School Psychologist vs. School Counselor

While both career choices are rooted in the generalized field of psychology, each provides its own special contribution to the field of education.

If you are interested in learning more about the uniqueness of each option, take a look at what is provided in our team's guide below. In order to help you work through the variations within each realm, we have looked deeper into the purpose of each career option, as well as the educational steps that can set you on track for a career in each field.

Online Programs to Consider

The majority of NASP-accredited school psychology degree programs are found at the Ed.S. and Ph.D. level. This accreditation agency provides you with a list of potential programs that have been proven efficient when training professionals in this field. Take a look at a few programs that would be great options for your career below.

  • Northern Arizona University: Ed.S. in School Psychology
  • The University of Northern Colorado: Ed.S. in School Psychology

Becoming a school counseling begins with a reliable Masters in School Counseling programs. The programs in the list beneath this section have been reviewed and approved for use during the licensing process for students interested in helping others in the school setting.

  • Adams State University: Online Masters in School Counseling
  • Indiana Wesleyan University: Online Masters in School Counseling

Consider a Featured Online Counseling Program

School and Program Information Online Program? Entry Requirements Course Information
Northwestern University
Online MA in Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs CACREP Accredited
check_circle Online GRE Scores Not Required 24 Courses (standard program for those with counseling experience) or 27 courses (bridge program, for those with no counseling experience)
New York University
Online Master of Arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
MPCAC Accredited Programs MPCAC Accredited
check_circle Online GRE scores are not required for admission. Weekly live classes taught by distinguished NYU Steinhardt faculty.
University of Denver
Online MA in School Counseling
CACREP Accredited Programs Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
check_circle Online No GRE required. Learn from doctoral-level faculty in live classes and gain experience through mock counseling and in-field training.
Vanderbilt University
Online Master's with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited
check_circle Online Bachelor's Required Live, online classes every week led by Vanderbilt faculty
University of Southern California
Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Can be completed in less than 2 years.
check_circle Online No GRE requirement Classes led by USC Rossier faculty who are experts in school counseling, educational leadership and family therapy.

info For detailed degree information, view the guides to:
Online CACREP Accredited programs | Online MPCAC Accredited programs

What is a School Psychologist?

Educational institutions serving a diverse population of students may require on-staff behavioral and emotional experts to intervene when needed and even introduce preventative services to those spending their days within the school system. School psychologists are unique professionals that receive extensive training in psychological sciences - which are rooted deep within the study of behavior.

While psychologists working in school systems can utilize an array of different assessments and treatment options for their clients, their main purpose may be to determine a student's need and ensure that they are put into a educational program suitable for positive growth.

In some cases, school psychologists may work with children that have been diagnosed with moderate to severe psychological disorders. This can include developing educational plans that can accommodate to these needs, engaging in team meetings with parents and school staff to develop an individualized plan, and following up with students while they engage in their daily activities within the educational setting.

School psychology was developed based on the scientific aspects of behavioral science, making this an excellent degree major for students that are intrigued by the study of normal and abnormal behavior and would like to extend their knowledge into the field of education.

What is a School Counselor?

Similar to programs fixated specifically on psychological science, counseling degree programs may also allow you entrance into local school systems as a mental health professionals. Some new college students may decide on school counseling programs as a method for providing guidance and emotional support to the students enrolled.

In some settings, school counselors can be a source of learning for students that are navigating normal life changes and the pressure of education. School counselors can also work individually with students to help develop a unique plan to help mentor them and support a positive experience during their daily learning.

School counselors can be involved in the creation of awareness programs focused on positive mental health, healthy relationships, and specialized topics such as bullying and drug use. The goal of counseling is often focused on working through the emotions related to normal development, life changes, and pressure associated with learning and acclimating to the educational environment.

Pros and Cons of Each

Some students are drawn to specific fields in psychology and counseling based on their missions or goals within these areas. While choosing a specified degree major can be beneficial when seeking out particular career options, it can also be limiting in terms of your qualifications.

If you were to choose to pursue certification as a school psychologist, you could be involved in the assessment and educational planning of students within your school system. Your opinion regarding special education service and school accommodations could be highly valued by the planning team, making you an extremely important aspect of that planning process.

However, your certification as a school psychologist could limit you to the type of students that you work with, which could prevent you from applying any preventative services to students that are only showing moderate signs of distress at school. The majority of NASP-accredited programs leading to a career in this field are also at the Ph.D. or Ed.S. level.

School counselors are the specialists that are involved in the general day-to-day emotional support of school children. If you were to become a professional in this specialized area, you could step in to support students based on immediate need, or work with students that have already been diagnosed with different forms of mental illness.

Assessment and treatment planning is generally part of the school counselors daily responsibilities, which can help to identify issues within a student’s personal life that may be positively or negatively affecting his or her ability to learn. School counselors can be useful tools in the development of individual or group programs to promote positive mental health, as well as during transitional periods in a student’s life.

Choosing school counseling over school psychology can lead you into a mentoring-based role within K-12 schools and even beyond. While assessment and planning are important aspects in the day-to-day function of licensees in this area, professional school counselors may lack the scientific tests and measurements used by licensed school psychologists.

Educational Requirements

Students planning to enter into careers in school counseling or school psychology should conduct their research to ensure that their educational plan aligns with what is required for licensure in each field. Like many other careers in psychology-based fields, the minimum degree requirement is often found at the master’s level.

As a great first step for either path, you should begin your specialized learning at the bachelor’s level. A large majority of upcoming students choose Bachelor of Psychology or Bachelor of Education programs in an effort to further solidify their knowledge within either field.

Following the bachelor’s program, you should choose a graduate option that is best aligned with the career option you plan to choose. There is a multitude of online degree programs in both school psychology and school counseling that can be offered as single degree programs or even accompany a generalized counseling curriculum.

One of the most important and vital aspects of your educational program lies within its accreditation. In order to receive a license as a school counselor or psychologist, you must complete your degree at an institution that has received valid accreditation from a respected agency.

Popular accreditation agencies for you to become familiar within include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP). Each of these agencies can be extremely important for upcoming professionals in fields of psychology and counseling.

Classes to Take

  • Life Planning and Career Development: The role of the school counselor often involves playing a major part in future planning for enrolled students. Skills assessments, personality tests, and even detailed individual planning are a few of the tools that professionals in school counseling can use to help students find a path to success after their high school experience.
  • Tests and Measures: A major component of both school counseling and psychology is the use of tests and measurements to make assumptions about a person’s behaviors and capabilities. Students in these courses can become familiar with some of the standard tests and assessments used to determine a supportive path for their clients in the field, as well as develop treatment plans in accordance to their results.
  • Crisis and Trauma Counseling: Working in the school setting can subject counselors and psychologists to children from a wide range of backgrounds. This course focuses specifically on the needs of children that have experienced trauma, as well as introduces some key factors in managing crises while on the job. The differences in brain development, resilience, and mental health disorders are primary subjects in this course.

Counseling Licensure

An interesting fact about school counseling and psychology is that both contain similar requirements for licensure in each state. If you are on the track for pursuing licensure within either of these fields, you should begin your experience with choosing an accredited degree program.

Most states outline the licensing requirements clearly on their licensing division's website. You should have access to these standards, which can act as your guide from start to finish during your educational and practical experiences.

When you submit your application for licensure, you may be asked to also include a detailed transcript from your institution, documentation noting your completion of the required supervised experience with a licensed and approved supervisor, and proof of completion of any board or state examinations required in your state.

Completing all of these steps can be your final stepping stones into becoming a successful counselor in educational settings in your community.

Counseling Careers Available to You

School counseling major programs can prepare you for guiding students through the many challenges that are presented during normal childhood development. In the school setting, school counselors may be invited to introduce groups of learners to difficult topics such as drug abuse, neglect, and even sexual development.

Having a degree in school counseling could even lead you into research-specific career options that are focused on improving counseling techniques in school systems all over the country. If you have an education-oriented frame of mind, you could even use your degree to teach other upcoming school counselors within a university setting.

A degree in school psychology can help you earn the skills required to assess the needs of students, determine their developmental abilities, and designate programs to help them thrive within the school system. School psychologists can partner with state agencies for children in foster care in order to complete educational planning programs in accordance to their individual needs.

School psychologists can also help to create new and effective psychological testing tools for special education, mental health, and intelligence. As you progress into this field, you may have opportunities in even more diverse settings than the standard psychologist position.

List of Programs

University of Denver

Online MA in School Counseling
Accredited

University of Southern California

Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Accredited

NYU Steinhardt

Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
MPCAC Accredited

Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College

Online Master’s with School Counseling Specialization
SACSCOC Accredited
Counseling Career Guide

Still Looking for a Counseling Degree?

Here are some of the most popular online counseling programs. On each page you will find a detailed writeup of the program, specific courses, and schools that offer that program that are currently accepting applicants.