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The booming school psychology field is an attractive option for students seeking diverse jobs and promising pay, psychologists say. The field offers jobs in a variety of settings, from assisting adult learners to helping children overcome academic or social difficulty.

WHY IT'S HOT:

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that school psychology will be among the five fastest growing doctoral-level occupations through 2012.

"We simply haven't been able to turn out enough people to fill available jobs," says LeAdelle Phelps, PhD, associate dean for academic affairs at the University at Buffalo of the State University of New York and chair of the Council of Directors of School Psychology Programs.

Why so many openings? There's a growing population of school-age children and more schools now recognize students' special needs, says APA Div. 16 (School) President Cecil R. Reynolds, PhD.

As important is the impact of recent reports, such as the 2000 "Report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health," which called for more school professionals to meet children's mental health needs, notes Ron Palomares, PhD, APA's assistant executive director for policy and advocacy in the schools.

"School board members, parents and the community are now telling schools to pay more attention to mental health," he says. As schools focus on student outcomes, they see the impact mental health has on academic performance, he adds.

Moreover, many professionals in the field are nearing retirement-which will create new opportunities for future graduates, says William Pfohl Jr., PsyD, a Western Kentucky University psychology professor and president-elect of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP).


 WHAT YOU CAN DO:

About half the graduates of APA-accredited school psychology programs work in school settings, says Phelps.

So where are others working? "In clinics, mental health centers, hospitals, universities or even their own private practice," says Thomas Oakland, PhD, a University of Florida educational psychology professor and former Div. 16 president.

For example, university counselors can help students struggling with time management, and private practitioners can help children adjust to schools' social settings. A former student of Reynolds even works in IBM's learning systems group, developing teaching materials-such as interactive computer games-for adult learners.


 EARNINGS OUTLOOK:

Licensed, doctoral-level school psychologists earned a median annual income of $77,000 in 2001 while those with master's degrees earned $61,000 that year, according to the 2001 APA Salary Survey. APA's 2001 Doctorate Employment Survey found that new school psychologists' median starting salary was $57,444.


 HOW TO GET THERE:

School psychology students can pursue a three-year specialist's degree or the comprehensive doctoral-level degree, which prepares students to engage in independent, private practice, unlike the specialist's degree.

In school psychology graduate programs, students complete a dissertation and take courses focusing on program evaluation, supervision, testing, learning, development and assessment; advanced training in areas like diagnosis, treatment and consultation; and additional practical experiences through a focused practicum. Visit APA accredited school psychology programs.

To retrain, professional psychologists might need minimal schooling to become school psychologists depending on the state, Palomares says. For example, fewer than half the states require an internship in a school setting, and those that do range from 225 required school hours in New Jersey to one academic year in Connecticut, Illinois and Kentucky.

Practice-oriented graduate student members of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students can visit APA Practice to get state-by-state regulations and credentialing criteria for school psychologists, says Palomares.

Also, he adds, many school psychology programs help psychologists retrain to meet their state's school psychology credentials.


 PROS AND CONS:

The field is flexible: School psychologists often work for periods similar to the school year, which, while varying by state, is about 190 school days, Reynolds says.

As such, many school psychologists enjoy the same holidays and summer vacations that teachers do, Palomares notes. And since most states have similar training requirements, school psychologists also can find jobs nationwide, Pfohl adds.

But caveat emptor: Some school psychologists might work within a system that doesn't focus exclusively on mental health, Oakland says. "Some school officials might feel little responsibility to address mental health problems," he explains. "Their primary goal is to create conditions that will facilitate achievement among children."

Despite that, the work is rewarding, Phelps says: "You have a tremendous opportunity to provide early preventative services to children and make a significant difference in their lives."

 —M. GREER

What are the growth areas in psychology?

gradPSYCH takes a look in this first of an occasional series on areas where opportunities abound. The series will highlight the required training, job possibilities, average salaries and pros and cons of some of psychology's fastest-growing niches.