What Is the Difference Between a School Counselor and School Psychologist?
While both career choices are rooted in the general field of psychology, the difference between school counselor and school psychologist lies in how each provides a special contribution to the sphere 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. To help you work through the variations in each realm, we have looked deeper into the purpose of each career option, as well as the academic achievement needed to set you on track for a career in each field.
Online Programs to Consider
The majority of school psychology degree programs that the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) has accredited 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?|
Master's in Clinical Psychology
Bachelor's Degree Required
No GRE Required
Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA requiredLearn More
|University of Denver|
Online MA in School Counseling
Designed to adhere to CACREP standards
✔ Live, online classes
No GRE Required; Minimum GPA 2.5 Required
Earn your degree in as few as 24 monthsLearn More
Online MA in Counseling and Guidance
GRE not required; Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA required
Complete in as few as 18 monthsLearn More
|University of Southern California|
Online Master of Education (ME) in School Counseling
Prepares you for school counseling credential
✔ Live, online classes
No GRE requirement
Bachelor’s degree and minimum 2.5 GPA requiredLearn More
Bachelor of Science in Psychology
With FlexPath, you can earn a bachelor’s in psychology in 16 months for $15,000
Choose from General Psychology, Applied Behavior Analysis, or Pre-Counseling specializationsLearn More
*Sponsored Counseling Programs
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 preventive services to those spending their days in the school system. School psychologists are unique professionals who receive extensive training in psychological sciences, which are rooted deep within the study of behavior.
While psychologists working for a school district can utilize an array of different assessments and treatment options for their clients, their main purpose may be to determine students’ needs and ensure that they are put in an educational program suitable for positive growth.
In some cases, school psychologists may work with children who have been diagnosed with moderate to severe psychological disorders. This can include developing educational plans that can accommodate these needs, engaging in team meetings, collaborating with parents and school staff to develop an individualized plan, and following up with students while they engage in their daily activities in the educational setting.
School psychology was developed based on the scientific aspects of behavioral science, making this an excellent degree for students who 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 professional. 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 who are navigating normal life changes and the pressures of academic achievement. School counselors can also work individually with students to help develop a unique plan to 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 pressures associated with learning and acclimating to the educational environment.
Pros and Cons: School Counseling vs School Psychology
Some students are drawn to specific fields of school counseling vs. school psychology based on their missions or goals in 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.
School Psychologists: Pros and Cons
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.
Your certification as a school psychologist could limit you to the type of students that you work with, possibly preventing you from applying any preventive services to students who 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: Pros and Cons
School counselors are the specialists 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 who have already been diagnosed with different forms of mental illness.
Assessment and treatment planning are generally part of the school counselor’s daily responsibilities, which can help to identify issues within a student’s personal life that may be positively or negatively affecting the ability to learn. School counselors can be useful tools in the development of individual or group counseling programs to promote positive mental health, as well as during transitional periods in a student’s life.
Top Master’s Degree in Counseling Programs
- Master’s in Counseling
- Online Master’s in Counseling
- No GRE MA in Counseling
- Online Master of Arts in Counseling
- Schools with an Online Master of Counseling
- Accelerated MA in Counseling
- Hybrid MA in Counseling
- Dual Master’s in Counseling Degrees
By Online Counseling Program Specialization:
- Online Master of Behavior Analysis
- Online Master of Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- Online Master of Counseling Psychology
- Online Master of Mental Health Counseling
- Online Master of Rehabilitation Counseling
- Online Master’s in School Counseling
Students considering school psychologist and school counselor careers 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’s degree in psychology or education programs 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. A multitude of online degree programs in both school psychology and school counseling can be offered as single degree programs or even accompany a general counseling curriculum.
One of the most important and vital aspects of your educational program lies in its accreditation. 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 with include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and the NASP. Each of these agencies can be extremely important for upcoming professionals in fields of psychology and counseling.
Classes to Take
To fulfill the requirements of your collegiate pursuits, you will find a variety of coursework options that push you to develop skills in empathy, data assessment, and behavioral analysis.
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. This coursework can help students 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 per 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 coursework focuses specifically on the needs of children who 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.
School Psychologist vs Guidance Counselor
Most noteworthy in discerning school psychologist vs. guidance counselor differences is their scale of operation within the school. As mentioned above, school psychologists have advanced study in behavioral psychology and often oversee the mental health procedures and plans in the school, only occasionally interacting with clients or students on an individual basis. Guidance counselors, who are sometimes considered precursors to the more modern, proactive role of school counselors, generally engage in individual and group counseling based on the needs of the school and the student, as determined through student evaluations.
In this way, the guidance counselor may function as a touchstone for students in a way that the school psychologist often does not. Guidance counselors teach students about topics related to drug abuse, bullying, and future career trajectories while working with educators and other authorities in the students’ life to ensure holistic, consistent, and beneficial development.
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.
Types of Counseling Licensure
- Counseling Licensure Guide
- State Counseling Licensure
- What It Takes to Become a Counselor
- LPC: Licensed Professional Counselor
- LFMT: Family and Marriage Therapist
- LCSW: Licensed Clinical Social Worker
- LMHC: Licensed Mental Health Counselor
- CCMHC: Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselor
- MAC: Master Addictions Counselor
- BCBA: Board Certified Behavior Analyst
- NCC: National Certified Counselor
- NCSC: National Certified School Counselor
- LCPC: Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
- LPCC: Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
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 both private and public 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 in 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 collaborate with state agencies for children in foster care to complete educational planning programs in accordance with their individual needs.
School psychologists can also help 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.