Undergraduate Preparation for School Psychology

You will need graduate education to become a school psychologist, but you can begin the process early. It’s a good idea, as some programs are highly competitive!

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Selecting an Undergraduate Major

One consideration is undergraduate major. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, a majority of students enter school psychology programs with undergraduate majors in psychology (http://www.nasponline.org/about_sp/careerfaq.aspx#undergrad). NASP notes that undergraduate programs in education, child development, or sociology would also offer solid preparation.

Special education is a good option for some. School psychologists typically work more with special needs students than with the typically developing population; students may have developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, major psychiatric disorders, or problems with sensory processing and attention. In some areas, school psychology graduate programs may expect a foundation in education. Special educations programs are varied in their focus. Some are housed in the same college or department as the graduate school psychology program.

Prospective school psychology students can expect to have a few prerequisites. Some graduate programs do expect a psychology major, or at the minimum, a significant number of psychology courses on the transcript. Programs like to see that students have some grounding in the methods and mathematics of psychology.

Getting Experience Working with Children and Teens

It’s also advantageous to have some experience with the population you will be serving. School psychologists tend to work more with special needs youth. Having experience with kids is good; having experience with special populations can be even better.

There are a lot of options. The Child Mind Institute seeks volunteers to help children with selective mutism (the Brave Buddies Program) and to greet clients, read stories, and offer general support. The Institute also has a summer internship program for undergrads (http://www.childmind.org/en/training).

California’s Schools on Wheels program seeks volunteer tutors for students disadvantaged by their living situation.

The following are other organizations to explore:

  • Special Olympics
  • Special Needs Network
  • The Learning Disabilites Association
  • Big Brothers/ Big Sisters
  • United Way

Individuals may also provide volunteer tutoring at a school or library or assist at a special needs summer camp. Some people like to spend a year with Americorps or City Year, earning money for college as well as getting some service experience in.

Research Experience and Organizational Involvement

Graduate psychology programs often like to see research experience. The American Psychological Association has provided a list of research and internship opportunities for undergraduates and secondary students who are interested in psychology (http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/ptn/2012/11/student-opportunities.aspx).

Students can also find research opportunities through their own psychology department. Montclair State University notes that undergraduate students can use independent study to work with faculty on research; they sometimes have their work presented at conferences and (in the words of the institution) this is a “GREAT resume builder (http://www.montclair.edu/chss/psychology/undergraduate-programs/psychology-faq/)”.

What do graduate school psychology programs have to say?

Appalachian State University notes that there are three components to preparation: coursework, experiential activity, and career exploration (http://schoolpsych.appstate.edu/faq). Among their recommendations: interview (and ideally shadow) a professional. The National Association of School Psychologists website is cited as a general resource (http://www.nasponline.org/students/student_resources.aspx). Appalachian State University also recommends exploring related fields like school social work.

Eastern Kentucky University notes that the personal statement should highlight experiences with children as well as research and group involvement.

Organizational involvement can provide opportunities to explore as well as build your resume. One possibility is Psi Chi, the psychology honor society.

The Less Direct Path

Some tracks offer a more sure and direct path. But if it’s too late to change your major, all is not lost. The National Association of School Psychologists reassures would-be school psychologists that, yes, it is possible to become a school psychologist with a degree in English.

Education for School Psychologists