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Educational psychologist how to become one

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These professionals apply the study of psychology in a school setting. Explore how to become an educational psychologist and job prospects for educational psychologists.

An educational psychology career best suits those interested in helping schools or other organizations promote learning.

Many people confuse the job duties of school psychologists and educational psychologists. School psychologists primarily encourage psychological well-being. Educational psychologists help the school support learning and work with students based on individual needs, such as learning disabilities.

This guide explores how to become an educational psychologist, typical educational psychology career paths, and educational psychologist’s salary ranges.

Table of Contents

What Is Educational Psychology?

If you enjoy exploring effective education methods and applied psychology, an educational psychology career is a great way to combine these two fields. Educational psychology uses knowledge from cognitive psychology, organizational psychology, and educational theory and practice to help schools and teachers support learning outcomes.

Educational psychologists may diagnose learning disabilities, design and manage student individualized education plans (IEPs), and educate and advise teachers and families on learning.

Educational Psychology Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not give specific data for educational psychologists. However, their figures for general psychologist salaries can give professionals an idea of expected income.

While the typical educational psychologist salary is almost twice the national median, graduates may very likely have extensive education loans to pay off in addition.

Psychologists Lowest 10% Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Projected Growth Rate (2020-2030) $46,270 $82,180 $137,590 8% Source: BLS

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How Do I Become an Educational Psychologist?

Educational psychology jobs generally require a doctorate, either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., if you want to practice as a licensed psychologist. Once you earn your doctorate, most states require that you spend at least two years practicing under a licensed educational psychologist before you can practice independently.

Education for Educational Psychologists

Educational psychology careers require at least a master’s degree. To call yourself an educational psychologist, you also need a doctorate in most states.

You can earn an educational psychology degree or a general psychology degree as an undergraduate to enter a master’s program, which typically takes three years to complete. A doctorate takes an additional 3-5 years, including a final internship. You must also complete a doctoral thesis based on your research.

For your doctorate, you can earn either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. The Ph.D. focuses on educational psychology. Most educational psychologists looking for an academic career choose this option. A Psy.D. focuses on practice. Either degree is valid for earning a state license. You must also pursue continuing education to maintain your license. You can do this by attending conferences, taking classes, or reading designated materials and passing a test on the reading.

Licensure for Educational Psychologists

Each state has different licensing requirements for educational psychology jobs. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) offers a full listing of requirements by state. Fortunately, most states hold similar requirements, and many accept different professional board certifications as a license by endorsement.

States generally require a doctorate and that you pass a jurisprudence examination (an exam on legal aspects of practicing psychology in that state). Many states also require a passing grade on the ASPPB’s Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). In most states, you also need to work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist for two years before practicing independently.

License reciprocity is not common for educational psychology jobs. However, because many states either accept different board certification as licensing by endorsement, this is a close equivalent for educational psychology careers.

Board Certification for Educational Psychologists

There is not yet a specific board certification for educational psychologists, but you can earn the ASPPB’s Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology (CPQ). The CPQ requirements include:

  • A doctorate in a psychology discipline from a regionally accredited institution with at least one year of continuous residency
  • At least five years of independent professional practice
  • A current license in an ASPPB member jurisdiction
  • No disciplinary action against your license.
  • Passing the CPQ examination

One advantage of this certification is that some states accept it as a license by endorsement option. Unlike many other board certifications, the CPQ does not require renewal. However, most states require continuing professional education to maintain your license.

Pre-Professional Experience for Educational Psychologists

During your master’s program, you participate in fieldwork, typically during your second year. Your pre-professional experience becomes more intensive in your doctoral program, as doctorates generally require a one-year internship in your final year. In this internship, you work with an increasing level of independence under the supervision of a licensed educational psychologist. You begin by observing the psychologist with clients and gradually participate in sessions, though always under the psychologist’s supervision.

Not all internship applicants are matched to an open position. In addition, matches may not be available at your preferred organization or geographic region, due to more applications than openings. Your academic advisors can give you expert guidance on maximizing the chance of a match and making the most of it.

Frequently Asked Questions About Educational Psychologists

Are educational psychologists the same as school psychologists?

While some parts of educational psychology jobs overlap with school psychology jobs, educational psychologists focus on learning and education, while school psychologists focus on psychological well-being.

Can educational psychologists diagnose learning disorders?

Yes. Educational psychologists receive training in administering tests to diagnose learning disorders, including dyslexia, dysgraphia (difficulty in writing), and dyscalculia (difficulties in math).

Is it hard to become an educational psychologist?

Most educational psychology jobs require at least a master’s degree, and you need a doctorate in most states to practice as a psychologist.

What can I do with an educational psychology degree?

While you need a doctorate to practice as a licensed psychologist in most states, you can also apply an educational psychology degree to careers in organizational learning or professional education.

What Does an Educational Psychologist Do?

Most educational psychologists specialize in youth education and work in K-12 schools or colleges and universities. Others work in private practice.

Educational psychologists may also specialize in adult learning and then work in organizations that provide professional training. These include large employers or professional organizations, educational publishers, software companies, or companies that design and deliver education to their workers.

In a school, educational psychology jobs may include:

  • Working with students experiencing difficulty learning
  • Diagnosing learning disabilities or other causes for the student’s difficulties
  • Working with the student, family, and teachers to address the problem, usually through an IEP
  • Measuring the student’s progress and adapting the IEP as needed
  • Providing training for teachers and administrators on educational psychology topics and how to apply them to support learning
  • Collaborating with school administrators on educational strategy

In other settings, educational psychologists collaborate with colleagues and provide expert knowledge on learning design and effective educational methods. For example, educational psychology careers with publishers or software companies call for working with designers and subject-matter experts to optimize materials for learning, either online or in print. This involves designing the material to make it visually appealing and to make it easier for the learner to understand and retain information.

Whatever kind of educational psychology career you pursue, you must be an expert collaborator and communicator.

Skills and Competencies

Educational psychology careers call for a deep understanding of both education and psychology. It draws from several disciplines within psychology, including motivation, behavioral psychology, cognitive psychology, and neuropsychology, as well as from educational disciplines like learning disabilities, working with gifted children, and educational design. Educational psychology jobs combine ideas from multiple disciplines and perspectives.

As scientists and researchers discover more about the neurology and psychology of learning, you have to be a lifelong learner yourself to keep current with education and psychology research. You must also be able to demonstrate cultural competence when you work with students and families and communicate well with students, families, teachers, and administrators.

Educational Psychology Resources and Professional Organizations

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Children in elementary schoolWhat Is Educational Psychology?

Educational psychology is the study of how humans learn and retain knowledge, primarily in educational settings like classrooms. This includes emotional, social, and cognitive learning processes. Areas of focus in this branch of psychology might include teaching and testing methods, classroom environment, and learning, social, and behavioral problems that may impede learning.

The majority of educational psychology is geared toward children, from infancy to adolescence. With more adults continuing their education in recent years, however, many educational psychology studies have also focused on adult learners. This research can help adult learners overcome obstacles, such as learning disabilities.

Educational psychology can be traced back to the beginning of the 20th century. In 1903, Edward Lee Thorndike literally wrote the book on educational psychology. Not surprisingly, it was entitled simply Educational Psychology. Later, in 1910, he started the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Why Do We Need Educational Psychology?

Many of us might take learning and education for granted. Going to class and being taught is or was just something that we did. For others, however, learning in a classroom isn’t so simple. For these people, school is an annoying and frustrating torture, which can often lead to behavioral issues or even the lack of an education.

Learning disabilities often contribute a great deal to being unable to retain knowledge in a classroom setting. Educational psychology, however, can be used to help people understand and overcome learning disabilities, so they are able to live up to their full potential in life.

Recommended Educational Psychology Degrees

What Does an Educational Psychologist Do?

An educational psychologist will conduct research and studies that are relevant to education. They may conduct research on how well people learn in certain settings or with a certain type of instruction. With this research, they can then try to develop new and improved teaching techniques and learning methods in order to help those that are struggling with their education.

Another common duty of an educational psychologist is to evaluate and analyze certain teaching methods, testing methods, and educational programs. Studying these areas of education allows the psychologist to gain insight into any flaws or problems that may make it difficult for some people to learn.

Along with evaluating existing educational resources, an educational psychologist might also create and develop new ones, which make it easier for certain groups of people to learn. These resources might include textbooks, worksheets, lesson plans, tests, and instructional videos.

Many educational psychologists will specialize in the educational developments of a certain group of people. Some might focus of the education of children, for instance, while others might focus on adult learners. It is also not uncommon for an educational psychologist to focus on a particular type of learning problem or disability, such as dyslexia.

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What Are the Education Requirements to Become a Educational Psychologist?

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In order to start an educational psychology career, a person must first earn a four year Bachelor’s degree in psychology. This type of degree is an excellent starting point, and it allows students to gain a deeper understanding of the basic fundamentals of psychology. Some of the courses that an aspiring educational psychologist might take may include educational psychology, developmental psychology, and early childhood education.

After earning a Bachelor’s degree in psychology, most individuals pursuing an educational psychology career will then earn more advanced degrees. In order to have a successful educational psychology career, a Master’s degree and Doctoral degrees in educational psychology are usually necessary.

If you are serious abut becoming a Educational Psychologist research programs in your area that are offering these degrees in our Find a School Section.

Where Does an Educational Psychologist Work?

There are job opportunities for educational psychologists all over the country.

Schools and educational institutions often work with these professionals in order to help improve their learning systems. Community organizations and learning centers also often work with educational psychologists as well. Educational psychologists might also work at government and private research centers.

What Is the Median Salary for an Educational Psychologist?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), educational psychologists providing direct patient care (categorized by the BLS as clinical/counseling/school psychologists) earned a median salary of $78,200 as of May 2019. Within this category, those working in elementary and secondary schools earned an average salary of $80,180, while those working educational support services earned $78,610.

Outside of direct patient care, educational psychologists (categorized by the BLS as psychologists, all other) working in educational support services, likely in a research capacity, earned an average salary of $103,690, while those working in elementary and secondary schools earned $106,860.

Influences on Educational Psychology

  • Edward Lee Thorndike wrote the first book on educational psychology and started the Journal of Educational Psychology.

  • Johann Herbart, who is often considered to be one of the founding fathers of educational psychology, theorized that the ability to learn was strongly influenced by a student’s interest in the subject matter as well as his relationship to his teacher.

Educational Psychology Degree Programs & Schools

An educational psychologist studies how humans learn and retain knowledge (usually in a classroom setting). Educational psychology is primarily focused on children, from pre-school to high school. Yet with more and more adults entering continuing education, many educational psychologists have chosen to also focus on adult learners. Educational psychologists study the processes by which students acquire knowledge, treat disorders, and work to develop the most effective teaching methods. Often associated with the position of an educational therapist, an educational psychologist may also provide a range of individualized education curriculum for children and adults with learning disabilities and other educational, physical, and mental challenges.

To become an educational psychologist, an individual must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This is an excellent starting point, as students gain an in-depth knowledge of the fundamentals of psychology. After earning a bachelor’s degree, students may opt to continue their education and earn an advanced degree – master’s and/or doctoral degree – typically a requirement to have a successful career as an educational psychologist. Some school psychology programs offer an alternative pathway into educational psychology, and generally require a specialization. It should be noted that earning a specialist degree may not take as long as obtaining a PhD.

Educational Psychology Bachelor’s Degree Program

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In order to become an educational psychologist, an individual must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology. This degree program helps students gain a deeper understanding into the basic fundamentals of psychology.

Students will choose from a broad range of courses, including:

  • Educational psychology
  • Early childhood education
  • Statistical methods and research in psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Cognitive psychology
  • Industrial psychology
  • Social psychology

Some educational psychologists may major in education instead. It should be noted that graduate programs vary in their requirement for a degree in psychology or education, so a student would be wise to inquire with the college or university of their choice to see which degree program is better suited to their future goals.

Master’s Degree Programs In Educational Psychology

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Master’s degree programs in educational psychology provide students with the opportunity to specialize in an area that they are truly passionate about. Areas of specialization, include:

  • Gifted and talented education
  • Statistics
  • Family studies
  • Developmental psychology
  • Research methods
  • Educational research
  • Behavioral psychology and socialization

Students at the master’s degree level devote a major part of their studies completing a thesis project. While researching their thesis, students should take advanced coursework in:

  • Human development
  • Theory of learning
  • Educational research
  • Human motivation
  • Motivation and learning
  • Educational research and statistics
  • Family theory
  • Human lifespan development

Applied educational psychology may be combined with developmental psychology at the master’s level. Educators, who desire to enhance their teaching or select a concentration, may also seek out master’s level programs. Higher-level research positions typically require a PhD.

Doctoral Degree in Educational Psychology

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Upon completion of a doctoral degree program in educational psychology, students will earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or Doctor of Education (EdD). Graduates are prepared for advanced research and academic careers.

Applicants choosing to specialize in educational psychology must earn either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree, depending on the requirements of a specific program. A number of programs allow students to complete a master’s degree and PhD, concurrently.

Admission into a doctorate degree in educational psychology is extremely competitive. It is important that students have extensive writing, research, and experimental design experience. Core classes that are essential, include:

  • Educational psychology
  • History
  • Statistics
  • Psychometrics
  • Factor analysis
  • Behavioral theory in education
  • Cognitive development
  • Developmental psychopathology

Note: Credit hours and program requirements vary as most doctoral programs are individually developed for each student. However, a typical program may consist of 3-4 years of full-time study – beyond master’s program requirements.

Licensing Requirements for Educational Psychologists

Individuals choosing to work in a school setting must be licensed or certified as well as educational psychologists who work with clients, administer tests, or perform therapy.

Some states may require licensure if a psychologist works as a consultant. In most cases, licensing is contingent upon earning a doctoral degree. However, in all cases, one exam at the very least is required. Typically, an individual will come under Board jurisdiction soon after graduation, although full licensure may be several years down the road.

It would benefit a prospective educational psychologist to check their state’s requirements in regard to education, licensing, and supervised practice requirements.

Educational Psychology Career Outlook

The federal program, “No Child Left Behind”, which was enacted into law in 2002, has increased the demand for educational psychologists. This program, which establishes standards and measurable goals at the state level, underscores the need for scientifically-based research methods in the classroom, academic improvement, and accountability. As educational psychologists study how students learn, as well as focus on emotional, social and cognitive learning processes, an educational psychologist may choose to specialize in a specific area, such as testing and teaching methods, behavioral problems that impede learning, or classroom environments.

Some students who earn a bachelor’s degree prefer to enter the workforce, rather than continue their education and earn a master’s or doctoral degree. At this level, career options include:

  • Psychiatric assistant
  • Case worker
  • Child services employee

Student’s who hold a master’s degree in educational psychology are qualified for employment in many areas, such as:

  • Educational policymaking jobs for school districts or colleges
  • Research in private research groups
  • Consulting
  • Behavior management consultant
  • Special education program designer

In addition to the positions listed above, graduates who earn a doctorate degree in educational psychology are qualified for the following positions:

  • Research director
  • University professor
  • School psychologist

Online Programs in Educational Psychology

Just as an individual cannot become a doctor through an online program (and because most areas of practice in this field have some contact with people) an online degree does not typically carry the same weight (in terms of landing a job) as a degree earned on-campus. It would be wise for an individual entering the field of educational psychology to seriously study his or her options.

There are a number of accredited online educational psychology programs. However, professional psychologists, in general, consider approval by the American Psychological Association (APA) a necessity for a degree in psychology. This is especially true in the area of educational psychology. Currently, the APA is grappling with online psychology schools, and how to test them against accreditation standards.

There are pros and cons to choosing an online program:

Pros:

  • Flexibility for students with other commitments, such as a job or family
  • Long-distance learners
  • Students with disabilities that keep them from attending classes

Cons

  • Not all online programs are accredited, nor do all credits always transfer to a college or university program
  • Some programs are more expensive than programs offered on- campus
  • The timeline to earning a degree may be much longer
  • Questionable degree credibility by employers

On-Campus Programs for Educational Psychology

Campus-based programs offer the opportunity to study face-to-face with leaders in the field. For many students, on-campus learning is necessary for disciplined study and interaction with other students and professors.

  • Classes are often more in-depth than with online classes
  • Professors are more accessible
  • Students have access to tutors, clubs, and associations
  • On-campus learning can offer greater potential for internships and employment
  • On-campus programs are usually less expensive than on-line programs, and can usually be completed in less time.
  • On-campus programs often carry much more weight when people are competing for the same jobs.
  • Professionals recognize on-campus degrees as more credible than online degrees.

The Importance of Continuing Education

In order to stay up-to-date with trends and advances in the field of educational psychology, and for professional development opportunities, graduates should consider continuing education. In many states, sources for continued education credits include:

  • Workshops and seminars offered by state-approved educational institutions.
  • Seminars, courses and workshops sponsored by the American Psychological Association (APA).
  • Membership in societies and subscribing to industry journals.

Educational Psychology Certification

A psychologist must meet state and license requirements, but does not need to be board-certified to practice. However, where once certification meant that a psychologist was at the top of his or her game, today with so many psychologists choosing to specialize, certification is becoming more and more necessary as a personal marketing tool. Many prestigious hospitals and clinics require certification of all psychologists applying for jobs. Certification can also mean higher salaries, and recognition among colleagues and patients.

Before gaining certification by the American Board of Professional Psychology, an individual must earn a doctoral degree from an APA-accredited program, become licensed, and have enough experience to specialize.

Certification is a three-step process:

  1. Submit credentials for review.
  2. Submit practice samples for peer review
  3. Take an oral exam (usually conducted by board-certified psychologists)

There are a few steps prospective psychologists can take while still in school to determine their course of action, set goals, and speed the process to specialization and certification.

At the graduate level, it is beneficial to start thinking about specialization early on, although committing to a particular specialty too early is sure to limit a student’s options. After all, doctoral training is about increasing general knowledge, not confining it. Students will have the opportunity to develop specialization via elective courses, internships, postdocs and practicum experiences.

Make sure you register with the American Board of Professional Psychology. The ABPP has a program that helps students begin the certification process prior to choosing a specialty. Registering early can save a student both time and money, as the early-entry program is less expensive – an application fee is just $25.00, compared to the usual $125.00.

Find mentors. Psychologist, whether licensed or not, can be a valuable resource for any student. They can offer advice when choosing a specialty, and recommend future employment opportunities, internships, and more. Taking advantage of the knowledge from someone who is trained and experienced in the field is not only smart, but also central to gaining a thorough understanding of the field of psychology.

Some students will have a well-defined route to a single specialty, while others will choose to specialize in two or more specialties. However, if a student demonstrates competence within a broader specialty, he or she might want to explore continuing education certificates, after gaining certification with the ABPP. However, not all certifications are recognized. A legitimate certification process should stress a peer review, so an individual would be wise to ensure obtaining a certificate involves more than a weekend class and a test.

Once certified, the ABPP will list the psychologist name in their directory of all board-certified psychologists. In order to remain in good standing, a specialist must test annually and adhere to all ABPP standards.

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