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Online Master’s Programs in School Psychology

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Updated on: 11/21/2018

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the number of psychologists — including those who cater to the needs of children and adolescents — will grow by 14% in the coming years, leading to the creation of 23,000 new positions between 2016 and 2026.

In addition to providing a meaningful career that allows practitioners to help children and families, professionals in this field can look forward to ample job stability. Individuals interested in enrolling in a master’s in school psychology online program should already possess a bachelor’s degree, and many programs expect applicants to hold some experience. The following guide provides details about common coursework, potential careers, professional organizations, and funding sources relevant to prospective school psychology graduate students.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in School Psychology Program?

After gaining foundational psychology knowledge during their undergraduate studies, many learners decide to continue their education in a more focused way. Students who choose to pursue a master’s in school psychology online learn about specific topics in this subfield while also preparing for doctoral studies. Covered topics include assessing and diagnosing students, early interventions, creating treatment plans, case management, and student advocacy. Many of these master’s programs consist of approximately 30 credits, and full-time students can typically graduate in one-and-a-half to two years. Alternatively, part-time learners should plan on graduating in about three years. Online and campus-based students follow similar degree pathways, and distance learners receive diplomas identical to those given to students attending classes on campus.

What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master’s in School Psychology Program?

Students looking at master’s in school psychology online programs can peruse the list of classes below to get a sense of common coursework covered by these types of programs. While the following courses exist at many schools, students should conduct more research and talk to admissions officers to get a full picture of the curriculum available at a specific school.

Assessing Children’s Personalities

This course introduces students to the spectrum of personality tests and psychological exams used when evaluating and treating children. Individuals learn how to administer, score, and interpret the results of tests, translating that information into a meaningful plan of action. Graduate students often practice with one another to learn proper techniques.

The Role of the School Psychologist

Students enrolled in this class learn about the history of school psychologists, previous and current methodologies, and how the field has grown over time. Participants also discuss ethical and legal considerations, how to interact with other school staff members, and ways to work with parents to best serve children.

Drug Abuse in Children and Adolescents

With a focus on identifying drug abuse in young learners, this course teachers grad students how to properly assess and treat young people dealing with drug issues. Coursework covers various therapeutic approaches and prevention strategies, ethical and legal considerations, and how to create individualized treatment plans.

Multicultural Issues in School Psychology

This class introduces learners to the aspects they should consider when providing services within a diverse school setting. Coursework emphasizes the importance of understanding differences in assessment, diagnosis, and treatment plans based on an individual’s race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, and/or cultural differences. Students also learn about providing services to children whose first language is not English.

School Psychology Practicum

Taken during their final year, this hands-on experience allows learners to participate in supervised field work. Students spend time at a school each week to see how the assessment, intervention, diagnosis, and treatment plans they learned about in class play out in a practical setting. Under the eye of a licensed school psychologist, students may provide counseling, behavior management, parent training, and referrals.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

After completing all required coursework, master’s in school psychology online programs require students to undertake some type of final project. Many programs ask students to complete a series of practicums and/or internships to gain hands-on experience. From there, degree seekers often complete a culminating project or a thesis. Individuals opting for the former may submit a portfolio of creative work or a series of case studies. Those opting for the thesis write a significant research paper based on independent research, interviews, and/or surveys to support their argument. Students who write theses typically plan to continue on and earn a doctoral degree.

What Electives Are Available in a Master’s in School Psychology Program?

Because school psychology exists as a subfield, most programs do not provide additional specializations. They do; however, sometimes offer elective courses for students looking to examine a particular area of school psychology. The list below describes a few common elective courses in these types of programs.

Mediating Factors in Student Achievement

This course helps aspiring school psychologists identify and examine outside variables that might contribute to a young person’s psychological state. These factors might include things happening during a normal school day or those encountered at home.

Educational Technology and Cognition

This elective focuses on teaching future school psychologists methods to increase the use of technology in a student’s school and home life, which can influence how a young person develops; behaves; and experiences things like friendship, bullying, and other social encounters.

Theories of Learning and Behavior

Degree seekers in this course review the tenets of human learning and behavior in an effort to better understand the children they serve and provide appropriate therapies and treatment plans. Coursework also focuses on developing the skills and knowledge needed to make decisions with authority and compassion.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in School Psychology Degree?

Individuals who want to work as school psychologists must complete years of education and work experience to fully qualify for licensure. While some students stick with this career path, others ultimately decide to explore alternatives after completing their master’s in school psychology online. The following section highlights some related careers that utilize many of the skills needed to work as a school psychologist; however, some of these other options take less time to qualify for. Students should remember that earning a degree does not automatically secure them a job — many positions require additional education, certification, and/or licensure.

School Psychologists

Whether employed at a public or private institution, school psychologists work with students to identify potential psychological issues, develop plans of treatment, and check in on students regularly. In addition to interacting with principals, teachers, and other school administrators to ensure treatment plans prove successful, these professionals frequently work with family members to make sure children receive the support and care they need.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Working with couples or entire families, these therapists help individuals understand their emotions and communicate with their loved ones. They may help clients deal with painful/traumatic moments in life, provide them with the tools needed to make big decisions, or help them develop coping skills.

School Counselors

These educational professionals work with students to help improve school performance, address behavioral issues, increase attendance, or deal with relational issues arising with other students/family members. They may also provide individual or group counseling and help students create unique plans to find and maintain success.

Social and Community Service Managers

Working as part of a larger community services organization or at a nonprofit focused on connecting individuals to services, these professionals help local communities take advantage of outreach programs. Additionally, if a program does not yet exist, they may advocate for its creation. These managers may also review the effectiveness of current programs and offerings and write grant funding proposals.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

Whether serving children, adolescents, or adults, these professionals evaluate their clients’ mental health and create plans of treatment to address problems. They often work with other medical/mental health professionals and may train family members how to best care for individuals facing an addiction or mental health issue.

Students, recent graduates, and seasoned professionals alike can benefit from the myriad services offered by school psychologist professional organizations. In addition to providing meaningful networking opportunities at the regional and national levels, these organizations may also offer continuing education opportunities, career centers, and advocacy services.

National Association of School Psychologists

As the leading organization for professionals in this field, NASP provides certifications, professional development opportunities, in-house publications, resources, and frequent networking events throughout the country.

The American Psychological Association’s Division of School Psychology

APA oversees this national chapter and helps connect school psychologists from across the country. The association provides updates on the industry, an annual convention, and active social media pages.

International School Psychology Association

ISPA serves school psychologists around the world by providing numerous conferences, news updates, opportunities for international collaboration, and a variety of resources and best practices to help school psychologists better serve children.

Local School Psychologist Associations

In addition to national organizations, many statewide associations exist to promote the work of school psychologists a more local level. The Indiana Association of School Psychologists represents one such example.

The Association of Black Psychologists

ABP advances the work and research of black psychologists throughout the country by organizing regional chapters, providing an annual convention, delivering in-house publications, and offering advertising outlets. The group also supports an active student circle.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in School Psychology?

As shown in the following table, the options for individuals interested in school psychology and related careers cover several service areas and populations. While some individuals know they want to serve school-aged children exclusively, others may prefer to keep their options open and help more diverse populations. When reviewing the salary and job growth data provided below, remember that completing a master’s in school psychology online may not be sufficient to qualify for a particular role. Make sure to conduct additional research about hiring requirements before pursuing any position.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
School Psychologists Less than $42,330 $77,030 More than $124,520 +14%
Marriage and Family Therapists Less than $31,390 $48,790 More than $81,760 +23%
School Counselors Less than $32,660 $55,410 More than $91,960 +13%
Social and Community Service Managers Less than $39,730 $64,100 More than $109,990 +18%
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors Less than $27,310 $43,300 More than $70,840 +23%

Source: BLS 2018

Current job growth projections for school psychologists and related positions sit well above the national average growth of 7% for all occupations. As the stigma attached to pursuing mental health services decreases and more individuals actively take care of their mental health, these numbers should remain strong, ensuring the need for a greater number of qualified psychologists.

In addition to job security, prospective school psychologists can look forward to favorable salary prospects. While Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce does not compile data related specifically to school psychologists, it does maintain information on psychology in general. As of 2015, professionals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology earned a median annual salary of $49,000, while individuals who continued their education and earned a master’s degree took home approximately $65,000 each year.

Online Master’s in School Psychology Program Accreditation

Outside of considerations related to a school’s curriculum and degree outcomes, students should also pay close attention to an institution’s accreditation status. Learners who fail to attend properly accredited schools can face issues when trying to transfer credits, apply to doctoral programs, compete for jobs, or seek credentials and/or licensure.

The American Psychological Association only accredits doctoral-level programs, so students pursuing master’s degrees won’t be able to find programmatic accreditation at this level. That said, degree seekers can still check for institutional accreditation when looking at potential schools. Rather than researching and reviewing individual school websites for details on accreditation, degree seekers can use the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation’s searchable database.

How to Pay for a Master’s in School Psychology Degree

Gaining an advanced education typically requires a significant monetary investment, and most students can’t afford to pay for their degree out of pocket. Fortunately, numerous financial aid sources exist, which can help lessen this burden. In addition to exploring the resources reviewed below, students should complete additional research to exhaust their options.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    Before applying to any other sources of aid, students should complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. The U.S. Department of Education awards scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study funds based on this application, and many schools also use details from this form to provide institutional/programmatic scholarships, grants, and fellowships.

  • Local Association Scholarships

    In addition to national scholarships, some local school psychology associations offer members funding in the form of scholarships, grants, and research/travel funding. For example, the Indiana Association of School Psychologists provides several graduate school scholarships for students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees.

  • Research Funds, Assistantships, and Fellowships

    Some institutions provide additional funding to exceptional candidates who engage in research and/or take on a support role in the department while enrolled. As an example, school psychology students at California State University – Long Beach can apply for a yearly $9,000 graduate research fellowship.

  • American Psychological Association Scholarships

    APA represents one of the largest funding sources for individuals working as psychologists. The association awards grants and long-term funding for graduate-level research projects. Some of the scholarships exist as generic awards, while others focus on specific subdisciplines in the field.