What is a PsyD in School Psychology
School serves many purposes: learning skills and subjects, making friends and forming a social network, learning what one wants to do with one’s life. But one thing you can count on, from the youngest preschool to the most advanced Ph.D. program, is that humans are growing, changing and developing at all points in life. This might be more important in the younger years, but psychology has its place throughout life.
Enter school psychology. School psychologists take on the role of helping people in learning environments to cope with the challenges it poses, deal with social issues and even traumas, and make the best possible decisions at every point. If you like the idea of helping students become their best selves, you might be well suited to a role in school psychology. In fact, you may even wish to get a PsyD degree (Doctor of Psychology) in the field, which will allow you to take on leadership roles and perform high-level duties at schools across the nation – and indeed the world.
Before you apply to programs, however, it’s best to consider all the factors involved. You need to know what school psychology is and what a school psychologist does on a daily basis to make sure it’s a good fit for you. Additionally, it’s helpful to know what the degree is, what the program is like, how to apply and how to get licensed, as well as the job outlook. Let’s get started.
What Is School Psychology?
The point of this field is largely inherent in the name: It is psychology practiced in an educational sphere. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “School psychologists are uniquely qualified members of school teams that support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach. They apply expertise in mental health, learning, and behavior, to help children and youth succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally.”
School psychologists need to work with a wide variety of different people in order to achieve these aims. On any given day, they may interface 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.”
As you can see from these descriptions, school psychologists most often work at the elementary and secondary school levels. However, most institutions of higher learning keep one or multiple psychologists on hand as well. High-level psychologists – including those who hold doctoral degrees – often oversee psychology staff at universities for the benefit of students there.
What Does a School Psychologist Do?
So what does a school psychologist do specifically? While their tasks vary on the age group with which they work, the school at which they practice and any special needs of the population, most school psychologists carry out duties and responsibilities such as:
- Collection and analysis of data
- Creating of special plans for students and monitoring of progress
- Special education services
- Instructional support to teachers and specialists
- Institution of school-wide practices to promote learning
- Assessment of student resilience and risk factors
- Consultation and collaboration with stakeholders (listed above)
- Academic and learning interventions, where necessary
- Mental health and social/emotional or behavioral interventions
- Crisis preparedness, response, and recovery
- Collaboration between the family, school and community
- Encouragement and implementation of diversity in development and learning
- Program research, evaluation, design and modification
- Practice of professional ethics and adherence to school law
What Is a PsyD in School Psychology?
Many people confuse the PsyD with a PhD in psychology, so it’s important to clear up that confusion before moving on. The PhD or Doctor of Philosophy is a common degree with which most people are familiar. This is a very academic degree, largely focused on designing and carrying out research studies, publishing articles and teaching the subject to students. While you might practice psychology with a PhD, it is really geared more toward those who want to remain in an academic setting.
For those who want to be out in the field engaging with students themselves, the more recently created PsyD is a more appropriate degree. The Doctor of Psychology is for those who want a high-level working knowledge of the most advanced psychological principles so they can apply them to their students.
How Do You Get a PsyD in School Psychology?
Typically, in order to be admitted to a PsyD program, you need a bachelor’s and master’s degree. It helps to have those degrees in the same field, though it is less important for your undergraduate degree. You don’t even necessarily need a psychology-related master’s degree, as long as it was somewhat related to the field: for instance, education or social work. Some programs may be willing to look even further afield for candidates.
Most programs require between 3 and 5 years of study, depending on how quickly you complete your classes and whether you are working at the same time. If you focus in multiple areas, that may also extend your time in the program. Remember that there is a teaching component of almost any doctoral program, so you’ll need to make time for that around your own studies and other work you might do.
Exact courses will vary depending on your interest areas and program, but most students will learn advanced psychological principles and techniques, ethics and legal principles, research study design, data collection and analysis, and scientific writing.
How Do You Apply?
Application for a degree in school psychology may take different forms depending on what program you’re applying to and what prerequisites they require for entrance. However, your application will include several basic components:
- Transcripts: Any program considering you will need to see your past school performance. Typically they require all transcripts from any school ever attended, whether or not you graduated from that school. Don’t be nervous if you have less than stellar grades from an undergraduate program, though. As long as you achieved good marks in graduate school, you should be good.
- Test scores: Most doctoral programs require GRE scores from the last 5 years. If you took them recently for entrance to a master’s program, you can usually submit those same scores. However, if your scores are outdated or you never took the GREs, you’ll need to plan in time to study for them.
- Application: Every program has its own application. Today, they are usually online. Make careful note of the deadlines, since they are almost always unforgiving.
- Letter of intent or essay: Most programs require that you submit a letter of intent or essay for entrance. This may explain an important event in your life or may simply describe why you want to enter the program and what you believe you can add to it. Note that admissions officers are looking for an ability to write as much as for good subject matter, so if you’re not the best editor, make sure to send it on to someone who can help.
Again, each program is different, so don’t assume that the above components are it. Instead, speak with the admissions department at each school to which you are applying to get the right information.
What Are the Exams and Licensing Like?
Doctor of Psychology programs will prepare you to practice psychology in a school setting, but you still need to take exams and get a license before you can begin. If you have been practicing for years after getting a master’s degree and your license is still current, you can skip this part and simply apply your new knowledge to a job old or new.
However, if you have not yet taken the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) – the standard test used by the United States to determine eligibility for licensing – then you need to do so at the conclusion of your program. That, along with a specified number of clinical hours during your program and possibly post-graduation practice hours, are required to get your license.
Job Outlook for School Psychologists with a PsyD
According to U.S. News & World Report, school psychologists can expect to make an average of $75,000. Bear in mind that this is an average that includes people who only have master’s degrees. With a PsyD, you will be at the top of your field with a salary to match. This will increase with every year in the field, so by the apex of your psychology career you can easily make six figures.
Further Resources for Candidates in School Psychology
Need more resources? Here are a few of the best:
- National Association of School Psychologists: This page is dedicated to explaining exactly what school psychologists in a wide variety of spheres, and is helpful to those trying to wrap their heads around the role in the first years of their program.
- American Psychological Association: Here’s another good rundown of the profession and what people in the field should expect to spend their days doing.
- Special Education Glossary: School psychologists need a strong working familiarity with the needs of special education. This glossary is an excellent tool for learning about special ed as well as a variety of other school-centric definitions.
And that’s it. Best of luck!