How to Become a School Psychologist: Degree, Certification & Salary

Feb 01, 2022

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. In order to learn more about becoming a school psychologist, let's take a look at the requirements.

School Psychologist Requirements

An Education Specialist or a master's degree in school psychology and state licensure are required for entry-level school psychology positions. To obtain licensure, school psychologists need 1,200 hours of supervised internships, with at least 600 of those hours in a school setting. National school psychologist certification is optional. Students with interests in conducting research or teaching at the university level will need to consider earning a doctoral degree. Good communication skills are needed for this position, and for university positions, an ability to teach is required. If you are interested in becoming a school psychologist, consider taking courses in psychology, communications, and other humanities while you are still in high school in order to prepare for your future career.

How to Become a School Psychologist

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

What degree do you need to be a school psychologist? Earning a bachelor's degree is the first career step for prospective school psychologists. Even though there is no specific school psychologist degree, students can earn a degree in a related field, such as education or psychology. Students who 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.

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

School psychologist education continues at the graduate level. 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 the National Association of School Psychologists (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.

If possible, it is helpful to develop Spanish-language skills. Graduates with Spanish-language proficiency may find increased job opportunities in the subfield of English-as-Second-Language (ESL) education.

Additionally, 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

If you want to become a licensed school psychologist, you should know that in all states, people in this career 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. So, how long does it take to become a school psychologist? If you obtain a doctoral degree, it could take at least eight years. However, you may be able to start working in your field in some capacity before you complete all of the educational requirements.

School psychologist requirements include state licensure


What Exactly Does a School Psychologist Do?

A school psychologist works in one or more schools and spends time working with students on their personal problems and concerns. These professionals generally meet with students individually in order to discuss mental health, family life, college admissions, bullying, or any number of other topics. They provide assistance to students in the form of resources, intervention, and active listening.

Is a School Psychologist a Licensed Psychologist?

All school psychologists do need to be licensed in their state in order to ascertain that they have the necessary expertise to be able to work with youth in a professional educational setting. Prospective school psychologists should keep this in mind when pursuing their career goals.

How Much Does a School Psychologist Make?

In May 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual school psychologist salary of $78,200. The job outlook for all school and career counselors is good, predicted at 8% growth between 2019 and 2029, the BLS reports.

Do School Psychologists Work in the Summer?

Because school does not run in the summers, some school psychologists may take the summers off. Others may choose to work over the summers in youth centers and other job positions. Typically, though, school psychologists are able to take the summers off, just as other professionals who work in schools are able to do.

Are There School Psychologist Specialties?

Yes. School psychologists, like all psychologists, may choose to specialize in a discipline like the following:

  • Elementary and middle schools
  • High schools
  • Working with disabled students
  • Working primarily with students struggling academically

However, generally speaking, even when they have specialized, many school psychologists will end up working broadly with a school population when needed.

Related Careers

The following careers are similar to that of school psychologists:

  • Career counselor
  • Health teacher
  • Child psychologist
  • Clinical therapist

Resources for School Psychologists

Here are some organizations that you might consider joining as a school psychologist in order to connect with fellow professionals in your field:

  • The International School Psychology Association
  • The National Association of School Psychologists
  • The American Psychological Association
  • The American School Counselor Association

Required Skills for School Psychologists

School psychologists should try to cultivate the following skills throughout their careers:

  • Active listening
  • Thorough understanding of mental health issues
  • Ability to work with children and teenagers
  • Open-mindedness and lack of judgment
  • Ability to cultivate a safe environment for students
  • Compassion and kindness

In summary, school psychologists need at least a master's degree in school psychology or an Education Specialist degree as well as state licensure.

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