What's the Difference Between a School Counselor and a School Psychologist?

When describing a job role, many have synonymous names such as: teacher and instructor, aide and assistant, and counselor and psychologists. In particular, a counselor and psychologist are not the same, especially in a school setting.

A school counselor and a school psychologist often get confused for one another, but they both serve unique purposes. In many school settings, these two positions often work together (which just adds to the confusion).

What is a school counselor?

A school counselor works directly with the entire school population and can work with students in early childhood education, secondary, and postsecondary institutions. Here are some of the roles and responsibilities of a school counselor:

  • Collaborate with teachers to facilitate lessons to those with special needs
  • Team with instructors to create and implement students' Individualized Education Program (IEP)
  • Evaluate students’ progress and help determine alternative education routes if needed
  • Help to mediate conflicts among students
  • Assist students with problem solving
  • Aid in college admissions preparation
  • Help students with the transition to life post-graduation

School counselors serve as guides to help make recommendations regarding the direction of a student’s future. They are not typically doctors, but many employers do require a master's degree for school counselor positions.

What is a school psychologist?

Unlike school counselors, school psychologists do not typically work with the whole school population. Instead, they work directly with students who have identifiable disorders, students who are at risk of failing, and with the parents and teachers of these students.

Job duties include performing a psychology assessment of the troubled student, diagnosing the exact problem, and providing recommendations for improvement.

Upon final assessment, they work with the student, parent(s), and teacher to communicate the problem and discuss how they can help cultivate a stimulating environment that will improve the student’s situation. They also play a significant role in monitoring the progress of special needs students and coordinating academic and socio-emotional interventions. Due to the clinical nature of the job, school psychologists often have doctorate degrees and the ability to prescribe medications for behavioral and/or biological issues.

Job Outlook

The job growth and outlook of both roles are strong, with an expected employment of school counselors and school psychologists to grow at 12 percent — faster than average — through 2022. A new area of growth for school counselors is in college and university settings. These counselors are similar to the role served in a high school as they help college students with prospective job searches and career advice.

Deciding whether to pursue a career as a school counselor or school psychologist depends on your individual career path. Pursuing a career as a psychologist often requires a Doctorate degree, while school counselor roles require a Master’s degree. In either capacity, you work to help young students realize their potential and get them excited about learning.