Career Comparison: School Counselor vs. School Psychologist

School counselors and school psychologists play pivotal roles in today’s educational landscape. Though each role serves its own unique purpose, most people who choose these career paths share similar goals and a passion for helping students succeed. As a school counselor, it’s highly likely that you’ll collaborate closely with a school psychologist and vice versa. With both roles focused so closely on student advocacy, the roles inevitably overlap; however, there is a fundamental difference between the two. Traditionally, school counselors focus more on academic-related matters, while school psychologists focus more on identifying, evaluating and addressing mental health issues. As you evaluate which career path is right for you, it’s important to consider the education requirements, salary and job outlook, work environment and day-to-day responsibilities of each to see which best fits your overall goals.

Training & Educational Requirements

Both careers require graduate degrees, but the requirements to become a school psychologist are a bit more stringent and time-consuming. Typically, school counseling education requirements can be achieved in 48 semester hours (two years) and 600 internship hours. Most states require that counselors complete two years of post-graduate supervised clinical experience in order to become licensed. School psychologist education requirements include 60 semester hours and 1,200 internship hours. While students of both graduate programs will take similar classes in human development and education, school psychologist programs place more emphasis on understanding the unique nuances of special education programs and/or working with exceptional learners.

Salary & Job Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average income of a school psychologist working in an elementary or secondary school setting is $72,710.1 The average salary for school counselors working in a similar setting is $62,950.2 A major difference between the two is that school psychologist salaries are often funded by special needs. By 2022, the Bureau expects nearly a 12 percent increase in employment for both professions, though keep in mind that employment growth ultimately depends on state and local government budgets.3

Work Environment

School counselors and school psychologists share similar work environments, more often than not working in a variety of educational settings including public, private and charter institutions. Because school psychologist salaries are funded by special education programs, they may find themselves dividing their time between several educational facilities. This can have advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, you’re able to impact more students. On the other hand, you may not get to know each institution as intimately. School psychologists can also find employment at hospital pediatric wards, mental health facilities and youth correction centers. Travel for conferences and trainings is common among both professions.

Daily Responsibilities

School counselors serve the entire student body and spend most of their time helping students navigate their academic future, whether it’s high school or college prep. This might mean helping individual students choose their classes based on their long-term goals or administering aptitude tests to help them understand their strengths. Often, school counselors guide high school students through the grueling college application process from start to finish. Counselors may also be called upon to help mediate any conflict between students and teachers. Depending on the setting, counselors may be tasked with implementing educational and awareness programs on prevalent social issues like bullying, stress management, eating disorders or drug and alcohol prevention. They may also provide grief counseling after traumatic incidents and refer students to a school psychologist if necessary.

School psychologists work primarily with the special needs population. They meet with students, parents and teachers to help identify and address learning, behavioral and social challenges. A school psychologist might have regular face-to-face counseling sessions with an at-risk student and administer tests to help diagnose learning barriers such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), reading disability or dyslexia. Another crucial part of their job is observing students in a group setting to assess whether they should be transferred to a special education or exceptional learning program. Based on their observations, school psychologists recommend ideas for intervention and prevention. At a higher level, school psychologists may be tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of academic programs as a whole and analyzing data to recommend how a school may be more effective in identifying and implementing programs.

It’s important to note that while both careers serve different functions, they are equally essential in helping students realize their full potential. Whatever path you choose, a master of education in school counseling provides a great foundation for a future career in school counseling or psychology. You can be sure you’ll make a positive impact on the educational system and students’ futures.

1http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193031.htm

2http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm

3http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm