How to Become a School Psychologist

Updated August 3, 2023 · 5 Min Read

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Students need support for their mental health and wellbeing. School psychologists provide for students who are facing new challenges such as the role of social media, fears of school violence, and environmental crises.

School psychologists can also help students navigate the usual anxiety and concerns about their roles, friendships, and future that any child and teen experiences.

Learn how to become a school psychologist and help contribute to healthy outcomes for children and youth.

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

School psychologist and school counselor salaries are above the national median salary, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

These salaries reflect the required education for school psychologists and other guidance staff, which are also above average. Salaries vary based on geography, experience, and licensing requirements.

School Psychologists
Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)
$53,040 $81,500 $128,800 6%

Source: BLS

Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2021-2031)
$47,850 $81,040 $133,890 6%

Source: BLS

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How Do I Become a School Psychologist?

While requirements vary by state, most school psychologists have approximately six years of formal education. This is significantly lower than the ten or more years that other psychologists need.

Graduate school is much shorter for school psychologists. However, requirements vary by state, so check your planned state of practice first for details on how to become a school psychologist in that particular state.

Education for School Psychologists

The National Association of 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

School psychologists need a state license or, in the states that consider it the equivalent of licensure, Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) certification from the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Requirements vary by state. However, some states have 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

During your master's degree, you will complete fieldwork as part of a practicum and an internship. In the practicum, you will primarily observe practicing school psychologists, interact with students, ask questions, and analyze what you have observed.

During the internship, you can expect to work with a growing level of independence, though you might always work under supervision.

Most schools arrange for or support psych students in seeking practicums and placement. Because internship placements can be fairly competitive, especially for the most exciting or prestigious internships, start planning early and build your network to help you get your preferred internship.

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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Frequently Asked Questions About School Psychologists

  1. 1

    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.

  2. 2

    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.

  3. 3

    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.

  4. 4

    How much do school psychologists make?

    The median school psychologist salary is $81,500 according to the BLS. Salaries are often highest in management positions, where the median salary is $107,540. Salaries also vary based on geography and local cost of living, experience, and responsibilities.

Page last reviewed October 21, 2022. This page's information — not including school descriptions — was reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by

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