California School Psychology Graduate Programs and Graduate Schools

School psychology graduate programs focus on the psychology of learning, and how it may vary between students and at different stages of development. Classes may teach how to identify and test for learning, emotional, and behavioral disorders, and the types of services those students might need as a result. School psychologist programs may also cover intervention strategies, and how socioeconomic status and cultural background, among other things, could impact the student’s psychological and emotional health and learning success.

How to earn a graduate degree in school psychology

School psychology graduate programs often prepare students to work within schools and school systems, to hold a few key responsibilities: to help students in that school overcome barriers to learning, to intervene and provide support to teachers, students, and families, and to help schools provide essential services. Depending on the level of the program, some are designed to help students jumpstart new careers in school psychology. Meanwhile, other programs may be designed for experienced school psychologists, helping them to build more advanced expertise.

Choosing School Psychology Graduate Programs

One key aspect in choosing the right school psychology graduate program for you is making sure that the program focuses on an area appropriate to your goals. For example, one student might be interested in performing psychology and education research. In that case, they might look for a program that’s more theoretical. Another student might be interested primarily in working directly with students. In that case, one that is practitioner-oriented might be a better fit.  

These types of orientations are also referred to as:

  • Scientist-Practitioner: These programs focus on grounding the practice of psychology in a body of scientific research. Programs may expose students to current research and develop fluency with research practices. The goal is that practicing school psychologists can use this fluency to inform their clinical practice.
  • Scientist-Practitioner-Scholar: Sometimes just called the “practitioner-scholar” model, these types of program focus more directly on clinical applications, with a comparatively lighter emphasis on research practices.

Another consideration when selecting your school psychology graduate program is the types of students you aspire to work with. Some programs may focus on what you might need to know to help a specific student population. That could be an age group or a behavioral, physical, or learning disability. Or if you’re interested in a specific role, such as testing or research, you may be able to find a program that is oriented toward those.

Finally, the opportunities offered in conjunction with a program may be important contributing factors. For example, for someone wishing to move on to a Ph.D. program, hands-on research opportunities at the masters level may be a valuable component. For someone aiming to jumpstart a new career, the opportunities to observe in the field and obtain guided, hands-on experience applying knowledge in real-world settings may be a big consideration.

Earn Your Masters in School Psychology

While many school psychology masters programs are designed to support students new to the field, some programs may also be able to help students enhance an existing career. They could do this by helping demonstrating a higher level of expertise, earned through study and experiential learning.

Types of school psychology masters programs you might consider include the following.

  • Master of Education in School Psychology (MEd): A master of education degree is generally offered through a school of education. As such, school psychology programs in this category tend to emphasize topics like how students learn, and a school psychologist’s role in facilitating learning.
  • Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) in School Psychology: These types of degrees may be highly variable, and could range in focus from practical to research-oriented, depending on the school in question.
  • Educational Specialist (EdS) in School Psychology: Specialist degrees are technically a step between masters and doctorate. However, in many cases, they may be listed alongside with or even offered continuously with masters degrees. As with MEd programs, EdS programs tend to be offered by schools of education, and their curriculum priorities tend to align with that.
  • Psychology Specialist (PsyS) in School Psychology: This specialist degree, unlike the EdS, may be offered in a school of psychology. As such, these programs may be more clinical in nature and emphasize the practice of psychology over the education aspect of school psychology.
  • Specialist in School Psychology (SSP): This is a specialist degree unique to School Psychology. In many cases, these programs have a lot in common with EdS programs. However, in some cases, they might be offered within psychology programs and emphasize clinical practice like PsyS programs do.

These and other degree types may vary on an individual basis. Not all schools may offer every option. As such, make sure you follow up with your chosen school for more specific information.

One consideration when choosing potential programs is the thesis requirement. If you are planning to go on and earn your doctorate, choosing school psychology graduate programs program that include a thesis may be an advantage. On the other hand, if you have no intention of pursuing higher education after the masters level, a program focused on applying your knowledge in the field and gaining practical experience may be a preferable.

Another important thing to keep in mind is that most programs are likely to include some kind of field experience requirement. This could be offered in a few different ways, such as a practicum or a required internship. The essential difference between those is that a practicum is field experience offered in conjunction with a course and specific academic expectations, and might include a project. An internship, meanwhile, would more closely resemble the day-to-day reality of working as a school psychologist in a professional capacity. Each school may handle these experiences a little differently, so make sure you follow up with your programs with any questions.

School Psychology Doctoral Programs

For those who wish to earn a doctorate in school psychology, several school psychologist degree types are available, with similarities and subtle distinctions between each. These include the following.

  • School Psychology PhD Programs: PhD programs tend to be academic, and might focus on research practices within school psychology, either with the objective of increasing the body of research, or putting it into practice in the field. However, programs may vary.
  • Doctor of Education in School Psychology (EdD): As with the Master of Education and EdS, this doctorate is generally associated with a school of education. As such, it may focus on using school psychology expertise in a leadership or decision-making role at the administrative level (such as within a school district), or on advanced practice of school psychology within an individual school.
  • PsyD in School Psychology (Doctor of Psychology): A PsyD in School Psychology may tend to be more practice-oriented, focusing on clinical psychology skills and applying research findings to identify, test, and help students. Unlike the EdD, PsyD programs may place greater emphasis on being a practitioner of psychology than the education aspect of school psychology.

Different types of school psychology doctoral programs may culminate in different types of projects. Generally, this could be a dissertation, a capstone, or sometimes a practicum. Essentially, a dissertation is an advanced, in-depth research paper, which students would need to propose, gather their findings, write, and then defend before faculty, as a condition of graduation. A capstone, in some ways, is similar. However, generally, capstone projects tend to be more professionally-oriented, focusing on demonstrating specific skills and knowledge as it might be applied in the field. A practicum, meanwhile, would be required field experience under the guidance of a faculty mentor and experienced professionals, often with an associated project based on the experience. The type of project that is required of students to graduate could reflect the goals of that program, and the types of skills the program aims to foster. For more specific information, reach out to the doctoral programs you’re considering.

Graduate Certificates in School Psychology

Graduate certificates in school psychology are another, often briefer, avenue to pursue advanced school psychology education. They allow students to demonstrate expertise in a specific area without enrolling in a full school psychologist degree program. This could be an advantage for those who have already completed school psychology graduate programs, and are working in the field, but want to enhance a specific skill set. It could also be suitable for other educators interested in school psychology, who want to learn more about it for their current roles, or are considering moving into that area. School psychology graduate certificates may be available at either the masters or post-masters level. Masters level graduate certificates may typically require at least a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite, whereas a post-masters certificate would be oriented toward those who already hold a masters degree.

School Psychology Program Formats

School psychology graduate programs may be offered in a variety of formats, to accommodate students of diverse learning and scheduling needs. Whether you’re a busy professional school psychologist trying to balance the needs of each of your students with your educational goals, or want to dedicate yourself full time to your studies, the right format could enable you to do so. Listed below are three format options you might consider when choosing potential school psychology graduate programs.

  • Earn Your School Psychology Degree at a Graduate School: In a school psychology graduate program anchored on a local campus, you may have access to a variety of valuable program resources. For example, in addition to lab space to perform and analyze research, your program might offer simulated work areas designed to reflect what it might be like in a school. You might also be able to get hands-on experience using the type of equipment and software you might need once you graduate. And, best of all, you might study under professors with concrete experience working as school psychologists in your community! So their advice could be tailored to the needs of your students.
  • Online School Psychology Graduate Programs: Studying school psychology online could be a more flexible option, appealing to students with busier schedules, or who just prefer a little more independence. By bringing the study of psychology to your laptop, these programs could enable you to be there for your own students every day, while working on developing your school psychology expertise to help them more effectively.
  • Hybrid School Psychology Graduate Programs: Caught between the benefits of both graduate school and online programs? Hybrid school psychology programs, also known as blended or partially-online, could be the compromise you’re looking for. These programs, as with graduate school programs, are anchored on a local campus, with all the benefits that may entail. But by offering that in conjunction with online education, they bring an added element of flexibility.

These and other school psychology graduate program formats may vary from school to school. Additionally, each program may have unique factors, like options for customization, supportive services (like tutoring and library services, for example) available in different ways. Program format may also impact other parts of the academic program. This could include how field experience might be organized, project requirements, and other factors. For more information, reach out to the specific school you’re looking at.

What to Become a School Psychologist?i

School psychologists apply psychological principles and techniques to education and developmental disorders. They work in schools and school districts to apply their scientific expertise to help students of all levels learn in ways that are effective for them. For example, they might work with teachers to identify and test students with exceptional learning needs. They may also help to develop IEPs and serve on IEP teams. School psychologists also work to foster a positive school culture, conduct interventions, and ensure a positive collaboration between teachers and caretakers.

The requirements to become a school psychologists vary by state. However typically, people become a school psychologist by completing three key steps.

  1. Earn an advanced degree in school psychology
  2. Complete supervised field experience (such as a 1,200-hour supervised internship)
  3. Attain state licensure or certification

Most often school psychologists earn a masters degree or specialist degree, such as the education specialist degree (Ed.S.). However, some school psychologists may have a doctoral degree in school psychology. For more information, reach out to your selected school psychology graduate programs, or the organization responsible for licensing school psychologists in your state.

Find Your School Psychology Graduate Programs

If you’re ready to earn your school psychology degree, GradSchools.com wants to help. Just click on the degree level (masters, doctoral, or certificate) or format (campus, online, hybrid) you prefer to attend. You may also filter by location by selecting the appropriate country, state, and city. Then begin reading about the sponsored program listings matching your preferences. You can reach out to your preferred schools by clicking on the program name, for more information, or even to start your application!


[i] bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm#tab-4

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