If you want to work with young people, a career in school psychology can be an appealing option. While you can often become a school psychologist in less time than it would take you to become a clinical, counseling or research psychologist, this career path is lengthy and requires graduate-level studies. At the minimum, must aspiring school psychologists must devote at least six years to formal college studies.

Master’s Degree Programs in School Psychology

School psychologists work primarily in K-12 public and private schools, diagnosing and treating young people who have mental, emotional, behavioral, developmental or educational disorders. While psychologists in other fields are required to have a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree, some roles in school psychology are available to candidates with only a master’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In fact, 47 percent of school psychologists report having a master’s degree.

Generally, earning your non-terminal master’s degree in educational psychology requires somewhere in the range of 30 to 36 graduate-level credit hours, or two years of full-time study. However, some programs are specialist-level master’s programs that require at least 60 credits, or three years of full-time study. When you study school or educational study at the master’s degree level, you will complete classes in learning and instruction theory, developmental psychopathology, counseling skills for academic and behavioral intervention, principles and practices of school psychology and methods of educational, intellectual and behavioral assessment.

How Long Does It Take to Become a School Psychologist?

IMAGE SOURCE: “Group session with school psychologist in Slovyansk” by unicefukraine is licensed under CC BY 2.0 

A master’s degree program is the quickest way to prepare for a career in school psychology. However, whether it’s the right choice for you depends on your state of practice and your inclination to seek national professional certification. If the state in which you plan to work requires more than a two-year master’s degree, choosing this path could backfire on you. Additionally, only candidates who have completed a minimum of three years of graduate education in an approved program are eligible for the National Association of School Psychologists’ Nationally Certified School Psychologist credential.

No matter which graduate degree option you choose to prepare for a school psychologist career, you must finish your bachelor’s degree first. Most students take at least four years, if not longer, to complete their undergraduate studies.

Beyond the Master’s Degree

Suppose your state requires a higher level of education or you’re eager to acquire national certification. Does that mean a doctorate is your only option?

There are a couple degree options for school psychologists that bridge the gap between master’s degree and doctoral degree. Some school psychologists – about 32 percent – earn a post-master’s certificate in school psychology. Although post-master’s certificate programs build on the material covered in a master’s degree program, they can take up to two or more years beyond the master’s degree, so they often are not the quickest route into the field.

A strong option that can save you valuable time is the Educational Specialist (Ed.S.) degree. Often, Ed.S. programs require three years of study and include internship experience. The National Association of School Psychologists recognizes more than 150 approved programs at the specialist level. Like a doctoral degree, a specialist degree is a terminal degree.

Specialist degrees are also known as professional degrees. About 19 percent of school psychologists in the United States report having a professional degree.

Doctoral Degree Options in School Psychology

In school psychology, as in other fields of psychology, doctoral degree options include the Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., and the Doctor of Psychology, or Psy.D., degree. Traditionally, the Ph.D. has been considered a research-based degree and the Psy.D. a professional doctoral degree. However, there is some overlap, as Psy.D. students still study research to some degree and Ph.D. students still learn about clinical psychological assessments and psychotherapy.

Aspiring school psychologists can also pursue a unique doctoral degree option not available to psychologists in other fields: the Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) degree. School psychology encompasses studies in both education and psychology. While Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs generally approach the field from the perspective of a psychology degree that incorporates studies in education, an Ed.D. in Educational Psychology program is housed in colleges or departments of education and includes studies in psychology. If you pursue a doctoral degree, expect to spend another five to six years studying full-time on top of your four years of undergraduate studies, the National Association of School Psychologists reported.

How do you choose between a Ph.D., a Psy.D. and an Ed.D.? Consider what it is about school psychology that most intrigues you. The Ed.D. is a great option if education and academics are your areas of greatest interest, the Psy.D. is ideal if you prefer the field of professional psychological practice, and the Ph.D. is best for research.

Additional Resources

What Is the Difference Between a School Counseling Degree and a School Psychology Degree?

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychologist? 

What Classes Will I Take for a Degree in School Psychology?

What Are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in School Psychology?