How to Become a School Psychologist

Updated August 24, 2022

Are you passionate about helping students? Consider becoming a school psychologist. Learn about the education, responsibilities, and potential salary here.

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According to U.S. News and World Report, school psychologist jobs fall among the 30 best science, technology, engineering, and medicine positions and the 20 best roles in social services. School psychology careers let professionals make a difference in the lives of many children.

This guide describes how to become a school psychologist, provides information on school psychology salary expectations, and tells you what school psychology jobs are like.

What Is School Psychology?

School psychologists improve children's educational and personal outcomes by assisting students with mental health challenges. They build a positive environment in schools and support families.

School psychologists also provide students and families with counseling and education, and they work with teachers and administrators to address students' psychological needs. They may confront school-wide issues, such as bullying, and develop crisis interventions with initiatives, evaluations, and programs.

School Psychology Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports a median salary of $79,820 for school, counseling, and clinical psychologists as a whole, without specifically identifying school psychology salaries. However, the following data regarding related positions offers some insight into the average school psychology salary.

Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$46,270 $82,180 $137,590 8%
Source: BLS
School and Career Counselors and Advisors
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030)
$35,620 $58,120 $97,910 11%
Source: BLS

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How Do I Become a School Psychologist?

Each state sets its own requirements for how to become a school psychologist. Most expect candidates for school psychology jobs to hold a master's degree or an Ed.S. degree, along with state certification or licensure. Many schools require or strongly prefer applicants with certification as a national certified school psychologist (NCSP) from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).

Education for School Psychologists

NASP provides information on how to become a school psychologist in every state. Most school psychologists hold an Ed.S., an advanced specialist postmaster's degree that is less intensive than a doctorate.

School psychologists often complete a bachelor's degree in psychology, education, or a related field, and a master's in school psychology or educational psychological development. Most spend about three years earning an Ed.S., completing two years of study and a one-year internship.

Some pursue a doctorate in psychology, which typically takes four years or longer. Both Ed.S. and doctoral psychology programs include an internship, and master's students must complete clinical hours.

While state licensing boards do not require NCSP certification, they may consider it equivalent to state licensure, making the certification even more valuable for those pursuing school psychology careers. Candidates in some states may need to pass the Praxis examination, which is part of the NCSP certification process, although the state may not legally require the certification itself.

Licensure for School Psychologists

Each state maintains its own regulations on how to become a licensed school psychologist. Candidates can learn more about state licensing laws at the NASP website. In general, licensing for school psychologist jobs includes a master's degree or higher, a psychology internship, and a background check.

Many states consider NCSP certification to be a direct qualification for state licensure, and some offer or are considering license reciprocity.

Licensed school psychologists must complete 20-30 hours of continuing education in child psychology or education each year. You can earn these hours through attending selected psychology classes, conferences, or webinars. You can also pass a test on selected readings. The same credit hours may apply to NCSP certification and ongoing state licensing requirements.

Board Certification for School Psychologists

The NASP offers the NCSP certification and the American Board of Professional Psychology offers the school psychology specialty (SPS) board certification.

The SPS credential requires a doctorate, while the NCSP calls for a master's degree in school psychology or a related discipline with graduate hours in school psychology. Both require applicants to complete a practicum, an internship, supervised practice hours, and an examination. Continuing education is needed to maintain certification.

While states do not require board certification for school psychology jobs, most schools strongly prefer certified candidates. Many states consider NCSP certification a qualification to earn state licensure or base their licensing requirements on the NCSP certification pathway. It can be a valuable credential for those seeking school psychology careers.

Pre-Professional Experience for School Psychologists

Master's students complete practicums; Ed.S. programs require 1,200 internship hours. At least 600 of these hours must take place in a school setting, although this was reduced to 400 hours during the pandemic. In some years there are more applicants than available internships, making it a good idea to create a backup plan in case you do not receive a placement.

Most states require two years of supervision before candidates can practice independently. Working under a school psychologist, interns complete at least half of their contact hours in a school setting. The other hours include study, research, and preparation.

During an internship, students increase the type and scope of assignments that they perform independently, although they always work under supervision.

Upon graduation, candidates must complete about two years of additional supervised practice.

Frequently Asked Questions About School Psychologists

Do school psychologists get summers off?

Most school psychologists pursue continuing education during the summer. School psychology jobs also include administrative work and planning when class is not in session, typically after the school year ends or begins.

Is school psychology stressful?

School psychology careers can be stressful when you work with children who face mental health challenges, violence, or parents with high expectations. However, the role can also be very rewarding.

What do school psychologists do about bullying?

Bullying intervention and prevention is a vital part of school psychology jobs. You may work with bullies and bullied students directly. Part of your job might include designing anti-bullying programs.

How much do school psychologists make?

The median school psychology salary is $74,000, according to the National Association of School Psychologists. Other sources like the BLS report median salaries between $75,000-$85,000.

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

Most school psychologists work in public or private K-12 schools. They support students who are experiencing mental health conditions or distress, and they provide teachers and families with education and advice.

They often collaborate with teachers and school administrators to meet students' needs and support general student mental health. School psychologists employed in private religious schools also work with members of the clergy.

School psychologists design and deliver interventions, measuring their effectiveness and adapting their practices. As students recover psychologically from the COVID-19 pandemic, psychologists often address anxiety and depression, along with the impact of time spent away from school settings and isolation.

School psychologists also help students cope in the aftermath of violence.

Skills and Competencies

School psychology careers require a wide set of skills and competencies. Effective communication and knowledge of mental health and mental health disorders is needed.

School psychologists must also understand child psychological and educational development as they work with students, families, teachers, and administrators. This requires high levels of diplomacy and strong collaboration skills.

Helping children who are experiencing psychological distress can be emotionally draining, especially if you are working with children who have been abused or severely bullied. School psychologists must be empathetic without becoming emotionally overwhelmed.

They should be able to control anger and frustration in the face of abuse or bullying. However, helping children and families respond to mental health challenges can be satisfying and rewarding.

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