How to Start a Career as a School Psychologist

Class Of University Students What Is a School Psychologist?

School is a very influential part of a child's life, and for good reason. Children typically spend a large amount of times attending school, starting at the age of five or even younger. Besides getting their first tastes the world of academia, children will also experience a number of other first while in school - first friends, first enemies, first loves, and first heartbreaks. It is also in school when children first begin to really learn about their strengths and weaknesses.

These sudden changes can be hard to adjust to for some students. Other situations and problems, like family discord and learning disabilities, can also make doing well in school very difficult for some students.

School psychology is a branch of psychology that concentrates on students and how to help them make the best of their education. This area of psychology focuses not only on the students' academics, but also social, behavioral, emotional, and personal factors that might also influence their education.

The main purpose of school psychology is to help create happy, health, safe, supportive, and effective learning environments for all children. Professionals in this field are adamant about making sure that the needs and welfare of students are put first at all times.

This branch of psychology was first discussed in 1954, when the American Psychological Association (APA) held a conference at the Hotel Thayer in West Point, NY. This conference was appropriately called the Thayer Conference. During this conference, members of the APA met to discuss the purpose of school psychologists, as well as the roles that they would play in the school systems. Necessary education requirements and credentials of school psychologists were also discussed at this conference. Finally, in 1968, school psychology became an official division of the APA.

Today, school psychology careers are as important as ever. In fact, this profession was deemed to be one of the top ten professions by U.S. News and World Report in 2002.

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Why Do We Need School Psychology?

Young students' minds are very impressionable, and the events that they experience in school will often stick with them for the rest of their lives. For this reason, it is very important to mold our young future leaders to become relatively emotionally stable, socially adept, and intelligent - not sociopaths.

Students who have a rough time in school may be impacted for the rest of their lives, or they might have trouble learning like they should. This can cause problems later on in life or impede them from being accepted at a good college.

School psychologists can help the students adjust better to their schools and peers, which can help them become happier and more successful adults.

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What Does a School Psychologist Do?

School psychologists typically work with students, teachers, families, and school administrators to help ensure that students are getting the best education possible.

  • StudentsSchool psychologists typically have a lot of contact with students. These professionals are typically responsible for assessing and evaluating students for such things as learning disabilities, social problems, emotional problems, and mental problems. School psychologists can also usually help students with problems in their lives, such as home life problems - such as abuse - and social problems - such as bullying.
  • Family

    Schools and school officials are not the only responsible parties when it comes to children's education. To make the most of a child's education, that child's parents or guardians should also be actively involved. School psychologists will often help parents and guardians understand their children's educational needs and work to help them make the most of their school years.
  • Teachers

    Teachers are the faculty members that students interact with the most while they're in school. School psychologists and teachers can work together to create pleasant and effective learning environment for children. A school psychologist might also be called upon to help create discipline systems for unruly students or work out misunderstandings between students and teachers.
  • School AdministratorsBesides teachers, school psychologists will also work closely with other faculty members, such as school administrators. School psychologists might offer advice on how to improve school policies or create outreach programs.

Where Do School Psychologists Work?

One would probably think that school psychologists work at…well, schools. And one would generally be correct.

School psychologists work in all types of schools, including public schools and private schools. They work with students of all ages, including students in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, universities, and technical schools. Some school psychologists might also work in day care centers, juvenile detention centers, and orphanages.

What Are the Education Requirements to Become a School Psychologist?

Below is the complete educational path for the Psychologists:
Psychologist Educational Track
School Programs Average Education Length Choosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree View Programs 4 Years Online or Campus
2. Earn A Master's Degree View Programs 2 Additional Years Online or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyD View Programs 2-4 Additional Years Online or Campus

School psychology is often thought of as a cross between counseling or clinical psychology, and educational psychology. Therefore, individuals interested in pursuing school psychology careers should try to ensure that their education reflects this.

To start, aspiring school psychologists should usually earn bachelor degrees in school psychology, counseling psychology, educational psychology, or general psychology. Whatever their majors, future school psychologists should take courses in each of these areas, as well as courses such as developmental psychology.

Although some graduates with bachelor degrees might be able to secure entry-level positions, most states have very strict requirements concerning education requirements for becoming licensed school psychologists. For instance, many states require school psychologists to have 60 or more graduate school credits in school psychology, and they are also usually required to complete a 1,200 hour internship.

More often then not school psychologists will have to complete their education with  Master's degrees and Doctoral Degrees.

To find schools that offer these courses in your area, visit our Find a School Page.

How Much do School Psychologists Make?

According to May 2019 BLS stats, the median, annual salary for school psychologists was $78,200.

The top-paying industries for school psychologists (according to average salary) during this time included:

  • Child daycare centers: $120,130
  • Elementary and secondary schools: $80,180
  • Educational support services: $78,610
Influences on School Psychology
  • Granville Stanley Hallwas a big influence on the child-study movement, and he believed that studying how administrators, teachers, and parents of gifted children could help influence how all children were taught.
  • Arnold Gesell was the first person to officially be called a school psychologist. He was also one of the first individuals to evaluate students and make special recommendations on how to teach them.
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School Psychologists Job Outlook

A greater demand for child-related psychological services in schools, hospitals, mental health centers, and social services agencies will continue to push the career growth for school psychologists farther in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of clinical, counseling and school psychologists is currently expected to grow 11 percent from 2012 to 2022.

What Type of Positions Can a School Psychologist Hold?

The majority (81%) of school psychologists in the United States work in public school settings ranging from nursery schools to college university-level placement, where they typically assume positions as practitioners, administrators, and faculty/researchers. Other employment opportunities for a school psychologist are found at private schools, hospitals, private clinics, and school-based health and mental health centers. Others establish a private practice, and take on their own clients.

Career Options Available to School Psychologists

  • Gaining employment at a residential treatment or juvenile justice program.
  • Working at a community-based, day-treatment or residential clinics and hospitals.
  • Teaching school students problem-solving skills, how to manage anger, learn self-regulation, and embrace optimism.
  • Developing principles and techniques to address educational problems as an Early Intervention School Psychologist.
  • Train teachers, counsel students, and assist in mental health program development and management as a School Psychometrist

Learn more about how to become a school psychologist.

Interested in a Master's in School Psychology? Request Info Below:

Typical Employment Settings for a School Psychologist

  • Elementary Schools: School psychologists help children overcome a fear of attending school; cope with the aftereffects of bullying; address a lack of self-discipline; improve poor study skills; remedy reading and writing difficulties; and build self-confidence. They also administer school-related psychological tests.
  • Middle and High Schools: Tween and teenage students in school often benefit from the guidance of a school psychologist, who can help with difficulties organizing their time efficiently; falling behind in schoolwork; depression and anxiety; those experimenting with drugs and alcohol; questions regarding sexuality; thoughts of suicide; communication issues; and those facing stressful situations, such as death, divorce, or dealing with the anxiousness that often comes when applying to college.
  • College & Universities: School psychologists assist young adults in collegiate settings who are dealing with issues, such as drug and alcohol problems; worry over and feelings of alienation regarding sexual preferences; thoughts of suicide; questions related to their aptitude and abilities; and stressful situations, such as staying in school, maintaining grades, dealing with death, and/or getting a job after graduation.

"Universities employ school-psychologists as college can be a very stressful time for young adults. Additionally, opportunities exist in community health centers, private clinics and hospitals."

Heidi Kay, Co-Founder of PediaStaff

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Ways for School Psychologists to Increase Desirability as a Job Candidate

Education plays an important role in the hiring of school psychologists. Employers generally seek candidates that possess a master's, specialist (Ed. S. degree), or doctoral degree in school psychology. In most states, practicing psychologists require a license or certification. The attributes that a school psychology graduate demonstrates will also increase a job applicant's chances of getting hired.

Looking to advance your education? Find out more about potential options:

Below is the complete educational path for the Psychologists:
Psychologist Educational Track
School Programs Average Education Length Choosing Online or Campus
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree View Programs 4 Years Online or Campus
2. Earn A Master's Degree View Programs 2 Additional Years Online or Campus
3. Earn a PHD or PsyD View Programs 2-4 Additional Years Online or Campus

Characteristics Employers Tend to Look for in a School Psychologist

  • The ability to effectively establish and maintain interpersonal relationships with younger patients
  • A great understanding of a child's needs according to their age and temperament
  • Patience and flexibility
  • Familiarity with educational measurement and evaluation principles
  • A willingness to continue learning and growing as a professional

"Speak another language. I am always looking to hire bilingual psychologists [and] can never find enough. If you cannot acquire fluency in another language, obtain lots of culturally diver[sity]. Travel abroad and volunteer or try to obtain practicum experiences in interest areas."

–Nichole Adams, PsyD, ABPP, Chief Psychologist at Nassau BOCES' Department of Special Education

Ways for a School Psychologist to Increase His/Her Salary

According to Heidi Kay, who provides pediatric staffing opportunities for school psychologists, professionals employed by a school-district are paid on a teachers' salary scale, based on years of experience, and usually with little room for pay based on merit.   

"One way that you can increase your hourly pay rate is to work on contract through a firm that specializes in pediatric therapy. This will allow you ultimate flexibility over your take home pay while simultaneously giving you the opportunity to work with a variety of student populations, in a wide range of geographic locations, if you so desire."

– Heidi Kay

Being active within the job environment is an effective way for school psychologists to get employers to take notice of his or her value, as well as serve as justification for a promotion. Adams offers the following suggestions for employed school psychologists looking to increase their income: 

  • Become involved in school activities.
  • Consider becoming an advisor to a student group, or advising an after school sport or activity.
  • Consider writing a proposal to add an activity where there is need, and could use an advisor.

Networking Opportunities and Organizations

School Psychologist WorkSocial networking sites allow school psychology students, recent graduates, and established professionals to network with others in the field. Reading blogs written by school psychologists also gives a different perspective of the field that textbooks may overlook.

Conferences provide a valuable networking resource for school psychologists, and are offered on a local, regional, national, and international level. Attendees often participate in workshops, listen to keynote speakers, exchange research and ideas, as well as commingle during luncheon and dinner events.

"…conferences are what you make them out to be. Find the subjects that pique your interest and follow through with meeting the presenter and obtaining contact information." 

Nichole Adams

Adams suggests participating in professional organizations on a state and national level. She also advises that students in a university program should network with already-established school psychologists in the field while they are still attending school. Joining a national association, and attending their conferences is also a help, says Adams.

Organizations that provide additional networking opportunities for school psychologists include:

  • National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
  • International School Psychology Association (ISPA)
  • American Board of School Psychology (ABSP)

School Psychologist Continuing Education (CE) Sources

In addition to state-approved CE programs for psychologists, the APA provides continuing education programs for school psychologists. Some of the ways that a professional can develop his or her career include earning CE credits in topics such as Bullying Prevention; Contextual School Counseling Approach; and Behavioral Interventions in Schools: Evidence-Based Positive Strategies.

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