Online School Psychology Degree Programs

What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists use their understanding of psychological principles to help support student learning. Parents and educators often turn to these psychologists to help address educational and developmental disorders or behavioral issues. In this process, 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, providing their expertise in an effort to improve teaching and administrative outcomes.

Most school psychologists work in K-12 educational settings, though some are employed by 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 14% between 2016 and 2026, significantly higher 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 very similar to programs offered on campus. Online students take courses covering 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.

While the clinical component of a school psychology degree may be more difficult for online students, the format does offer many benefits. In programs that feature asynchronous courses, students can review content and complete assignments on their own schedules. Online students also don’t need to commute to campus, making this format particularly appealing to those with ongoing professional and personal obligations. Additionally, online programs are often less expensive, as students do not need to pay for room, board, or fees associated with campus activities and resources. For students who have the discipline and motivation to direct their own studies, an online program may best suit their needs.

Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online School Psychology Program?

There are four levels of school psychology programs. The first is a bachelor’s degree, which provides students with a foundation in psychological theories, and typically 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. These programs require students to complete roughly 36 course credits, but usually do not involve a clinical experience like an internship or practicum. While licensure requirements vary from state to state, it is important to note that 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. Students in these programs take the same kind of coursework as in master’s programs, but they must also complete a clinical experience. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends a year-long internship. This internship must include 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 usually 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 required for licensure as a school psychologist in their state.

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, students can choose to pursue a master’s degree or a specialist-level master’s degree. A master’s degree usually 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 usually takes about 5-6 years to earn.

The cost of these programs varies based on a number of 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

While a bachelor’s degree alone does not qualify you to work as a school psychologist, it is an integral component of the training for professionals in this field. A bachelor’s degree is required 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 field of psychology 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. Five example courses offered in bachelor’s psychology programs are detailed below.

Example Courses:

Introduction to Psychology


This course provides an overview of the principles, concepts, and methods within psychology. Through an exploration of cognitive processes, perception, motivation, learning, measurement, development, personality, and the biological and social bases of behavior, students gain a general understanding of their chosen field of study.

Theories of Personality


This class introduces students to the prominent theorists and theories of personality. Students explore psychoanalytic, neopsychoanalytic, trait, behaviorist, humanistic, biological, and social-cognitive approaches to this discipline, as well as their proponents and applications.

Cognitive Psychology


Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of mental processes. Students learn how people acquire, store, use, and communicate information. This course lays the foundation for a deeper understanding of reasoning, decision making, problem solving, and creativity, all of which are critical to students’ future work as school psychologists.

Learning


As students advance in their undergraduate coursework, they begin to take classes more closely related to their area of specialization. Through a combination of theoretical study and practical application, this class in learning introduces students to the behavioral and cognitive bases of learning and memory.

School-age and Adolescent Development


To succeed in their work, educational professionals need to have an understanding of school-age children’s cognitive, physical, and social-emotional development. In this course, distance learners examine developmental theory and complete an integrative research paper to apply their learning to a topical developmental issue.

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. It should be noted, however, that master’s degrees that do not feature a practicum or internship may not qualify students for licensure in all states.

Online school psychology programs at the master’s level typically require 36 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 will encounter if they choose to pursue doctoral studies.

Example Courses:

Educational Psychology


This course provides an introduction to how school and educational psychologists support student motivation, teacher effectiveness, and overall academic achievement. Topics covered include learning environments, teaching methods, curriculum development, educational assessment, and the psychological characteristics of teachers and learners.

Theories of Learning


Students in this class examine modern learning theory, from its historical contexts to its present applications in educational settings. Professors cover a variety of theoretical ideas and approaches, including behaviorism, gestalt, information processing, cognitivism, humanism, and constructivism. The course also looks at how differences in cognitive development affect learning throughout life.

Culture and Psychology


Because school psychologists often work with diverse populations, an understanding of cross-cultural psychology is critical. Students learn about the impact of culture on the development of the field of psychology, as well as the unique needs of different cultures as they relate to mental health and academic achievement.

Psychology of the Exceptional Individual


Psychologists often work with students who deviate from the norm, whether those students face cognitive challenges or are exceptionally gifted academically. This course explores the benefits of inclusive education and strategies for promoting effective and diverse learning environments.

Tests and Measurement


In this course, students gain an overview of the assessments employed in educational and clinical settings. Students learn about the pyschometric properties used to develop and evaluate these testing instruments, study concepts including normative sampling and standardization, and consider cultural biases as they relate to educational measurement.

Required Licenses and Internships to Become a School Psychologist

In most states, school psychologists need a license to practice. However, licensure requirements vary greatly from state to state. NASP has compiled a database of state school psychology credentialing requirements. Prospective students should consult their state’s requirements before pursuing an online degree in school psychology.

Generally speaking, students must hold a specialist-level master’s before acquiring a license. Specialist-level master’s programs involve significant coursework as well as a clinical experience, often referred to as an internship or practicum. Here again, requirements vary, but 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.

Some states also require students to take an examination after they have earned their degree, while others have 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 of coursework in school psychology and a supervised field experience with school-aged children. Other states, like New York, will award a provisional license based on graduate studies and an internship, but require individuals to work for two years in a school setting before they can earn a permanent license.

Careers for School Psychology Degree Holders

Most school psychologists work in public or private K-12 educational settings. However, some psychologists who choose to focus on substance abuse or mental illness may work in treatment facilities or mental health centers instead. Others may opt to work as consultants or in private practice. Five possible professional opportunities for graduates of online school psychology programs are detailed below.

  • School Counselor
    School counselors support their students’ academic achievement and personal development. Depending on an individual student’s need, they may offer advice on colleges and career paths or provide assistance in dealing with bullying or family challenges. Most school counselors hold a master’s in school counseling or school psychology.

  • Clinical Social Worker
    Clinical social workers provide therapy to those in need of emotional or mental support. They may also work to coordinate mental health services and other forms of support for their clients. Most states require clinical social workers to have a master’s degree as well as two years of supervised clinical experience.

  • School Psychologist
    School psychologists perform a number of duties in order to create effective learning environments. They diagnose learning disorders and behavioral problems, create and implement plans to boost student performance, and work with teachers and administrators on teaching practice and school policy. School psychologists must hold a master’s degree, and most states require some form of clinical experience in order to earn licensure.

  • Educational Consultant
    Educational consultants are often self-employed, working with different school districts and educational organizations to create curricula, individual performance plans, or school-wide programs and services. They may also act as counselors to students and parents. Educational requirements vary, but many employers prefer to hire consultants with an advanced degree as well as significant professional experience.

  • Educational Psychologist
    The title ‘educational psychologist’ is effectively interchangeable with that of ‘school psychologist.’ Both apply psychological principles to help students learn. And like school psychologists, educational psychologists must have a master’s degree and clinical experience in order to obtain licensure.

What Does a School Psychologist Make in a Year?

Salaries for school psychologists vary greatly by location and level of education. According to the BLS, the mean salary for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists in 2016 was $73,270. While this is significantly above the average salary for all other occupations, it is likely skewed higher by the fact that psychologists working in non-educational settings make more than those working in schools. Despite the growing need for school and educational psychologists, salaries and job opportunities in this field are often dictated by state and local budgets.

School psychologists with additional experience often earn more as well. According to PayScale survey data, a school psychologist with 5-10 years of experience can expect to earn approximately $60,000 annually. Those with more than 20 years of experience earn, on average, $72,000 per year.

Position Median Annual Salary
School Counselor $48,727
Clinical Social Worker $52,234
School Psychologist $59,419
Educational Consultant $62,834
Educational Psychologist $71,216

Source: PayScale