How to Become a School Psychologist

Are you having a hard time deciding between education and psychology as a career path? Do you love the idea of helping children to make better decisions, become their best selves, overcome hardship and trauma, and form meaningful relationships in their lives? Would you like to spend your life helping children thrive?

If so, you’re a good candidate for school psychology. School psychologists are specialized staff members who are trained to provide psychotherapeutic services in an educational setting, from elementary school up to higher education. These professionals help to ease the schooling process both for the students it is meant to benefit and for the staff that works at the school, which have a hard enough time managing the student body even when psych issues aren’t involved. Overall, it’s a meaningful career that can help everyone involved.

If that sounds like the kind of career that would interest you, it’s time to find out more about how to become a school psychologist.

What Exactly Is a School Psychologist?

“School psychologists are uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach,” explains the National Association of School Psychologists. “They apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally.”

As mentioned above, school psychologists do more than interact with students, however; they also interface with other adults: “School psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community.” Only by pulling in all members of a student’s community and all available resources can a school psychologist make the most difference.

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists have to use a wide range of more specific skills every day. These include:

  • Seeing students in their office to discuss recent events, to undergo psychology sessions, to review plans and to consider the future
  • Discuss student meetings with other adults and stakeholders
  • Maintain paperwork and filing systems
  • Work with local, state and federal funding systems to get resources for students and schools
  • Attend individualized education program (IEP) meetings
  • Respond to crises when necessary, interacting with local authorities and school administration, parents and the community
  • Attend professional development seminars and conferences to keep skills sharp and learn about new developments in the field

The exact nature of the position will depend on where you work, what the nature of the student body is like, where the funding comes from, whether the school has a particular focus, what state or jurisdiction you work in, and more. No matter where or how you work, though, you will need to earn a degree to do so.

How Do You Earn a School Psychology Degree?

The exact degree you’ll need to become a school psychologist varies with the duties you want to take on and the school in which you want to work. Some states require that you have a doctoral degree in order to obtain licensure, while others will let you work in a school setting with only a master’s. Before enrolling in a program, check the requirements of your proposed state to make sure you obtain the right degree.

If your state does require a doctoral degree, you should get either a PhD in School Psychology or a PsyD, or Doctor of Psychiatry. In rare cases, you might be able to work as a school psychologist with a Doctor of Education degree, though the skill sets taught in that program are rather different from those needed by a school psychologist – specifically, an understanding of psychological principles, ethics and cutting-edge practices.

Whatever program in which you wish to enroll, you will need a bachelor’s (and often a master’s) degree, a transcript above a certain GPA, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation and often a personal essay. Read the requirements for application carefully, and make a special note of the deadline so you don’t unintentionally miss it.

What Is the Test Like?

Most practicing psychologists must take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This test was developed by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and is used in most U.S. states and Canadian provinces. There are some exceptions, so remember to check with the state or province in which you hope to practice to ensure that the test you take and the scores you get will qualify for license application there.

According to the American Psychological Association, “Passing scores for the EPPP are set by each state; most states require at least a 70 percent or 500 on the computer-based exam. Applicants who take the EPPP soon after completing their doctoral degree tend to do better on the test than those who wait. Some states also require candidates to pass an oral exam that may be a competency-based test or a test of laws and ethics. Other states only require a jurisprudence exam.”

How Do You Apply for Licensure?

Again, licensure application requirements vary by state and province. Typically, you must meet three basic requirements:

  • A completed doctoral or (in rare cases) master’s program
  • The required number of practicum hours for the jurisdiction in which you’re applying, not for the program itself
  • A passing score on a test approved by the jurisdiction in which you are applying

Once you meet all of the above qualifications, you can apply. Note that even after you do, you will need to complete more supervised hours, this time in a work setting. While you are getting paid now, you must still prove that you can meet ethical and practice standards for the first several months or years of your career.

The hours vary, so to be safe, the APA recommends that “Students should accrue 2,000 hours during internship and 2,000 hours during postdoc, on average, to meet state requirements,” which vary widely. “For example, Michigan requires 6,000 supervised hours, whereas California requires 3,000 hours.”

What Salary Can You Expect?

The average salaries for a school psychologist are reasonably good, with the average person making $76,990 annually. With time in the field, you can make as much as $129,310, the average for people who have reached the 90th percentile. Overall, it’s a rewarding career with good pay, helping you to pay off those student loans and achieve a very nice standard of living.

Would you like to learn more about this career and the role it can play in your life? We invite you to learn more about school psychology programs and apply today.

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Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Editor-In-Chief

Ann Steele, Ph.D., is Editor-In-Chief of PsydPrograms.org. Ann has training as a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who has worked with adults, couples, adolescents, and preteens throughout San Diego county.