School Psychologist: Milestone Map
Several educational paths are open to those who want to become school psychologists. The example below shows a possible path that turned a high school project into a career of helping students in need.
Becomes interested in psychology during a project to do personality assessments
Majors in psychology, with a minor in urban education
Becomes assistant director at an inner-city after-school program targeted to disadvantaged
Returned to school to complete an online Ed.S. (educational specialist) in school psychology
Back to Work
Takes job as staff psychologist at a high school and begins outreach program to LGBT students
Starts website where LGBT students can connect one-on-one with counselors
Online Learning for School Psychologists
Drawn to its convenience and flexibility, students are increasingly choosing online schooling to advance their education without neglecting their other commitments. In addition, as online education matures and becomes even more prevalent, students can be reassured that the quality of education provided is consistent with programs offered in a traditional campus environment.
While the format may cause some apprehension to students accustomed to a classroom setting, most programs are structured so that students can reap the benefits of both synchronous and asynchronous learning. Course materials and assignments are usually available for students to access and complete at their convenience, while a number of technologies facilitate interaction with professors and peers to create a collaborative environment. Discussion boards and wikis allow students to work on team projects with their classmates, for example, while live video streaming and chat functions mimic an in-person environment to allow real-time communication and participation.
A key component of any school psychology program is the ability to apply classroom knowledge and skills in real-life situations, and most online programs address the hands-on nature of school psychology by integrating internships and on-campus residencies into their curricula. These opportunities ensure that students are exposed to scenarios they will likely encounter in the future, allowing them to gain practical experience and develop their skills. Such components require in-person commitments, of course, so students should plan ahead to work them into their schedules.
Degree Options for Aspiring School Psychologists
Prospective school psychologists can choose from a number of online degree programs, from the baccalaureate through the graduate levels. Before enrolling, students would be wise to carefully examine the choices and compare them against their personal academic road maps to ensure a good fit. The following is a look at the various types of degree programs available online:
- Ed.S. (Education Specialist)
Several bachelor’s degree majors are acceptable for entrance into a graduate program in school psychology—including child development, education and social work—but most future school psychologists pursue a BA or BS in general psychology. Generally speaking, a BA program prepares students for employment directly after graduation or for graduate programs in applied psychology, while BS programs are geared to students interested in pursuing graduate study in science-oriented specializations.
In either case, these programs offer a broad overview of the field, allowing students to explore a range of specializations before committing to one in graduate school. Degree requirements normally consist of 120 semester credits, including general education courses; mandatory core subject courses; and subject-related electives. Additional requirements, such as laboratory projects, internships or work experience, depend on the specific program.
The Ed.S. falls between the master’s and doctoral degree levels, and is ideal for school psychologists in that it incorporates both the classroom coursework associated with a master’s degree and a supervised internship program that is required for certification from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
Earning an Ed.S. in School Psychology normally requires three years of full-time study and practice, although there are a few two-year accelerated programs available. Most are formatted to comply with NASP certification requirements and consist of one to two years of classroom work and 1,200 internship hours, although specific requirements vary by program. Additionally, many schools offer a master’s degree (MA or MS) in combination with an Ed.S. degree, awarding a master’s in school psychology upon completion of coursework and prior to beginning the requisite internship. Some programs may require students to pass a state competency/licensure examination following the first year of the program, before moving on to the internship component.
Three doctoral-level degrees are offered in school psychology: the Ed.D., Psy.D. and Ph.D., each with its particular requirements and outcome goals. Students typically proceed from a bachelor’s degree to one of the doctorate options without earning a master’s or Ed.S. in the interim. Generally, the Ed.D. is focused more on theory and skills directly related to education; the Psy.D. is directed to those interested in clinical work; and the Ph.D. emphasizes theory, experimentation and research.
All three types can lead to becoming school psychologist; however, there are a limited number of online school psychology programs available at the doctoral level, and it will be key to find one that includes the requirements for obtaining national certification and state licensure. In all cases, students will need to complete an extensive internship as part of the program.
Common Online Courses: School Psychology
Below is a sample of the types of courses school psychology students typically take during a graduate-level online degree program:
Introduction to School Psychology
Acquaints students with the history and field of school psychology, as well as with contemporary trends and issues in the profession.
Advanced Counseling Theories and Methods
Examines major theories of individual counseling and their application for school counselors and psychologists, with a focus on both theoretical knowledge and practical skills. Issues of social and cultural diversity are discussed.
Consultation in the Schools
Introduction to collaborative consultation leadership techniques and models such as communication, diplomacy and interpersonal skills, which are necessary for effective consultation at the individual, group and system levels.
Human Brain-Behavior Relationships
Looks at human brain functions and their relationship to memory, intelligence, speech, spatial abilities, judgment, reasoning and more. Individual differences in brain functioning in both normal and brain-damaged persons is considered.
Social, Emotional and Behavioral Assessment of Children and Adolescents
Discusses assessment techniques with a problem-solving approach, emphasizing training in interviewing, observing and testing children and adolescents.
Choosing an Online School Psychology Program
Students can differ significantly when it comes to their lists of the most important qualities in an online degree program. When making the choice, a good starting point is to make a checklist of the most common considerations and compare them to the available options. The following are typical factors to consider:
- Program Content and Structure: Determine which programs best suit your individual needs, interests and career goals, as well as which are formatted to accommodate your schedule.
- Admission Requirements: Review the specific admission requirements for each online program. Some schools require a minimum GPA or specific course prerequisites, for example; it may also be necessary to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and possibly the GRE psychology subject test.
- Cost: Be aware of all costs involved, including tuition, fees, books and course materials, as well as travel and related expenses that may arise due to in-person requirements.
- Financial Aid: Determine what financial aid options are offered through the online school, such as grants or scholarships, as well as through federal funding.
- Support Services: Check what school services are extended to online students, such as career and financial aid counseling, academic advising, technical support, library privileges and internship placement assistance.
- Accreditation: Confirm that a program is fully accredited and includes all necessary requirements to obtain state licensure and national certification as a school psychologist. Learn more about accreditation for online school psychology programs below.
Accreditation: A Must for Online Programs
Proper accreditation is vital for programs at the postsecondary level. Accreditation ensures that programs are legitimate and meet rigorous academic standards set by an independent reviewing body. In the United States, the two main forms of accreditation are:
The American Psychological Association (APA) is a primary accreditor of doctoral degree programs in all areas of psychology; however, it should be noted that due to the practical experience required for these degrees, the organization does not accredit programs that are offered entirely online, although it does accredit hybrid programs with online and on-campus learning elements.
The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) also provides program accreditation, based in part on reviews provided by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
Enrollment Timeline: Ed.S. in School Psychology
The necessary steps for enrolling in a school psychology program depend on the type of degree being sought, but students should expect to plan ahead to fulfill a number of requirements. Here’s a look at what’s typically required for entering an Ed.S. program:
||Time Before Program Start Date
Decide which programs you wish to apply to.
Take the GRE, if required.
|15 months to 1 year
Submit requests for undergraduate transcripts to be sent to prospective programs. Request letters of recommendation from professors and colleagues.
|9 to 1 months
Submit applications and any other requested documentation.
9 months to 1 year
File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application and other required documents.
|9 months to 1 year
Accept offer of your choice. Decline all others.
Admissions committees consider more than an applicant’s grades when making their choices, and students can take several additional steps to make themselves stand out in a field of candidates. The list below offers several suggestions for ways students can improve their application packages:
- Establish relationships Get to know undergraduate professors who can write strong, personalized letters of recommendation to send to graduate programs.
- Do research Find opportunities to be a research assistant. It’s ideal to get exposure to multiple areas of psychology to gain an overall perspective, but also to find a specialty area to demonstrate specific interest to an admissions committee.
- Do fieldwork Work for or volunteer with an organization, preferably one that serves children, to gain valuable experience.
- Network Join a student group dedicated to psychology students; this shows commitment to the field and is key to begin to establish professional connections.
School Psychology: Career Opportunities
School psychologists can be found in schools of all types, from private preschools to the largest public universities. They work with students and their parents to help with academic, social and emotional issues, and consult with school administrators to devise and implement programs that promote mental health and positive behaviors in the student community.
The overall field of psychology is growing, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting a 19 percent increase between 2014 and 2024, substantially higher than the national average for all occupations. In part due to this increasing demand, earning a degree in school psychology does not limit graduates strictly to jobs in school environments. These graduates may also be able to find employment in other fields such as youth counseling, private consulting, developmental psychology, and in research and academia. Here are a few specific examples:
||National Median Annual Salary (2014)
|School Psychologist (in Elementary and Secondary Schools)
||Provides academic, emotional, and mental support for students, teachers, and administrators in elementary and secondary schools.
||Master’s or Doctorate and state licensure, certification recommended
|School Psychologist (in Individual and Family Services)
||Promotes the mental, emotional, and psychological health for clients in family and individual settings.
||Master’s or Doctorate and state licensure, certification recommended
|Elementary, Middle or High School Principal
||Manages daily school operations, coordinates curricula and oversees faculty and staff.
|Postsecondary Education Administrator
||Oversees student services, faculty and staff members on college and university campuses.
||Master’s or doctoral degree in a related discipline is common, but bachelor’s degree may suffice.
||Teaches school psychology and related subjects on the college/university level.
||Doctoral degree, master’s may suffice for community colleges.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014)
*National mean salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in this industry
School Psychologist Licenses & Certifications
In addition to state licensure, which is required of all school psychologists, there are a variety of professional certifications they can obtain to further demonstrate their skills and experience.
Every state requires licensure of some form for the professional practice of school psychology. In many cases, state credentialing requirements closely follow those for the NCSP national certification. Specific qualifications vary from state to state, however, so candidates should familiarize themselves with individual standards before enrolling in a school psychology degree program.
For more information, visit the National Association of Schools Psychologists website for state credentialing requirements.
Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP):
Awarded by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the NCSP is arguably the most important of all certifications in the profession, as many states model their licensure requirements to correspond with NCSP certification standards. Additionally, most Ed.S. and Ed.D. degree program internships are designed to satisfy NCSP internship requirements and, in turn, state licensure requirements.
To learn more, visit the National Association of Schools Psychologists page on NCSP eligibility.
School Psychology Specialist:
The School Psychology Specialist certification is administered by the American Board of School Psychology (ABSP), a division of the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP). Requirements for this certification include completion of a doctoral program in the field, extensive internship and postdoctoral practice experience, and passing the certification examination.
More information is available at the ABPP page on the School Psychology specialty.
Similar Online Psychology Programs
Those interested in school psychology may wish to consider careers and degree programs in a related psychology specialization. Following are three similar degree programs that can be taken online:
Online Clinical Psychology Degrees:
Clinical psychology refers to the broad practice of assessing and treating mental illness, abnormal behavior, and psychiatric problems of patients individually and in relation to their families and communities. Clinical psychology degree programs are available on all degree levels, with numerous online options.
Online Child Psychology Degrees:
Similar to school psychology, child psychology focuses on the overall psychological needs of children and adolescents in relation to family and other social contexts. Online programs offer degrees in child psychology, developmental psychology, infant and early childhood development, and clinical psychology with concentrations in child psychology.
Online Forensic Psychology Degrees:
Forensic psychology is the practice of psychology within the legal field. Forensic psychology is growing in popularity, resulting in an explosion of postsecondary degree programs, including several online. Forensic psychology may be offered as its own major, or as a concentration within a more general psychology degree.