Educational Psychologists: What are they and how to become one

What conditions, biological and environmental, contribute to learning? What is the role of motivation? Educational psychologists explore these questions as they relate to different populations. They are experts in the science behind how people learn.

Educational psychology is one of several psychological specialties focused on youth and education. One difference between a school psychologist and an educational psychologist is that school psychologists are trained to work directly with children who have learning and behavioral issues; educational psychologists concentrate on the “macro”.

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Educational psychologists may also focus on adult learners. Educational psychology is considered the older field; some trace it as far back as Plato (
Often educational psychologists are researchers. They may also be consultants and educators. PhD level school psychologists can practice at the macro level, but a good portion of their training is spent learning to administer assessments and interventions and preparing to meet state licensing requirements.

An educational psychologist may not be qualified to provide diagnostic assessments to a school child — but still be qualified to analyze data and “diagnose” a school district. A psychologist may collect and study many forms of data and make recommendations for improved performance. Indiana State University, which offers both a school psychology degree and a PhD in “inquiry methodology”, notes that inquiry graduates may be employed as research specialists for testing companies and state level education departments. Capella University lists the following as possible careers for educational psychology graduates: psychometrician, adjunct faculty, researcher, and educational activities director.

Educational Psychologist Professional Resources

Division 15 of the American Psychological Association is an organization of 1,300 individuals committed to educational psychology ( Division 15 publishes a journal, Educational Psychologist, and maintains a site where readers can interact and browse educational psychology resources (

Educational Psychology Degree Programs

Educational psychology may be studied at the master’s or doctoral level. At the master’s level, applied educational psychology may be combined with developmental psychology. Master’s level programs may be sought out by educators seeking to enhance their teaching. Higher level research positions typically require a PhD.

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Click Here to learn more about psychology education options based on your current educational attainment.

Educational psychology coursework may include the following:

  • Educational research
  • Program evaluation
  • Brain research study

Student will also get plenty of coursework in psychological methodologies: data analysis, regression and correlation, advanced research design. Ideally, they will become experts in both quantitative and qualitative data. The student may have the opportunity to select a concentration, for example, ‘assessment and program evaluation’.

The doctoral dissertation typically represents more than a year of work. It is an opportunity to do original research and distinguish oneself in the field. Division 15 has awards for outstanding dissertation research.

Other Options: School Psychology Degree

School psychology programs can also offer a viable pathway into educational psychology. School psychology generally requires a specialist degree – it may not take as long as it would to earn a doctoral degree. However, an individual who wants to research and teach in a higher education setting will do well to earn a PhD. The American Psychological Association accredits programs at the doctoral level.

Credentialing for Educational Psychologists

School psychologists must be licensed or certified. Use of the title “psychologist” generally requires a license, but states typically exclude some work settings from license requirements.

Career Outlook for this field

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the psychology field as a whole is growing faster than average. In 2012, salaries averaged $71,730 for school and health service psychologists in elementary and secondary school settings and $67,190 for those in educational support services ( They averaged $100,380 and $84,190 respectively for psychologists in other specialties who worked in these settings.

The APA conducted a survey in 2010. Beginning salaries for doctoral level psychologists were listed by practice area. They were as follows: $60,767 for researchers, $72,767 for educational administrators, $42,212 for lecturers, and $59,155 for assistant professors. (
Just 4.3% of recent developmental psychology doctoral graduates fell in the “unemployed seeking” category.