A school psychologist is an important part of an institution’s efforts to support adolescents with mental health issues and psychological problems. Because anxiety and depression are rising in children and teens, there’s never been a more important time for highly-trained school psychologists to be available to young people.
If you’re interested in becoming a school psychologist, the first step is understanding what school psychologists do. You’ll also need to become familiar with school psychologist requirements in terms of education and training so you begin working towards pursuing a career in this field.
In this guide, we’ll tell you how to become a school psychologist, what the role entails, and what you’ll need to do to succeed in this demanding position. We’ll also touch on the job market and personal benefits to help you determine whether you’d be a good fit for this career.
Why Become a School Psychologist?
Every psychology career attracts individuals with interest in how the mind works. However, as a school psychologist works primarily with children, the position focuses on how mental health works with learning development and growth.
Disruptions to young people’s mental health can have severe outcomes on their learning, so school psychologists typically share teachers’ interests in building safe learning environments.
While creating safe spaces and providing emotional support at school is challenging, school psychologists enjoy the fulfillment that comes with helping young people work through complex problems.
What Are School Psychologist Requirements?
- Compassion. You’ll need to be a patient, compassionate person who enjoys working with children and experiences joy when they flourish.
- Communication. You’ll also need to be an effective communicator, as you’ll often have to speak to parents and discuss their children’s development with them. An ability to be frank while tactful and respectful is essential.
- Strategic. You will need to develop strategies for long-term growth both in individuals and the school as a whole.
You will typically need at least an undergraduate degree in psychology coupled with some postgraduate study in educational psychology. Most schools will require a full master’s degree in educational psychology. As such, you’ll need a strong commitment to academic study to succeed in this role.
However, unlike some clinical psychologist roles, which are legally reserved for those who completed a Ph.D., it is rare for a school psychologist to need a doctorate.
What is it Like to Be a School Psychologist?
School psychologist requirements include balancing personal work (such as mediating with parents and providing counseling to children) while developing a supportive foundation for mental health at the school. The latter requires you to work closely with administration and teaching staff to implement a framework that encourages learning and makes it easier to notice and address areas of concern.
Here’s more information on what the life of a school psychologist is like.
Work with Children & Parents
Common issues you’ll work with include:
- Offering support to children suffering from depression and anxiety
- Assisting children showing signs of disruptive mental disorders, such as bipolar disorder
- Supporting neurodiverse children and their parents
- Discussing issues at home with children and parents
- Mediating issues between children and teaching staff
These issues are extremely trying both for children and parents, so you’ll need to be an excellent listener and a skilled mediator. You’ll use your clinical training to recognize and assess difficulties but also need to offer ways to resolve conflicts between all parties.
The degree to which a school psychologist can influence a school’s policy towards mental wellbeing depends on the school. However, you should always be able to assemble a strong, evidence-based case for change where you see it as necessary.
Encouraging the administration to recognize the relationship between the wellbeing of children, decreased disruption, and increased school performance is something you’ll strive for every day.
If you excel in diplomacy and possess strong communication skills, it’s well worth learning how to become a school psychologist — the industry needs you.
The demand for psychologists in the U.S. is projected to grow at around 3% from 2018 through 2028, matching the national average job growth prediction. However, considering that there is currently a lot of concern over the future of children’s mental health, school psychologists may find themselves increasingly in demand.
The cost of training may also be less than in some other fields of clinical psychology, as school psychologist requirements don’t necessarily include a Ph.D. (see below).
What Will I Learn to Become a School Psychologist?
Your graduate study will introduce you to methods that will help you in your career. While each program will differ slightly, we’ve described a few common components of graduate study and how these will inform your career below.
Research methods are the techniques used by academics to draw firm, evidence-based conclusions and enable them to direct further study. In your studies, this part of the course prepares you for writing a graduate thesis.
Learning how to apply research methods will help you in a professional position. You’ll want to gather evidence that helps you identify problem areas in your school and offer suggestions for how these could be remedied.
Gathering and presenting evidence with suggestions for improvement is an extremely useful skill when liaising with school administration and parents.
Behavior Principles of Learning
This course examines research on the psychology of learning and how different frameworks help or hinder learners. It teaches methods to create a positive learning environment and informs your assessments in your professional career.
Behavioral assessment methods help you identify the root of behavioral problems in children and those close to them. This will have great practical use in your career as a school psychologist. It gives you a basis for understanding why children and adolescents act the way they are and how everyone can move forward.
Fostering understanding between parents, teachers, and children of why children might experience behavioral problems is complicated, and you must learn effective interviewing and observational techniques.
Instructional intervention helps you determine the best learning course for a young person. This area of study is useful in learning how to become a school psychologist for two reasons:
- It enables learners to develop stronger social skills and better learning habits
- It guides constructive interventions for learners who are disruptive or distressed without marginalizing them
Interventions will almost certainly play a part in this at some point, and you must understand the best practices for constructive interventions. It will be your responsibility to help the school create a learning environment that benefits all children.
School Psychology Practicum
The practicum is a period of supervision in which you work with a licensed school psychologist in the field and gain hands-on experience.
This training is invaluable — if possible, you should try to complete your practicum in an area similar to the one you’d like to work in once you become licensed.
How to Become a School Psychologist: 4 Steps
Does pursuing this career sound enticing to you so far? Now you’ll need to know how to become a school psychologist with actionable steps.
Here’s how you can begin your journey as a school psychologist in four actionable steps.
1. Get Your Degree(s)
Typically, the undergraduate degree you’ll need for this career path is in psychology. However, some other undergraduate degrees may be relevant, such as elementary education, if you’re planning to pursue a career as an elementary school psychologist.
It’s worth checking out any non-psychology programs in-depth to ensure they’ll allow you to progress into postgraduate study in educational psychology. This postgraduate study is the next essential part of school psychologist requirements.
Most states ask for at least 60 credit hours of graduate study in the area, making the Ed. S. (Education Specialist) qualification a popular choice as conventional Masters’ only provide 30 credit hours.
In some cases, it’s a good idea to specialize your education towards a certain kind of role. For example, if you’d prefer to work with younger children, this is something to take into account when choosing your place of study. However, there are benefits to keeping your studies general, including broadening the number of positions you’re eligible for.
2. Acquire State Licensure
Before you can start your first professional role, you need to acquire a license from the state. If you’re set on practicing in a particular state, you should find out that state’s school psychologist requirements before choosing your graduate study options, as requirements can vary. However, 60 credit hours is the norm.
In addition, the state will normally require you to acquire over 1,200 hours of supervision and often to complete an exam such as the Praxis II exam for school psychology before you can begin work.
3. School Psychologist Jobs: Find Your First Professional Role
Once your education and supervision are completed, you’ll be eligible to apply for school psychologist jobs. However, you shouldn’t necessarily wait until this point to start looking for work.
You’ll build a network of professional colleagues along your path to state licensure, and these contacts may be extremely useful in helping you secure a role.
Remember to keep an open mind: besides state schools, positions also exist in:
- Private schools
- Specialist learning centers
- Research environments
4. Renewing Your Credentials
Once you’re qualified, you need to undertake CPD (continuous professional development) activities routinely to keep your certification up-to-date. Different states have different requirements for this, so if you move states to a new job, it’s important to ensure your credentials will meet local school psychologist requirements before starting your new position.
You may also wish to undertake further study, such as a Ph.D. This is how to become a school psychologist at a senior level with institutions with stricter requirements than the average school. It can also be a route into research careers.
How Can I Get the Best School Psychologist Education?
Research Specialized Programs
It might be tempting to apply to schools with the biggest names or highly-regarded psychology programs and hope for the best. However, this doesn’t always prepare school psychologists for the training they need.
When you’re choosing your school — both at the undergraduate and graduate levels — you should closely examine the program and make sure that the teaching correlates with the area you’d like to end up working in.
Some schools offer excellent specialization in niche fields such as working with neurodiverse children. If your interest in learning how to become a school psychologist stems from a desire to help children with specific educational needs, you should research the best schools for that role and not just the ‘best general psychology’ schools.
Understand the Importance of School Accreditation
Before undertaking studies at any school, you must make sure it’s accredited on a regional or national level.
Regional accreditation is generally considered superior to national, and you should check whether the program you’re applying for is accredited separately from the institution. This is frequently the case for psychology degrees, and as mentioned above, the quality of your course is more important to prospective employers than the name of your school.
If a school or program doesn’t have the right accreditation, your studies won’t be worth much to you. School psychologist requirements are strict because it’s an intensely complex and sensitive area. Prospective employers will be eager to confirm that your education has met high standards of academic rigor, and they’ll look for inconsistencies in your experience.
The NASP (National Association of School Psychologists) gives accreditation to schools that meet its guidelines for academic rigor. Accreditation from the NASP should be considered a benchmark of whether you apply to a program or not, as many employers require that this standard is met.
You can also search for accredited programs on this database from the U.S. Department of Education.
What are Professional Organizations & Further Resources That Can Help?
Membership of school psychologist organizations are beneficial in several ways:
- Some organizations offer professional qualifications that are highly sought-after by many employers
- Access to further learning resources for CPD and research
- Opportunities to move into research-based fields
- Excellent networking opportunities that make it far easier to find work in a diverse range of environments
Below we’ve listed some organizations you may want to look at, along with a brief overview of their offerings.
NASP (National Association of School Psychologists)
Over 25,000 professionals in the field belong to this organization. It publishes the highly-respected School Psychology Review journal and is an excellent source of CPD opportunities, as well as a name that prospective employers are always pleased to hear.
APA (American Psychological Association)
The APA has over 121,000 members and is the largest organization of professional psychologists in the U.S. It’s a superb place to find out about new opportunities and careers and has several research publications.
APA Division 16
APA Division 16 is a subset of the APA for school psychology professionals. It provides a great chance to network as well as to stay up-to-date with current research.
AET (Association of Educational Therapists)
This organization is a vital resource for those working with children who have learning problems. It also provides certification and training opportunities for professionals.
ASCA (American School Counselor Association)
ASCA is a great place to learn more about how counselors and mental health professionals can change the field of school psychology. It enables you to connect with others in the field and has many useful resources for professionals.
Conclusion: How to Become a School Psychologist
School psychologist requirements are stringent. You’ll need to combine compassion and professional knowledge with strong diplomatic skills. You must work with all kinds of children and their parents. You’ll also be responsible for collaborating with the administration for the betterment of the students.
However, this is a rewarding and fulfilling position for licensed psychologists. They get to help young people become the best versions of themselves and implement change within the community.
If you’re ready to begin your journey as a school psychologist, know that you have a rewarding future ahead of you. By learning how to become a school psychologist with this guide in mind, you will prepare for a career that suits your strengths, lifestyle, and interests.