School psychologists fill a variety of roles. They may provide counseling to troubled or struggling students, administer psychological tests, recommend and implement programs or refer students to specialists. Because of the wide range of responsibilities, school psychologists need extensive education before they can begin their careers. They also have to be licensed and attend continuing education courses.
Before you can seek a license, you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree as well as graduate-level training in a field related to school psychology. Areas of focus for graduate students can include school counseling, psychology or developmental psychology. In some states, school psychologists need a doctoral degree, but at minimum, a school counselor will need a master's degree. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that most states require at least 60 hours of graduate-level courses.
As part of your training to become a school psychologist, you'll take classes on topics such as developmental psychology, counseling, abnormal psychology and psychometric testing. You'll also need to take courses in educational psychology, early childhood education, ethics, clinical assessment and similar topics. Most states set minimum standards for required courses, so you'll need to check state requirements. You then can fulfill the rest of your course requirements by taking topics that are interesting to you or that will make you competitive in the job market. For example, you might choose to specialize in childhood post-traumatic stress disorder and take classes focused on child abuse, trauma and PTSD.
To become licensed as a school psychologist, you'll need supervised clinical hours. These are often in the form of an internship, during which you'll practice under a licensed school psychologist. The National Association of School Psychologists recommends that future school psychologists complete a 1,500-hour internship. You might also complete some of your clinical hours while doing research for your dissertation. For example, you might observe students in a school setting and tailor your observations to your dissertation topic.
Before you can practice without supervision, you'll need to become licensed in your state. You'll have to undergo a background check, pay a licensing fee and submit evidence that you've completed the required clinical hours and coursework. You may also have to pass a certifying exam demonstrating you have the necessary knowledge to work in a school setting. After you become licensed, you'll have to complete regular continuing education classes to renew your license.
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.