School psychologists are highly educated professionals that specialize in working with children and adolescents with emotional problems or learning disabilities. They specialize in clinical work for school districts, colleges, private schools, research organizations, government agencies or in laboratories as researchers. As educational and mental health professionals, school psychologists work directly with students, families, faculty, and administrators to perform assessments, interventions, and treatment planning. Many are involved in policy administration.

According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), the majority of students entering graduate studies to complete their school psychologist credentials earned their undergraduate degrees in psychology. However, graduate schools are more interested in the skills and experience an applicant already has in the education or counseling field.

Understanding the School Psychology Educational Commitment

Students should anticipate spending at least seven years following
high school to earn the degrees and credentials necessary to
become a licensed school psychologist. In addition to
earning a bachelor degree, candidates for the profession
must also complete 60 hours of graduate study in a school
psychology specialist-degree program and 1,200-hours of
clinical internships to apply for their National Certified
School Psychologist (NCSP) credential.

The two most-common pathways to the bachelor degree are
two-year associate degrees with a transfer to a four-year school, or
enrolling directly in a four-year bachelor degree program in psychology. Tuition for a two-year associate degree in psychology may be lower than the first two years’ tuition at a bachelor-granting institution, but four-year schools may offer the advantages of greater course options, larger research faculties, and more extensive partnerships with the psychology professions.

Exposure to professional teaching or psychology experience at the undergraduate level can be indispensable assets when applying to a graduate degree specializing in school psychology. Students planning to go all the way through graduate school should evaluate undergraduate programs in psychology, keeping in mind how each major course or general education requirement of the degree builds the necessary skills for advanced scholarship.

Student internships sometimes turn into full-time professional jobs. In lieu of the specialist-level postgraduate work in school psychology, some professionals choose to complete a doctorate in school psychology, which takes from five to seven years of study, including the required 1,500-hour internship and the defense of a scholarly research dissertation.

School Psychology Associate Degree Programs

The two-year, 60-credit associate degree program can be the ideal starting point for students just out of high school and those returning to college to begin studies toward becoming a licensed school psychologist.

Associate degrees in psychology carry both associate in arts (AA) and associate in science (AS) designations. At the community college level, both AA and AS pathways prepare the student for ongoing work required for the bachelor degree. Generally speaking, an AS degree is focused on providing students with research fundamentals grounded in math and the hard sciences.

The AA degree embraces a wider subject area, including arts and social sciences. It’s more important for prospective students to explore each school, examining the courses required for graduation, reading the course descriptions of psychology classes and elective courses in education, sociology or psychology that will build a solid foundation for advanced studies.

Bachelor’s Degree School Psychology Programs

Undergraduate degrees in psychology will not qualify graduates for the NASP licensing credential, but the foundation coursework in the field is helpful among those planning to enter graduate school. Bachelor degree programs in psychology require from 120-128 credits for graduation with a typical time to graduation of four years.

Bachelor degree requirements include student research lab assignments and completion of internships with supervised practice in their major field. Internships and field work allow students to integrate their learning, build a network of mentors and education peers, and test their classroom theories. Senior requirements may include submission of a research report or a pass a final examination demonstrating a well-rounded understanding of the undergraduate psychology curriculum.

Some bachelor program graduates go straight into elementary or secondary teaching, only to return to graduate school to specialize in school psychology. For those planning to continue their specialization training, there are upper-division courses in bachelor degree programs that anticipate the depth of research and learning necessary for graduate school. NASP reports the major is not as important to graduate admissions personnel as the applicant’s experience in areas such as “child development, psychology, education” or other related fields. The more than 200 school psychology graduate programs around the country establish their own prerequisites for admission based on scholarship and field experience. NASP recommends students explore grad program prerequisites as they choose their bachelor degree programs and meet with counselors to develop a course list.

Hands-on internships and volunteer experiences outside the classroom are regular components of degree programs for good reason. They allow students to “test drive” the professions, to explore career options, and to build hours of clinical experience required for advancement in the field. A track record of community service may tip the scales for an applicant to a highly competitive degree program. Outside opportunities also help students to fine-tune their career focus or test the waters in occupations in the wider fields of education, social services or psychology.

Graduate Degrees in School Psychology

Graduate school provides students with the advanced and specialized training required to take the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) licensing examination. The NASP recommends certification only for graduates of accredited master’s, specialist, or doctorate degrees in school psychology. Each state in the union establishes licensing regulations for school psychologists and most are in alignment with NASP requirements:

Three years of full-time graduate study beyond the bachelor degree with a minimum of 60 specialist-level credits.

At least 1,200 hours of supervised internship experience, at least half of which must be completed in a professional setting.

Applicants should narrow down their degree choices based on their career orientation. Here is a breakdown on graduate degrees in school psychology:

Degree Completion Time Units Degree Earned Certification, Professional Designations Future Career Opportunities Other Requirements
Master’s

3 years

<60

Med, MS, MA

Students in some states may earn the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential

The master’s degree alone may not enable one to become a school psychologist but is still useful for those who will be working in states where it is allowed. Educators who want to rise in education admin may pursue the master’s on the way to becoming credentialed.

Fieldwork: 450 hours practicum, 1200 hours internship

Specialist

3-4 years

60+

Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study/CAGS, Ed.S, PsyS

Completion of requirements for specialist certification at an NASP-approved program prepares students to become certified as a school psychologist.

Many states will accept this education, along with passing of an exam, to work as a school psychologist

Fieldwork: Practicum of 600 hours, Internship of 1,200 hours, other projects to show deep knowledge of field

PhD

5-7 years

90+

PsyD, EdD, PhD

Designation as a doctor of the practice of psychology, designation as a certified school psychologist, APA recognition as a psychologist.

Research, field work, leadership, private practice.

Research, publication, dissertation, presentation of paper

Master’s Degree School Psychology Programs

Master’s degree programs offer students the advantage in enrolling in core master’s psychology degree courses that can be taken in conjunction with school psychology specialization coursework, building a credential in as little as three years following completion of a bachelor degree.

What Skills and Knowledge Should a Master’s Degree in School Psychology Have?

An advanced understanding of the roles in school psychology from a practical and developmental perspective.

Supervised experience in integrating scholarship with evidence-based solutions to real-world challenges.

Demonstrated best-practice knowledge in research, program design, assessment, collaboration, and leadership.

Proven experience in working across disadvantaged, at-risk, cultural and gender populations.

Become a contributing member of the scholarly community.

Master’s degree coursework includes studies in:

  • Advanced Motivation and Learning
  • Behavioral Therapy
  • Curriculum-Based Measurement
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Experimental Methods
  • Professional Ethics
  • School Psychology Observation and Assessment

How to Evaluate Master’s in School Psychology Specialist Programs

Students should consider the following essentials in selecting prospective degree programs:

  • What is the philosophical, theoretical, scholarly and professional focus of the specialist program?

  • Are you looking for a degree to practice psychology, conduct research, or work in a setting with both responsibilities?

  • Does your prospective program focus on working across the range of clinical populations, age groups, learning disabilities/challenges?

  • What is their success rate of graduates entering the profession?

The School Psychology Specialist Degree

The EdS degree attests to the clinical, research, and leadership credentials of the graduate psychologist. It is also the credential required by most states for professionals to practice in classroom, healthcare, education, governmental and research settings.

The most-direct path to a career certification is the master’s degree/specialist program. Students complete the master’s degree concentration up to 60 hours (earning the master’s degree), and then complete the 60-hour educational specialist concentration to earn their EdS. There are also three-year programs that culminate in an EdS for applicants who already hold a master’s degree in a related field or those with a bachelor degree who have either taught in the classroom for three years or have been a counseling professional for five years.

Graduates of the School Psychology Specialist Degree Program Should Demonstrate:

  • A comprehensive understanding of school psychology theory and practice.
  • A record of completed research and findings, using assessment, intervention, and treatment-planning methodologies.
  • A track record of service to community schools or other institutions providing psychological assessment and care.

Here is an example of courses selected from current EdS curricula:

Class Title Credits
Professional Ethics 3
Advanced Administrative Research 3
Leadership Theory and Practice 3
Professional Knowledge and Foundations 3
Instructional Supervision and Leadership 3
Organizational Change in Educational Institutions 3
Capstone Project/Internship 12

The Doctorate in School Psychology

The doctorate in school psychology also meets state requirements for school psychologist licensing, but it goes beyond the specialist level of research and scholarship. The degree is designed for school psychology professionals who want to advance into college and university graduate teaching or advanced clinical or research positions. Graduates of doctoral programs take jobs in school settings, teaching hospitals, behavioral laboratories, and with governmental organizations. The doctorate takes six years following undergraduate work if the student begins by earning the EdS degree and moves ahead to the three years of the PhD program.

Some common PhD program requirements:

  • Passage of a general examination in the student’s specialty and other areas of interest.
  • Completion of a scholarly dissertation based on original research.
  • Accomplishment of a one-year internship at school or research setting.

Goals of the PhD Degree in School Psychology Program (Sampled from a Range of Programs):

Graduates of the PhD should demonstrate:

Knowledge and skills to perform ethically and within the laws.

An awareness of and sensitivity to diverse communities representing cultural and personal differences.

An advanced, systematic approach to solving problems within the fields of school psychology.

The understanding of the areas of psychology affecting students, families, classrooms, and other institutions.

Leadership skills in practice, policy, and research.

Here is an example of courses selected from current PhD in School Psychology curricula:

Course Year of School
Research, Evaluation & Data Analysis 1
Infant, Child and Adolescent Development 1
Biological Aspects of Behavior 1
Learning Principles 1
Understanding Culture and Diversity 2
Cognitive Assessment 2
Family, School, & Community Systems 2
Clinical Skills in Counseling Psychology 2
Measurement: Advanced Psychometric Principles 3
Child and Adolescent Psychopathology 3
Educational & Psychological Assessment & Intervention with Infants, Toddlers, & Children 3
Advanced Multicultural 4
Dissertation 4
Legal & Ethical Issues in Community & Educational Settings 4
Advanced Field Work 4
Internship 5

Resources for School Psychology Majors

Students at all levels of scholarship in school psychology can benefit from the publications, videos and other resources available from professional psychology associations. The links are a good way to create an extended community of peers and mentors in the field as well as to find listings of scholarships, internships, and detailed career information. Many of the organizations listed below are fundamental in developing accreditation standards and course requirements in school psychology.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry

AACAP provides member resources for early career psychiatrists, families and youth, medical students, and primary care professionals.

The Academy of Medical Psychology

The academy represents professional psychologists and advocates for doctoral degree programs and board certifications in medical psychology.

American Psychological Association

The APA is the nation’s largest professional and scientific organization representing the professions in psychology to its 122,500 member researchers, students, educators, and consultants.

American Board of Assessment Psychology

Established in 1993, ABAP is the international certification board for psychologists at the doctoral level who specialize in testing and assessment.

American Board of Professional Psychology

ABSP oversees board certifications for the School Psychology Specialist credential. Online publications include the candidate manual for the oral certification exam and practice tests.

Association for Psychological Science

The APS is the largest research-focused organization in general psychology with 25,000 members.

Cognitive Neuroscience Society

The CNS supports research and the development of programs that investigate the interdisciplinary aspects of cognition that include psychological and neurological processes.

Council of Graduate Departments of Psychology

Founded in 1965, COGDOP is a non-profit advocacy organization formed by Chairs and Heads of Departments of Psychology from around the country. It hosts a conference and offers scholarships that support graduate work.

Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences

A coalition of scientific associations, FABBS advocates for research, policy change, and information exchange in the fields of mind-brain-behavioral science.

Graduate Student Teaching Association

A division of the American Psychological Association, the GSTA provides resources to assist graduate student teachers in psychology courses through publications, e-books, and an idea exchange.

Institute of Professional Psychologists

IPP works to advocate on behalf of its members, especially on topics of education standards, a code of ethics, and continuing education.

International School Psychology Association

Founded in 1982, ISPA has received United Nations’ recognition for its advocacy on behalf of children, adolescents and their families. It offers accreditation assessments for undergraduate and graduate degree programs.

National Alliance of Professional Psychology Providers

NAPPP represents members who work as educators, clinical practitioners, and healthcare professionals. Benefits include free continuing education courses.

National Association of School Psychologists

NASP is the largest association of school psychologists, offering member services for continuing professional development, national certification, conventions, publications, grants and scholarships.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

The NICHHD was created in the 1960s to conduct research and epidemiological studies into events across the developmental lifespan from pregnancy to adolescence. It offers education support, scholarships, grants and research publications.

Nicholas and Dorothy Cummings Center for the History of Psychology

Located at The University of Akron, the Cumming Center offers seminars, conferences and workshops, a colloquium series, and the Archives of the History of American Psychology (manuscripts, artifacts and multimedia).

Psi Chi

Founded in 1929, Psi Chi is the largest psychological association for students with more than a half million members in the United States and abroad. The website hosts guides for careers, graduate school programs, conducting research and presenting at conferences.

Psychological Research on the Net

Sponsored by the Hanover College Department of Psychology, this website maintains updated links to current psychology studies on the internet in topics of mental health, cognition, emotions, judgement, and personality.

School Psychology Quarterly

Published by the APA, the quarterly is available by subscription at individual or institutional levels. Recent topics include disability testing, family factors affecting aggressive behaviors, bullying, and cross-cultural issues.

Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology

The society is a division of the American Psychological Association charged with promoting the advancement of clinical child and adolescent psychology through research, education and advocacy.

Society for Research in Child Development

The SRCD was created to promote interest in research in child development and integrate research findings. It has offered scholarships, hosted conferences and sponsored publications.

Society for the Study of School Psychology

SSSP recognizes and promotes scholarly research in school psychology, offering scholarships, grants and awards to mid-career school psychologists.

Trainers of School Psychologists

TSP advocates for the quality of education at for graduate training programs at graduate programs for specialists and school psychologist doctorates. It has a journal and hosts collaborative networks for professionals.

The National Science Foundation

The NSF serves as the funding source for 24 percent of all research programs in science at American colleges and universities. The website contains pertinent information about applying for grants.

The National Association of Graduate-Professional Students

A student-run non-profit organization, NAGPS advocates for institutional or structural reform to improve graduate and professional educational programs in the United States.