School Psychology Doctoral Degree Programs

Most states require school psychologists to have the equivalent of an educational specialist degree (60 semester hours of graduate coursework) to be credentialed through the education department. However, many school psychologists choose to study at the doctoral level, completing 90 or more graduate semester hours. Why? Here is a look at some of the reasons –and at what to expect if you choose to study at the higher level.

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Higher Level Positions/ Higher Pay within the School System

The higher degree can provide more advancement opportunity. The National Association of School Psychologists reports that school systems often want school psychologists with doctoral degrees in higher level administrative positions (

A few states credential master’s and doctoral school psychologists at different levels. Distinctions may also be made at the hiring level. The Hawaii Department of Education screens school psychology applicants before adding them to the pool of eligible individuals. Positions are posted for Master’s and Clinical Psychologists. Starting salaries range higher for Clinical Psychologists.

School employees, unlike individuals in the private sector, typically find that their salaries are nonnegotiable. They may be set at the district or even state level; they are based on educational level, years of service, and additional credentials like national certification. The National Association of School Psychologists notes that while not all school systems give a stipend for doctoral degrees, those that do generally view a doctorate as a doctorate.

Delivering School Psychology Services outside the School System

Some school psychologists like the flexibility of being able to work in different settings and with different populations. Here a doctoral degree can be especially important.

Almost every state requires a professional to hold a doctoral degree to provide clinical psychology services in a private setting. School psychologists are typically hired on the basis of less education, but they are limited in the type of employment they can hold.

Some states allow experienced school psychologists with education below the doctoral level to apply for a credential that authorizes contractual work and/ or private practice. This is far from universal. Leaders of professional organizations have sometimes noted that the term “school psychology” refers to a discipline, not a setting. There is a demand for school psychology services outside the school system.

A professional who seeks a license issued through the state’s psychology board should be aware that the standards may be different or higher. A doctoral degree earned through a regionally accredited institution may put a person at the highest certification and salary level in the public schools, yet not meet the requirements of the psychology board. The board may require, for example, that the program be accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or be substantively equivalent to accredited programs.

As in other fields, school psychologists may pursue the doctoral degree so they can embark on careers in research or academia. This may or may not require licensing – but the prestige of the program may go a long way in determining opportunity.

What to Expect from a Doctoral Program in School Psychology

Doctoral programs give students greater opportunity to explore individual interests. They typically include a dissertation or equivalent project. The National Association of School Psychologists expects that non-dissertation coursework will also provide greater depth at the doctoral level. Doctoral students are generally expected to complete at least 1,500 hours of internship. This is 300 hours more than what is required at the specialist level. It is acceptable to complete a portion of the internship in a non-school setting. The number of hours required in a school setting is not necessarily higher for doctoral students than for students seeking the lower degree; this can mean more flexibility with regard to placements.

Students who simultaneously seek board licensure as psychologists have more stringent requirements. They may be required to complete internships that are accredited by the APA or APPIC or are substantially equivalent.