Becoming a School Psychologist: Career Guide


Updated May 7, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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School psychologists help students and their families navigate the social, emotional, and intellectual challenges that can accompany K-12 education. They play a key role in supporting students' academic, developmental, and personal outcomes.

The American Psychological Association (APA) notes a significant national shortage of qualified professionals. Given this trend, now is a great time to train for a career as a school psychologist. Use this career guide to help plan your journey.

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What Is a School Psychologist?

School psychologists primarily work with K-12 students who have learning or developmental disorders, along with those who have emotional or behavioral concerns. They also help students whose caregivers have asked for assistance with academic or personal issues related to home and/or school environments.

In this capacity, school psychologists work to:

  • Identify and address underlying psychological and cognitive issues affecting academic performance and/or personal development
  • Assist students dealing with traumatic encounters or events
  • Address or prevent incidents that pose a threat to student health or safety, such as violence, criminality, and substance misuse
  • Support the overall health and effectiveness of the school's learning environment

Beyond students and their guardians, school psychologists also liaise with teachers and education administrators in performing their duties.

What are the Steps to Become a School Psychologist?

You must hold a state-issued license to work as a school psychologist, and requirements vary by state. However, multiple elements are common among most jurisdictions. Depending on the level of education you pursue, your journey could take 8-10 years or more.

The following section offers a step-by-step guide on how to become a school psychologist.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Begin by earning a bachelor's degree. This step typically takes four years of full-time study, depending on your chosen program's academic requirements.

    For your major, education and general psychology are both strong choices. Some colleges specifically offer bachelor's degrees in school psychology. These programs make an excellent match if you're certain about your career path.

  2. 2

    Pursue Graduate Education

    Specialized school psychology programs generally become more available at the graduate level. Many aspiring school psychologists pursue master of education (M.Ed.) or education specialist (Ed.S.) degrees in school psychology. You can also pair a standard MA or MS in psychology with a certificate of advanced study. Specialist in psychology degrees are a third but less common option.

  3. 3

    Complete an Internship

    According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), most states require about 1,200 hours of internship training for license eligibility. Colleges typically include internship components in graduate program curricula. Your school should help you secure a suitable placement.

  4. 4

    Obtain State Licensure

    To work as a school psychologist in a K-12 public school setting, you'll need a state-issued license. Licensing standards vary among jurisdictions but generally include a professional or specialist-level graduate degree and internship and examination requirements.

  5. 5

    Consider Doctoral Education

    As NASP notes, no state or jurisdiction in the United States requires that school psychologists hold doctoral degrees to qualify for licensure. However, a doctorate may better prepare you for the rigors of your career. You may also find your additional advanced training helpful when you take the licensing exam(s).

    School psychologists can hold:

    • A Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) degree in psychology or education
    • A Psy.D. (doctor of psychology) degree
    • A specialized Ed.D. (doctor of education) degree

School Psychologist Licensure

In all states except Texas and Hawaii, school psychologist licensing requirements are specified by state education agencies. In Texas, the state's psychology board sets the standards for school psychologists. Hawaii does not have a formal state-level credentialing procedure and instead handles it at the local level.

Beyond meeting your state's education and internship requirements, you'll need to pass at least one credentialing exam to earn your license. Praxis #5402 is the most common such examination, but some states use additional tests or issue their own.

Renewal requirements also vary by state but typically run on two-year cycles. There are no formal reciprocity agreements among states regarding school psychologist licensure. However, many states have special credentialing guidelines that apply to incoming professionals with valid licenses issued by another U.S. jurisdiction.

To learn more, explore NASP's credentialing resources.

School Psychologist Outlook and Salaries

A 2024 APA report found that, during the 2021-22 school year, U.S. K-12 schools averaged just one psychologist per 1,127 students. This very low rate indicates a shortage of qualified professionals, creating a strong employment outlook.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school psychologists earned a median salary of $81,500 per year as of May 2023. The top 25% of school psychologists earned an average of $107,400 per year.

The BLS identifies California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, and Washington state as the top-paying destinations for school psychologists, as of May 2023.

Psychologist Salary Breakdown
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $59,250
25% $70,520
50% (median) $84,940
75% $107,400
90% $131,470
Source: BLS, 2023

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a School Psychologist

Where do school psychologists make the most money?

BLS data from May 2023 identified California, Colorado, New Mexico, New York, and Washington state as the top-paying destinations for school psychologists. Among metro areas, the BLS's top five from May 2023 were Grand Junction, Colorado; Boulder, Colorado; San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, California; Yuba City, California; and San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California.

While you do not need a doctorate to become a licensed school psychologist, a doctoral degree can deliver strong value. These programs guide students to more detailed knowledge and convey higher levels of authority, allowing degree-holders to perform better on credentialing exams and compete for prime jobs.

School psychologists often cite limited resources and serious student behavioral issues as the most challenging and stressful aspects of their jobs. Also, given the relatively small number of psychologists available to assist public school students, psychologists often do not have as much time as they might like to spend on individual cases.

Most states require graduate-level professional or specialist degrees, such as the M.Ed. or Ed.S. credentials. In some states, you may also combine an MA or MS in psychology with a certificate of advanced study or other postgraduate training. You can also obtain a doctorate, but no state requires a doctoral degree in its school psychologist licensing requirements.

Page last reviewed on March 28, 2024

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