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School Psychology Degrees: What You’ll Study

Learn about what you’ll study in a school psychology program.

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School psychologists help kids with issues such as depression and anxiety, improve their relationships with other students and family members, overcome their challenges so they can succeed in school, and generally develop into healthier young adults.

Keep reading to find answers to some of the questions that psychology students ask about the degrees they need to achieve their career goals.

What degree levels are available?

Here, the study of education and psychology go hand in hand. Earning a four-year undergraduate degree is the first step in your education toward becoming a school psychologist. Next, you’ll need a specialist degree (EdS) or a master’s degree before you begin your professional practice as a school psychologist. You can choose to continue your education by earning a doctorate, but it’s not necessary to have in order to practice.

If you’ve already earned your bachelor’s degree, whether in psychology, education or an entirely different field, you can still pursue your master’s in school psychology, psychology or counseling. Your prior education and skills will help you on your way.

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

If you’re starting at the undergraduate level, most bachelor’s degree programs in psychology require a blend of science and liberal arts courses. You’ll typically be ready to take psychology electives by your junior year. The same applies to electives if you’re majoring in education.

Junior year is the best time to start making graduate school plans if you’re confident this is the field for you. As long as you complete the basic electives in psychology, you don’t necessarily need to have a bachelor’s in psychology to be accepted into a graduate program in school psychology. Be sure to verify this with the graduate programs you plan on applying to.

As an example of a typical course load, University of Phoenix offers the following program of undergraduate lecture and lab courses for a Bachelor of Science in Psychology:

Examples of Core Courses

  • General Psychology: Introduces the student to the major topics in scientific psychology as applied to human behavior.
  • History and Systems of Psychology: Introduces the modern psychology approaches: Structuralism, functionalism, Gestalt, behaviorism, psychoanalysis, and phenomenological/existentialism.
  • Statistical Reasoning in Psychology: Applied statistics introduction (descriptive and inferential), with particular emphasis in psychology.
  • Biological Foundations of Psychology: Studying physiological psychology, which examines the relationship between our biological systems and behavior.
  • Life Span Human Development: Personality, social, intellectual and physical development and the major theories used to describe the changes people undergo throughout their life.
  • Theories of Personality: An explanation of the general approaches to understanding personality.
  • Abnormal Psychology: Addresses abnormal behavior frequency and the various types; how abnormal behaviors are classified into various diagnostic categories; the causes of psychological disorders; and the variety of methods employed in their treatment.
  • Psychological Tests and Measurements: The basic principles, research, and theories on testing and measurement of psychological constructs are covered.
  • Elements of Clinical Psychology: An overview course of the theory and practice of clinical and counseling psychology. Explores major theories of personality, assessment, and psychotherapy.

Additionally, senior-year students may be required to submit a thesis and/or take a Capstone Course. This creates an integrative project that combines the cumulative learning of their 4-year program into a “senior project.”

Master’s Degree Programs

The next step for most psychology students interested in school psychology is to find a graduate program in school psychology. Alternatively, you can pursue a specialized degree called an EdS in school psychology, which requires roughly three years of study in education and psychology (60 semester hours) as well as a one-year supervised internship.

Some schools offer online MS Degrees in Psychology, with a School Psychology specialization. These programs often focus on working with diverse student groups, collaborative problem solving, and research-based treatments for mental-health issues in children and young adults.

You’ll learn to:

  • Find effective solutions to learning and behavior issues
  • Evaluate students at every level of development
  • Provide appropriate psychological interventions
  • Create programs to promote healthy learning environments

Doctoral Programs

A doctoral degree isn’t necessary to work as a school psychologist, although you may pursue it to increase your opportunities in academia or specific work environments. For instance, you may choose to further your career after a few years of working in the field.

What certification will I need to practice school psychology?

Every state requires that school psychology professionals be certified or licensed in order to practice. The National Association of School Psychologists offers national certification, which consists of completion of the aforementioned master’s program (60 semester hours), a supervised 1,200-hour internship, and passing the National School Psychology Examination.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study.

What will I learn in my courses?

The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends the following 10 high-level education goals for psychology undergraduates:

  • Knowledge base of psychology
  • Research methods
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Application of psychology
  • Values and ethical behavior
  • Computer skills
  • Communication skills
  • Cultural diversity awareness
  • Personal development
  • Career planning and development skills

According to American Psychologist, the majority of graduate schools require the following types of courses:

  • Statistics
  • Experimental methods and research design
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Developmental psychology and child development
  • Personality psychology

How long will it take?

Depending upon your level of dedication, a psychology degree necessary to work as a school psychologist can take the following time to complete:

  • Completion of a four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, education or other field
  • Master’s degree programs generally require one to two years of study
  • Programs in certain areas of professional psychology require a one-year internship

Are online programs available?

Online programs for school psychologists are available for certain types of coursework. Generally, to complete a bachelor’s degree program, an internship of approximately 1,200-1,800 clinically supervised hours is required. Internship requirements mean that you may not be able to complete clinical psychology postgraduate degree programs exclusively online.

How much will my education cost?

The cost of bachelor’s degree programs varies depending upon the type of institution you attend. According EducationData.org’s 2022 listings, the average annual tuition cost for a four-year, public institution runs around $9,377 for in-state tuition and $27,091 for out-of-state tuition.

Master’s degree programs at in-state accredited public institutions cost an average of $66,340 in 2022 says EducationData.org.

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or an online program.

Are there prerequisites?

Undergraduate: A strong college preparatory high school education is a good start for your psychology degree program. Courses in science, math, English, history, social studies, and a foreign language are important. Science and math are especially critical because they provide the necessary skills for research and analysis in college psychology courses.

Graduate: A completed, four-year bachelor’s degree in psychology, education or another field will prepare you for graduate school. Any electives you’ve taken in psychology and/or education will be valuable in your graduate work.

GRE: Check with the institution and graduate program you plan to apply to, to find out whether the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is not required for admission. If it’ not, but you’ve taken the test and have good scores, you may submit them for review with your admission materials.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Increasingly, employers and health services reimbursement companies require that the psychologists they employ or reimburse be graduates of accredited programs in professional psychology.

Accreditation shows that an institution or program meets standards of quality set forth by an accrediting agency, and that it is committed not only to meet those standards but to continuously seek ways in which to improve the quality of education and training provided. Also, attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program.

There are two types of educational accreditation: institutional and specialized. The American Psychological Association (APA) is a specialized/professional accreditor. The Higher Learning Commission conducts institutional accreditation. Institutional accreditation is provided by regional and national associations of schools and colleges. There are six regional associations, each named after the region in which it operates (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western).

Attending an accredited school may allow you to apply for financial aid, whether the school you select is a traditional classroom or online program.