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What is a School Psychologist?

A school psychologist is a mental health provider specifically trained to meet the needs of students and teachers in an educational setting. They address the social, behavioral, emotional, and academic development of children to provide a supportive learning environment and partner with educators, administrators, and families to strengthen the connections between school, community, and the home environment in order to help children realize their full potential.

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Steps to Become a Licensed School Psychologist

To become a school psychologist, you'll need at least a Master's degree and preferably a Doctorate degree, so you should plan to spend 8-12 years in higher education. The exact requirements vary by state, so it is an excellent idea to understand your state's licensing rules before beginning your educational path. Although there are alternative ways to become a school psychologist - the following is the most straightforward plan for entering this career field:

  • Step 1: Research your state requirements

  • Step 2: Earn your Bachelor's degree

  • Step 3: Complete your Master's degree in school psychology

  • Step 4: Qualify for certification

  • Step 5: Apply for your license

  • Step 6: Consider a Doctoral degree


Step 1: Research your state requirements

Because each state sets its own requirements for school psychologists, it is vital that you understand what is expected for licensing before you begin your education. Look for school psychology licensing requirements on your state board of education or state licensing website to find the requirements. It's especially important to verify the accepted program accreditation requirements before enrolling in your school of choice. That way you can be sure your bachelor degree coursework meets the state licensing standards as well as the prerequisites for entering a future master's degree psychology program. Once you have a clear understanding of the state licensing policies you will be able to map a long-term plan for your school psychologist education and career.

Step 2: Earn your Bachelor's degree

Your Bachelor degree program should ideally be in a psychology field. Make sure the program is accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) as that is the organization recognized by most state licensing boards. Although your bachelor degree doesn't need to be specific to school psychology, it should have all the courses required for entry into a master's degree program, so look at potential master's program requirements before choosing a school and program. If you choose a general psychology program you should take elective courses relevant to school and child psychology. In addition, most master's programs (as well as scholarships and grants) have a minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement so you should strive to keep your GPA as high as possible.

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Step 3: Complete your Master's degree in school psychology

Your NASP-approved master's degree program will typically take three years, with the third year being an internship working under the direct supervision of a school psychologist. Most states follow the NASP master's degree program requirement, which consists of a minimum of 60 specialist-level credits and at least 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience. It's also an excellent plan to add a second language, such as Spanish, as that will make your skills more marketable. You should choose your electives to match your interests and career plans; for example, if your ultimate goal is research, your master's curriculum should reflect that. In addition, look at the Doctoral prerequisites to be sure you'll qualify for entry into a future Doctorate program.

Step 4: Qualify for certification

Because most states require Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) certification you should earn your certificate as soon as possible after graduation from a NASP-approved Master's degree program. You'll need to meet the internship requirements and pass the Praxis II school psychology exam in order to become certified as a school psychologist.

Step 5: Apply for your license

Although each state sets its own requirements for licensure, most follow the NASP guidelines. Your NCPS certificate may be the only educational requirement; a background check is also standard in most states. Once you receive your state license, you may work independently as a school psychologist. Your state license will need to be renewed periodically, and you will be required to take continuing education courses in the interim.

Step 6: Consider a Doctoral degree

As with most psychology careers, the standard level of education for a school psychologist is a Doctoral degree and, in some states, it is a licensing requirement. Pursuing your Doctoral degree will also allow you to branch out into school psychology clinical practice, research, and other areas of psychology not available on the master's degree-level graduates. Your Doctorate will require an additional two to five years of education and research as well as a dissertation and will also allow you to seek higher certification on the national level.

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists work primarily in offices to provide one-on-one support to students, teachers, parents, and school administrators. They may counsel students, hold a group session with a grade or age level, and work with administration to improve and implement policies and procedures. They may help improve academic performance, social interactions, and behaviors that adversely affect a student's school experience.

Much of what a school psychologist does depends on the student age level and the size of the school they work for. For example, a preschool school psychologist might be focused on conducting psychological and behavioral evaluations and a high school psychologist might focus on promoting problem solving, anger management, and conflict resolution skills. In a smaller school, they might be tasked with overseeing, helping, and testing the entire student body; on a large campus, they might be assigned to a single grade level or group of students.

School psychologists are almost always charged with overseeing psychological, behavioral, and academic testing. In most cases they will then analyze test results and work with teachers and administrators to form a plan of action that addresses the needs of the test results.

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Skills to Acquire

While a school psychologist obviously needs to enjoy spending time with children, they also need a wide range of skills in order to perform their job. Here is a look at some of the most important skills they must have:

  • Ability to recognize and address common learning disabilities:
    learning disabilities are often the cause of behavioral issues, and the school psychologist may be the first step in addressing a potential learning problem.
  • Complex decision making and sound judgment:
    a school psychologist must be able to diagnose a problem, decide the best course of action, and implement the plan with confidence.
  • Critical thinking:
    be able to look at all aspects of a subject or issue and use logical thinking to form a plan of action.
  • Mathematics, data analysis, and evaluation skills:
    school psychologists are typically charged with student testing and must be able to analyze test results.
  • Information technology:
    use of testing and diagnosing databases and information sites is a vital skill for a school psychologist.
  • Interpersonal skills:
    school psychologists must be able to communicate and build trust with all ages, demographics, and professional levels.
  • Knowledge of spectrum behavioral disorders, both broad and acute:
    often a school psychologist is the first to pinpoint a behavioral disorder and must be prepared to offer referrals to professional treatment.
  • Sensitivity to privacy concerns:
    ethics is of the upmost importance for a school psychologist and they must always work within the confines of privacy laws.
  • Understanding of child and adolescent psychology:
    the minds of children develop gradually, and a school psychologist must understand and interact at the appropriate level of understanding.

Alternative Paths

It takes a long time to become a school psychologist and there aren't many shortcuts. If you're still in high school, you can take core college classes and shave one to three semesters off your Bachelor's degree. You can also work within the field in a supervised position while you work towards your school psychology certification and licensure.

Check your state board of licensure to determine the exact requirements where you live. You may be able to meet the criteria with a degree in another area of psychology or get school credit for work within the field. Because NASP certification requirements include at least three years of graduate study you will need a minimum of 60 post-bachelor degree credits to begin qualification for the Specialist level certification, which is the minimum requirement for entry into this field.

School Psychologist Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


School psychologists work wherever there are children. They are employed at preschools, grade schools, and high schools, as well as community colleges and universities. School psychology professionals work in both public and private schools as well as within juvenile justice programs, residential hospitals and clinics, mental health centers, and detention centers. In a larger school system, they may be based in the school district administrative office; in a smaller or private school, they may interact with the entire school system. Some school psychologists chose to open an independent private practice.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the highest employment of school psychologists is found in elementary and secondary schools, followed by the offices of other healthcare providers.

Potential Career Paths

Generally speaking, a school psychologist gravitates to a specific age group of students and their career reflects the needs of that group. That being said, there are several paths one can follow within their chosen demographic. Here are a few possible career paths for a school psychologist:

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  • Faculty member: may teach classes to advance anger management, social skills, and similar behavioral topics.
  • Administrator: oversee others within the school psychology program, a school, or a school district.
  • Early Intervention School Psychologist: specialize in recognizing early problems and determining a treatment plan for young students; develop techniques and principles to address issues.
  • School Psychometrist: focus solely on the testing aspect of school psychology, administering various tests to assess neuropsychological functioning of students, scoring and developing tests.

School Psychologist Salaries

Occupation Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Educational Consultant $50,000 $63,000 $74,000
Professor $77,000 $102,000 $194,000
School Counselor $44,000 $52,000 $67,000
High School Teacher $41,000 $49,000 $63,000
Child Psychologist $66,000 $71,000 $96,000
School Psychologist $56,000 $63,000 $94,000

**Salary info provided by PayScale

Career Outlook

The field of school psychology is growing and is projected to expand a robust 14% over the next decade, higher than the projection for all occupations. While the field is competitive, you should not have a problem finding employment once you meet the educational and licensing standards. Because the projected job growth is high, the pay will most likely increase; as with most careers you can expect your salary to grow in direct correlation to your education and experience. According to Payscale, the median annual salary for a school psychologist is approximately $60,000. The highest paid 10%, typically reflecting those with the most education and experience, is $90,000 and the lowest 10% earn $44,000.

Some school psychologists are hired as faculty and earn the same wages as teachers, with the same tenure and salary levels. Those employed by specialty hospitals earn the highest salaries, followed by school psychologists employed in the offices of other healthcare practitioners.

Most school psychologists employed within a school system also enjoy heath, dental, and vision benefits, which can be seen as additional compensation when compared to psychologists in private practice who must purchase their own health coverage.

Where you live also plays a part in your potential salary. For example, school psychologists in Los Angeles earn 33% higher than average salaries while those in Cincinnati earn 15% less than the national average. While factoring in geographic wages, you should also look at the cost of living for the area concerned.

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Advancing From Here

Because most school psychologists must earn a Doctoral degree to enter the field, this is often the desired top position they are looking for. That being said, as with most areas of counseling, school psychology has a higher than average job burnout rate. Because school psychologists have a Doctorate, they have options if they do not wish to work within a school setting any longer.

Here are a few advanced careers in school psychology:

  • Research: work within academia to further the field of school psychology.
  • Field work: compile data and analyze the needs and programs that affect children.
  • Leadership roles: teaching interns on the job or within the classroom; instructing teachers to help them understand student needs.
  • Private practice: work outside the school systems to provide private services to children in need.
  • Clinical psychologist: work within a larger clinic or practice as a staff psychologist specializing in working with children.
  • Clinical director: oversee all operations of a clinic or practice, including supervision of other practitioners.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How long does a school psychology degree program take?

It will take at least six years to earn a master's degree in school psychology. A graduate degree will take an additional two to four years.

What skills does a school psychologists need?

School psychologists need to have critical thinking skills, active listening skills, and excellent communication. School psychologists have strong ethics and be good at research and problem-solving.

How do school psychologists differ from school counselors?

School counselors and school psychologists share some of the same responsibilities but the main difference is that school psychologists focus more on mental health and school counselors focus on future educational and professional opportunities.

What other career options are available to a school psychologist?

School psychologists can work in private practices that work with children adolescents, and young adults. They can also work in community mental health centers, hospitals, child care centers, or justice programs for juveniles.

What is the job outlook for school psychologists?

School psychologist jobs are expected to grow by 14% by 2030.

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