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 are there to help children navigate this critical part of their lives.
So how exactly do school psychologists accomplish these things?
- They work as part of a collaborative team with teachers, administrators, special educators, parents, and students to help maximize children’s educational experiences.
- They collect data about how children are doing in order 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 provide support to students coping with stress, trauma, or crisis situations.
- They offer academic and learning interventions for kids struggling with schoolwork difficulties.
An Overview of School Psychologist Careers
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:
- Data-based decision making
- Consulting and collaborating
- Learning and instruction
- Life skill development and socialization
- Student diversity in learning and development
- School policy development and organizational systems
- Crisis intervention and crisis prevention
- Collaborating between the home, school, and community
- Research and program evaluation
- School psychology practice and development
- 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 percent of all referrals to school psychologists are concerned with poor academic performance or social-emotional issues. Examples of issues school psychologists might deal with include reading comprehension, written expression, task completion, mathematics, conduct problems, defiance, anxiety, depression, shyness, and poor motivation.
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 that parents or teachers have already attempted. The school psychologist may then perform assessments to make decisions about the student’s current level of functioning and what type of further assistance he or she might need.
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. Some of the different tests and assessments that a 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.
School psychologists also provide direct interventions designed to help students overcome their academic, social, or emotional difficulties.
Factors That Can 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 including 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, and 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.
What Training and Education Do School Psychologists Need?
Becoming a school psychologist requires several years of graduate school as well as special licensing and certification. The minimum requirements to work as a school psychologist are earning a graduate degree that involves completing at least 60 hours of specialized coursework in school psychology. Next, you will need to complete a one-year internship with 1,200 hours of supervised practice, 600 of which must take place in a school setting.
If you are thinking about becoming a school psychologist, here are the steps you should follow in order 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 school psychology program.
In order to become a school psychologist, you will need to 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 bachelors degree while others may already have a masters degree on 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 in order 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 state’s have different licensing requirements, so check with the state Department of Education where you plan to work to learn more about their exact requirements.
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 $73,270 as of May 2016. They also note that the increased demand for psychological services in schools is expected to lead to a 20 percent increase in employment through the year 2024.
School psychologists are focused on working with teachers, parents, and other educators to make positive changes in the lives of students. If you want to help kids overcome problems and reach their potential, becoming a school psychologist can be a challenging but rewarding career choice.
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Psychologists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
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. https://www.nasponline.org/about-school-psychology/becoming-a-school-psychologist
Kendra Cherry, MS.Ed., is an author, educator, and founder of Explore Psychology, an online psychology resource. She is a health writer and editor specializing in psychology, mental health, and wellness. She also writes for Verywell Mind and is the author of the Everything Psychology book (Adams Media).
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