promote increased student engagement.

Where Does a School Psychologist Work?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most school psychologists find work in various levels of public schools, ranging from everything between nursery school and college.

A minority find employment in private schools, universities, hospitals and clinics, or in community treatment. A select few are also privileged to offer their services in the sphere of independent practice.

What are the Requirements to Become a School Psychologist?

School Psychologist Degree

The educational requirements to be a school psychologist are fairly strict. A master’s degree in school psychology or a closely related field is required at the very least.

Most states require graduate programs to be specialist-level, meaning, they are at least 60 semester credit hours and include at least a 1200-hour internship.

The internship placement typically occurs in various settings to expose the practitioner-in-training to various work environments. Coursework at the graduate level focuses on educational and psychological topics, including the psychology of learning, evaluation and assessment, educational law, and counseling techniques, to name a few.

To obtain a doctorate in school psychology, students must complete five to seven years of graduate-level studies. A 1500-hour internship is typically a component of doctoral programs as well.

As with many master’s degree program internships, the doctoral-level internship helps students hone their skills by working with actual clients in real-world environments.

School Psychologist Certification and Licensure

The National Association of School Psychologists offers certification for school psychologists. The certification requires at least 60 semester credit hours of graduate work, completion of a 1200-hour internship, of which 600 hours or more must be in a school setting, and passing a written examination on school psychology.

School psychologists are required to be licensed as well. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, so contacting the state licensing board for specific details is highly recommended.

What Do You Learn in a School Psychology Degree Program?

Students enrolled in a school psychology program will learn about the professional and scientific roles of this profession. This includes how to evaluate children and use data from those evaluations to devise early interventions that address the needs of school-aged children who have academic, behavioral, social, or emotional issues that negatively impact their ability to function optimally.

School psychology programs also help prospective school psychologists to develop the skills they need to work closely with teachers, administrators, parents, and other stakeholders as part of a collaborative team.

Most school psychology programs begin with coursework in statistics, research methods, cognitive assessment, and psychopathology.

An essential component of these early school psychology studies is the acquisition of knowledge and skills related to providing direct therapeutic services to children and adolescents. Students learn about various psychological theories, a wide variety of interventions and therapies, and the effectiveness of different therapies in treating young clients in both individual and group settings.

Later studies in school psychology programs revolve around acquiring highly advanced skills in intervention and counseling techniques. These skills are often practiced in depth in a practicum experience during the second year of the school psychology program.

Typically, the third year of a school psychology program is an internship placement in which school psychology students are placed in a school setting to work and learn under the supervision of a veteran school psychologist. Internship placements are usually at least 1,200 hours, with half of those hours required to be obtained in a school setting.

Why is School Psychology Important?

School psychology is necessary in that it is there specifically to address issues concerning education, and without them, issues specifically pertaining to education, and children’s educational needs would be left relatively unaddressed.

School psychologists are taught to assess and to accommodate children’s learning needs, as well as behaviorism issues. They also have the important role of working with educators, to determine best practices for teaching students who have diverse learning requirements.

School psychologists can be contrasted with clinical psychologists, in that they work less with psychological issues. Instead, the focus tends to be on cognitive functioning and development.

There would indeed be quite a gap in services if schools were not equipped with school psychologists. With the graduate training they receive, school psychologists are equipped to assess and assist children who have unique learning needs. School psychologists understand that there is no one correct way to learn, but rather, a variety of ways. They are there to help children succeed in school.

School psychologists work collaboratively with educators and school administrators and officials, in an effort to establish the most effective ways to teach, in a way that puts students first. Without this component, it would be exponentially more difficult to meet the educational needs of some children. They can evaluate how students are developing and functioning in terms of cognitive processing and reasoning, which enables them to modify educational approaches to meet the students’ needs, ensuring that they can learn effectively.

What is the Role of a School Psychologist in Autism?

With their background in child development, mental health and behavior, school psychologists can play a key role in autism within the school environment. They can provide key interventions to help detect, diagnose, treat and support children with autism. They can work in assessing children who are believed to have autism and they can also provide insight to children displaying challenging behaviors or educational difficulties to discuss if autism may be a previously undetected contributing factor.

School psychologists also work with students who have a diagnosis of autism to improve their integration within the school. They can assess special learning needs of children with autism and work with school staff to remove barriers to education for these students. This may involve helping staff deal with specific behaviors or participating in establishment of individualized learning plans.

School psychologists will also be involved in assessing the effectiveness of these plans and interventions, adapting them where necessary.

School psychologists can provide a central link between teaching staff, school administration, parents and children to ensure that the needs of a child with autism are being addressed and met by their school system. Due to the nature of their training, school psychologists will provide this help and intervention based upon scientific evidence and theory.

What is the Role of a School Psychologist in Bullying?

School psychologists have several key roles to play regarding bullying. Most acutely, they counsel children affected by bullying. In this role they engage with the child and talk to them about the bullying and how that makes the child feel. The aim in this respect is to ensure that a child that is being bullied has a safe place where they can talk about their experiences and that they don’t internalize the issue.

A school psychologist will also then work to assess the child displaying the bullying behaviors to try to establish underlying causes and ultimately work with them to address the issues. The aim of this work is to help the child with any difficulties they are having and find ways to replace their bullying behaviors with more positive ones.

School psychologists can also act as a point of contact for parents of all children involved, providing guidance and support materials to help them also effectively deal with the situation.

School psychologists’ knowledge and experience of child development, psychology and education leaves them uniquely placed to have a role in prevention of bullying. They can provide a useful insight into constructing effective anti-bullying campaigns and activities and can advise around encouragement of more positive social interactions throughout the school environment.

What Does It Take to Be a School Psychologist?

The success of a school psychologist will, of course, depend upon the individual’s skills and abilities but there are a few factors common to all people in this role that contribute to their success:

  • Approachability to the student population – first and foremost a successful school psychologist has to be someone that the student population feels they can talk to in confidence about a range of subjects. They have to feel that they will be listened to carefully and their concerns considered seriously.
  • Close working within the school – school psychologists need to work closely within the school, they need to be able to identify issues for themselves as well as reacting to students’ concerns when they are raised.
  • Engagement with key school stakeholders – as well as working closely with students, school psychologists have to be able to engage with adult stakeholders of the school. This can include, teachers, administrators and parents. They often have to highlight issues of the school, having a good working relationship with these stakeholders is key to implementing the strategies they feel are required.
  • Ability to develop materials and campaigns appropriate to their specific audience – a school psychologist has to be able to identify areas of need within their specific school and find or develop tools to address these needs effectively.
  • Independent thinking – with the psychological health and development of the students as their primary focus, a school psychologist must be able to take the aims and agenda of the school but think independently to ensure that core strategies are being implemented. They must also be able to reassess these objectively to see if they are being effective or not.
  • Investment in success – to be truly successful themselves, a school psychologist has to genuinely care and be motivated by the success of the students they are involved with. If this is their continued primary focus then success of their own is much more likely.

How Much Does a School Psychologist Make a Year?

Salary for school psychologists varies widely based on location. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics the national average salary for a school psychologist is $87,550, as of May 2023.

Individuals working in the field in Philadelphia make, on average, 17 percent above that each year. Los Angeles, where yearly wages are 15 percent above the national average, is another excellent location for school psychologists to work.

New York and Phoenix, with salaries at 12 percent and 11 percent above the average, respectively, are also favorable locations to earn a higher wage.

Conversely, school psychologists in San Antonio make 15 percent less than the national average. School psychologists in Atlanta and Denver also make less than their peers, at 6 percent less than the national average.

What is the Employment Outlook for School Psychologists?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the field of school psychology will continue to grow at a steady rate of 8 percent each year through the early part of the next decade. The most jobs available, by far, will continue to be in elementary and secondary schools.

Demand for school psychologists in this setting is fueled by the increasing need for qualified professionals to work with students with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, behavioral issues, or other special needs.

Elementary and secondary schools also rely heavily on school psychologists to evaluate students and provide counseling services, which is becoming an increasing need in public and private schools throughout the nation.

Job prospects for school psychologists are quite robust in certain areas of the nation. California, Texas, and Florida, with their rapidly growing public school systems, have among the largest workforce of school psychologists in the United States. New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts have a strong need for qualified school psychologists as well.

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