What is educational psychology?
Studying how people learn is the objective of educational psychologists. Through evaluation of various 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.
In order to fully understand best practices for dissemination, as well as absorption of knowledge, educational psychologists incorporate related topics into their work in this field, including behavioral psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive psychology. Educational psychologists are an integral part of educational institutions and learning centers worldwide, providing crucial information needed to develop successful learning methods and materials.
We explore how to become an educational psychologist as well as careers in educational psychology below.
What does an educational psychologist do?
Typically, educational psychologists are hired by schools or educational institutions to work with administration and staff 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 curriculum. Regardless of the employer, it's important to obtain the following skills if interested in pursuing educational psychology careers:
Skills & Competencies
- Data Analysis and Evaluation
- Critical Thinking
- Information Technology
In practice, an educational psychologist may consider various 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.
Below are 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
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
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
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
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
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the market for educational psychologists is growing fast and is expected to continue growing by 11% nationwide from 2012 to 2022. As the second-most populated area of psychology, it's estimated that clinical, counseling and school psychologists will see more than 16,000 new jobs by 2022.
Annual Mean Wage of Educational Psychologists By State, May 2014
|State||Employment||Employment per Thousand Jobs||Location Quotient||Hourly Mean Wage||Annual Mean Wage|
Source: Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor and Statistics, July 2015
How do I become an educational psychologist?
Entering the field of educational psychology requires a thorough education in the specialty. 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. A PhD may be required if your aspirations include teaching or performing research at the university-level. Internships are highly recommended for putting training into practice while completing your degree.
Outlined below are several options for those looking to enter the field of educational psychology. Choose your status:
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
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.
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.
Choose a Graduate School
- Our psychology database can show you the top graduate educational psychology programs with a quick search. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
To help you through the process of selecting a school, we have compiled this database of the nation's top educational psychology programs. Filter the results according to your needs and explore the best schools for this program in the U.S.
Meet an Educational Psychologist
Joanne Broder Sumerson, PhD
I knew I wanted to study psychology because I always loved people; learning about them, watching them and attempting to understand them.
To give an inside perspective of educational psychology, we sat down with educational psychologist Dr. Joanne Broder Sumerson, PhD, to get her view on the ins-and-outs of the field.
Skip to Question
- What's your educational background/How did you get interested in that subject?
I knew I wanted to study psychology, for two main reasons. First, I always loved people; learning about them, watching them and attempting to understand them. Second, I am the daughter of a therapist and I thought my father had the best job in the world. I thought I wanted to follow his footsteps as a therapist, specifically working with criminals. My first job out of college was as a prison counselor. There, I learned that I didn't want to be a therapist or work with criminals!
My Bachelor's degree is in Psychology, Master's in Adult and Organization Development and Doctorate in Education Psychology. My junior year of undergrad, I had to take a two-semester experimental psychology course, which was my first opportunity to design and deliver a research study. My study was on the hostility level of prisoners, determined by their custody status. It was when I really got interested in research and it led me to my first job.
- How/why did you choose that school/program?
When I started graduate school, I had been a prison counselor, leading behavior modification groups for inmates and working with prison gangs. I chose my master's program at Temple based on my first course, Group Participation and Analysis (non-matriculated), which I thought would help me as a facilitator for the prison groups. I was hooked because the T group experience and readings really helped me understand the group phenomenon, both theoretically and practically.
One class lead to another and then I applied to the master's program and was thrilled to be accepted. When I finished my master's I decided to pursue my doctorate because I knew I was not done. The Education Psychology program at Temple had an all-star faculty with excellent research courses. I felt my heart being led in that direction, since I had developed a fascination with creating assessments and the needs assessment process that I learned about in the master's.
- Who do you think makes the best education psychology candidates? Do you recommend doing anything in undergrad/grad school to better set yourself up for success?
I always highly recommend that all psychology majors get a job between undergrad and grad school, as opposed to going straight through. They need to be in the trenches, learning something about human behavior through real world experience. Those experiences can be processed through the lens of theories. Students who go straight through are often not mature enough for graduate school, do not really have much to write about or focus on and generally do not get as much out of the experience.
I took almost five years off between undergrad and grad school and it was one of my best decisions. Since I thought I wanted to be a therapist, if I had gone straight through to grad school from undergrad, I would have gotten a counseling degree before I realized I did not want to go that route.
- What's your area of specialty within education psychology?
After I earned my PhD, I got a job as an educational evaluator for a large, urban school district, because research and evaluation were so much fun. That job really helped me strengthen my skills, confidence and values as a researcher; enough to want to leave the position and consult in research on my own. So my specialty within education psychology is research. I do all parts of the research process, such as creating and validating surveys, designing and delivering studies, along with data analysis and intervention. My clients vary in terms of their needs, from parts to the gestalt of the research study process. My recent client topics included wellness, leadership and social media use.
- Where do you currently work? How did you find that position?
My current jobs are a culmination of my previous work experiences. You have to pay your dues and work for other people before you work for yourself. For instance, the premise of my book was developed when I taught research at a culinary school. The students were future chefs, not academics, but they were required to design and deliver a research project. My challenge was to motivate people who would rather be in a kitchen to get excited about a research study. These students taught me a lot about what it took to really get a research study done. I also learned that most students do not like doing research or are intimidated by it, and this approach helped me understand the needs of all students and clients.
- Were there any unexpected hurdles in getting where you are today?
Unexpected challenges pop up throughout our life's journey. However, I do not call them hurdles. They were more like situations that promoted positive changes. For instance, when I was a burnt-out prison counselor, I temporarily and unofficially worked in a leadership position following a supervisor's resignation. Although I was no longer happy in that role, I interviewed for the permanent position and did not get it. I had been casually looking for another job for a few years, so that incident really accelerated my job search. I got my resume together, launched an aggressive job search and found another job within a month as a corporate human resources generalist. At that time, it was my dream job: I was able to my transfer the skills I had acquired working at the jail and pointed myself in the direction I wanted to go.
I am truly a half-full kind of person and strongly believe that every disappointment is an opportunity for growth. I have had my fair share of failures, rejections and mistakes. My process for moving forward is to meditate on what happened, what I learned from it, what I could have done differently and how I will use the experience to improve and move on.
- What does your typical day involve?
My typical day involves whatever is hot and current at the moment. Since I do so much, there is always something new on my radar. I switch my hats constantly to do whatever needs to be done. I have 100% autonomy of my schedule, which I love. However, my basic daily structure is to write in the morning, when my creativity and energy levels are high, followed by lunchtime yoga and meetings and emails in the afternoon. I teach one night per week in the spring and fall semesters.
- What's your favorite part of the job?
For all of my jobs combined, helping people work with and get comfortable with data and get the right answers they need to make the right decisions. I love teaching and advising people through the research process. It is beautiful to watch the evolution of dissertation and thesis candidates transforming from scared research students to confident and passionate principal investigators. I also love watching people achieve their goals.
- What do you think makes a great education psychologist?
Like any great psychologist, a great education psychologist should have a great deal of practical work experience with a strong theoretical background.
- Is there anything you don't like about your work?
As much as our society claims to favor and make data-driven decisions, there is a lot of fear and resistance towards data. I had a hairy “stop the presses” moment when a survey was almost cancelled and administered late because of a leader's last minute paranoia and fear.
There needs to be a stronger partnership between practical and academic experts. They are both experts on a particular topic, but do not always join hands to work together. They can work together as a part of dream team.
- Are you involved with any professional organizations? If so, why?
I am involved with the American Psychological Association. In 2017, I will be the president of the Society for Media Psychology and Technology. It is a great way to connect, network and work with people all over the country.
- What do you think is the most exciting thing happening in this field right now? Who is doing the most interesting research?
Conducting research via technology has helped the field in every way. We can get out of the lab and administer surveys all around the world, which respondents can take on their phone while waiting for the bus. It is an easier and more efficient way to gain a diverse sample from real people from all over the world, as opposed to lab rats (Psychology 101 students participating for course credit) who are demographically homogeneous. Plus, it saves us time on scanning or manually inputting the data into a spreadsheet.
- What's the best "must-read/watch" book, video, or publication for this field?
I am a huge fan of Samuel Messick and John Creswell's work. I cite them all over my book, Finish Your Dissertation, Don't Let it Finish You!, because they are pioneers of best research practices, and they understand the consequences of data. Overall, their advice is sound and scholarly, with consideration to real world issues and real people, as opposed to just being in a lab.
- Any other advice for those looking to go into the field?
Take time off before undergrad and graduate school to work and gain as much actual experience as possible working with people to connect data to an actual human's emotions, issues, situations and traits. It will help understand the theoretical perspectives and research, as well as provide direction for your studies.
- What are the biggest considerations someone should think about before pursuing your field?
Patience and hard work. You will not become an expert just by passion alone. It takes hard work, grit and failure. There is a great deal of formal education and professional experiences that need to happen before anyone declares themselves an expert. You have to prove that you are good in order to be called good. You do not become thick-skinned wearing gloves, so get out there and see what is going on the world and where you fit in.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Other people's feedback is a gift, regardless of whether it is solicited or not. However, do not get caught up in anyone else's opinion either. Be your own person and do what you believe in, even if nobody else believes in you at the time. YOU CAN DO IT!
Educational Psychology Resources
Our editorial staff handpicked the following resources to capture the organizations, journals and conferences leading the field of educational psychology today. Please don't hesitate to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you feel our collection is lacking an essential resource.
- American Board of Professional Psychology
- American Educational Research Association
- American Psychological Association Division 15
- Mid-South Educational Research Association
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Council on Measurement in Education
- Social Psychology Network
- American Counseling Association
- American Educational Research Association
- American School Counselor Association
- Association for Psychological Science
- International Association of School Psychologists
- Mid-South Educational Research Association
- National Association of School Psychologists
- National Council on Measurement in Education
- School Psychology Division of APA
- 22nd World Congress of the International Association for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions
- National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology (NITOP)
- Seminars for Graduate students and Early Educational Psychologists