What is Educational Psychology?
Educational psychologists study how people learn. By evaluating learning methods on student outcomes, these professionals research and strive to improve the instructional process. They take into account the unique needs of the educational institution and its students, including gifted learners and those with learning disabilities.
To fully understand best practices in the field, educational psychologists incorporate behavioral psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology into their work. Educational psychologists offer integral support to educational institutions and learning centers worldwide by providing crucial information for developing successful learning methods and materials.
We explore how to become an educational psychologist, along with related careers in educational psychology in the following guide.
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What Does an Educational Psychologist Do?
Schools and educational institutions typically hire educational psychologists to develop and implement successful learning programs for students. Some may choose contracted consulting work with independent organizations that design learning materials or create specialty curricula.
Skills and Competencies
Educational psychologists need to possess an analytical skill set, while still maintaining strong interpersonal skills. By using critical thinking, mathematics, and information technology skills, these professionals perform evidence-based research to arrive at practical outcomes.
In practice, an educational psychologist may consider methods of psychometric testing, data collection, program development, and research evaluation to advise staff and administration on the best learning practices for their institution or organization.
We have compiled a list of four primary specializations within educational psychologist careers that provide a better understanding of the responsibilities unique to this profession.
Areas of Expertise in the Educational Psychology Field
1. Program Development/Implementation
Identify the most successful student learning and retention methods and work with school staff, administration and fellow consultants to develop programs according to these models.
- Poor test scores
- Significant population of disadvantaged students with learning disabilities
- Insufficient learning programs for special needs students
Using their expertise to form a complete picture of the unique needs of each learning institution, professionals in program development may implement testing and research of their own to assess which learning methods are most viable to meet the needs of students and staff.
Common Job Titles
- Program Development Specialist
- Programming Consultant
- Special Programs Consultant
2. Instructor Education and Training
In this role, educational psychologists educate teachers and professors on how to implement programs developed specially for their students.
- Early-career or inexperienced teachers/staff
- Under-staffed educational institutions
- Institutions with high employee turnover
- Teachers not yet qualified to assist special needs students
Often an integral part of new-program development for schools and other learning institutions, educational psychologists are also a sensible choice for training teachers in how to best apply such programs in a classroom setting. By advising instructors and staff on how to incorporate new programs into their curriculum, educational psychologists help affect improved student performance.
Common Job Titles
- Education Training Specialist
- Programs Implementation Coordinator
3. Psychometric Testing and Data Assessment
Educational psychologists use various tests and assessments to interpret student learning methods and their effectiveness. K-12 schools may seek a professional in this field if it fails to meet strict minimum test scores required by its state or district.
- Low or unacceptable state test scores
- Poor student performance
- Undesirable or low student morale; lack of positive “campus culture”
Consultants in this area are typically hired to conduct tests and compare data to determine effectiveness of learning methods; the results of such tests may ultimately lead to reform of institutional programs, if necessary.
Common Job Titles
- Programs Assessment Specialist
- Student Testing Specialist
- Student Outcomes Analyst
4. Instructional Design/Educational Materials Design
Expertise among educational psychologists is needed in the realm of design and manufacturing to assist in the development of new learning materials and tools.
- Online course development
- Age-appropriate electronic learning “games” for children
- State-mandated student test packets
While this specialization may seem like a departure from traditional educational psychology occupations, professionals in this field are often sought by educational companies and businesses during the early stages of development to offer professional and psychological insight to the design process.
Common Job Titles
- Educational Design Consultant
- Production Consultant
- Instructional Design Consultant
Educational Psychology By the Numbers
Psychologists, including those with educational psychology degrees, can look forward to a faster-than-average job growth projection of 14% from 2018-28, along with a median annual salary of $79,010. The federal government, healthcare practitioners’ offices, educational institutions and support services, outpatient care centers, and hospitals make up the list of top employers for these professionals.
California, Florida, New York, Texas, and Illinois offer the highest employment levels for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in the country. Oregon ($112,010) and California ($111,750) feature the highest mean annual wages for these positions. Salaries in the top three metropolitan areas of New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA; and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA all exceed $100,000.
How Do I Become an Educational Psychologist?
Entering the educational psychology field requires a rigorous education. Though all students interested in becoming an educational psychologist start with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree is the minimum requirement for a career in the field. You may need to earn a Ph.D. if you aspire to teach or research at the university level. All candidates should pursue internships for practical learning opportunities.
Below, we outline several options for those looking to enter the field of educational psychology.
I'm an Undergraduate or Have Completed my Undergraduate
1. Declare as a psychology major.
Undergrad coursework in educational psychology typically includes:
- Educational Psychology
- Statistical Methods
- Behavioral Adaptation to School and Society
- Development in Childhood
- Lifespan Human Development
- Educational Research Problems
- Field Experience and Educational Research
2. Consider a specialty
- If you’ve already decided educational psychology is right for you, start researching a niche to pursue in this field, such as program development or instructional design.
- Seek out any professors you can find in your school who are working in educational psychology or a related specialization. Meeting with them might inspire you to start narrowing your thesis to either counseling, training, research or design, which will impress grad schools later.
Take the GRE
- Find out the minimum scores required for admittance of educational psychologist students at your school of choice.
- Practice the test several times.
- Consider paying for a training session if your scores are too low.
- When registering for your test date, leave enough time to retake the test if you aren’t satisfied with the results.
4. Get Reference Letters
- Make friends with your educational psychology professors by going to office hours, asking questions in class and setting yourself apart. This allows them to get to know you and can be crucial when applying for grad school.
- Even if you don’t think your professors will remember you or it’s been a while, don’t hesitate to contact them anyway. Most likely, they will want to ask you some questions to catch up and get reacquainted.
5. Choose a Graduate School
- The school you select now will ultimately affect your post-graduation chances of employment. Make sure your chosen school is well-known for educational psychology; It gets bonus points for an alumni network of educational psychologists or professionals working specifically in this field, as this will come in handy for job hunting.
I'm Pursuing a Graduate Degree
1. Come Up with a Thesis
- If you already have an idea of which educational psychology concentration you want to explore, you’ll want to streamline your focus at this stage. However, if you are starting to brainstorm ideas, try to decide quickly which element of this profession really holds your interest. Do you prefer to work more with research and data, or hands-on with learning tools and materials? Do you aspire to become a professor in this field?
- If you need additional insight into the practical side of the profession, chatting with experienced educational psychology professors can help to transform a broad interest into a workable hypothesis.
2. Find an Internship
- Schools typically want to see a student pursuing an internship while completing their degree, not waiting until after graduation. Experiencing the practical side of educational psychology at the right internship may lead to a job in your specialty after you finish school, not to mention the perks of great networking and resume-building it will provide.
3. Network with professors and professionals in the field
- Networking within educational psychology is essential to the job search process.
- Take advantage of your school’s career center services to practice interviews specific to potential employers in your area of interest. Learning these skills now will be worth it in work and life.
I Have a Master's or Doctorate
1. Refine Your Resume and Keep It Current
- Keep your resume looking professional, interesting and relevant to your specialty, with up-to-date skills and experiences in or relating to educational psychology.
- Review your resume for proofreading and suggestions with several friends and/or peers.
- Document minor changes in work experience on your resume and always customize it for the job interview at-hand.
2. Start Sending Out Job Applications
- Don’t procrastinate about this, as it may take longer than you anticipate depending upon fluctuations in the job market specifically affecting educational psychologists. Implementing a consistent method for this process will pay off in the end.
- Tailor each cover letter to the specific position for which you are applying.
- LinkedIn is a good way to search for educational psychology contacts at the organization for which you are interviewing. Reaching out is a great way to stand out among other candidates.
3. Prepare for Interviews
- Perform a mock interview with friends.
- Research the organization that will be interviewing you. Prepare to articulate their role in the field of educational psychology in a few sentences.
- Wear an appropriate outfit, conduct yourself professionally and bring copies of your resume and cover letter.
4. You’re now an Educational Psychologist
- Congrats! If you have followed the steps above, your first job in the world of educational psychology should now be within your reach.
- Don’t stop career-building here. Stay abreast of the new developments in clinical psychology and counseling, training, assessment and design, and be on the lookout for new professional opportunities in educational psychology or other closely related fields.
Licensure for Educational Psychologists
Psychologists become licensed at the state level, and requirements vary by jurisdiction. This interactive map shows the different board requirements in Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards-member states, and this page lists websites for all psychology licensing boards.
Those pursuing educational psychologist careers can become nationally certified school psychologists (NCSPs), a credential conferred by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). The certification indicates that a school psychologist has met high-level, nationally recognized standards.
Each applicant must complete a graduate degree in school psychology, on-site practicum experiences, 1,200 hours as an intern, and the Praxis school psychologist examination with a passing score of 147. Submission requirements for graduates of NASP-approved programs include an online application, official transcripts, and Praxis test scores.
Graduates of non-NASP-approved programs must also provide signed statements from university administrators and fieldwork supervisors attesting to their completion of a school psychology program, practicum, and internship.
Psychology Internship Opportunities
Students find internship and practicum opportunities through their school career center, along with alumni networks, job boards and fairs, and recruiting events. Internships typically span 6-24 months and consist of supervised (direct or indirect) work with clients. Some interns receive pay for their work. Indirect supervision means their supervisor does not join the intern/client sessions, but remains on hand to answer questions and review the intern’s recommendations for treatment or therapy. Internships completed as part of a program’s curriculum confer credit, but those designated as postgraduate or postdoctoral do not.
In an on-site practicum, students usually sit in on sessions between licensed psychologists and their patients. Learners meet with their supervisors to discuss their observations and ask questions. As they gain knowledge, their supervisors may assign them tasks to complete. Practicum participants generally earn school credit, but not pay. Practicum lengths vary among programs.
Internship and practicum sites include schools, educational services, hospitals, clinics, and government agencies. Students should tailor their fieldwork experiences to their educational psychologist degree programs and career goals.