Educational Psychology vs. School Psychology Differences

Many aspiring psychologists want to work in the educational field. But if you look at the master’s and doctoral programs in psychology that are available, you will see degrees in both educational psychology and school psychology. What are the differences between the two disciplines?

While they share some similarities, there are stark differences, too. Understanding those differences is critical before you embark on a graduate-level degree program. Keep reading to learn more.

Educational Psychology vs School Psychology

The most significant difference between these specialties is the target audience demographics. An educational psychologist receives training to understand all types of students – from the youngest learners to college students, as well as the academic and non-academic professionals who work with these students. They usually are focused on analyzing and researching group student performance in a district, school, or other entity.

Educational psychologists also tend to study more about the learning process itself. They consider how the brain works and how students’ cognitive abilities affect learning processes and outcomes. These psychologists often use quantitative testing and measurement methods in their work.

On the other hand, school psychologists focus on the needs of young students from pre-school and kindergarten through high school. They also use classrooms, parents, and teachers to identify students’ complex learning needs. Their focus is on the individual learner and improving their social and academic performance.

Educational Psychologist Functions

Educational psychologists are focused mainly on the same mission as school psychologists, but their point of view tends to be more macro and community-focused. An educational psychologist’s primary task is to engage in scholarly research to support advocacy for education in a community.

These psychologists also assess current pedagogy and generate new methods of educating large populations of students in a district or community.

The educational psychologist is often an educator or policy advocate, but they are not usually able to work directly with children to provide counseling and diagnostic services.

They may work on studying data produced from individual student assessments to create a report about learning outcomes at a school or the performance of a school district.

Many educational psychologists find careers as educational researchers, psychometricians, and faculty and expert educational policy advisors.

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School Psychologist Functions

A school psychologist works directly with students in grade school, middle school, and high school. They work with them in several capacities, such as student counseling, administering tests, modifying problem behavior, and testing their academic abilities.

School psychologists often are a liaison between the family and the student. They provide supportive services to the parents to ensure each student does well in the educational environment.

Other functions of school psychologists include:

  • Address student learning and behavioral issues
  • Design and implement student performance plans
  • Evaluate students’ academic performance
  • Counsel students and their families

Educational and School Psychology Curriculums

The differences between these disciplines also can be seen in the curriculums for each degree. The University of Kansas offers a master’s degree in educational psychology and research with these course requirements:

  • Advanced Educational Psychology – Learning Processes in Education
  • Human Development Through the Lifespan
  • Understanding Research in Education
  • Educational Measurement
  • Statistical Analysis Lecture and Lab

Baylor University offers a master’s program in school psychology with the following courses required:

  • The Exceptional Child
  • Learning Psychology
  • School Psychology Practicum
  • School Counseling Skills
  • Issues in Special Education
  • Intelligence Testing
  • Group Counseling Skills

The educational psychology curriculum focuses on research and analysis, while the school psychology program is centered on counseling, testing, and individual learners.

If you want to work at a higher level, such as analyzing the performance of a school district, you may opt for educational psychology. If your passion is working with the individual child or adolescent, a school psychology program may be best for you.

What The Experts Say

We checked in at to see what the experts have to say about what school psychologists and educational psychologists do:

  • “The main job of a school psychologist is to be a gatekeeper of the special education department. Our primary job is to determine whether or not a student qualifies for special education. We do this through psycho-educational assessments. In most jobs, the assessment consists of about 50% of the job. The next 30% percent consists of therapy, both individual and group. The final 20% is consultation. This is where we meet one on one with teachers to discuss how they can better serve the students with whom they are having issues.” – Dante Dixon, Doctoral Candidate in School Psychology.
  • “The primary job of a school psychologist is to evaluate students for educational disabilities or other impairments, causing increased learning difficulties. They mainly do this through classroom observations, testings, and counseling. The process often makes up to 50% of their job paperwork related. The other half of the job is dependent on the district of the school psychologist. If they are properly staffed, the psychologist can often take on many more roles outside of just evaluations. But if they are short-staffed, she will mainly be doing paperwork and evaluations and may be forced to drive between multiple schools in a day.” – Drew Reder, School Psychologist.
  • “Educational psychologists apply psychological theories and concepts to the understanding and improvement of teaching and learning in formal educational settings. They are concerned with how students learn and how teachers can help them to learn effectively. Educational psychology draws on and combines various psychological theories and principles – such as those related to human development, motivation, learning, behavior management, and assessment, to improve teaching and learning.” – Peter Mancia, Educational Psychologist.
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Educational and school psychology have some similarities, but the scope is different. Educational psychologists focus at the macro level and research, such as analyzing student performance data for a school district. The school psychologist largely focuses on the individual learner and helps them to succeed personally and academically.