School Counselor vs. School Psychologist

Mental health careers in the education sector represent a vital part of community and individual student success. Professionals working in this field enjoy direct service work by assisting students and their families in addition to providing a host of other valuable clinical services. It is important to understand the differences and similarities between school counselors and school psychologists, for prospective individuals to make the best informed decision for their career paths.

Education Requirements

School counselors are professionals with at least a master’s degree in school counseling and state certification/licensure in school counseling.

Typical coursework in school counseling includes:

  • Human growth and development
  • Research and testing
  • Career development
  • Social and cultural awareness
  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Theories and framework

School psychologists are professionals with advanced degrees, such as a masters in psychology, and state licensure/certification in school psychology.

Typical coursework for school psychology programs includes:

  • Academic and learning interventions
  • Assessment and testing
  • Mental health interventions
  • Special education services
  • Crisis response and recovery
  • Research and efficacy of programs
  • Resilience and risk factors

Start your mental health counseling career by requesting information from one of our sponsored programs:

University of Southern California (USC)

USC Rossier School of Education


Master of Education in School Counseling

The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education offers a Master of Education in School Counseling online for aspiring K-12 school counselors. The program can be completed in less than two years and there is no GRE requirement.

  • No GRE required 
  • Prepares you for school counseling credential 
  • Bachelor’s degree required

University of Denver

Morgridge College of Education Online


Master of Arts in School Counseling

Advocate for P-12 students and become an agent of change in your community. With no GRE required, earn your Master in School Counseling online in as few as 24 months from the University of Denver. Gain valuable skills through a CACREP accredited curriculum centered on social justice.

  • No GRE required  
  • Live, online classes   
  • Complete in as few as 24 months 

New York University

NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development


Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance

Learn more about NYU Steinhardt’s online MA degree that prepares you to become a school counselor in as few as 18 months. Graduates can pursue certification and employment in pre-K–12 schools. Bachelor’s req.

  • Complete in as few as 18 months.
  • Pursue school counselor certification.
  • Study bilingual school counseling (optional). 
  • GRE scores are not required. 


Licensure or Certification

In addition to completing an advanced degree, school counseling students also must complete necessary fieldwork, which is commonly referred to as internship or practicum hours.

Every state varies in its particular requirements, and students can be expected to provide anywhere between 100-800 clinical hours providing direct service.

Some states require board exams, proof of professional educator certification, or history of full-time teaching experience. Because of these varying requirements, it is critical for students to carefully evaluate their school program’s coursework relative to the state they seek to practice in.  

School counselors may also receive additional certifications and expertise in specialized areas of interest. All school counselors must maintain active certification or licensure status through continuing education units.

School psychology students also must complete necessary internship and practicum hours, which provides the opportunity to practice fieldwork skills under mandated supervision.

It should be noted that similar to most mental health professions, each state varies in its own particular requirements and exams. Typically, students must complete 1-2 years of supervised practice (up to 1200 hours) and complete necessary coursework and board exams for licensure. All school psychologists must maintain active licensure status through continuing education units.

Professional Role

School counselors promote academic performance and achievement, personal and social development, and overall career planning and development.

Though the central focus is direct services with students, school counselors routinely assess and collaborate on appropriate treatment methods with families, administrators, teachers, and other mental health professionals.

Though not an exhaustive list, typical school counselor job descriptions may include the following:

  • Goal-focused counseling
  • Individual student academic planning
  • Group activity planning
  • Teaching social and interpersonal skills
  • Assisting with college and career planning
  • Promoting safe learning environments
  • Advocating for students needs and preferences
  • Mediating student conflict
  • Providing outside resources and referrals
  • Data assessment and interpretation
  • Identify key issues within school settings

School psychologists support students, families, and teachers in academic and emotional success. They utilize their professional knowledge in human development and mental health to both identify issues potentially impeding a student’s overall success and find appropriate, working solutions.

Typical school psychologist job descriptions may include the following:

  • Providing counseling for children and adolescents
  • Creating skill instruction and support plans
  • Identifying key issues in schools and defining solutions
  • Assessing and evaluating student strengths and needs
  • Collaborating with faculty and parents
  • Researching effective interventions for academic success
  • Promoting equality and mental welfare
  • Providing crisis support

Eighty-one percent of school psychologists work within public school settings, and the remainder work in private schools, hospitals, universities, community agencies, mental health clinics and private practice.

Approach to Students

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors advocate for students’ academic, emotional and interpersonal needs.

In conjunction with other faculty, they seek to promote a safe and productive learning environment. They may also help students overcome emotional obstacles–these issues can range from behavioral stressors, bullying, or choosing the right college.

Different age groups require different counseling services. For example, a school counselor working in an elementary school may work closely with a student and their parents to create effective study habits. On the other hand, a high school counselor may assist students with locating targeted internships related to their future career goals.

School psychologists focus on improving the learning, social, and behavior obstacles that may interfere with a student’s overall well-being.

They often utilize evidence-based practices (such as research, assessments, and evaluations) in order to best support students. This information may be shared with the family members, mental health staff, and appropriate teaching and administration faculty to collaborate on effective treatment and interventions. School psychologists may focus on influencing and changing school district policy to best support student success.

What is the difference between a school counselor and a school psychologist?

School counselors and school psychologists do have some overlap and significant differences.

Both careers require an advanced understanding of human behavior, child and adolescent development, and mental health. Both professions value student wellness, academic performance, and increased emotional well-being. Furthermore, both professions often entail providing collaborative care in conjunction with other school personnel, outside professionals, and relevant family members. They are both available for counseling, crisis intervention, and professional expertise.

With that said, the central area of focus and intervention differs between both careers. School counselors focus more on improving mental health and behavioral symptoms through individual and group counseling and education. Typically, they serve the entire school population. School psychologists focus on understanding behavioral symptoms and academic issues via testing, researching, and assessing. They may work with a few select students with specific, targeted issues.

Working in mental health provides endless rewards for both professional and personal growth. Likewise, a career in school counseling or school psychology can be incredibly satisfying for individuals aspiring to make lasting change and positively impact the lives of students and their families.

Compensation will vary depending on where you live. See our guide on school counselor salaries for more information.

Last updated: April 2020