Students & New Grads

What Does a School Psychologist Do, Exactly?

One of the most impactful staff members students interact with is the school psychologist. That’s because school psychologists are focused on helping their students succeed – be it emotionally, academically, or socially. They are an integral part of the educational team and both teachers and parents depend on them for support on students who need extra guidance. So, what is a school psychologist and what does it take to pursue a school psychologist career? In this article, we take a closer look at the role including education requirements, job outlook and salary information.

The Role of a School Psychologist

The primary role of a school psychologist is to provide support to their students, consult with their parents, families and other mental health professionals at the school, such as school social workers and school counselors. School psychologists’ job descriptions vary greatly based on the school they work for; however, there are many tasks that almost every school psychologist performs.

Administrative Tasks

As part of school psychologists’ daily administrative duties, they are required to respond to interdepartmental emails, return phone calls, set up referrals, assessments, and conduct testing. The role also involves filling out various paperwork for students. School districts have different busy times of the year, for some it’s spring, and for others, the busy time can be during the holiday crunch. School psychologists need to understand their students and take the time to reach them at various points throughout the day. Engaging with students when seeing them in the hallway can also be beneficial in creating a supportive and welcoming educational environment.

Meeting Students’ Needs

The most important aspect of a school psychologist’s job description is organizing students’ needs and meeting or exceeding them. Being sure to classify each student’s needs, and get them on the right track–whether that is eventual integration into a mainstream classroom, an IEP, or further testing, is important. If a student is receiving psychological services due to behavioral concerns, setting up a plan of action is important to that child’s success both in and out of the classroom. Encouraging and rewarding students for positive behavior can see them transformed, and able to hit goals and milestones that may have once seemed impossible. With the start of a school year comes a new batch of students, and scheduling individual sessions for as many as you can (that have been identified as needing services from their past school, or brought to you early in the year) will be helpful. School psychologists should also be available for student office hours as required. Ultimately, school psychologists should be motivating and engaging their students, in-turn helping them succeed.

Student Mental Health Services

In today’s environment, mental health is a top headline in the news no matter what part of the country you reside in. This is especially true when it comes to students. The role of a school psychologist is important when it comes to finding a solution. For many students, like those living in rural areas, the school psychologist may be the only mental health professional to administer treatment. By providing this much-needed service, school psychologists are improving the physical and psychological safety of students and the school as a whole. Another time school psychologists’ services are essential is in the aftermath of a crisis. Students, teachers and parents often rely on school psychologists to help return to normalcy and to provide support to those students who need ongoing, more intensive treatment.

Networking with Faculty

During the year, school psychologists are expected to network with faculty and remain up-to-date on important topics. Such topics include abusive relationships, eating disorders, homophobic bullying, teen pregnancy, substance abuse, gun violence, and self-harm. School psychologists should present themselves and their offices as safe spaces to those that identify on the LGBTQIA spectrum (or whose parents are LGBTQIA) can be helpful to maintaining a safe environment for all students in your school. Self-harm and eating disorders are another trend which can raze through a student body. Making appointments to speak to classes along with health/PE faculty can have a greater impact than just these staff members alone. Knowing that they have someone to talk to can help students open up about their health and safety concerns to an adult that will listen without fear of being judged.

How to Become a School Psychologist

As a school psychologist, you must be an active listener, have an understanding of social perception, and be able to solve complex problems. In addition to this, it is important to be able to negotiate, make decisions, persuade others, teach, and implement changes to improve student performance within a school setting. It isn’t simply just selecting a career choice for a school psychologist; you must also determine whether or not you need to pursue a master’s or doctorate program.

School Psychologist Education Requirements

When obtaining your degree as a school psychologist, it’s important to think about your short-term and long-term goals. Most states require school psychologists to work beyond their bachelor’s degree. For states that require national certification, additional coursework will be required. This is when it’s important to determine whether or not you will earn a master’s or doctoral degree. Do you plan to mainly work with students up to high school? Will you want to take on supervisory responsibilities within a school district? Is teaching at the college level of interest to you?

Most jobs will want candidates to have at least a specialist degree, which generally is accepted for certification as a school psychologist. It’s also important to note that non-doctoral level graduates are not recognized under the title of a psychologist by the American Psychological Association, so independent practice opportunities will be limited by this.

If you decided to stop your schooling with a Master’s in Psychology, there are several paths you can take to diversify your career. If you would like to stay within the school system, you could pursue an opportunity as a behavioral therapist or a school social worker. Otherwise, there is a myriad of options outside of the system that ranges from becoming a human resources professional to a child custody worker.

As for obtaining a Doctoral Degree in School Psychology, it opens up more future career paths. A doctoral degree means you may teach future school psychologists and help them to become licensed. In addition to this, a doctoral degree will allow more opportunities for advanced research in your field. With this degree, you will not only be able to work in a school, but also obtain your license to be an independent psychologist with the proper requirements.

So, At Minimum, How Many Years of School Are Needed to Be A School Psychologist?

In summary, school psychologist hopefuls must first get a Bachelor’s Degree in School Psychology or another related area. This typically takes four-years depending on the number of classes you take per semester. Next, you will need at least a Master’s in Psychology or to earn an ED.S (Education Specialist) degree. Both of these programs on average take about two years. Last, you will be expected to get credentialed through the National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). To be credentialed, you have to complete 1,200 hours in an internship program, with at least 600 of them being in a school setting. The credentialing process typically takes one year. After the credentialing process, you need to get your license in the state you will be practicing in. In total, the average amount of time to become a School Psychologist is typically seven years but can vary greatly depending on the person.

How Much Do School Psychologists Make?

The national average school psychologist salary according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is $75,090 per year. Certain factors make this amount vary such as location, years of experience, specialization within the field and various other factors. School Psychologists salary by state vary greatly, with the highest being in New Jersey at $97,790 and the lowest being Oklahoma at $55,360. While salary is an important factor when considering the job, be sure to consider other benefits like health insurance, flexible schedules, 401(k) match, etc.