While some careers are predictable and involve daily routine tasks, school psychology isn’t one of them. Much like other positions that involve mental health, it’s hard to put school psychology into a box. However, it’s an incredibly rewarding career in which no two days are exactly the same. Here’s an overview of some of the common roles and responsibilities of school psychologists.
What Is a School Psychologist?
Simply put, a school psychologist is a licensed professional who collaborates with teachers and parents to support the mental and academic well-being of students in a school setting. While many mental health professionals work with patients in response to trauma or mental health concerns, school psychologists take on preventative work as well. In practice, they work with students struggling academically, behaviorally, and emotionally, while also addressing mental health concerns before they arise.
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What Do School Psychologists Do?
While many people hear the term “school psychology” and assume it means providing therapy in school, there’s a much wider range of responsibilities school psychologists perform—depending on their work setting. Approximately 81 percent of school psychologists work in public school, although many also work in private schools, charter schools, or as consultants. Furthermore, their day-to-day tasks aren’t likely to remain the same each day. As with most mental health professions, a good rule of thumb is to expect the unexpected.
School psychologists will likely find themselves with a wide range of responsibilities, but here are four overarching duties they can expect to complete:
1. Supporting Students’ Mental Health
One task school psychologists are best known for is providing psychological services to support students’ mental health. This is accomplished through one-on-one counseling or preventative interventions in a class-wide or small group setting. School psychologists work with populations and individual students alike to promote well-being throughout the school. These services are so important, now more than ever, since the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly difficult on children, increasing the need for mental health support in school settings.
2. Encouraging Students’ Academic Success
Encouraging students’ academic success can take up as much of a school psychologist’s daily responsibilities as supporting their mental well-being. For example, school psychologists are trained in evidence-based reading strategies to position themselves as an additional resource to students struggling to learn how to read. School psychologists might also consult with a teacher about possible best strategies to use for specific cases—depending on the child and their difficulties. This adds another layer of support and advocacy for children who may not otherwise be able to communicate their struggles.
3. Conducting Assessments
School psychologists conduct evaluations focused on understanding students’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as assessments of children suspected of struggling due to a disability. While this isn’t the primary task of school psychologists, students suspected of needing special education services are typically evaluated by a school psychologist before identifying next steps.
4. Aiding School Systems
School psychologists work to try and identify problems that exist in school systems and conduct interventions. Some of these interventions may involve issues arising with students at the school, such as bullying. Others may pertain to teachers in the school who may be struggling with issues like behavior management. If there’s a systemic problem in the school, school psychologists are often called to consult and resolve the issue.
Who Do School Psychologists Work With?
School psychologists work primarily with children, but can also find themselves working with students, parents, and other school-based professionals.
School psychologists work with students to address learning and/or behavioral issues. They might counsel students in group settings or a one-on-one basis. They also work with students to help them develop adequate social skills to ensure a healthy classroom environment.
Many times there will be a school psychologist for each building within a school district to work with elementary, middle school, and high school students. However, some school psychologists work across multiple schools within a district. This gives prospective school psychology graduates plenty of freedom in choosing what grades they’d like to work with in their career.
2. School Professionals
In addition to the well-being of children, school psychologists learn how to support adult behavior as well. They often consult with teachers to help them overcome behavior management challenges by educating them on the most effective practices and techniques to manage their classrooms. The end goal is to help school professionals create an environment conducive to the mental health and academic success of students.
Partnering with families is also an important role of a school psychologist. Many interventions conducted at school are only effective if they’re consistently implemented—meaning family participation is essential to the success of these practices. School psychologists need to be able to work with parents to serve as a liaison between the school and the student’s home. Consistency is crucial to behavioral management, so family involvement is a must.
How to Become a School Psychologist
If school psychology is a career that interests you, here are the steps you need to take to become one.
1. Obtain Your Undergraduate Degree and Course Prerequisites
The first step is to complete an undergraduate bachelor’s program. The majority of school psychologists complete a degree in psychology, but this isn’t always required. Most master’s programs have course prerequisites, however, so make sure you fulfill them if you hope to graduate on-time. Northeastern University’s prerequisites to get into the master’s program are the following four courses:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Abnormal Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Research Methods/Statistics
As long as you ensure you’ve fulfilled the prerequisites, you can apply regardless of your bachelor’s degree.
2. Obtain MS in School Psychology
School psychology is unique in that professionals can call themselves psychologists at the master’s level without a doctoral degree. However, finding an accredited program is crucial to obtaining licensure as a school psychologist. If you complete a master’s program that isn’t accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), it can be more complicated to obtain your licensure, which is a requirement in most states.
While state requirements vary, accredited programs require students to complete an additional 30 credits beyond the MS degree in the form of a certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAGS) or EdS degree. These programs typically take three years to complete.
3. Complete An Internship
As part of your CAGS or EdS program, you’re required to complete an internship of at least 1,200 hours, at least half of which must be completed in a school setting. The internship can be completed anywhere within the United States; however, if you intend to live and work in the state of Massachusetts, it’s advisable to complete your internship there. This ensures that you’re well-positioned after graduation to enter the field with confidence in your knowledge of state requirements, mandates, and regulations.
4. Obtain Licensure
Once you’ve satisfied your licensure requirements, the final step is to obtain it. Many accredited programs such as Northeastern University’s MS/CAGS in School Psychology equip students with the qualifications and tools needed for obtaining a position in school psychology immediately following graduation. Since there’s currently a shortage of school psychologists, the field is in demand, so many students can expect job offers immediately following graduation—depending on their academic standing.
Interested in Becoming a School Psychologist?
School psychology is a career that offers many benefits including summer holidays, flexible schedules, and the ability to positively impact the lives of children. If this sounds like a career you’d enjoy, consider applying for Northeastern University’s MS/CAGS in School Psychology to prepare you for this rewarding career opportunity.