Your Questions About a Career in School Psychology Answered
By 2029, the job market for psychologists is expected to grow 3%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS specifically notes opportunities for school psychologists will keep growing “because of the increased awareness of the connection between mental health and learning and because of the need for mental health services in schools.”
How do school psychologists nourish that link between learning and mental health? What exactly do school psychologists do?
What do Psychologists Do in School Settings?
Broadly speaking, school psychologists “support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach,” states the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
Specifically, school psychologists:
- Evaluate, counsel, and work with students, particularly those with learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and other special needs.
- Assess students’ eligibility to receive special education services, choosing and using the best tests and other evaluation tools, knowledgeably adapting them as necessary
- Interpret evaluation and assessment results for parents and teachers—and, when students receive special education, other members of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team (administrators, related service providers)—so they more fully understand and know how best to meet the student’s needs.
- Serve as members of IEP and other multidisciplinary teams, helping design and implement plans for meeting students’ needs and monitoring those plans’ ongoing efficacy.
- Provide direct service to students and their families through counseling (one-on-one and/or in small groups) and skills training.
- Consult with teachers and parents, administrators, and community mental health providers about how best to meet students’ needs. With parents and families, school psychologists work particularly on such issues as parenting skills, problem-solving strategies, and substance abuse.
- Facilitate and support school-wide mental health initiatives, on an ongoing basis and in response to emerging and crisis situations.
- Engage in crisis prevention and intervention services, reducing threats to students’ and staff’s physical and mental health.
- Advocate for and assist in creating safe and healthy environments, in each classroom and throughout school buildings.
- Assess and evaluate the mental health concerns of—and assets available to— students and the school community, in one or several schools to which the psychologist is assigned.
- Research effective instruction, behavior management, alternative school programs, and mental health interventions.
“The day-to-day for a school psychologist is very different,” says Kristin Connell,Certified School Psychologist, who works with PTS, “and that’s a lot of why I really am so happy I started this career. You rarely get bored because you’re doing something different every day.”
Are School Psychologists the Same as School Counselors?
No. While both professions share a concern for healthy child development, a career in school psychology involves more focused attention on students who may qualify for special education.
In contrast, school counselors serve the whole student population, helping students develop the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed, and plan for their future career or education after school. Most school counselors aren’t required to have training or to have worked with students in special education.
Practitioners in the field of school psychology bring specialized knowledge and skills to apply to the challenges that keep students with identified disabilities and disorders from accessing their education. School psychologists usually have more training than school counselors in research methods, mental health screening and diagnosis, specific disabilities, and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA).
“As a school psychologist,” says Certified School Psychologist Kristin Connell, “your sole role is to be an investigator for the kids. You’re kind of like a detective, discovering what the [student’s] problem is and how we can use the resources at school to fix it.”
What Degree Program Do I Need to Complete to Be a School Psychologist?
An undergraduate degree in psychology is a useful foundation but is not a requirement. To prepare for your career in school psychology, your graduate school work should be a 60-semester credit specialist-level program in school psychology.
Your program should include a 1,200-hour internship. Most states require completing such a program for certification. The NASP maintains specialist-level training is the minimum acceptable education for school psychologists.
Specialist-level degrees include: The EdS (Education Specialist), MA (Master of Arts), MS (Master of Science), the CAS (Certificate of Advanced Study) or CAGS (Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study)—often awarded along with a Master’s—and the Psy.S. (Specialist in Psychology).
To earn a doctoral degree in school psychology—a Ph.D., Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology), or EdD (Doctor of Education)—you will complete five to seven years of graduate work, including a 1,500-hour internship and completion of a dissertation.
In addition to holding the right degree, you’ll need to be sure you meet the licensure and credentialing requirements of the state where you will be practicing. These requirements vary, so be certain to do your homework!
How Much Will I Earn Working as a School Psychologist?
The annual salary range for a school psychologist ranges from $46,000 to $93,000, with a median salary of $62,000.
You likely won’t be surprised to know psychologists in private practice can earn more. But, a career in school psychology can bring other rewards.
As a school psychologist, you’re going to be in high demand; the field has an extremely low unemployment rate.
If you work in a school district or private school that follows the traditional academic calendar, you can reasonably expect extended time off in the summers.
Best of all, you’ll be making a powerful and positive impact on students’ lives.
Kristin Connell, a Certified School Psychologist who works with PTS, tells the story of assessing a student at the start of a school year. The student’s mother told her the boy was “a little bored” and “just needs a bit more in school.”
When Kristin tested the boy, she found he more than met the giftedness criteria. “Those are wins for me,” she says, “when you really feel, ‘This kid’s going to get the help or the services he needs.’”
How Do I Get Started Finding my First Job as a School Psychologist?
Contact us at PTS!
Request your free copy of our eBook, A New School-Based Therapist’s Guide to Landing the Right Job. You’ll get inside insights and practical strategies for winding up in a position where you can do the most good for the most students while furthering your professional and personal development.