Educational Psychology Degree Programs & Schools
An educational psychologist studies how humans learn and retain knowledge (usually in a classroom setting). Educational psychology is primarily focused on children, from pre-school to high school. Yet with more and more adults entering continuing education, many educational psychologists have chosen to also focus on adult learners. Educational psychologists study the processes by which students acquire knowledge, treat disorders, and work to develop the most effective teaching methods. Often associated with the position of an educational therapist, an educational psychologist may also provide a range of individualized education curriculum for children and adults with learning disabilities and other educational, physical, and mental challenges.
To become an educational psychologist, an individual must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is an excellent starting point, as students gain an in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals of psychology. After earning a bachelor’s degree, students may opt to continue their education and earn an advanced degree – master’s and/or doctoral degree – typically a requirement to have a successful career as an educational psychologist. Some school psychology programs offer an alternative pathway into educational psychology, and generally require a specialization. It should be noted that earning a specialist degree may not take as long as obtaining a PhD.
Educational Psychology Bachelor’s Degree Program
In order to become an educational psychologist, an individual must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This degree program helps students gain a deeper understanding into the basic fundamentals of psychology.
Students will choose from a broad range of courses, including:
- Educational psychology
- Early childhood education
- Statistical methods and research in psychology
- Developmental psychology
- Cognitive psychology
- Industrial psychology
- Social psychology
Some educational psychologists may major in education instead. It should be noted that graduate programs vary in their requirement for a degree in psychology or education, so a student would be wise to inquire with the college or university of their choice to see which degree program is better suited to their future goals.
Master’s Degree Programs In Educational Psychology
Master's degree programs in educational psychology provide students with the opportunity to specialize in an area that they are truly passionate about. Areas of specialization, include:
- Gifted and talented education
- Family studies
- Developmental psychology
- Research methods
- Educational research
- Behavioral psychology and socialization
Students at the master’s degree level devote a major part of their studies completing a thesis project. While researching their thesis, students should take advanced coursework in:
- Human development
- Theory of learning
- Educational research
- Human motivation
- Motivation and learning
- Educational research and statistics
- Family theory
- Human lifespan development
Applied educational psychology may be combined with developmental psychology at the master’s level. Educators, who desire to enhance their teaching or select a concentration, may also seek out master’s level programs. Higher-level research positions typically require a PhD.
Doctoral Degree in Educational Psychology
Upon completion of a doctoral degree program in educational psychology, students will earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD). Graduates are prepared for advanced research and academic careers.
Applicants choosing to specialize in educational psychology must earn either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree, depending on the requirements of a specific program. A number of programs allow students to complete a master's degree and PhD, concurrently.
Admission into a doctorate degree in educational psychology is extremely competitive. It is important that students have extensive writing, research, and experimental design experience. Core classes that are essential, include:
- Educational psychology
- Factor analysis
- Behavioral theory in education
- Cognitive development
- Developmental psychopathology
Note: Credit hours and program requirements vary as most doctoral programs are individually developed for each student. However, a typical program may consist of 3-4 years of full-time study – beyond master’s program requirements.
Licensing Requirements for Educational Psychologists
Individuals choosing to work in a school setting must be licensed or certified as well as educational psychologists who work with clients, administer tests, or perform therapy.
Some states may require licensure if a psychologist works as a consultant. In most cases, licensing is contingent upon earning a doctoral degree. However, in all cases, one exam at the very least is required. Typically, an individual will come under Board jurisdiction soon after graduation, although full licensure may be several years down the road.
It would benefit a prospective educational psychologist to check their state’s requirements in regard to education, licensing, and supervised practice requirements.
Educational Psychology Career Outlook
The federal program, “No Child Left Behind”, which was enacted into law in 2002, has increased the demand for educational psychologists. This program, which establishes standards and measurable goals at the state level, underscores the need for scientifically-based research methods in the classroom, academic improvement, and accountability. As educational psychologists study how students learn, as well as focus on emotional, social and cognitive learning processes, an educational psychologist may choose to specialize in a specific area, such as testing and teaching methods, behavioral problems that impede learning, or classroom environments.
Some students who earn a bachelor’s degree prefer to enter the workforce, rather than continue their education and earn a master’s or doctoral degree. At this level, career options include:
- Psychiatric assistant
- Case worker
- Child services employee
Student’s who hold a master’s degree in educational psychology are qualified for employment in many areas, such as:
- Educational policymaking jobs for school districts or colleges
- Research in private research groups
- Behavior management consultant
- Special education program designer
In addition to the positions listed above, graduates who earn a doctorate degree in educational psychology are qualified for the following positions:
- Research director
- University professor
- School psychologist
Online Programs in Educational Psychology
Just as an individual cannot become a doctor through an online program (and because most areas of practice in this field have some contact with people) an online degree does not typically carry the same weight (in terms of landing a job) as a degree earned on-campus. It would be wise for an individual entering the field of educational psychology to seriously study his or her options.
There are a number of accredited online educational psychology programs. However, professional psychologists, in general, consider approval by the American Psychological Association (APA) a necessity for a degree in psychology. This is especially true in the area of educational psychology. Currently, the APA is grappling with online psychology schools, and how to test them against accreditation standards.
There are pros and cons to choosing an online program:
- Flexibility for students with other commitments, such as a job or family
- Long-distance learners
- Students with disabilities that keep them from attending classes
- Not all online programs are accredited, nor do all credits always transfer to a college or university program
- Some programs are more expensive than programs offered on- campus
- The timeline to earning a degree may be much longer
- Questionable degree credibility by employers
On-Campus Programs for Educational Psychology
Campus-based programs offer the opportunity to study face-to-face with leaders in the field. For many students, on-campus learning is necessary for disciplined study and interaction with other students and professors.
- Classes are often more in-depth than with online classes
- Professors are more accessible
- Students have access to tutors, clubs, and associations
- On-campus learning can offer greater potential for internships and employment
- On-campus programs are usually less expensive than on-line programs, and can usually be completed in less time.
- On-campus programs often carry much more weight when people are competing for the same jobs.
- Professionals recognize on-campus degrees as more credible than online degrees.
The Importance of Continuing Education
In order to stay up-to-date with trends and advances in the field of educational psychology, and for professional development opportunities, graduates should consider continuing education. In many states, sources for continued education credits include:
- Workshops and seminars offered by state-approved educational institutions.
- Seminars, courses and workshops sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
- Membership in societies and subscribing to industry journals.
Educational Psychology Certification
A psychologist must meet state and license requirements, but does not need to be board-certified to practice. However, where once certification meant that a psychologist was at the top of his or her game, today with so many psychologists choosing to specialize, certification is becoming more and more necessary as a personal marketing tool. Many prestigious hospitals and clinics require certification of all psychologists applying for jobs. Certification can also mean higher salaries, and recognition among colleagues and patients.
Before gaining certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology, an individual must earn a doctoral degree from an APA-accredited program, become licensed, and have enough experience to specialize.
Certification is a three-step process:
- Submit credentials for review.
- Submit practice samples for peer review
- Take an oral exam (usually conducted by board-certified psychologists)
There are a few steps prospective psychologists can take while still in school to determine their course of action, set goals, and speed the process to specialization and certification.
At the graduate level, it is beneficial to start thinking about specialization early on, although committing to a particular specialty too early is sure to limit a student’s options. After all, doctoral training is about increasing general knowledge, not confining it. Students will have the opportunity to develop specialization via elective courses, internships, postdocs and practicum experiences.
Make sure you register with the American Board of Professional Psychology. The ABPP has a program that helps students begin the certification process prior to choosing a specialty. Registering early can save a student both time and money, as the early-entry program is less expensive – an application fee is just $25.00, compared to the usual $125.00.
Find mentors. Psychologist, whether licensed or not, can be a valuable resource for any student. They can offer advice when choosing a specialty, and recommend future employment opportunities, internships, and more. Taking advantage of the knowledge from someone who is trained and experienced in the field is not only smart, but also central to gaining a thorough understanding of the field of psychology.
Some students will have a well-defined route to a single specialty, while others will choose to specialize in two or more specialties. However, if a student demonstrates competence within a broader specialty, he or she might want to explore continuing education certificates, after gaining certification with the ABPP. However, not all certifications are recognized. A legitimate certification process should stress a peer review, so an individual would be wise to ensure obtaining a certificate involves more than a weekend class and a test.
Once certified, the ABPP will list the psychologist name in their directory of all board-certified psychologists. In order to remain in good standing, a specialist must test annually and adhere to all ABPP standards.