School Psychology Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a school psychology program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD degrees and potential careers.
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Studying School Psychology: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in solving the mysteries of the human mind and you enjoy working with young people, earning a master's or PhD degree in school psychology could give you the best of both worlds. To become a licensed school psychologist in most states, you need to earn a specialist-level master's degree that includes at least 60 semester hours. If you want to work as a university faculty member or private practitioner, you typically need to earn a PhD.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that overall job growth for clinical, school and counseling psychologists would be faster than average, at about 22% between 2010 and 2020. It also estimated that job prospects specifically for school psychologists would be good during this period, and that job growth for postsecondary psychology faculty would only be average.

Master's Doctorate
Who Is This Degree For? Individuals who want to work as school psychologists Those who want to become school psychology professors or private practitioners
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - School psychologist ($68,000)*
- School and career counselors ($54,000 - additional education and practical experience may be required)*
Same careers open to master's degree holders, as well as the following:
- Psychology postsecondary teacher ($68,000)*
- Private practitioner (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion Usually 3 years full-time or 4 years part-time for specialist-level programs About 5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 8-10 graduate-level courses
- Practicum/internship
- Comprehensive exams
All of the master's degree requirements, plus the following:
- Roughly 7-9 additional graduate-level courses
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Prior coursework in psychology and statistics
- Same as for the master's degree
Online Availability Very limited None at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Master's Degree in School Psychology

Master's programs in school psychology teach you to understand and guide children of all ages in their academic, emotional and cognitive development. Though many graduates of school psychology master's degree programs are employed by school districts, there are other options. Some school psychologists work with children in alternative settings, such as hospitals.

While some states license school psychologists with master's degrees that include less than 60 credit hours, specialist-level degrees with 60 or more credit hours (including the internship/practicum) are required in many states. According to the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), qualifying degrees may have many different titles, such as MS, MA, EdS or MEd.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A specialist-level master's degree is sufficient to qualify you for school psychology licensure and employment in a wide range of settings
  • Job growth in school psychology is expected to be good
  • After gaining work experience, you may have the opportunity to move into administrative or supervisory positions

Cons

  • If you choose a non-specialist master's degree program, employment prospects may be limited
  • This degree won't qualify you for most university faculty positions
  • Competition for admission to specialist-level programs is strong

Common Courses and Requirements

In most master's degree programs in school psychology, you take courses like counseling, cognitive assessment, inferential statistics and educational psychology. In addition, you complete classes focusing on learning disabilities and other cognitive difficulties that students may face. Since the students you work with may have different ethnic backgrounds, some schools have a multicultural course requirement. You're also required to participate in a practicum or internship to earn your degree.

If you complete a specialist-level master's degree program that prepares you for licensure, it usually takes about 3 years. Some 30-credit master's programs in school psychology exist, but such programs typically don't meet state licensure requirements. These shorter programs usually culminate in a thesis or project instead of a practicum.

Online Degree Options

It's possible to earn a specialist-level school psychology degree by taking a combination of campus-based and online courses; however, there are no fully online master's degree programs in school psychology available at this time. The courses and requirements for blended degree programs are the same as those for on-campus students, meaning you still have to complete a practicum or internship in order to graduate.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Achieving state licensure is a requirement for employment as a school psychologist, but you can get ahead in the job market by earning the NASP's Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential as well. The requirements include completion of a specialist-level school psychology master's program, a written exam and 1,200 hours of supervised practice (this practice is usually included as part of your graduate program).

PhD in School Psychology

If you choose to earn a PhD in School Psychology, you'll be entering a rigorous, research-intensive program that typically requires a full-time commitment. In return for your hard work, you're qualified to gain licensure and work as a school psychologist upon graduation, or you may choose to start your own private practice. In addition, some school psychology PhD graduates go on to conduct research and teach at universities. According to the NASP, completing a program that isn't approved by it or the American Psychological Association can limit your job prospects, so you should choose your degree program carefully.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A PhD qualifies you for a wider range of career options than a master's degree does - you can work as a university faculty member or private practitioner
  • PhD students usually receive financial support while earning their degrees
  • Postsecondary psychology teachers are well paid ($68,000 median salary as of 2011)*

Cons

  • Most PhD programs in school psychology require full-time attendance for 5 or more years
  • This degree is unnecessary if you want to work as a school psychologist
  • If you plan to become a professor, you may earn about the same salary as school psychology practitioners with only master's degrees
  • The PhD admission process is quite competitive

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Common Courses and Requirements

Choosing to complete a PhD in School Psychology means engaging in advanced research and statistics coursework, as well as taking classes on specialized topics, such as post-traumatic stress disorder in children, memory, physiological psychology and neuropsychology. You're also required to complete an internship or practicum of at least one year in length. In addition, you're expected to contribute original research to the field in the form of a dissertation. In most programs, you begin working on your dissertation after completing your initial coursework and passing oral and written qualifying exams.

Online Degree Options

No online PhD programs in school psychology are available at the present time. It would be very difficult to complete the requirements of a school psychology PhD program remotely, since the vast majority of schools require students to collaborate closely with faculty. In addition, many schools offer financial assistance to PhD students in the form of research and teaching assistantships, which usually require students to be present on campus.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Just as is the case with master's degree students, PhD graduates may consider earning national certification from the NASP, especially if they plan to work as practitioners. If you've set your sights on an academic job, you need to focus on developing a strong publication record, either by getting your own work published or by co-authoring articles with professors. In addition, attending academic conferences in your area of expertise can provide a valuable opportunity to network with others in your field.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Educational Psychology
      • MS in Psychology
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    2. Northcentral University

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    Master's
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
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      • MS - Health Psychology (MSPSYHL)
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      • MS - Forensic Psychology (MSPSYFS)
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      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
      • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
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    4. Argosy University

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      • Industrial Organizational Psychology (MA)
      • Forensic Psychology (MA)
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    5. Saint Joseph's University

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      • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis
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    6. Lewis University

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    Master's
      • MA in Organizational Leadership - Professional and Executive Coaching
  • Gainesville, FL

    University of Florida

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Educational Psychology
  • MS in Psychology
  • Master: Psychology/Applied Behavioral Analysis

Which subject are you interested in?

Northcentral University

  • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
  • M.A. in Psychology - Gender Studies
  • MS - Health Psychology (MSPSYHL)

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Colorado Christian University

  • Counseling, M.A.
  • Counseling, M.A. Online
  • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

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Argosy University

  • Industrial Organizational Psychology (MA)
  • Forensic Psychology (MA)

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?

Lewis University

  • MA in Organizational Leadership - Professional and Executive Coaching

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