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What Does a School Psychologist Do?
School psychologists use their understanding of psychological principles to support student learning. Parents and educators often turn to these psychologists to help address educational and developmental disorders or behavioral issues.
School psychologists design and oversee student performance plans and offer counseling to students and their families. They often work closely with other educators and school-based professionals to improve teaching and administrative outcomes.
Most school psychologists work in K-12 educational settings, though some work for private companies or mental health agencies. Others work independently, consulting for a variety of school districts and educational organizations on specific student cases or larger projects.
No matter where they work, school psychologists need a strong foundation in psychological theory, specialized knowledge in child development, and exceptional interpersonal skills. Most jobs require a master's in school psychology or a related field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment for school psychologists will grow by 1% between 2022 and 2032, slower than the average growth rate for all occupations.
An online degree in school psychology offers a flexible and affordable path to professional opportunities in this field.
Can You Get a Degree in School Psychology Online?
Prospective students can pursue their degree through a variety of online school psychology programs. The educational experience in these programs is similar to on-campus programs. Online courses cover the foundations of psychology along with topics within the concentration of school psychology.
Most programs require students earning a master's in school psychology to complete a clinical experience, often referred to as an internship or practicum. While the nature of these experiences vary by program, many require approximately 600 hours of field experience.
Online students may face some additional challenges in arranging their clinical experiences, especially if they live in an area with few organizations that can act as internship or practicum sites. Faculty members and program administrators can provide support in matching students with nearby organizations that offer clinical experience opportunities.
For students with the discipline and motivation to direct their own studies, an online program may best suit their needs.
While the clinical component of a school psychology degree may be more difficult for online students, the format offers many benefits. In programs that feature asynchronous courses, students can review content and complete assignments on their own schedules.
Online students can earn their degree without commuting to campus, allowing them to maintain work and family obligations.
Online programs often cost less than on-campus degrees, as students do not need to pay for room, board, or fees associated with campus activities and resources. For students with the discipline and motivation to direct their own studies, an online program may best suit their needs.
Featured Online Programs
Featured Online Programs
Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online School Psychology Program?
School psychology programs have four levels. The first is a bachelor's degree, which provides students with a foundation in psychological theories and often does not require clinical experience. School psychology master's programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's in psychology or a related field.
The second level is a master's in school psychology. This program requires students to complete roughly 36 credits, but does not often involve a clinical experience like an internship or practicum.
While licensure requirements vary by state, these programs do not necessarily prepare students to earn a state license in school psychology.
The third level is a specialist degree in school psychology, which prepares students to earn licensure in any state. Learners take the same kind of coursework as in master's programs, but must also complete a clinical experience.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) also recommends a yearlong internship that includes at least 1,200 hours of supervised practice, with 600 hours in a school or educational setting.
The fourth level is doctoral study, with students earning a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.), doctor of psychology (Psy.D.), or doctor of education (Ed.D.) degree.
These programs often require additional coursework and extended clinical experiences. While a specialist-level master's degree is often enough to earn licensure, a doctorate may help students interested in pursuing work in private practice or academia.
Before choosing a degree, students should research the level of education and clinical experience their state requires for licensure as a school psychologist.
How to Become a School Psychologist
To apply to school psychology master's programs, students must complete a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field. After completing their undergraduate studies, learners can pursue a master's degree or a specialist-level master's degree.
A master's degree takes about two years to complete. A specialist-level degree requires an extra year of clinical experience, bringing the total program length to three years. This level of education is the minimum requirement to earn licensure and practice as a school psychologist. Finally, a doctoral degree often takes 5-6 years to earn.
Program costs vary due to many factors, including location and duration. Students pursuing their degrees online may be eligible for in-state tuition or accelerated options that can help reduce the overall cost of their education.
Online Bachelor's Degree in School Psychology
A bachelor's degree alone does not qualify professionals to work as a school psychologist. However, you need a bachelor's degree to enter almost all master's or doctoral programs in school psychology.
Undergraduate programs in school psychology are rare. Most students earn their bachelor's degree in the broader psychology field before choosing a specialization in a graduate program.
In addition to general education courses, undergraduate programs help students develop fundamental knowledge in psychological theory and practice. Some programs also offer specialized classes that prepare students for graduate studies in school psychology.
Introduction to Psychology
This course provides an overview of psychology, the history of psychology as a subject of study, a grounding in the major figures and schools of thought in psychology, and how the brain functions.
Theories of Personality
In this course, you will learn about different approaches to understanding personality and how it develops. It includes models such as OCEAN (Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism), humanistic theories of personality.
This course includes elements of biology, linguistics, and even computer science. It explores how people think and make decisions and the nature of intelligence, memory, and knowledge.
Learning is connected to cognitive psychology, but it also includes non-biological elements such as social learning and how to apply cognitive psychology and other forms of applied psychology to teaching.
School-Age and Adolescent Development
This covers the period between early childhood and adulthood. Topics include developmental biology and how that affects psychological development, and theories of moral and social development.
Online Master's Degree in School Psychology
A specialist-level master's degree is the minimum requirement to work as a school psychologist. Students can pursue an online master's degree in school psychology with or without a clinical experience component.
Note that master's degrees without a practicum or internship may not qualify you for licensure in all states.
Online school psychology programs at the master's level often require 36 credits minimum. Some programs require closer to 60 credits.
Like bachelor's programs in psychology, graduate-level programs teach students about human thought and behavior, development through different phases of life, and psychological assessment.
Additionally, school psychology master's programs offer coursework in more specialized areas, such as counseling, crisis intervention, research methods, and professional ethics. These courses help prepare students for their day-to-day work as school psychologists or the more advanced topics they may encounter if they choose to pursue doctoral studies.
Educational psychology examines how people learn and how to apply psychological methods to enhance learning. It draws from cognitive and social psychology to understand the biological underpinnings of learning, how school settings affect learning, and how teachers can be most effective.
Theories of Learning
This course covers how people learn, examining different approaches such as behavioral learning, cognitive learning, and constructivism, the concept that learners are constantly building and reshaping models of how the world works.
Culture and Psychology
While human nature is consistent, culture shapes psychology, often in ways that are difficult for members of a culture to perceive. This course includes theories of cultural psychology, the roles of different cultures and subcultures, and how to study culture influence.
Psychology of the Exceptional Individual
This course covers students whose psychological and cognitive functions differ from the majority population. Topics include developmental disabilities, autism, emotional and behavioral conditions, sensory conditions such as blindness or deafness, and exceptionally high-performing learners.
Tests and Measurement
This course introduces the assessment tools that educational psychologists use, including their purposes, strengths, and weaknesses. These tools examine learning or behavioral disabilities, cognition, and other factors that affect a child's ability to learn.
Required Licenses and Internships to Become a School Psychologist
In most states, school psychologists need a license to practice. However, licensure requirements vary by state. The NASP compiled a state school psychology credentialing requirement database. Research your state's requirements before pursuing an online degree in school psychology.
You need a specialist-level master's before acquiring a license. Specialist-level master's programs involve significant coursework and clinical experience, often referred to as an internship or practicum.
While requirements vary, The NASP recommends an internship that lasts one full academic year and involves 1,200 hours of work, with 600 of those hours taking place in a school or educational setting.
In most states, school psychologists need a license to practice. However, licensure requirements vary by state.
Some states require students to take an examination after they have earned their degree. Others maintain a simpler application process.
In California, for example, aspiring school psychologists only need to verify they have earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree that consisted of 60 credits in school psychology and a supervised field experience with school-aged children.
Other states, like New York, award provisional licenses based on graduate studies and an internship, but require you to work for two years in a school setting before you can earn a permanent license.
Careers for School Psychology Degree-Holders
What Does a School Psychologist Make in a Year?
School psychologists often make somewhat less than their counterparts in private practice, industry, and healthcare, according to the BLS.
The median annual salary for the entire psychology field sits at about $85,330, while those serving in educational settings bring in a median annual salary of $81,500. However, the amount school psychologists earn varies depending on their location, education, and experience.
Salaries for school psychologists also depend on budgets at the state and school district level. Professionals in states with a well-funded public school system can expect greater salary growth potential. Certain positions also pay better than others. Educational psychologists, for example, earn significantly more than clinical social workers.
Entry-level school psychologists often earn lower salaries, while more experienced professionals can earn more than six figures per year.
Average Annual Salary
Average Annual Salary
Average Annual Salary
Source: Payscale, September 2023
Frequently Asked Questions About School Psychology
Where do school psychologists work?
School psychologists work in schools, but also in school administration offices in government and school systems, and in businesses that provide consulting and services to schools.
What education is required to be a school psychologist?
Most states require at least a master's degree in school psychology. There is a difference between the diplomas for an on-campus and an online school psychology program. Online programs require prospective students to do their research on knowing what the standards are for their state..
What is the job market for school psychologists?
According to the BLS, the number of school psychologist jobs will grow 1% between 2022 and 2032, or approximately 800 jobs.
Does a school psychology program need to be NASP-approved?
While NASP accreditation is the national standard, not all states require graduating from an NASP-approved program to earn a license. However, almost all state-approved schools are NASP-approved.
What's the difference between a school psychologist and a school counselor?
A school counselor helps students with a wide range of emotional, social, or academic issues, so acts as a generalist. A school psychologist provides help specifically with psychological issues. School psychologists often work in special education departments, and with at-risk students compared to school counselors, who tend to work with the general student body.