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What are the Prerequisites for a Doctorate in School Psychology?

A doctorate in school psychology can be obtained online or through a traditional university setting. Both types of universities have strict admission requirements to ensure applicants will excel in the field. However, different schools prioritize different types of applicants. Some colleges want academic superstars. Others prefer people-oriented graduates with a demonstrated passion for service. Here are a few of the most common prerequisites for a doctoral degree in school psychology.

An Undergraduate Degree

In some fields, like pharmacy, students can enter graduate-level training without completing an undergraduate degree. School psychology is not one of these fields. Applicants must have completed a 4-year degree to be qualified for admission. According to the National Association of School Psychologists, an undergraduate degree in psychology is not required. Students can be accepted with a background in human services, education or social work if they can demonstrate a firm understanding of psychological principles. For these students, a minor in psychology is often recommended and often complements the major field of study.

Demonstrated Research Ability

A doctoral degree in psychology comes in two forms: A PsyD and a Ph.D. Most school psychology programs award the PsyD, which is not a research-oriented degree. It prepares students to provide counseling services in an academic setting and focuses on building clinical competence. Some doctoral students in school psychology don't write a dissertation to graduate. Instead, they complete a year-long internship under a licensed supervisor. According to the American Psychology Association, students passionate about research should pursue a Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., in psychology. These degrees provide advanced training in conducting scientific research, but they don't focus directly on school psychology. Of course, graduates can put their skills to work conducting research on the best ways to improve school psychology practices. Ph.D. applicants need research experience. PsyD applicants do not.

Resource: The Top 50 Doctoral Programs in School Psychology

Graduate Readiness Exam (GRE) Scores

Prestigious programs want high-quality students. One of the easiest ways to evaluate applicants is through standardized testing. Graduate-level psychology degrees use the Graduate Readiness Exam or GRE. This exam evaluates a test-taker's analytical writing, verbal reasoning and quantitative reasoning. Sometimes, applicants with a master's degree in psychology don't need GRE scores. Students with only a B.S. or B.A. in psychology will need to submit GRE results to be considered at most schools.

Volunteer Experience

Because school psychology is a helping field, graduate programs want to see applicants with a passion for serving others. Volunteer experience can make up for deficiencies elsewhere in an application. Students with low undergraduate GPAs or GRE results are especially encouraged to gain relevant experience. Completing a doctorate in school psychology requires an extended practicum experience. Accumulating volunteer hours can help applicants build relationships with potential practicum sites. A few hours per week volunteering at a specific organization might lead to a paid graduate practicum later on.

Even applicants with limited undergraduate academic success can thrive in the right graduate program. Anyone passionate about earning a doctorate in school psychology should reach out to potential schools and learn how to build the strongest possible application.