Should I Get a Master’s or PhD in School Psychology?

Industry Advice Healthcare

Psychology is a diverse field that offers multiple career paths, many of which are in high demand due to the toll the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people of all ages.

School psychology is an excellent option for someone interested in working with children and making a difference in their lives. Currently, the profession is facing a shortage of qualified school psychologists due to the pandemic and a general lack of awareness about the field. However, school psychology has consistently ranked among the 100 Best Jobs in U.S. News and World Report based on many factors including a good work-life balance and upward mobility potential.

Read on to learn more about working as a school psychologist, the educational requirements to become one, and how Northeastern University can get you started.

What Is School Psychology?

According to Amy Briesch, associate professor and director of School Psychology (PhD) at Northeastern, says “school psychology is very hard to put into a box.” Your responsibilities can vary based on your state and district, but ultimately, the main objective is to support student academics and mental health.

Mental Health Support

School psychologists are different from school counselors. School psychologists study how mental health concerns, like anxiety, can negatively affect student behavior. From there, they can diagnose and address the issue. School counselors do not have the training or expertise to tackle these challenges.

School psychologists provide one-on-one and group counseling to students. They work to improve students’ communication and social skills, assess their needs, reinforce problem-solving, coping skills, conflict resolution, etc. They also focus on preventative work and provide classroom interventions if needed.

Academic Support

School psychologists are trained in evidence-based interventions across academic areas (e.g., reading, math) to help students in need. They work to motivate students, monitor their progress, conduct psychological and academic assessments, and manage classroom behavior. They also provide consultation to teachers on the best methods for struggling students.

Master’s vs. PhD in School Psychology

If school psychology sounds like the right career for you, it’s essential to determine the educational requirements required to get hired and succeed in your field. Explore the differences between a master’s and PhD below.

Master’s in School Psychology

If you’re interested in working in a school, a master’s degree is required to work as a licensed school psychologist in most states.

After earning your bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to find an accredited program to get your master’s, like the Master of Science (MS) and a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) in School Psychology offered at Northeastern. This is a three-year, fully accredited program through the National Association of School Psychologists and the Massachusetts State Department of Education.

Your curriculum will likely include some, if not all, of the following courses:

  • Introduction to Cognitive Assessment
  • Behavior Management
  • Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
  • Understanding Culture and Diversity

The program requires 62 semester hours and a one-year internship or practicum consisting of at least 1,200 hours, half of which must be completed in a school setting.

NASP-accredited programs, like Northeastern’s, ensure students have the necessary requirements to obtain licensure, meaning they can move directly into the field upon graduation.

Once you’ve completed your degree and obtained your initial license, the final step is applying for your professional license. This requires a passing grade on the Praxis II exam (which is a degree requirement at many institutions, such as Northeastern), as well as three years of experience working in the field.

PhD in School Psychology

Public schools are not the only settings in which a school psychologist can work. Private schools, universities, and clinical settings also hire school psychologists but typically require that they hold a PhD or doctoral degree.

A PhD program provides ample opportunities for students to explore individual interests. Northeastern’s School Psychology Doctoral Program (SPDP) prepares school psychologists to work in various settings, such as schools, universities, clinics, and hospitals. Coursework in this program focuses on research and fieldwork to help students develop skills in research, intervention, assessment, and consultation. While this additional degree isn’t required to become a school psychologist, it may be the perfect option for those looking to break into psychology research.

If you want to work in a public-school setting, there is no major advantage to having a doctoral degree in school psychology. In fact, school psychology is the only subdiscipline of psychology where graduates can use the title of psychologist without a doctoral degree.

However, if you’re interested in research as well as the flexibility of working in other settings such as universities or clinics, you’ll want to pursue a PhD.

Whichever you decide is best for you, Northeastern University’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences offers accredited programs for every step of your journey to becoming a school psychologist.