The academic discipline of educational psychology has grown rapidly over the past several decades, as teachers, administrators, and policy makers look to improve the quality and effectiveness of schools. Educational psychologists research the processes of human learning and cognitive development, using this research to develop teaching and educational programs. School psychologists apply the insights of educational psychology to help schools address psychological issues in the classroom.
A terminal degree, such as a PhD, PsyD, or EdS in Educational Psychology can prepare you for an academic or advanced professional practice career. Educational psychology plays an important role in the development of public policy, school curricula, and support programs for students. Choose from the academic PhD, the applied PsyD, or the EdS, an advanced specialist credential.
Achieving the highest degree in the field takes planning and a clear sense of purpose. This guide takes you through the application process, helping you develop a sense of what you want to do and how a doctoral degree can help you do it.
A Guide to the PhD, PsyD, and EdS in Educational Psychology
Whether you choose to pursue a PhD, PsyD, or EdS, a terminal degree in educational psychology is a significant investment in your future. Focusing your goals at the outset can ensure that you get the most return from your academic journey. This guide to doctoral degrees in educational psychology introduces you to the academic and career paths available today.
For additional information about the psychology discipline, consult WorldWideLearn.com’s, where you’ll find some guidance to choosing campus-based and online PhD programs. You can also find comprehensive coverage of the educational psychology doctorate degree in the American Psychological Association’s handbook, Graduate Study in Psychology.
PhD, PsyD, or EdS in Educational Psychology
Terminal degrees in educational psychology have evolved to accommodate different career objectives. Your choices today are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Doctor of Education, Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), or Educational Specialist (Eds) degree. While all are terminal qualifications–the highest qualification in their respective categories–only the PhD in Educational Psychology and PsyD in Educational Psychology are doctoral degrees. The EdS in Educational Psychology degree’s requirements place it between a master’s and doctorate degree.
The right doctorate degree for you should depend on your career goals:
Academic. The PhD in Educational Psychology is the best choice for students pursuing an academic career as a university professor or researcher. The PhD in Educational Psychology typically focuses on developing advanced research skills, preparing you to contribute original scholarship and teach at a four-year university.
The EdS in Educational Psychology is the appropriate qualification if you are aiming for an academic career as a community college instructor. The degree traditionally takes less time to complete and doesn’t require a research dissertation. Instead, you usually focus on developing specialized knowledge and teaching skills.
Professional. The PsyD in Educational Psychology offers a strong curriculum for students heading into professional practice careers. Equal in rigor and curriculum to the PhD, the PsyD in Educational Psychology shifts the focus from original research to the application of knowledge in a professional context. This emphasis on applied practice over theoretical innovation offers PsyD in Educational Psychology candidates the chance to deepen their professional practice. EdS degrees also feature the opportunity for professional development in a specialized area, preparing graduates to practice as an educational psychologist.
PhD, EdS, and PsyD Programs: Specializations and Career Opportunities
Within each degree program, including online doctoral degree programs, you can find a range of specializations. Focus your career path by choosing one of these areas of expertise:
- Child development
- School counseling
- Educational measurement or assessment
- Program design and evaluation
- Learning theory
- Learning disabilities
The specialization you choose can prepare you for a career in a related area. Most doctoral and specialist degree graduates apply their education as a teacher, researcher, or practicing school psychologist. Other options include educational consultant, program evaluator, school counselor, and testing specialist.
How to Apply for a PhD, PsyD, or EdS in Educational Psychology
Armed with a sense of your educational and career objectives, you’re ready to develop a game plan for achieving them. This section guides you through the application logistics step by step, helping you find the best fit for your interests and goals. You can also find links to useful online resources.
Step One: Develop a List of Accredited PhD and PsyD Programs
Goal: To find accredited PhD and PsyD programs in school psychology.
The first step in the school research process is developing a list of PhD and PsyD degrees in school counseling or education psychology. Online directories and accreditation agency databases are useful resources for locating PhD programs, as well as online PhD programs, that meet a minimum standard of quality.
Accreditation offers a baseline measure of an institution’s academic quality, and should be a non-negotiable factor in your school selection process. Accreditation guarantees the value of your degree and the quality of your education, and helps you secure federal financial aid. Independent accreditation agencies perform regular program evaluations to certify colleges and universities and publish lists of institutions that meet their quality standards. The U.S. Department of Education maintains a database of approved accreditation agencies, including regional, state, and national accrediting authorities. Before you embark upon in-depth research of campus-based and online PhD programs, you may want to learn more about the accreditation process from WorldWideLearn.com.
The American Psychology Association offers a good starting point for your research. Its list of nearly sixty Accredited PhD Programs in School Psychology represents many of the nation’s most reputable PhD and PsyD programs in educational psychology.
- The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), a division of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, offers a useful list of nationally certified school psychology PhD programs that meet its evaluation criteria. NASP is a professional association, not an accrediting agency, so you may have to verify the accreditation of any schools through another source. The majority of PhD and PysD programs that meet the criteria for NASP “national recognition” are NCATE-accredited institutions.
- WorldWideLearn.com also sponsors a list of doctorate degree programs that meet its quality criteria. All WorldWideLearn.com partners are accredited by an approved national or regional agency. Browse a list of university partners that offer online PhD programs, or focus your search for psychology and school counseling doctorate degrees with the online degree programs by subject resource.
- The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) maintains a searchable database of accredited institutions. This comprehensive list includes education-related programs at all levels. The database can help you verify the quality of programs on your list, but it casts too wide a net to be useful in creating a list of PhD and PsyD programs in school psychology.
Step Two: Campus or Online PhD Programs?
Goal: Focus your search by program format, choosing either a campus, hybrid, or online PhD degree program.
A growing number of PhD and PsyD programs in school psychology rely on virtual communications technology to mediate all or some of the educational experience. The right format for you depends on your circumstances and career goals.
Online: Online PhD programs have an obvious practical advantage: flexibility. The Internet-based option is self-paced and asynchronous–you can access the virtual classroom and communicate with faculty on your own time. Online PhD and PsyD degrees are a popular choice among working adults who need to manage work and family commitments alongside their education.
An online PhD program also offers a career advantage for students in doctorate programs. In the context of a professional career track, the work-study balance becomes an asset rather than a distraction. In addition to networking with other professionals and future colleagues, you should have the opportunity to apply your research directly in a professional setting. Since the PsyD emphasizes real-world applications of educational psychology scholarship, your day job offers a natural laboratory for your academic work.
Campus: A campus program suits aspiring academics for the same reason: it offers an inside track into your intended career. Academic PhD programs in school psychology typically require at least a temporary campus residency to encourage students to make use of campus resources such as faculty mentors, community events, and facilities such as library collections. Many academic PhD programs go a step further and require full-time campus study, enabling students to take advantage of “apprentice”-like programs such as teaching and research assistantships.
- WorldWideLearn.com can help you locate PhD and PsyD programs that offers your preferred learning environment. Search campus and online PhD in school psychology programs using the Online Degree Programs and Campus Education search function. If you choose a full-time campus program, use the Campus Degrees by Location search to find programs near you.
Step Three: Explore Academic Programs
Goal: Explore academic programs further to identify a match between your interests and program emphases.
This step is potentially the most important and the most time-consuming in the research process. Each doctorate degree program features a different approach to educational psychology and school counseling, influenced primarily by faculty research interests.
Faculty areas of interest offer the best indicator of a department’s program emphases and the potential directions your doctoral research can take. Since faculty mentorship is an important feature of the PhD in School Psychology–more important even than the course curriculum–you should find a doctorate degree program whose faculty interests are aligned with yours.
Other indications of a PhD or PsyD program’s academic emphases:
- Courses offered and required curriculum
- Special programs such as school exchange programs, school-sponsored journals, research institutes, etc.
- Relationships with professional associations, private foundations, educational nonprofits, etc.
- WorldWideLearn.com takes some of the legwork out of the program research process by connecting you directly with schools that match your criteria. Simply indicate your academic program preferences on WorldWideLearn.com’s online form. The system notifies schools that match your profile, and their admissions counselors contact you directly. School representatives can answer your questions about the program and put you in touch with potential faculty mentors. The automated process saves you time, allowing you to cover more ground in your program research.
- PhD Programs’ Web sites. For detailed information about course offerings, faculty publications, and special programs, consult each school’s Web site. You can find course descriptions and reading lists, faculty bios and curriculum vitae, doctoral degree requirements, and more.
- Academic Journals. Read academic journals in education psychology to identify the leading scholars in your specialty. These professors and researchers can serve as a valuable resource to you, even if you don’t pursue a mentorship with them directly. They should have an inside perspective on your area of specialization, and can recommend top programs and colleagues doing work in that area. Some journals in educational psychology include:
- Child Development
- Educational Psychologist
- Review of Educational Research
- Journal of Educational Psychology
- American Educational Research Journal
The American Psychological Association also publishes a newsletter representing the education psychology, The School Psychologist. The newsletter offers a good general introduction to the field, its leading scholars, and research trends in its Research Forum section. For example, check out “Faculty Publications in APA-Accredited School Psychology Training Programs” in the Winter 2007 issue.
Step Four: Evaluate Program Quality
Goal: To select four to six PhD programs, including online PhD, PsyD, or EdS programs in Educational Psychology on which to focus your application efforts, taking into account both the program’s quality and your own academic record.
In the final stage of selecting a doctorate degree program, you should evaluate program quality and identify the best PhD programs available to you. This is another match-making exercise. In addition to evaluating the programs on your list you should also evaluate your own competitiveness as an applicant. Your goal is to identify the best campus and online PhD programs with admissions criteria that match your own academic record. You should to reach for one program slightly out of your league (your dream school) while also hedging your bets with one program well within your reach (a safety school).
Evaluate PhD and PsyD in Educational Psychology quality by researching each program’s:
- Graduation Rate
- Job Placement Statistics
- Career Support Resources
- Student Body Profile
Evaluate your own application profile in terms of:
- Undergraduate GPA
- Standardized test scores (GRE)
- Faculty support and recommendations
- Work experience, publications, internships, etc.
Rankings offer a broad picture of academic reputation and quality. Check out the following rankings of PhD and PsyD programs (including online PhD programs):
- U.S. News & World Report publishes the most visible ranking, favoring schools with the highest reputation within the academic community.
- The National Research Council employs a more rigorous evaluation method, giving more weight to research contributions and facilities.
- The Center for Measuring University Performance publishes an annual report ranking top American research universities
School Data paints a detailed picture of the program’s selectivity, the student experience, and the value of the PhD, PsyD, or EdS doctorate degree in the school psychology job market. Ask the admissions department for statistics on the job placement of recent doctoral graduates, the percentage of graduates who take academic and professional positions, the tenure success of graduates. You can also ask for demographic information on the doctoral student body. Most schools publicize selectivity data on their website, including admissions criteria such as average GPA and test scores of successful applicants.
Preparing for PhD, EdS, and PsyD Programs in Educational Psychology
Taking the time to find the right doctorate degree program sets you up for success down the road. Once you’ve found the program that fits your academic interests and career goals, you’re ready to set the plan in motion. WorldWideLearn.com’s Education Resources Guide can help you navigate graduate education, with practical advice on everything from online learning techniques to financial aid.
A PhD or PsyD degree in Educational Psychology is a significant investment in your future. Planning your career path from the outset helps you make the most of the academic experience. With continued commitment to your goal you can achieve the ultimate return on your investment: an intellectually engaging career in academia or professional practice.
- American Psychological Association (APA), Accredited Programs in School Psychology
- Capella University, Education Specialist Degree Program
- The Center for Measuring University Performance
- Council of Specialties in Professional Psychology, School Psychology
- National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), NASP-Approved/Nationally-Recognized Graduate Programs in School Psychology
- National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), List of NCATE-Accredited Schools, Colleges, and Departments of Education
- National Research Council, Assessment of Research Doctorate Programs
- The School Psychologist, Faculty Publications in APA-Accredited School Psychology Training Programs, by Angela Wagner et al.
- U.C. Berkeley School of Psychology, School Psychology Graduate Programs
- University of Florida, Graduate Programs in Educational Psychology
- U.S. Department of Education, Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
- U.S. News & World Report, Best Graduate Schools in Psychology
- West Chester University, Careers in Educational Psychology