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School Psychologist Career Path: From Bachelor’s to Master’s

Industry Advice Healthcare

School psychology is a rewarding and stable career that allows individuals to make a positive, lasting impact on children’s lives. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in school psychology, now is a great time as the demand for qualified school psychologists is projected to grow 10 percent nationwide by 2030.

Read on to learn about the educational requirements for becoming a school psychologist and how you can begin your journey.

What is a School Psychologist?

A school psychologist is a licensed professional who works to support the academic, behavioral, emotional, and social well-being of students in a school setting. They are specially trained to link mental health to learning and behavior.

School psychologists typically:

  • Provide assessment, support, and intervention services to students
  • Partner with families, teachers, and other professionals to create safe, healthy, and supportive learning environments
  • Work with school administrators to improve school-wide policies
  • Collaborate with community providers to coordinate services for students

School psychologists are often the only mental health professionals embedded in schools trained in child psychology, learning, and development as well as school systems and classroom environments. They use research and evidence-based strategies to promote good mental health, high academic achievement, positive social skills and behavior, tolerance and respect for others, and safe, supportive learning environments.

How to Become a School Psychologist

If you’re interested in becoming a school psychologist, there are several steps you need to take to begin your career.

1. Obtain your undergraduate bachelor’s degree.

The first step in becoming a school psychologist is to complete an undergraduate bachelor’s program. Most school psychologists obtain an undergraduate degree in psychology, but it’s not a requirement. Business, art, or economics majors can also apply for a master’s program if they have fulfilled the prerequisite courses.

Northeastern University requires the following four courses for admittance into the master’s program within the Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ School of Community Health and Behavioral Sciences:

  • Introduction to Psychology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Research Methods/Statistics

Many school psychologists move directly from an undergraduate program into their master’s, but if you’ve already spent time in the field, you can still obtain your master’s if you have the necessary prerequisites.

2. Obtain a master’s degree in school psychology.

A master’s degree is the minimum requirement for a school psychologist in most states. Finding an accredited program (like Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences MS/CAGS in School Psychology) is crucial to obtaining licensure as a school psychologist. Completing a program that isn’t accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) may make it more difficult to move straight into the field following graduation.

While state requirements vary, accredited programs require students to complete an additional 30 credits beyond their master’s degree in the form of a certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAGS) or EdS degree. These programs typically take three years to complete.

3. Consider obtaining a doctoral degree.

While some school psychologists pursue a doctoral degree, school psychology is unique in that professionals can work as psychologists at the master’s level without a doctoral degree as long as their employment is within schools.

It’s important to note that a doctoral degree is not a requirement for becoming a school psychologist. The benefit of a doctoral degree is that you are not tied to a school setting and can also work in colleges/universities or clinical settings.

A doctoral psychology degree typically takes five to six years to complete and requires a 1,500-hour internship. If you’re interested in working in a school setting, however, an accredited MS degree is all you need.

4. Obtain licensure and certification.

Licensure and certification vary by state. In Massachusetts, prospective school psychologists must complete three years of advanced education from an NASP-approved program, participate in 1,200 internship hours (600 of which are in a school setting), and pass the Communication and Literacy Skills Test.

NASP-accredited programs, like Northeastern University’s MS/CAGS in School Psychology, ensure students have the necessary requirements to obtain licensure upon graduation, meaning they can move directly into the field once they’ve graduated, and occasionally, receive job offers even before graduating.

5. Complete an internship or practicum.

As part of your CAGS or EdS program, you’re required to complete an internship of at least 1,200 hours, at least half of which must be completed in a school setting.

The internship can be completed anywhere within the United States; however, if you know which state you want to live and work in, it could be beneficial to complete your internship there. This is not a requirement, but doing so allows you to establish connections in the area and ensures that you’re well-positioned after graduation to enter the field with confidence in your knowledge of state requirements, mandates, and regulations.

Career Opportunities for School Psychologists

Your career prospects depend largely on your personal preference. Depending on the size of the school you aim to work in, you may be able to decide which age bracket you’d prefer to work with: children or adolescents.

While 81 percent of school psychologists work in a public school setting, that is not your only option. School psychologists can work in a range of settings depending on their preparation:

  • Public Schools
  • Private Schools
  • Charter Schools
  • Consulting
  • Hospitals and Clinics
  • Juvenile Justice Programs
  • Independent Private Practices

School psychologists generally work as practitioners, administrators, faculty, and researchers. A specialist-level degree will allow for employment in most states as a practitioner and administrator (with appropriate administrative credentials), while a doctoral degree allows for practice as a practitioner, administrator, and faculty/researcher.

Start Your Journey to Becoming a School Psychologist

There’s no better time to consider your future as a school psychologist. Demand is exceptionally strong as projections show a significant portion of current practitioners will reach retirement age within the next 10 years. School psychologists can make a positive impact on children’s lives and their services are critical, now more than ever, considering issues stemming from the pandemic and beyond.

If you’re ready to begin your journey, Northeastern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences is here to help. Learn more and apply to our MS/CAGS in School Psychology program today.