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From the eMailbox: Top 5 Questions I Get as a School Psychologist

I love when peeps write me with their burning school psychologist questions. (Insert curmudgeon voice): In MY day, we didn’t HAVE bloggers to write burning questions to. We had to CALL them or have a gypsy explain what school psychology was in a chance meeting in a restaurant in Reno, Nevada. Ahem. I digress.

I do love getting inquiries about our fine profession. As my BFF teacher blogger friend, Mrs. Mimi says, getting an education degree is the biggest purchase she has made. It’s good to know if working in education is a good match for you. AGREED. I accidentally looked at my student loan balance the other day, saw the 2034 payoff date, and shed a little tear. It’s best to know if school psychology is right for you before you throw down years of your life and heaps of cash. So, without further ado, here you go:

1) Is it true that school psychologists mostly do only assessment, writing reports, and doing paperwork?

Yes. Doh! I bet you did not see that coming. My blog is mostly about the non-assessment times—the counseling, the teachable moments, the funny interactions and the curious ways I navigate Bureaucracy Monsters. That is because no one would read a blog about me writing psychoeducational assessments. “Hey gang! I just thought of a new way to describe the phonological segmentation subtest!” Zzzzzz.

That being said, I have two points.

First, psychoeducational assessment is fun. I enjoy it. I like figuring out the puzzle of how a kid learns best, having the one-on-one interaction with kids, helping them see their strengths, and weaving in sneaky social-emotional assessment along the way. I think the way kids approach tasks, how they react to success and failure, what they do when tasks become hard, and what they say during testing is more important than the score. Sure, giving the same test a zillion times can be boring, but each kid approaches it in a different way, so it makes it okay. It is an opportunity to have therapeutic moments in the context of kids’ most important job—learning and doing well in school.

Second, report writing can be fun. Okay, fun is a strong word. It is certainly time consuming and can be redundant. I would rather be with kids than writing about kids, but I see the report as a way to communicate all the gems of information I found out about a student with the teachers, parents, support staff, and even the student. If my report changes someone’s view on the student, then they are more likely to change how they interact or teach the student. It’s one of those subtle ways to make a difference in a kid’s life. It doesn’t make for good Hollywood movies or blog posts, but it can be powerful stuff.

Third, (fine, so I have more than two points—quelle surprise) I have a unique situation that I have crafted for myself so I don’t do just testing and report writing. I am in a fairly progressive district in that they have funding structures set up for increased counseling time at school sites. An even more progressive district would have Response to Intervention and there would be even less testing, more intervention. Also, I am part time in the school district and part time in private practice (see question 4 below) so I get a mix.

2) What are the things you like the most about your job?
The yoots! Obviously. That answer is way too easy. Some of the other things I enjoy: the variety, the action/drama, the collaboration with others, the school schedule (como se dice SPRING BREAK and summers off?), the challenge, seeing inspirational teaching, and talking with tons of different people every day. I’m an ENFJ, I thrive in social chaos.

3) What do you dislike?
Knock knock. Who’s there? The Bureaucracy MONSTER.

It’s always there. It always knocks on my door and has me fill out a piece of paper I already filled out 4 times. Like the little Weight Watchers Monster, it is lurking everywhere. Only instead of donuts (yum) it lurks with paperwork that I have to do. It steals away my time with the kids. It keeps me from having a working plug in my office which creates a trip wire situation when I plug in my laptop or baby space heater since there’s no heat. It prevents a nice quiet space to work in with a working phone and voicemail. Oh, my kingdom to have voicemail…Boo on the Bureaucracy Monster.

Another hazard of our profession is that it’s a job that is very hard to employ traditional time management skills, even if you are a super organized nerdy nerd like myself. ** When you have a never-ending to-do list and no real way to prioritize one kid over another, you end up being frantically paralyzed on some days. And unlike a corporate job, the result of not getting to your action item has an effect not on a bottom line, but on kids lives. Not to get all hero complex on you, that’s just a perspective I have when I don’t get to all my students in a day. Truth is, they survive, but I find myself wanting to do more, Every. Single. Day. If you like a sense of completion, you will not like this job. Sorry, but there are few nice and neat therapy boxes. You do your best, plant the seeds, and hope they grow.

4)What is the difference between a masters/specialist-level and a Ph.D-level school psychologist? What are the advantages of having a Ph.D.?

We have established that I loved school so much I played it on the weekends. I get giddy when I see Target’s back to school ads. A Ph.D. was a clear choice for a school nerd like me. Now, if you are deciding between a Masters level or Ph.D. level program, here’s some things to consider:

Lemmie break it down, and people, do correct me if there are situations in your states that are different. In California, you do not need a Ph.D. to be a school psychologist, but some school psychologists have Ph.Ds. You DO need a Ph.D. to be a clinical psychologist (or commonly referred to just as “psychologist”). I realize this doesn’t make sense, semantically, that a psychologist is different from a school psychologist. But it is. I will put them in a hierarchy from least training/time to most training/time. More is not always better, mind you there are FAB masters level school psychologists, and Ph.D. level psychologists that I wonder if their license came out of a lucky cracker jack box.

a) Masters Level/Specialist School Psychologist: As the name implies, it requires a Masters degree. Usually it takes about 2 years coursework and 1 year internship. You are ready to go work in a school district.

b) Licensed Educational Psychologist: This exists only in California, as far as I know. This is a school psychologist (M.A. or Ph.D.) who has 3 or more years experience and can pass a state test to do private practice. They can do psychoeducational assessments and therapy as long as the therapy is for a school related issue.

c) Ph.D. Level School Psychologist: Ph.D. programs in school psychology usually take 5-7 years on average. You typically get your M.A. and credential along the way to getting your Ph.D. When you finish, you are ready to go to work in a school district with fancier business cards and possible a slightly higher pay scale. You can thrown down, “Um, that’s DOCTOR Branstetter, Ms. Annoying Advocate who doesn’t really understand how these things work.” Other advantages: You can teach at the University level to train future school psychologists, some districts may be more likely to hire you because you have more training.

d) Licensed Psychologist: This requires a Ph.D. and TONS of post-doctoral supervised clinical hours of experience. You also have to take a state and national test and pay a hojillion dollars for the privilege of taking them. Oh, did I say that outloud? I’m still a little bitter. Anyhoo, a licensed psychologist can do private practice, which includes psychoeducational assessment and counseling. They are not limited to only kids and school-related issues.

What’s important for people considering school psychology is that the job is exactly the same if you are employed by a school district, regardless if you have a M.A. or Ph.D. I do the same work as my friends without Ph.Ds. If you are content to work in the school in this role, no need to get a Ph.D.

Advantages of the Ph.D. include more training (usually in the area of research and clinical/counseling training), fancier business cards, and the ability to go on and do private practice. This is what I did. I got my school psychology M.A. and credential, began working in the schools and simultaneously did my dissertation while working part-time (oh! The painful memories!) A dissertation is no easy feat, my friends, especially while working in your first few years as a school psychologist. But I survived, and then did additional post-doctoral work to be a psychologist (again, a licensed psychologist credential is a whole new set of training, tests, and supervised professional experience).

Oh, and I don’t know how Ed.Ds or PsyDs fit into all this. If anyone does, do explain.

5) Why are you so awesome?

Okay, fine, no one has ever asked me that.

* Of course, it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t offer a disclaimer. My advice is based (and biased toward) my own experiences. It’s probably pretty Californiocentric as well. Don’t go makin’ life changes on my word only. I don’t want to get hate Email down the road: You said you loved your job and I hate mine!
**What? You don’t use a label maker to label all your spice jars and put them in alphabetical order too? Huh.

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Comments on From the eMailbox: Top 5 Questions I Get as a School Psychologist

  1. Shauna says:

    Add to your discussion of the variety of degrees that you can get to become a school psych: An M.A. through a school of education, an M.S. through a school of clinical psychology, or an M.S. through a school of applied psychology. The majority of my friends have degrees in educational psychology, while I have mine in clinical psychology, with an additional year in school psych. I got a lot more training in mental health disorders, lots more counseling theory than my bffs who went through a school of education. I think I missed some of the diagnostic eligibility stuff and had to learn that on the job–which really really sucked. And I learned all my functional behavioral assessment/analysis skills and really create behavior interventional skills on the job. Now that I have a second master's in education administration, I'm off to be the Special Education Director in a school district. Yay! {{help me…I'm scared}} Don't listen to my inner voice. That's kind of private and I need to go reprimand it for leaking…excuse me.

  2. Mimi says:

    Internet BFF friend here…and since I am a teacher, not a school psychologist, I feel qualified to comment on only the following few points:
    1. Seeing that you have a new post makes me smile.
    2. PhDs are painful, people! PAIN-FUL. Take it from someone who is in their sixth year with the light at the end of the seventh year tunnel. I hope to someday be able to say it was worth it. Fingers crossed. Oh, and donations welcome. 🙂
    3. Why are you so awesome? Totes can answer that one – first of all, you are HI-larious, smart, you label your spices and alphabetize them and your profile pics are billboard worthy.


  3. Jenni says:

    I'm so relieved to know that you also spend a great deal of your time with writing reports. Sometimes I read your posts and think, "I'm a school psychologist too. Why isn't my job as cool as her's?" I wish I was able to do more of the counseling (I'm an EdS School Psych), but we have School Counselors and School Social Workers who take care of all of that. I think one of the hardest parts of my jobs is that I work with a kid a couple of times, get kind of attached to them, and then basically say "See you in 3 years!" Sometimes they'll see me in the hall and say, "When are you going to come get me again??" It breaks my heart 🙁 Great post!

  4. Erika says:

    Ha, it WAS a bit california-centric, but you can't really help that.

    Some points I would like to add:

    1. A great deal of your assessment time will be cut out if you are in a district that does RtI. The district I'm about to enter for my year of internship is almost to full implementation, and several of the SP's I've spoken to say they spend the majority of their time engaging in consultation (as opposed to assessment like they have in the past). But I have to agree, I do enjoy psychoeducational assessments… kids really kill me and they all approach things differently. My favorite assessment moment of the month:

    Me: "How many degrees are in a circle?"

    *moments of careful consideration*
    "In fahrenheit or celsius?"

    Ha! So cute.

    2. A Masters and and Ed.S aren't exactly the same… a specialist degree is considered to be in between a Master's and a PhD – NASP-approved programs include those who only offer Ed.S and PhDs (not masters), and many state credentialing agencies require a specialist degree. Additionally, you can't become nationally certified as an SP without the specialist degree. Annnnd in a specialist program you are likely to have access to practica early on (I did in my first semester), as well as significant training in mental health disorders and and counseling theory whereas with a masters program it's far less likely.

    On the downside, good specialist programs are pretty tough to get into.

    Sorry, I get defensive.. all this time and money, I feel the need to spread the word about the value of an Ed.S! So overall I share your sadness on the length of time its going to take me to repay my debt (sob). Plus word on the (job market) street is that overall, SP's with Masters are less desirable.. I have two people within my cohort who came back for their PhDs even though they had their Masters already. Who really knows though.. get back to ya in a year when I apply for REAL jobs!

    great post 🙂

  5. Rob says:


    My school psychology program awards master's degrees, not Ed.S degrees, but it is still at the specialist level. It is a 60-hour, NASP-approved program that leads to the same licensing as an Ed.S.

    The university I am attending is medium-sized and is only accredited to award up to master's degrees, but the coursework, practicum's, internship etc., is still the same as the other NASP-approved school in Oklahoma (OSU). It was also equally as competitive to get into as OSU. In some cases, the degree awarded just seems like semantics.

    Unfortunately when I tell people I am getting my master's in SP, they immediately assume only thirty-something hours of coursework.

  6. Erika says:

    That is true! Which I found out later after a detailed reading of NASP's discussion of it! My bad!

    Though I don't quite understand they don't just award you the Ed.S if it's considered "specialist equivalent" with the 60 hrs?? Semantics indeed.

    And right, even for people who understand SP I'm sure they do just assume the 30 hrs… usually when I tell people I'm getting my Ed.S (people unfamiliar with SP anyway) they assume Masters level (typically 30something hours). I'm like no! No! And no, it is not the same as a guidance counselor! Not that I don't love the guidance counselors.. but we're different. So misunderstood.

  7. Rob says:

    We should start a group therapy session for misunderstood school psychology majors!

  8. Jess says:


    Just wanted to add my two cents. I will be starting my NASP-approved school psychology graduate program in the fall. I will be entering a Specialist program and will be awarded a SSP degree (Specialist in School Psychology). My university became the first public university in Texas to offer a specialist degree in September 2006. This degree falls between a master’s and a doctoral degree. The Specialist in School Psychology Program incorporates the Texas state requirements for licensure as a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP) and the national training standards for certification as a National Certified School Psychologist (NCSP). The Specialist in School Psychology program requires 63 semester hours and an internship among its requirements for graduation (2 years of course work and one year internship). So when I start my career a school district, I will be given the title of Licensed Specialist in School Psychology or LSSP. Here in Texas though, we are not allowed to be called a “Psychologist” without a PhD. I love that I will be awarded a specialist degree instead of a master’s because I am doing the extra 33 hours of work; however, I have not met one person who I have explained what degree I am seeking that even knows what school psychology is, much less a specialist degree…so exhausting!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Hey Dr.Bell/Brandstetter!

    Long time reader first time commenter! I'm starting my MA/PhD in school psych this fall and I'm so excited and scared! I'm hoping to get my PhD and go for licensure as a psychologist; how difficult is it to obtain a supervised post-doc position to get your clinical hours in? I recently read articles saying they're like gold dust…eeps!

    Please feel free to jump in, commenters! 🙂

  10. Anonymous says:

    I too am an ENFJ and have hit the fork-in-the-road for my career. As an undergraduate junior, just as you were, I'm considering graduate school in either (1) school psychology or (2) applied developmental. Your blog has helped me so much in giving me a taste of the life and reminding me of my crave for social chaos… which through research practica, I've found to be in short supply on the academia side of things.


  11. Anonymous says:

    Not to change the subject,however, can you please give my your opinion of the school psychology program at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Palm Beach, Florida. I start in the fall the master's degree. The program is only certified for the state of Florida and not nationally. I realize I will only be able to work in Florida upon completion, however, the fact that they are not recognized nationally, is this a big deal?

  12. Mayra says:

    Hello! I'm currently applying to masters programs for school psychology in Connecticut. Since assessments and reports are a large part of the job would you say that part of the job is diagnosis?

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hey great post, thanks for writing, I've been doing a lot of research into the profession and the different tracks and paths they can lead to. Your blog has been a real glimpse into the life, so thank you.

    I'm wondering, how long did it take you to get your PhD when you already had an EdS? Was the time shortened because you already had an advanced degree?

    It looks like my path might be EdS, then work, then PhD in either school psych or counseling psych or child psych.

    I would jump into a PhD IF I had any undergrad psychology prerequisites, but alas I have none. I graduated 5 years ago with a science degree.

    Many thanks! Mari

  14. Anonymous says:

    I read in one of the posts above that you can not attain your NCSP credential without a Ed.S. That is incorrect. I have an M.A., and received my NCSP certification. You just need to create a detailed portfolio and submit it for approval if your school psych program is not NASP approved. Basically anyone that is receiving a state credential will qualify with this method as long as you can obtain signatures from your supervisors, etc and go to the process. Hope this helps others. I needed to research this since I attended a non-NASP approved program in CA.

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