School Psychology PhD Degree Guide
Helping students succeed in school means providing more than just academic support. In many cases, it can mean identifying and addressing the physical, social, mental, or familial issues that are undermining a student’s quality of education. With a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in School Psychology, you can gain the expertise necessary to identify these problems and prepare plans that facilitate positive change on their lifelong success.
Are you interested in using this degree to make a daily impact on your students? Read on to find out what you can expect regarding the education, employment, and professional opportunities associated with a PhD in School Psychology.
So, What Is a PhD in School Psychology?
A Doctor of Philosophy in School Psychology is a doctoral degree that gives you the education and experience necessary to identify and improve issues related to student learning.
Though not required by most states for school psychologist certification, a PhD can increase your opportunities for leadership positions.
You can also gain the following benefits from earning a PhD in school psych:
- Credentials to work in many types of settings, in addition to schools
- Opportunities to work as a practitioner, consultant, or instructor
- Qualifications to take the lead in contributing new research to the field
- Recognition as a member of the American Psychological Association (APA)
What’s the difference between a PsyD and PhD?
A PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree and PhD differ in the focus of their program curriculum. A PhD emphasizes scientific research and/or teaching experience as a way to generate knowledge in the field. In contrast, a PsyD concentrates on applying existing knowledge to deliver clinical services in private, group, or organizational settings.
However, both can qualify you to work in leadership positions, conduct research, teach, or work in private practice. It’s important to note, however, that due to the hands-on nature of the role, it’s more common to find PsyD degrees in school psychology specifically.
There are 2 other advanced degrees allow graduates to assume responsibilities comparable to those holding a PhD in school psychology.
An Education Specialist (EdS) in School Psychology is a postgraduate specialist-level credential that’s only offered in the field of education. Most EdS students have completed a master’s degree in school psychology or a related area. The EdS curriculum develops expertise in student assessment, counseling, and intervention without the time commitment required for a doctorate. In most states, it fulfills the requirements for school psychology credentials, though some states reserve the title of “school psychologist” for those with doctoral degrees.
A Doctor of Education (EdD) in School Psychology is intended for certified school psychologists with master’s degrees or EdS degrees who want to pursue more in-depth leadership responsibilities within the school community. Students gain education and experience in using evidence-based systems to work as school leaders such as superintendents or directors of special education.
Admission Requirements for School Psychology PhD Programs
Admission requirements for school psychology PhD programs vary by institution. Students often enter with master’s degrees in psychology or related fields. If your degree is in an unrelated field, you may have to take prerequisite courses in psychology or human development before beginning your PhD curriculum.
Is there a GPA requirement?
Many schools require a GPA of 3.0 or higher for admission into a PhD program, though it’s not uncommon for highly competitive schools to require as high as a 3.5. In addition to GPA, most programs require letters of recommendation, a statement of your goals, an academic writing sample, and an in-person interview.
Do you need to take the GRE?
Many, although not all, PhD programs require you to have good scores on the GRE. Unfortunately, there’s no standard for what’s considered good. However, top psychology grad schools report average of around 160 out of 170 on both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and around a 5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing.
Keep in mind that most PhD programs only accept test scores from within 5 years before the date of your application. They may also forgo the GRE in favor of their own school-specific test.
Can you get in without a master’s degree?
Many school psychology PhD programs accept students who only hold a bachelor’s degree. Known as joint or dual degree programs, these involve earning your master’s after reaching a certain number of credits while also pursuing the doctoral curriculum. You’re likely to earn a Master of Education (MEd) with a concentration in an area such as educational psychology or human development.
Can you get in if you have a master’s in a different field?
You can earn admission into a PhD in School Psychology program with a master’s in a different field, though it’s best if it’s closely related. Depending on the program requirements, your education, and your prior experience, you may have to take prerequisite courses in psychology or human development before starting your doctoral studies.
How Long Does It Take to Get a School Psychology PhD?
A school psychology PhD requires a minimum of 90 semester hours, or the quarter equivalent. The degree typically takes between 5 and 6 years of full-time study, often including attendance during summers. Some programs limit the number of years that you have to complete the degree.
To take advantage of accelerated degree options, you typically have to attend full-time and apply transfer credits from a master’s degree toward your PhD requirements. Some programs allow you to transfer between 30 and 45 credits from related graduate coursework, though there often are limitations on how long ago the work was completed.
PhD in School Psychology Curriculum
Curriculum for a PhD in School Psychology emphasizes coursework in statistics, teaching methodologies, and research that produces new knowledge. You’ll also have to complete an internship and dissertation for graduation.
Common core classes for a PhD in School Psychology include the study of:
- Academic assessment and intervention
- Child and adolescent psychopathology
- Cognitive assessment
- Legal and ethical issues
- Psychotherapeutic strategies
- Research design and methods
- Social and behavioral assessment and intervention
- Tests and measurements
School psychology is already highly tailored subfield itself, but some PhD programs do offer specialty concentrations. Common options include:
- School-based prevention
- Pediatric health
- Child and adolescent development
- Program evaluation and measurement
- Psychology training and instruction
- Learning and technology
Is an Internship Required?
You usually have to complete an internship lasting between 1,200 and 1,500 hours to earn a PhD in School Psychology. Most programs require that you complete the internship on a full-time basis over the course of 1 year or at least a half-time basis over 2 consecutive years. Typically, at least 600 hours of your internship must occur in a pre-K–12 school setting.
Are There Online Programs Available?
Schools offering online school psychology programs allow you to complete some of your coursework outside of the classroom. However, since a PhD requires significant research and a full-time internship, any online offering will include on-site practicums, lab experience, and fieldwork.
How to Choose a School Psychology PhD Program
When choosing a school psychology PhD program, determine whether the structure, coursework, and cost match your resources and goals. Consider:
- Does this program offer the curriculum I want to study?
- Is there a part-time and/or online option for working students?
- Does the school offer internship placement assistance?
- What kind of financial aid is offered?
- What are the graduation and employment rates?
- Can I speak to recent graduates to ask about their experiences?
It’s also important to ensure that the doctoral program is accredited by the APA to ensure that it meets quality standards. The APA is the national accrediting authority for professional education and training in psychology. You can access a searchable database of APA-accredited programs. In addition, some programs are approved by NASP.
School Psychologist Job Overview
School psychologists perform a wide range of duties that “‘support students’ ability to learn and teachers’ ability to teach,” as described by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).
A school psychologist can help students from kindergarten to college deal with academic, social, and emotional challenges so they can succeed in school. As part of this process, school psychologists also work with parents, teachers, and administrators to identify and modify circumstances that may be interfering with a student’s academic achievements.
What does a school psychologist do?
The responsibilities of a school psychologist can vary by position. School psychologists typically perform these duties and many more:
- Work with individual students to identify problems and plan action
- Consult with parents to help them support struggling students
- Provide support groups for students, parents, and teachers
- Work with educators to establish healthy learning environments
- Facilitate special education services by administering assessments and communicating needs
- Engage in crisis prevention and intervention services
- Conduct research on behavior management, student mental health programming, and teaching methods
School psychologists vs. school counselors
The responsibilities of a school psychologist can overlap with those of other professionals. In educational settings, school psychologists can work alongside school counselors. Their duties differ in that school counselors typically work directly with the entire school population, while school psychologists usually limit their interactions to students with identifiable disorders or issues affecting school performance.
School psychologists vs. child psychologists
School psychologists also parallel some of the same duties as child psychologists. However, child psychologists work as clinical psychologists who use psychotherapy techniques to address many types of mental health problems. School psychologists incorporate training in both education and psychology to address issues related to success in school.
Where do school psychologists work?
According to NASP, about 81% of school psychologists in the U.S. work in public elementary and secondary schools. However, you can also find school psychologists working in:
- Private schools
- School district administration offices
- Community-based outpatient or residential treatment centers
- Juvenile justice programs
- Independent private practice
School psychologist requirements
To work as a school psychologist, you’ll have to meet the requirements for certification or licensure in the state that you work. If you plan to work in schools, check with the state education agency, which likely provides certification for school psychologists. You also can find details on the NASP database of State School Psychology Credentialing Requirements.
All school psychologists must earn an undergraduate degree, though not necessarily in psychology. In most states, you’ll also have to earn a master’s or specialist degree (EdS) in school psychology to qualify for licensure. Additional requirements typically include a supervised internship and a qualifying score on the state-approved school psychologist assessment, often the Praxis School Psychology test.
National certification is offered by the NASP and is accepted by some states for licensure. Eligibility for this professional credential requires completion of a specialist-level school psychology degree consisting of at least 60 graduate semester (or 90 quarter hours), a 1,200-hour internship, and the Praxis test.
If you wish to move into a different subfield of psychology or go into private practice, you’ll need to hold a legal licensure to practice without supervision. In most states, this requires holding a doctoral degree and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). There are a few options for earning a doctorate in psychology, but one of the most commonly known is the PhD.
Financial Aid for School Psychology Students
According to EducationData.org in 2022, the average cost of a Doctorate in Psychology is $132,200.
That said, in many cases, psychology PhD programs will waive a student’s tuition and provide a stipend for assisting with teaching or research—something that’s far less common with PsyD programs. The same study found that 94% of advanced doctorates in public schools and 77% in private schools offer tuition remission for these assistantships. Most schools that don’t fully waive tuition provide at least partial funding.
|Degree Type||Percentage of Schools Offering Remission for Teaching and/or Research|
|Doctoral–Public (First Year)||86% offering 81% of aid is full waiver|
|Doctoral–Public (Advanced)||94% offering 81% of aid is full waiver|
|Doctoral–Private (First Year)||53% offering 69% is aid is full waiver|
|Doctoral–Private (Advanced)||77% offering 66% of aid is full waiver|
Fellowships and scholarships are also a great way to fund your education. These financial awards may be short or long term and often come with additional stipends and benefits.
|Degree Type||Percentage of Schools Offering Fellowships and/or Scholarships|
|Doctoral–Public (First Year)||72% offering 85% of awards are full waiver|
|Doctoral–Public (Advanced)||74% offering 83% of awards are full waiver|
|Doctoral–Private (First Year)||77% offering 56% of awards are full waiver|
|Doctoral–Private (Advanced)||79% offering 57% of awards are full wavier|
There are many other types of financial aid for school psychology PhD students. You can start by determining your eligibility for need-based aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You also may qualify for assistance based on academic merit or other criteria. Some additional potential funding sources include:
- State incentive programs
- National and local chapters of psychology associations
- Private businesses
- Professional or community organizations
- Nontraditional student scholarships
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Military or other government service scholarships
Does School Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
You might qualify for student loan forgiveness if you meet certain requirements. Generally, it’s possible relieve direct loans if you’ve made at least 10 years of payments and have secured a full-time position in a government agency or other non-profit organization. Other requirements can include working in areas where there’s a shortage of school psychologists. Loan forgiveness programs funded by the U.S. government include:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program
- Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Student Loan Repayment Program
You also might be eligible for state-sponsored loan forgiveness programs, which typically have their own location and employer criteria. Find your state’s programs by contacting your state education agency or Department of Health.