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School psychologists fulfill an essential role in their students’ education and wellness. These professionals support students and their families through counseling, academic consultation, crisis intervention and mental health support.
If you enjoy working with young people and are interested in helping them succeed emotionally, socially and academically, school psychology may be a good career option for you. This article will explore how to become a school psychologist.
School Psychologist Job Outlook
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for clinical, counseling and school psychologists to increase by 10% from 2020 to 2030. This increase in demand is due to greater public awareness of the importance of mental health conditions and how these challenges affect student learning, according to the BLS.
School psychologists work with students to address mental health challenges and prevent those challenges from interfering with learners’ ability to succeed in school.
What Do School Psychologists Do?
School psychologists work with students to help them Improve and maintain their mental well-being. These professionals use cognitive assessment skills to evaluate and diagnose learning disorders and developmental disabilities, address behavioral challenges, manage crisis intervention activities and provide strategies for improving students’ learning experiences.
School psychologists interact with parents and teachers to recommend solutions to address students’ behavioral challenges in classroom environments. These psychologists may also implement and evaluate school programs. They can suggest solutions for improvement in teaching and learning strategies to help meet their students’ needs.
How Much Do School Psychologists Make?
The median annual salary for school psychologists in the U.S. was $79,510 as of May 2021, according to the BLS. Not all school psychologists work in traditional school settings, however, and exact salaries may vary by industry.
Experience impacts salary as well. According to Payscale, entry-level school psychologists earn an average annual salary of around $57,000. Once a school psychologist has more than 20 years of experience under their belt, this average exceeds $80,000.
Steps to Becoming a School Psychologist
Being a school psychologist comes with stringent requirements. States also have their own requirements, so they differ depending on where you are located. It takes thoughtful planning, years of study and perseverance to become a school psychologist. Below are the steps you need to take to become a school psychologist.
Earn a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step to becoming a school psychologist is earning a bachelor’s degree. This degree is a critical part of your learning process, and you should major in psychology or a related field. After completing your undergraduate studies, you can move on to graduate work.
Earn a Graduate Degree
In addition to a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a similar field, you should earn a graduate degree in school psychology. Most states require school counselors to complete at least 60 graduate credits and a 1,200-hour internship to become licensed. A few states may certify school psychologists who have fewer than 60 graduate credits, but the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) still requires at least a specialist degree.
NASP is the leading professional organization for school psychologists in the United States. It also provides support to school psychology professionals in 25 other countries.
While a master’s degree will help you broaden your knowledge, it’s not enough to become licensed as a school psychologist. A specialist-level degree is the minimum education required for certification or licensure as a school psychologist. Some states may require a doctoral degree. You should check your state’s requirements before enrolling in a graduate program.
The difference between a master’s degree and a specialist-level degree is that a specialist-level degree requires at least 60 credits and an internship, while a master’s degree typically requires fewer hours and no internship. It takes about three years of graduate study to complete a specialist degree, and a master’s takes about two years.
Specialist-level degree designations vary by state. Degree examples include education specialist, certification of advanced graduate study, certificate of advanced study and specialist in psychology.
While many school psychologists choose a specialist-level degree, others pursue a doctoral degree, which is more comprehensive and may create more career options. A doctoral degree is especially useful if you plan to work in private or independent practice, hospitals, research or academia. A doctoral degree may also qualify you for additional credentials.
A doctoral degree requires a minimum of 90 credits and more internship hours than a specialist-level degree, depending on the program. Doctoral-level degrees include doctor of psychology and doctor of education.
Gain Experience with an Internship
You must complete an internship to become a school psychologist. Requirements vary by state, but internships are typically at least 1,200 hours, with half of those hours completed in a school setting.
During your internship, you apply your knowledge and skills in a professional setting and under the supervision of a licensed school psychologist. Internships help you gain competence in assessment skills, intervention and prevention strategies, program evaluation and research, ethics, communication skills and technology.
There are two options for becoming a credentialed school psychologist. Different states require different options. Candidates can become nationally certified school psychologists (NCSPs) through NASP. They may also become certified for a school psychology specialty through the American Board of School Psychology, which requires a doctoral degree. Both of these certification programs require exams.
Become Licensed Through Your State
States implement their own licensing procedures for school psychologists. In most cases, aspiring school psychologists become licensed through their state’s Department of Education or Department of Public Instruction.
Since the NCSP credential is on the national level, most states accept this credential and apply it toward state licensing requirements. This path may entail a teacher certification test, such as the PRAXIS test for school psychologists.
Check your state’s requirements to find out what you need to do to become licensed in your state.
Earn Continuing Professional Development Credits
As a school psychologist, you must maintain your credentials by earning continuing professional development (CPD) credits. To renew your NCSP credentials, you need 75 CPD credits within a three-year period of time.
You can earn CPD credits through workshops and conferences, in-service training, university coursework, research, self-study and other professional activities.
Frequently Asked Questions About School Psychologists
Do school psychologists get summers off?
School psychologists work nine or 10 months during the school year, and they must continue to build their knowledge and Improve their skills to renew their licenses. It’s common for school psychologists to earn their CPD credits during the summer.
What is the difference between a psychologist and a school psychologist?
Psychologists and school psychologists both help people Improve and maintain their mental well-being by observing, evaluating and suggesting helpful strategies or treatments for behavioral or emotional challenges. School psychologists work with students, families, teachers and administrators, and other psychologists work with many different groups of people, depending on their professional specialization.
What skills do you need to be a school psychologist?
School psychologists should have excellent communication, interpersonal, observational, analytical and problem-solving skills. They must exercise integrity and discretion to protect the privacy of learners and their families, and they should enjoy working with students.