School Psychology PsyD Degree: Everything You Need to Know
School psychologists help students thrive in an educational setting. As a school psychologist, you might work with a student going through a difficult time at home, diagnose a learning disability, help a student work through addiction, or make sure a student with special needs has the necessary classroom accommodations. You’ll also be a leader in your school community, helping teachers and other education professionals understand barriers to learning and promoting mental health throughout the school.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for all types of psychologists is projected to grow by 14% through 2026. School psychology opportunities around the country will be part of this growth, making now a great time to join this important field. In this guide, find everything you need to know about working as a school psychologist and how to gain the education you’ll need.
School Psychologist Job Overview
School psychologists are professionals who take on responsibility for the mental health, behavioral health, and emotional well-being of students. They provide many of the same services as clinical or counseling psychologists, but their focus is on the school setting.
What does a school psychologist do?
School psychologists work with students, parents, teachers, and administrators to address the issues that affect the quality of education their students receive. As a school psychologist, you’ll work to solve problems by providing counseling and other services. Some common elements of the job include:
- Working with teachers to create positive classroom environments
- Creating mental wellness plans for the school community
- Teaching social and behavioral skills
- Assessing children who are having academic or behavioral difficulties
- Figuring out ways to meet the needs of special education and at-risk students
- Providing individual counseling
- Leading support groups for students
- Working to intervene during crisis situations
School psychologist vs. school counselor
A school psychologist and a school counselor often work together, but their roles are different. School counselors are primarily responsible for academic progress. They can also run support groups and speak with students 1-on-1. They might work with students through family problems, class schedules, substance abuse issues, and college planning. The services of a school counselor are generally available to the entire student body.
School psychologists are typically more focused on at-risk or special needs students. Their salaries are often funded by a school district’s special education allowance as a part of the educational plans for affected students. School psychologists assess these students and work to create plans that help them succeed in the school environment.
School counselors might refer students to the school psychologist when needed. For example, if a student is having academic difficulties and the assessment reveals that they might have a learning disability, the counselor can refer that student to the psychologist for further testing. The psychologist can then work with the student to determine if they need special education services or other accommodations and interventions.
School psychologist vs. educational psychologist
A school psychologist is trained to work directly with students, while educational psychologists deal with the science of education on a larger scale. They might research educational techniques and how they influence people with different learning styles. They’re focused on the broader environment of education and don’t provide direct psychological services. Their work can apply to a variety of settings beyond the classroom, including government research institutions, testing companies, state-level education departments, and universities.
Where do school psychologists work?
Public K–12 schools are by far the largest employer for school psychologists. Other places you might find employment include:
- Preschools and early childhood learning centers
- Private schools and charter schools
- Colleges and universities
- School district administration offices
- Independent private practice
- Juvenile justice programs
- Residential clinics and hospitals
School psychologist requirements
Practicing school psychologists must be credentialed by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Requirements vary state by state, though most states require you to complete 60 semester hours of at least a master’s-level education and a 1,200-hour internship.
Some states will require a specialist-level education, which sits between a master’s and doctoral degree. If you want to advance your career, ensure you’re able to work in every state, or find a role in private practice, you’ll need to earn a doctorate.
What Is a PsyD Degree in School Psychology?
Of the doctoral degrees available, one of the most popular options is the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Earning a PsyD can allow you to have more career flexibility and earning potential than with a master’s or specialist degree.
PsyD vs. PhD
Along with the PsyD, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree is another common option for those interested in school and other education-related psychology.
- PhDs are intended for students who are interested in research and teaching. If you want to pursue educational psychology, you’ll likely want to earn a PhD over a PsyD.
- PsyD degrees are for those who want to provide hands-on services to patients and institutions. If you want to work directly with students within a school, this is the ideal degree to pursue.
You can find more in-depth information about the difference between PsyDs and PhDs in this article.
Some aspiring school psychologists may choose to earn an Educational Specialist (EdS) degree or Doctor of Education (EdD). Both of these degrees will allow you to practice in most states and earn the NASP National Certified School Psychologist (NSCP) credential.
- An EdS is an advanced specialist degree. It allows school psychology students to gain leadership roles, such as administrators or superintendents. This degree is also useful for aspiring counselors and program coordinators. It’s intended for students who have already completed a master’s degree in school psychology or another educational field.
- An EdD is very similar to a PhD. Like the PhD, it’s researched-based and designed for students who want to create policies, conduct educational studies, or teach at the college level. This degree can be helpful for specialist-level school psychologists who want to gain a more in-depth understanding of educational policy.
Keep in mind that while either degree can be used to meet the educational requirements to work as a school psychologist, you may need to take additional courses or have a concentration in psychology to be fully prepared to work in the field.
Admission Requirements for PsyD School Psychology Programs
PsyD programs are offered at colleges and universities throughout the nation. Each program will have its own requirements for admission, but there are some general steps you’ll need to take no matter where you apply. Most programs will ask you to:
- Submit at least 2 personal references
- Submit a resume of your educational and career experience
- Submit a personal essay
Is there a GPA requirement?
Most programs will require that you’ve earned at least a 3.0 GPA during your previous education. Some of the most competitive programs may ask for up to a 3.5.
Do you need to take the GRE?
You’ll generally need to take the GRE and earn acceptable scores. While not every program requires the exam, many do, while others have their own school-specific exams. If your program does ask for the GRE, it’s important that those scores are recent. Most programs will not accept scores that are more than 5 years old.
Can you get in without a master’s or specialist degree?
There are some programs that require students to have a master’s degree first, but many will admit students with a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school. Your coursework in these programs will cover what you would have learned during a master’s or specialist program as you work to earning your PsyD.
Can you get in if you have a master’s in a different field?
You can, but keep in mind that you might have to take prerequisites if your master’s is in an unrelated field. Many PsyD programs ask that you’ve taken courses in subjects such as:
- Educational theory
You’ll need to complete courses and earn credits in these areas before you can begin a PsyD program. An admissions advisor from your program can look over your previous transcripts, let you know if you’re missing prerequisites, and guide you to towards continuing education.
How Long Does It Take to Get a School Psychology PsyD Degree?
PsyD programs for aspiring school psychologists can be completed in an average of 5–6 years. Some students complete the program in as little as 4 years while others take as long as 7. Your program must consist of at least 60 semester hours approved by the NASP, but most programs consist of 90 or more semester hours.
In some programs, you can apply credits from a previous master’s or specialist degree, and possibly use your work experience to cover some credits as well. These programs grant advanced standing to students with master’s or specialist degrees in school psychology. Using this option, you’ll be able to earn your fully accredited PsyD degree much faster. Advanced standing programs are not available at all schools, and not all master’s or specialist degrees can be used to gain standing.
PsyD in School Psychology Curriculum
Your PsyD program will prepare you to work with students who have a variety of needs. You’ll learn about researched-based therapeutic interventions and study their effects on different types of learners.
The NASP regulates that all master’s, specialist, and doctoral-level programs cover the following core 10 areas:
- Data-Based Decision Making and Accountability
- Consultation and Collaboration
- Interventions and Instructional Support to Develop Academic Skills
- Interventions and Mental Health Services to Develop Social and Life Skills
- School-Wide Practices to Promote Learning
- Preventive and Responsive Services
- Family–School Collaboration Services
- Diversity in Development and Learning
- Research and Program Evaluation
- Legal, Ethical, and Professional Practice
You’ll also likely need to take a series of in-depth classes focused on childhood development, assessments and interventions, and the policy issues that affect school psychologists.
Although school psychology is already a highly specialized subfield of psychology, you might be able to pick a concentration in some programs. Common concentrations for PsyD students include:
- Special education
- Reading comprehension and verbal skills
- Math skills
- Adult learners
Is an Internship Required?
Yes. You’ll need to complete a supervised internship of at least 1,200 hours at any NASP-accredited school. Most PsyD programs require between 1,200 and 1,500 hours, and some require up to 2,000.
At least 600 hours of your internship must be completed in a school setting. If you’ve already completed this requirement as part of a previous master’s or specialist program, you might be able to complete all of your PsyD hours in another setting.
Are There Online PsyD Programs for School Psychology?
You can choose to complete your PsyD program in a traditional classroom setting, online, or as a hybrid. It’s important to note that no matter which option you choose, you’ll still need to meet the internship requirements.
- Classroom programs: On-campus programs can be found at many schools. You can normally choose to attend these programs full- or part-time, and evening and weekend classes might also be available.
- Online programs: Online programs are a good option for students who need to set their own schedule or who can’t easily get to a campus. There are many fully accredited online programs to earn your PsyD degree, though as previously stated, an internship is still required for credentialing.
- Hybrid programs: In a hybrid program, you’ll take some classes online and others on campus. For example, you might take theory and research-based classes online but attend in-person classes on interventions.
How to Choose a School Psychology PsyD Program
There are many things you’ll want to consider when choosing a PsyD program. Some important questions to ask include:
- Is this program accredited and meet the NASP standards?
- Does this program offer class settings and times that fit my lifestyle?
- Does this program offer a concentration that I want to pursue?
- Can I transfer credits from my previous education?
- What’s the reputation of this program in my community?
- What type of internship placements does this program offer?
- How successful have other graduates of this program been in their careers?
- Does this program offer career placement services of any kind?
- Does this program offer financial aid?
Financial Aid for School Psychology Students
Many students may be concerned about the cost of earning their PsyD. Fortunately, there are several financial aid options for school psychology students. Some possibilities include:
- Scholarships from your school: These can be need- or merit-based and the amount available will depend on your school.
- Government programs: The federal government offers grants and fellowships to doctoral degree students. Many of these fellowships are intended for students who are conducting research while earning a PhD, but you might be able to secure aid for PsyD programs as well.
- Psychological associations in your state: State psychological associations offer grants and scholarships to aspiring psychologists.
- Private foundations: There are several private foundations dedicated to education and community improvement that offer scholarships to students who want to pursue school psychology.
The first step to securing any kind of financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out the FAFSA can qualify you for need-based scholarships and federal loans.
Does School Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
School psychologists might be able to qualify for multiple types of student loan forgiveness. The federal government offers loan forgiveness to mental health professionals, as well as to individuals who work in the public sector.
As a school psychologist, you might be able to take either of these paths to loan forgiveness. You’ll likely need to meet certain requirements, such as repaying your loans for a minimum number of months and working a set number of hours for a qualifying employer.
Professional Organizations for School Psychologists
Joining a professional organization can help you advance your career, make connections, and stay current on industry trends. The primary organization for school psychologists is the NASP. In addition to their credentialing services, the NASP offers many opportunities for professional development. Some other organizations that school psychologists might consider include:
- The American Psychological Association (APA): The APA is the largest organization for psychologists in the nation. They offer financial aid, continuing education, and professional resources. Additionally, the APA is a good source for new industry research and best practice updates. You can join the APA’s School Psychology Division specifically.
- The National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME): NCME membership is for professionals involved in student assessment, testing, and evaluation. The organization offers conferences, publications, and other research-based resources to its members.
Ready to Get Started?
The first step to working as a school psychologist is getting the education you need. Use the Find Schools button to learn more about PsyD programs that can help you achieve your goals.
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