Figuring out how to become a school psychologist is the first step in a rewarding career. You will work with children, teachers, parents, and school administrators to improve the emotional well-being of every student. You will mobilize this team and use your knowledge to help at-risk students, playing a key role in helping individual students work through their emotional issues.
When it comes to what school psychologists do, you will find great variety in your responsibilities and the flow of each day at work. While the phrase “making a difference” has become a cliche, in this field, you most definitely will do work that can positively transform lives of people at a young age.
Here, we will dive into the details of the school psychologist role, including the necessary certifications, salary, benefits and other rewards you can expect from this career.
What is a school psychologist?
Academic and social success at school are directly linked to emotional well-being. Your role as a school psychologist is to be an advocate for children in a school setting. The work you do is essential, providing students and families with counseling and mental health support and stepping in with crisis intervention when necessary. In addition to directly supporting students, you may be called on to advise teachers on how to best deal with certain students and situations.
What do school psychologists do?
You will work to identify and address emotional challenges that may be interfering with a child’s ability to succeed in an academic setting. You will want to explore the difference between school counselors and school psychologists to see if the job is right for you.
As you explore how to become a school psychologist, consider the various tasks you may be called to do:
- Assess the cognitive skills, identify potential learning disorders and developmental issues and behavioral challenges of at-risk children.
- Evaluate school mental health programs and policies.
- Work closely with teachers and parents to develop plans that help students with emotional issues at school, and to some degree, at home.
- Provide support to students after a crisis situation.
- Develop outreach programs for the school district.
- Develop responsive services.
- Assist parents and families by teaching them coping skills.
- Suggest teaching strategies to support learners with specific conditions and needs.
- Participate in research and program evaluations.
- Prepare reports for families, teachers, administration, outside therapists, courts and others.
What skills do you need to be a school psychologist?
In addition to understanding what school psychologists do, you should consider the basic requirements for a school psychologist. These are some of the basic school psychologist skills you should have:
- Listening and communication. You will need to be able to hear and take in what students, teachers, parents, and administrators are telling you. You will also need to make your understanding and recommendations clear to them verbally and in writing.
- Patience. Most emotional issues take time to resolve. If you need instant results, you may find this role difficult.
- Ethics. You will need to navigate sometimes thorny paths to doing the right thing, especially when competing interests contend. A strong set of principles can be an invaluable guide.
- Compassion and empathy. Being able to understand what other people are perceiving and feeling is one of the essential school psychologist skills.
- Problem-solving mindset. You will need to collaborate with many stakeholders in each child’s life to identify and resolve issues. You will need to think strategically and practically to get everyone on the same page.
- Knowledge. You will need to rely on a deep mastery of mental health issues and therapies to address the many issues you may encounter.
- Administration. You will need to handle scheduling, reporting, billing, and more to ensure your function runs smoothly.
Steps to becoming a school psychologist
How to become a school psychologist is a process. Knowing the role and the requirements for a school psychologist is a good starting point.
Step 1: Complete the necessary schooling
Requirements for a school psychologist usually include a master’s degree or education specialist degree. These programs are typically equivalent to three years of study. If you seek to do research or work in a university, you will need a doctoral degree. Most programs require you to complete a formal internship. In most cases, you must also obtain additional certifications throughout your career to keep your credentials current.
Step 2: Obtain state licensure and certification
Most states require that you obtain a state license in order to become a school psychologist. You will need to present proof of your degree, document your internship experience, and pass a test called the Praxis II. Some states also require that you go through a department of education certification process as well.
The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) offers a voluntary certification program that some states accept in place of certain licensure requirements. After you complete your graduate program and internship, plus get a passing score on the Praxis II exam, you may start the certification process.
Since licensure and certification varies by state, visit this link to get state-specific school psychology credentialing requirements and to know what continuing education you need in order to maintain your credentials.
Step 3: Find a job as a school psychologist
When you are nearing the final stages of earning your degree and obtaining your certificates and licenses, you should start looking for a school psychologist job.
Decide what you want to do and where you want to work. Do you want to work that is heavy in research and in administration or do you want to work hands-on with kids? What age groups are most appealing. Do you want to work with elementary school, middle school, or high school students? Within the school psychologist career path, you have many options to explore.
When you have a good focus on the kind of role you want, prepare your answers to the most common school psychologist interview questions so that you put your best foot forward.
Step 4: Maintain your school psychologist credentials
The field of psychology is constantly changing. It is vital that you stay up-to-date through the course of your career. Most states require you to earn continuing professional development (CPD) credits to maintain your license.
These credits can take the form of certified seminars, workshops, presentations, real-time webcasts and distance learning programs. You can take college courses, provide in-service training, participate in mentorship programs, conduct research and publish articles to obtain and requirements for earning CPD credits. The number of credits you need every year varies by state.
School psychologist salary and job outlook
The average school psychologist salary varies by your experience, credentials, type of role, and location. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics offers detailed insights into school psychologist salaries. The average salary is $87,550, with a low of $53,040 and a high of $128,800.
What are the best-paying states for school psychologists?
Where is the best state to work if you want to become a school psychologist? The five states below offer the highest-paying jobs in the field:
- California: $106,890
- Colorado: $104,810
- District of Columbia: $102,850
- New York: $99,750
- Washington: $99,410
Ready to start job-hunting? Search available school psychologist positions.