I’ll start off by giving you my conclusion, which is being a school psychologist is a pretty good career choice…if you like the “pros” and don’t mind the “cons” of the profession. Like any job in education, it is not exactly all about the adorable children and long summer vacations, unfortunately. Those children sometimes kick and bite! If you are thinking about a career in the field of school psychology, hopefully this Pro and Con list can help guide you to your decision. I have been a school psychologist for 15 years and have had both good school years and bad school years. Many things have factored into my job satisfaction as a school psychologist, such as my case load, commute, and leadership at my schools. But, here are a few things that are good, as bad, about the profession, in general. I’ll start with the “pros”, and thow in a few “cons” to keep things balanced.
Pro: You get to help children with disabilities.
If you want to work with children, but not in the capacity of a teacher, being a school psychologist might be right for you. You get to work with and help children, particularly children with disabilities, by assessing them for services, supporting their parents and teachers, and by providing then with mental health services. Most of the children that you support as a school psychologist have cognitive more than physical disabilities, such as Autism, ADHD, or Learning Disabilities. Others will have more severe disabilities that can impair their cognition and physical limitations. If you think that you would be inspired by, and want to support children with disabilities, then that may be the most important factor in your decision making about this profession.
As a school psychologist, you will get to support these students by using your expertise from your schooling to make recommendations for their education and are part of the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) team for each student that you evaluate for services. As the expert at your school sites in identifying disabilities, you can help children and their teachers and parents with you knowledge of learning, behavior, and child development. Not all careers are helping professions. If you want to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families while earning a good income, then becoming a school psychologist may be a good choice for you.
Con: Dealing with children’s parents can be STRESSFUL!
Well, these children will have parents that care about them very much. Sometimes, the parents of the children at you are helping will view you and your district as an adversary. They may not trust your advice. They may not listen to your recommendations. Just like doctors, they may Google your tests and ask you several questions about standard deviations and dyslexia. You will adjust to these parents and know who they are, as they are typically few and far between. Some parents may even have “advocates” or attorneys. This is where having a school district and leadership above you will come in to play to support you. If they do not, it may be a district issue more than a parent one.
Pro: You don’t need to get a PhD
While it is super fancy to have a doctorate, you do not need all of that schooling and possible debt to become a school psychologist. My program back in 2004 was a two and a half year program at a state college (CA), plus a year of (unpaid) internship. More and more internships pay these days, but only around $5000-$10,000 for the whole school year, so don’t bank on a paid internship. It’s better to get it done in a district that might hire you for the real job than get paid pennies for your time and efforts.
Doctorates are much more lengthy and expensive to obtain than a Masters (with Credential) to be a school psychologist. For my program, I was able to work in the day and attend classes at night, so financially it was not too much of a hardship until my internship year. Doctorate programs will likely be a full-time commitment, with little time to earn money while you attend your program. That might mean that you go into debt to obtain your degree. However, the earning potential of having a doctorate is much greater than what you will likely make as a school psychologist, so it might be worth the sacrifice to you.
Pro: You get to be a leader.
School psychologists fall somewhere in the grey area between teacher and principals. If the principal is off campus, you may even be technically the one left in charge for the day. It is nice to have a leadership role at your schools without actually having to tell other adults what to do or hire and fire anyone. You get to consult teachers, be the expert in your scope of practice, and help out when you are available. Your role as a leader is often dependent on your principal, but your are definitely respected by teachers and staff, as long as you treat them with respect as well.
Con: You may feel like you should have a law degree.
This goes back to those pesky parents and advocates who want to be confrontational to try and get money from the school district. Advocates are the worst. In my experience, they are gross people who get parents to believe that the district is wronging them in some way, so that they can get paid to attend IEP meetings. They make claims and arguments that the school is violating the students rights and will make you sweat a great deal at IEP meetings. The best defense against these people is to write great reports and know the laws. This may take a few years, or maybe ten, but I rarely break a sweat these days when confronted with these adversaries.
Pro: You get Summer, Spring, and Winter vacations…and Holidays Off!
It’s June 8th. And, just like teachers, you will be counting down the days until summer vacation beginning after Spring Break. It’s not that you will dislike your job. It will just be that the Spring season can be very exhausting due to tons of referrals for assessments at the end of the school year. Getting school holidays and vacations is one of the best perks of being a school psychologist. Other professions may only give you two to four weeks of vacation. As a school psychologist, you will likely get TWELVE WEEKS!
Vacations includes a full week for Thanksgiving and Spring Break! It’s just like being a college student, only you earn money that you can spend on vacationing! And, don’t forget all of the Monday holidays in January and February. They make it possible to get out of town if you are able. Other great professions, such as nurses may only work 2-3 days per week, but you will have to work through the summer and on some holidays if they fall on one of your scheduled shifts. Other professions also typically make you request vacation time, which can be denied by your supervisor!
Con: You will likely work more than your school hours.
Truth be told, I am writing this article on my sick day home. I have a temperature and a cough, but I worked all morning on a report on my couch. Why, you may ask? Because school psychologists do not have substitutes and we do have A LOT of deadlines. That’s right. There is no one to write your reports for you when you feel sick, need a personal day, or if your child is sick. Sometimes meets can be pushed back a little, but there are legal timelines for our reports.
If you are not an organized person, or hate deadlines, then being a school psychologist might not be a good fit for you. There are other professions that allow you to be done when you clock out for the day. That is not the school psychologist life from September through June. My biggest tip for success as school psychologists would probably be to always get your testing and counseling done when it is school hours. This is because reports can, and will, be written on your couch at night or on your weekends. Yes, some of those three-day weekends may also have to be reserved for report writing.
Pro: You have a good daily schedule for having a family.
This goes back to all that vacation time and holidays that will mostly coincide with your children’s schedules. It also refers to the daily hours, which are generally 7:30-3:30 depending on the day. At my two school sites, I actually have different start and end times due to the districts bussing schedule, but basically you work school hours. I do have to pay for child care, however, as school psychologists often have morning and afternoon meetings. If you have to commute, you may also need to pay a little extra for child care. But, unlike many professions, you will almost always be home with your kids in time to get them to activities, help with homework, make dinner, and do a nightly routine.
I may also write another article on this one day, but my best advice for picking a school district is to find one that does not require a commute. For many many years I commuted around an hour, ONE WAY! Commuting is the worst as it is not good for your health, your back, or your mental health. My current commute is seven minutes, and it has really improved my job satisfaction as a school psychologist. Even if a meeting runs a little long, or I didn’t sleep well the night before, I never have to feel anxious about the commute to or from work.
Pro: You get to make your own schedule and have your own office
While you may have a list of 20 things to do in one day, you can generally decide daily if you want to do all, some, or one of them. Unlike teachers, you do not have a classroom of students that require your energy and full attention all day. You get to work with one student at a time for testing or with up to five students at a time for counseling. If you feel tired or want to prioritize report writing for the day, you can. You are in charge of your daily schedule. So, it is up to you with what you want to accomplish with your day.
School Psychologists are also often given their own office. This makes it possible for your to make a nice and cozy space to work in. You get privacy and independence. You get to play music or a podcast while you type up reports if you like, kind of like studying in a coffee shop. When you are not counseling or testing students, you are often on your own. This work lifestyle can become lonely at times, as you do not have constant adult interactions during your work day. To combat this, school psychs should try to eat lunch with the teachers, build relationships with collogues, such as counselors, at their school sites.
Pro: You get paid well!
Insert your favorite song about “Money” here________! I think that being a school psychologist pays really well for having a Master’s Degree (and PPS credential.) It is especially good pay when you factor in the life style that the profession provides. Do some research though to make sure that it is the income that you are shooting for. My recommendation would be to look at edjoin.org. Most districts have longevity increases, so be sure to look up how much you will get paid after 5, 10, and 20 years, not just the starting pay amount. Indeed mostly posts the non-school district postings that are for companies that hire out and are for a lot less money than a school district would pay.
I’m sure that there are professions that can potentially pay more with less education, such as real estate agents or YouTubers. But, if you want to help children, have good daily hours, gets lots vacation days, make your own daily schedule, and make a relatively good income, then the profession of school psychologist might be a good choice for you.