MS & Specialist in School Psychology FAQs

Additional information on some of these questions and responses to other questions about School Psychology may be found in the "About School Psychology" pages of the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) website.

School psychologists are an important part of the support team available in America's schools. School psychologists are specially trained to help students of all ages reach their fullest potential academically and socially. Through their skills in consultation, assessment, intervention, and program evaluation, school psychologists work closely with teachers, administrators, parents, and community agencies to identify and treat the challenges facing students.

See also "Who Are School Psychologists".

Although the specific roles of both school psychologists and school counselors will vary somewhat, commonly school psychologists tend to be more involved with the special education system than are school counselors, and school counselors are more involved with the general population of students than school psychologists.

School psychologists usually are a key part of assessment teams that are responsible for determining whether students are eligible for special education services, and for later evaluating the effectiveness of services provided and making modifications as appropriate. As part of this role, the school psychologist is often responsible for the intellectual assessment of the student, and generally collects a variety of other assessment information. School psychologists also serve as consultants to parents and teachers in developing and monitoring academic and social/behavioral interventions for students.

In contrast, most school counselors deal primarily with regular education students. Elementary school counselors often provide individual and group counseling to students; for example, they may do social skills training or conduct groups for kids dealing with divorce or loss. Secondary school counselors may do some individual and group counseling, but also are involved in school-wide assessments, scheduling classes, and helping students with post-high school planning (e.g., college applications, vocational planning).

The roles of the school psychologist and school counselor often do overlap; for example, both may be involved in developing behavioral intervention plans, individual and group counseling, working with families, crisis intervention, and coordination of services with outside agencies.

In many states, school counselors must have education degrees and experience as a classroom teacher in order to be certified. This generally is not a requirement for school psychologists. While teaching experience is a good background, many school psychologists have undergraduate degrees in psychology or another discipline.

The basic training standard for graduate programs in school psychology is a minimum of 60 semester credits. Not all institutions in all states are authorized to grant Specialist degrees. Some training programs which cannot grant Specialist degrees may grant the Master's after all 60 (or more) credits have been completed or they may grant the Master's earlier and then award a "Certificate of Advanced Study" or some other recognition of the additional credits taken.

A Specialist degree is a degree earned after a person has a Master's degree (or the equivalent of a Master's degree). It is a degree that falls between a Master's and a doctoral degree. In the MSU Moorhead School Psychology program, the Master of Science (M.S.) degree is earned after the first 30 credits of coursework and the Specialist degree is earned after an additional 35 credits for a total of 65 semester credits of graduate work in school psychology. Students are not admitted into the Specialist degree program until they have completed the M.S. degree.

MSU Moorhead has been authorized to grant a Specialist degree to school psychology students since 1985. Students who complete the degree may use the abbreviation "PsyS" as part of their professional title.

Which Attendance Model? On Campus or Online

There is a choice of learning formats for classes:

  1. In-person classes on campus
  2. Entirely online with 3-5 summer days on campus.

Students will be asked to identify if they are interested in being considered for the online attendance option. Candidates in the online option will need to provide evidence of the ability to complete the required field experiences in appropriate school settings prior to final admission.

Below is a checklist to help you decide what is the best decision for you.

On Campus

  • I live within 60-90 miles of Fargo-Moorhead or can move to the Fargo-Moorhead area (extenuating circumstances will be considered).
  • I want a more traditional in-person learning model.
  • I am interested in an on-campus Graduate Assistantship (optional).
  • I want the Program to find my practicum placements in the Fargo-Moorhead area and surrounding region.
  • I can consistently attend classes on-campus at least 2 afternoons/evenings per week.
  • I will be able to complete the required three semesters of practicum (100 hours each, approximately 1 to 1.5 days per week) during the school day in addition to any other job responsibilities that I may have.
  • I will be able to complete the required full-year internship (1200 hours) either in the region or elsewhere in the country.
  • I am able to attend summer classes for at least the first two summers of my program, including a 3-5 day on-campus residency.
  • I will be able to devote at least 2 hours of additional preparation time each week for each course credit I am enrolled in each semester (in addition to course attendance). For example, 6 hours of outside work per week for a 3 credit class.

Entirely Online Learning

  • I do not live within 60-90 miles of the Fargo-Moorhead area and cannot move. (extenuating circumstances will be considered).
  • I have, or can make, arrangements with a school district or educational co-operative in my area to complete the required three semesters of practicums (100 hours each). These arrangements must include access to appropriate supervision (usually by a school psychologist).
  • I will be able to complete the required three semesters of practicum (100 hours each, approximately 1 to 1.5 days per week) during the school day in addition to any other job responsibilities that I may have.
  • I will be able to make arrangements to complete the required full-year internship (1200 hours).
  • I am able to attend on-line summer classes for at least the first two summers of my program, including a 3-5 day on-campus residency.
  • I am able to attend synchronous Zoom classes at least two afternoons/evenings per week.
  • I will be able to devote at least 2 hours of additional preparation time each week for each course credit I am enrolled in each semester (in addition to course attendance). For example, 6 hours of outside work per week for a 3 credit class.
  • I have access to children with whom I can practice test administrations.
  • I have reliable internet access and reliable computer/printer/scanner equipment.

Applicants will need to work with a School District or Special Education Cooperative to ensure appropriate field placements are available. There are several possible scenarios for an entirely online student:

  • A District or Coop identifies a possible applicant for a “grow your own” model where the District develops a clear plan for supporting the graduate student.
    OR
  • The applicant works with a District or Coop to develop a clear plan for completing the required field placements.

We encourage any applicant considering the entirely-online option to work closely with the MSUM Program Director while creating a field placement plan. Below are the basic requirements to help guide planning and decisions about appropriate placements.

  • 3 semesters of practicum (Fall Year 1, Spring Year 1, and Spring Year 2 (or Year 3 under the 4-Year Plan).
  • Each practicum is a minimum 100 hours for the semester conducted during regular school hours in a school setting.
  • Practica must be supervised by a school psychologist. Practica 1 and 3 may be supervised by another professional appropriate to the setting approved by the MSUM faculty.
  • Across the 3 practica, graduate students should have access to students PreK-12 with a variety of educational needs and in a variety of settings.
  • Practica experiences must allow for completion of required course assignments.
  • Students must not be expected to complete activities beyond their level of training.
  • Students will abide by all district policies and practices.
  • Students need to pass a background check either through the MSUM program or their school districts.
  • Any compensation for the student’s work will be negotiated between the student and the district/agency.
  • Students will keep a daily log of all practicum activities and hours.
  • Students will communicate with MSUM and district if they need to be absent on a scheduled practicum day.
  • Supervisors need to complete evaluations of the student and meet with the university supervisor.
  • Districts need to provide access to appropriate materials and settings and work with MSUM on access to any materials unavailable on-site.
  • Graduate students need access to student records on a need-to-know-basis.

In addition to the 3 practica, there is a 1200 hour required internship. If the applicant plans to complete the internship in the same District or Coop, the internship should be discussed when planning the practicum placements and supervisors.

Field-based practica provides public school experience to students. There are three total practica related to specific courses taken throughout the program plus a 1200 hour internship. Students start completing practica the first Fall semester of enrollment. Practica are 100 hours minimum each, are supervised by educators and school psychologists in the schools, and are coordinated with course work so students can apply concepts and techniques learned in class.

For on campus students, MSUM faculty line up the practica sites and supervisors. Entirely-online students need to provide evidence of the ability to complete the required field experiences in appropriate school settings prior to final admission to the program and will continue to work with faculty and school personnel to make sure each practicum meets MSUM requirements. More information about the field experience requirements for entirely-online students.

Since MSU Moorhead borders Minnesota and North Dakota and has access to different sizes and types of school systems, our graduate students in the Fargo-Moorhead area have the opportunity to learn about how different educational systems operate. Also, the Fargo-Moorhead and surrounding area schools are becoming increasingly diverse with sizable Hispanic and American Indian communities and increasing numbers of new immigrants from a wide variety of countries. Thus, students' practicum experiences are diverse in many aspects. Practicum experiences in alternative school settings or in schools in or near American Indian reservations also have been developed to enhance our students’ experience with diverse students and settings. An effort is made to place students in different settings for the three practica so you have the opportunity to work with a variety of age groups, in more than one district, in an applied environment, and often in both rural and urban settings.

A 1,200 hour internship during the third year of study serves as the capstone experience for training. Internships are usually positions within school districts or special education cooperatives in the tri-state area. Internships that students have taken in recent years have all been at least partially paid, and usually fully paid, positions.

Internships are usually in school districts or education cooperatives in Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota. In the last several years, we have had several students complete internships in Iowa, as well. We also have had interns in other states, such as Colorado, Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Virginia, Alaska and Hawaii. These interns have made use of our distance learning capabilities to participate in the classes we teach in conjunction with the internship.

Students may choose whether to complete either a Plan A (thesis) or Plan B (project) for the Master's degree program. The thesis provides the student the opportunity to do an in-depth project under the individual supervision of a faculty member. The thesis may be directly related to research being conducted by the faculty supervisor or they may be independent of the faculty supervisor's research, but still within that person's area of interest and expertise. The projects are typically based on implementation and progress monitoring data from an academic or behavioral intervention conducted at a practicum site or in another applied setting. Both the thesis and project require analysis of the existing literature, criticial thinking and analysis of results and implications. Projects also are supervised by a faculty member chair who works closely with the graduate student.

Students often also have the opportunity to assist with faculty research projects. For example, over the past years students have assisted in collecting data for studies on preschool vocabulary development, the language and literacy skills of American Indian students, and an evaluation study of a controversial vision therapy project in a local school system.

MSU Moorhead welcomes applicants with a variety of undergraduate majors. To be adequately prepared, students must have completed, a minimum of 12 semester credits in Psychology, or approved related course work, including courses in statistics and development. Prior to admission or during the first semester of enrollment. Experience in working with children or human services agencies also is helpful. Strong communication skills and critical thinking ability are essential to success in the program.

Students who already have a Master's degree substantially equivalent to our M.S. degree may be allowed to enroll directly in the Specialist program with approval of the School Psychology Coordinating Committee.

Incoming students who have a Master's or doctoral degree substantially similar to our Master's degree may be able to enroll directly into the Specialist degree program. However, any classes that are a part of our Master's degree program that the person has not had as part of the previous degree must be taken as part of the Specialist degree. That often is a significant number of credits since there is not as much overlap as one might anticipate between the courses required for school psychology and those commonly taken as part of a Master's degree program in Counseling, Clinical Psychology, or Social Work, for example. Also, since our core classes must be taken in sequence, recent Specialist-only students have still needed be on campus for a full two years before their internship year, although they have had lighter course loads than traditional students.

If there is not substantial overlap of the previous Master's degree with our M.S. degree, the student may be required to complete our M.S. degree as well as the Specialist degree. In these cases, comparable courses taken for the previous degree may be transferred in as long as they have been taken within the past five years.

MSUM School Psychology tuition and fees are very competitive with similar programs in the region. The cost of graduate tuition for graduate classes in Psychology is available on the Cost & Aid page. The tuition cost can vary for courses taken in other departments or for some courses with differential tuition to cover the costs of materials. Note that all graduate students pay in-state tuition, regardless of their state of residence.

Tuition and fees are set by Minnesota State University Moorhead under the policies of the Minnesota State System Board and are subject to change. MSU Moorhead is committed to keeping costs as low as possible for students. Since graduate school expenses are relatively low at MSU Moorhead, a specialist degree in school psychology is a great investment in yourself.

MSUM School Psychology alumni are well-equipped to enter the workforce and continually find success in the field. Upon completion of the program, you will be eligible for certification in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and other states. Graduates are also eligible for certification through the Nationally Certified School Psychologist System.

There is a national, as well as regional, shortage of school psychologists, so the job outlook is excellent. U.S. News has listed school psychology as No. 2 in best social services jobs and No. 44 in overall best jobs.

The demand for school psychologists is anticipated to continue growing as the need for support for students with academic, mental health and behavioral challenges is increasingly recognized. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted the need for school psychologists will grow by 14 percent per year between 2016 and 2026. This is an excellent time to enter the career field.

MSU Moorhead graduates tend to work in public schools in rural and urban areas in Midwestern states including in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. However, our graduates have worked in many other states from Alaska to Florida. Graduating from a NASP Approved program like MSU Moorhead opens the door to positions in every state in country. For more information on individual state licensure requirements check out the NASP School Psychology Credentialing Resources page.

With a population of more than 229,000, the Fargo-Moorhead area community is the largest metropolitan area between Minneapolis/St. Paul and Spokane, Washington. Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN are on the Minnesota/North Dakota border approximately 250 miles northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul and 250 miles south of Winnipeg at the juncture of Interstates 94 and 29.

Fargo-Moorhead is an educational center with four major higher education institutions in the area (MSU Moorhead, Concordia College, North Dakota State University, and Minnesota State Community and Technical College Moorhead) together enrolling over 20,000 students. In addition, the area school systems are some of the best in the region and the F-M area is a strong regional commercial and health care center, with a growing presence in the high-tech sector. More dollars proportionately are spent on supporting the arts in the F-M than anywhere else in the nation. The Fargo-Moorhead area offers the F-M Symphony, theaters, dance companies and museums, plus a wide variety of events on the college campuses year-round. The Fargodome hosts major national concert tours and entertainment events of all types.