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How To Become A School Psychologist

Drexel University School of Education

Few careers can have the same broad societal impact as a school psychologist. By helping optimize the learning environment for students, careers in school psychology can be both personally and professionally rewarding. Whether conducting behavioral assessments, counseling students, or determining appropriate accommodations for students with special needs, a school psychologist’s work is never done. Learn more about what steps are necessary in order to become a school psychologist and the qualities that can distinguish you within your field.

What is School Psychology?

School psychology is a practice of psychology that involves children in schools. School psychology combines the general practices of psychology with education to create positive learning environments for children.

What is a School Psychologist?

School psychologists assist children with a range of mental health issues. They assess each child’s needs and develop and implement plans to help improve their learning outcomes. School psychologists also work with teachers and parents to help them understand their child’s behavior and how best to support them.

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

Students are individuals who face their own unique set of challenges – emotional, behavioral, and academic. A school psychologist is responsible for finding ways to assist students in meeting these challenges. Leveraging cutting-edge research to build better classrooms, a school psychologist is essentially a psychology job that has a specific focus within a primary or secondary educational environment.

In terms of a school psychologist’s day-to-day activity, that might mean working alongside teachers, parents, and students. Counseling at-risk students, doing psychological evaluations, recommending programs for struggling students, or training fellow educators on how to create more inclusive classrooms.

What is the Difference Between a Psychologist and a School Psychologist?

A psychologist may assist patients from birth to adulthood on a wide range of issues. Psychologists develop plans to help their patients in their day-to-day lives. By contrast, school psychologists work with children from birth to teenage years. They develop interventions focused on a child’s academic development and takes school policies and procedures into account when crafting their plans.

What Skills Should a School Psychologist Have?

School psychologists need several of the same traits as successful teachers and social workers. In addition to specific credentials, they’ll need more intangible qualities, such as a lifelong passion for learning, the patience to work with children and parents, and excellent interpersonal communication skills. You’ll also need specialized training within the field of psychology, enabling you to understand complex human behavior. Some of the traits you want might include:

Interpersonal Skills

  • Patience
  • Compassion
  • Empathy
  • Problem-solving
  • Critical thinking
  • Active-listening
  • Continuing love of learning
  • Objectivity

Specialized Skills

  • Knowledge of human neurodiversity, including disabilities
  • Background in developmental psychology
  • Specialized training into mental disorders

How Long Does it Take to Become a School Psychologist?

Most students complete their bachelor’s degree in five years, and many master’s programs in school psychology are done in three years, totaling eight years. But that can vary widely. For example, Drexel’s EdS in School Psychology can be completed within 3 years, and then accelerate you into obtaining certification.

Where can you Work as a School Psychologist?

School psychologists typically work in K-12 school settings from elementary to high school in public and private schools. School psychologists may also work in other educational facilities, juvenile detention centers, and mental health facilities.

5 Steps to Becoming a School Psychologist

The biggest barrier to becoming a school psychologist is getting the right education to qualify for these types of positions. Most school psychology positions will require a master’s degree in the field. Additionally, like many jobs in the field of education, you’ll need to earn state licensure and meet all of the school psychologist requirements. There are also optional certifications and other avenues for career development you may want to consider.

1. Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

In order to become a school psychologist, you will first need a bachelor’s degree. As a firm foundation, you will want to have a background in statistics, developmental psychology, social psychology, and educational psychology, and a degree in psychology or education covers those areas. Volunteer experience with students can also provide both experience and provide a demonstration of your passion for future employers, and Spanish language skills can improve your range of job opportunities.

2. Pursue an Educational Specialist Degree in School Psychology

Learning how to be a school psychologist is largely a matter of completing a graduate program within the field. Similar to your options for undergraduate study, there are several master’s degrees that can be useful for becoming a school psychologist – for example, the Education Specialist (EdS) or Master of Education (M.Ed.) It’s important to choose a program that’s been approved by the designated state educational agency, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE).

3. Attain a Certification or License

With the right educational background, obtaining certification or licensure can be one of the easier steps in becoming a school psychologist. Like most jobs in education, certifications or licenses for these positions are granted by individual states. In addition to coursework, practicum, and internship requirements, states will ask applicants to submit a passing score on the Praxis II for school psychology. It is important to review the requirements for the state you want to work in, as these criteria vary.

4. Secure a Job

Job opportunities for school psychologists can vary widely. Some locations offer higher salaries than others, based on such variables as cost of living in an area. Similarly, some areas also offer differences in opportunities for career advancement. When making your decision, other factors may influence you to take a job with a given school or district. For instance, you prefer to work with students with particular challenges, or of a particular age. Once you’ve narrowed down your preferences, you’ll need to submit applications and letters of interest to schools that match your criteria.

5. Maintain Certification and Consider the Need for a PhD

Determining if you need a PhD mostly boils down to your career objectives. If you’d like to pursue opportunities in research or teaching, a PhD can be an enormous asset. If you’re not interested in becoming an educator or doing research in the field of educational psychology, a PhD may not necessarily be a consideration for your career development.

It’s also worth noting that the NCSP requires 85 hours of continuing professional development every three years. It stipulates that ten of those hours come from approved providers, as well as three hours in ethics and legal regulation, and three hours of equality, diversity, and inclusion training. Credential-holders are randomly audited to ensure they are maintaining their certification.

Are School Psychologists in Demand?

There will always be children who have different developmental needs than their peers, children who face adversity, and opportunities to continually improve educational standards for students. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school psychologists jobs are expected to grow 6% between 2021 and 2031 as mental health awareness continues to increase. It’s also worth noting that larger schools are more likely to employ school psychologists than smaller institutions.

Start Your Journey to Becoming a School Psychologist with Drexel Today

Interested in becoming a school psychologist, but aren’t sure of your next steps? Reach out to learn more about pursuing an EdS in School Psychology from Drexel University's School of Education.