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How to Become a School Psychologist

A career as a school psychologist can be a rewarding option. School psychologists play a vital role in supporting the academic, emotional, and social well-being of students.

A school psychologist is a professional who works in school settings to help children with academic, social, emotional, behavioral, and personal issues. Are you interested in a career in this growing field? Learn more about what school psychologists do, how to become a school psychologist, how much you might earn, and what the job outlook will be like in the coming years.

What Is a School Psychologist?

School plays a major role in children’s lives, which is perhaps not surprising considering the large amount of time kids spend in academic settings each day. In addition to educational experiences, school also introduces a host of social and emotional experiences. Kids learn how to interact with and get along with peers. They experience the pride of accomplishment, the sting of failure, and sometimes even the pain of bullying. School psychologists help children navigate this critical part of their lives.

So how exactly do school psychologists accomplish these things?

  • They collaborate with teachers, administrators, special educators, parents, and students to maximize children’s educational experiences.
  • They collect data about how children are doing to evaluate current functioning and track progress.
  • They administer assessments to help determine if kids need additional support or assistance in certain areas.
  • They provide behavioral and mental health interventions for children in the school system.
  • They support students coping with stress, trauma, or crisis situations.
  • They offer academic and learning interventions for kids struggling with schoolwork difficulties.

Understanding How to Become a School Psychologist

If you are planning to become a school psychologist, here are some basic steps you should follow:

  1. Understand the Role: Start by gaining a clear understanding of what school psychologists do. They assess students’ learning and behavior, provide interventions, and collaborate with educators and families to create supportive environments.
  2. Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree: Begin with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, education, or a related field. While specific undergraduate majors may vary, coursework in psychology, child development, and education can provide a solid foundation.
  3. Pursue Graduate Education: A master’s degree in school psychology or a related field is typically required. Look for programs accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) or the American Psychological Association (APA).
  4. Gain Practical Experience: Many programs include supervised internships or practicum experiences. These opportunities allow you to apply theoretical knowledge in real-world settings under the guidance of experienced professionals.
  5. Obtain Licensure and Certification: After completing your education and supervised experience, you’ll need to obtain state licensure or certification as a school psychologist. Requirements vary by state but often include passing an exam and fulfilling continuing education requirements.
  6. Stay Informed and Engaged: The field of school psychology is dynamic, with evolving best practices and research. Stay informed by attending conferences, joining professional organizations, and pursuing opportunities for continued learning.
  7. Cultivate Key Skills: Effective school psychologists possess strong communication, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills. Cultivate these abilities throughout your education and career to excel in your role.
  8. Network and Seek Mentorship: Connect with seasoned school psychologists and other professionals in the field. Networking and mentorship can provide valuable guidance, support, and career opportunities.

Training to Become a School Psychologist

Becoming a school psychologist requires several years of graduate school as well as special licensing and certification. The minimum requirement to work as a school psychologist involves:

  • Earning a graduate degree with at least 60 hours of specialized coursework in school psychology.
  • Completing a one-year internship with 1,200 hours of supervised practice, 600 of which must occur in a school setting.

If you are thinking about becoming a school psychologist, here are the steps you should follow to enter this field:

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field.

Majoring in psychology is a great idea, but there are other fields you could also choose. Degrees in social work, sociology, education, or another social science can also serve as a great foundation for graduate study in school psychology. As you are earning your undergraduate degree, pay attention to the admission requirements to school psychology programs that you might be interested in. It is never too early to start planning, and ensuring that you have taken the prerequisites necessary for admission can be helpful as you pursue your graduate degree.

2. Enroll in a school psychology program.

To become a school psychologist, you must earn either an educational specialist degree or a doctorate degree in school psychology.

The educational specialist degree is considered a post-master’s degree, so some students may enter a graduate program with a bachelor’s degree while others may already have a master’s degree in a related subject.

After you have completed an educational specialist degree, you may then choose to earn either a Doctor of Education (EdD) or a Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology (PhD). An educational specialist degree is perfect if you plan to engage mostly in professional practice but the doctorate can be a great choice if you want to also teach at the university level or conduct research.

3. Complete an internship in school psychology.

Although requirements vary by state, you may want to earn the National Certified School Psychologist credential. In order to do this, you will need to complete a one-year internship in the field consisting of at least 1,200 supervised hours with at least 600 of those hours taking place in a school setting.

You will also need to pass the Praxis school psychologist exam and complete a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain your NCSP certification.

4. Get licensed to work in your state.

Once you have completed your internship and certification requirements, you can apply to become licensed to work as a school psychologist.

All states have different licensing requirements, so check with the state Department of Education where you plan to work to learn more about their exact requirements.

Topics School Psychologists Should Study

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, “school psychologists partner with families, teachers, school administrators, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments that strengthen connections between home, school, and the community.”

The National Association of School Psychologists suggests that there are 11 key domains in which professionals in this field should receive training:

  1. Data-based decision making
  2. Consulting and collaborating
  3. Learning and instruction
  4. Life skill development and socialization
  5. Student diversity in learning and development
  6. School policy development and organizational systems
  7. Crisis intervention and crisis prevention
  8. Collaborating between the home, school, and community
  9. Research and program evaluation
  10. School psychology practice and development
  11. Technology standards

What Exactly Does a School Psychologist Do?

It’s one thing to know what a school psychologist does in general, but another to see what a professional in this field actually does on a day-to-day basis.

During a typical day, a school psychologist may see students who have been referred to them by teachers and parents.

Research has shown that approximately 80% of all referrals to school psychologists are concerned with poor academic performance or social-emotional issues.

Issues a School Psychologist Might Treat

In addition to learning more about how to become a school psychologist, it’s also important to understand the type of things that a professional in this field may treat. Examples of issues school psychologists might deal with include:

  • Reading comprehension
  • Written expression
  • Task completion
  • Mathematics
  • Behavior and conduct problems
  • Defiance
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Shyness
  • Poor motivation

Information a School Psychologist May Collect

The school psychologist may then collect referral information about the student, including basic contact information, family information, school history, health history, and any information about interventions parents or teachers have already attempted.

Assessments a School Psychologist Might Perform

The school psychologist may then perform assessments to make decisions about the student’s current level of functioning and what type of further assistance they might need.

Some of the different tests and assessments that school psychologists might administer include cognitive ability tests, perceptual tests, behavioral tests, personality tests, adaptive behavior tests, fine and gross motor skill tests, and academic achievement tests.

These assessments help school psychologists understand students’ abilities, needs, and progress, guiding support and planning for their educational success.

Other Tasks School Psychologists Perform

Other daily tasks that a school psychologist will likely perform on a regular basis include classroom observations, examining school records, interviews, testing, and report writing.

School psychologists also provide direct interventions to help students overcome their academic, social, or emotional difficulties.

Factors That Influence the Employment of School Psychologists

The National Association of School Psychologists notes that no two jobs will ever be exactly alike. A wide variety of factors can influence what a school psychologist does include:

  • The number of students served
  • The supportiveness and availability of coworkers
  • The culture of the school
  • The resources available in the community
  • The demographics and locations of the community
  • The age-level of the students

Shortages of school psychologists and mental health services in general can also play a role in the employment of professionals in this field. When there are not enough school psychologists available or if the district cannot afford to hire more professionals, existing employees may feel the strain of increased workloads.

How Much Do School Psychologists Make?

Specific salaries can vary depending upon factors such as educational background, geographic location, and the amount of experience you have. Some school districts pay school psychologists on the same schedule as teachers while others are on a separate pay schedule.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual salary for school psychologists was $85,330 as of May 2022. They also note that the increased demand for psychological services in schools is expected to lead to a 6% increase in employment through the year 2032.

Key Points to Remember

School psychologists are focused on working with teachers, parents, and other educators to make positive changes in the lives of students. Becoming a school psychologist can be a challenging but rewarding career choice if you want to help kids overcome problems and reach their potential.


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists.

Fagan, T. & Sachs Wise, P. (2007). School Psychology: Past, Present, and Future. National Association of School Psychologists.

National Association of School Psychologists. Becoming a school psychologist.