School Psychology vs School Counseling: What’s the Difference?

Industry Advice Healthcare

As a result of the growing stressors of everyday life, experts are concerned that mental health issues have greatly impacted students in both their academic and behavioral performance. In an attempt to combat these issues, there’s a growing demand for school psychologists and school counselors to support young people—and this trend is only expected to grow.

In fact, schools face a devastating shortage of education professionals across the country, resulting in a positive job outlook and significant career growth for these particular fields. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, school psychologist and counselor jobs are expected to grow 10 percent and 11 percent, respectively, from 2020 to 2030.

But what’s the difference between the two professions, and how can you determine which path is right for you? Here’s an overview of what school psychologists and counselors do and the differences between these positions.

What Is School Psychology?

School psychologists are mental health professionals who work to improve students’ emotional well-being and academic performance within a school setting. They are licensed experts in psychology and education that work closely with students, teachers, and parents alike.

To understand and improve young people’s mental health, school psychologists conduct psychological evaluations; create and implement academic and behavioral intervention plans; educate staff on mental health issues; assist with crisis response; and monitor the overall academic, social, and behavioral progress of their students.

Additionally, school administrators often consult with school psychologists to identify existing problems within the school system and implement intervention strategies targeting students, faculty, and staff accordingly.

What Is School Counseling?

Like school psychologists, school counselors play a vital role within educational institutions and provide support to young people to ensure their academic success.

However, school counselors generally serve a broader student population and are less focused on addressing mental health concerns than school psychologists. Instead, school counselors help students better understand and overcome social and behavioral challenges, develop critical skills that improve their academic performance, and advise on post-graduation steps (e.g., career counseling and college advising).

Ready to Make a Difference?

Download our free School Psychology Career Guide to learn how.


5 Key Differences Between School Psychologists and Counselors

Although both professions are critical to students’ success, several key differences between these two positions make them fundamentally different. Here are the important distinctions between school psychologists and school counselors.

1. Job Responsibilities

School Counselor

While both positions often have overlapping responsibilities and collaborate with one another to ensure the well-being of young people, school counselors serve a much broader population of students. They assist with student behavior, offer general counseling services, and provide education and career advice.

School counselors have varying responsibilities but primarily serve their students by:

  • Enabling them to better understand and overcome social challenges
  • Advising individuals and small student groups in counseling sessions
  • Evaluating and addressing behavioral issues that negatively impact academic performance
  • Promoting and developing critical skills for learning (e.g., effective time management and creative thinking)
  • Collaborating with students to help them reach their academic and career goals after graduation
  • Reporting cases of ‌abuse and referring students to the proper resources

School Psychologist

Unlike counselors, school psychologists act as a liaison between students, teachers, and families. Their primary focus is on academic and mental health concerns and implementing processes to improve the overall well-being of their students.

In addition to working closely with academic administrators, school psychologists:

  • Conduct psychological and behavioral assessments
  • Teach social, behavioral, and emotional health skills
  • Diagnose and support students with special needs
  • Create and implement behavioral plans
  • Implement strategies to best assist and improve the academic performance of students
  • Assist with crisis response and preventative action
  • Train staff on proper responses to student issues in the classroom

While these distinctions may seem small, it’s important to note that school psychologists are professionals who study how mental health concerns, like anxiety, can negatively affect student behavior. From there, they can diagnose and address those challenges. School counselors don’t have the training or expertise to tackle these issues.

2. Population

School Counselor

One of the significant differences between school counselors and school psychologists is the population with which they work. School counselors provide support to a wide range of students, helping them develop social and academic skills, set goals, and choose their desired career paths.

School counselors typically don’t work with various stakeholders; rather, they focus primarily on students. They develop relationships with students and work with them in a career advising capacity but rarely have as much interaction with teachers and families.

School Psychologist

Unlike school counselors, school psychologists work closely with both students and teachers facing specific mental health and academic success issues.

“When a teacher is struggling with a student in the classroom and they don’t know what to do, whether it’s an academic, social, or behavioral issue, a school psychologist will work with them to identify some strategies and act as a coach to help implement those strategies,” says Amy Briesch, associate professor and director of the School Psychology at Northeastern University’s Bouve College of Health Sciences.

School psychologists’ involvement in developing these strategies to aid both children and the adults around them is particular to this profession.

3. Average Salary

School Counselor

Another critical difference between the two professions is the average salary associated with each role. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors earn an average of $58,120 per year. This number depends highly on your level of training and education and the state in which you work.

School Psychologist

School psychologists can expect to earn an average salary of $79,820 annually. While this number is dependent on the same factors that affect a school counselor’s salary, the pay difference between these two positions is reflected in the amount of training, licensure, and expertise required to become a school psychologist.

4. Education and Training Requirements

School Counselor

As mentioned, the varying salary potential of these two roles is often attributed to the differences in education and training requirements. School counselors must earn at least a bachelor’s and a master’s degree but aren’t required to complete as much individualized counseling or psychology training. For example, counselors aren’t required to be trained in diagnosing learning problems or designing and implementing plans to support a young person’s reading or math performance.

School Psychologist

To work as a school psychologist, you must earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a closely related field, obtain a NASP-approved master’s degree, and earn your certification. In total, this takes about three years to complete. This track requires more specialized training and examinations but gives prospective school psychologists the necessary tools to succeed immediately after graduation.

6. Licensure

School Counselor

Working as a school psychologist or counselor requires some licensure, which varies state by state. School counselors working in Massachusetts must earn a master’s degree in counseling, complete a 450-hour practicum in an educational setting, and receive a passing score on the Communication and Literacy Skills Test.

School Psychologist

In Massachusetts, school psychologists are required to complete a NASP-approved MS degree, an internship of at least 1,200 hours (half of which must be completed in a school setting), and receive a passing score on the Communication and Literacy Skills Test.

Following licensure, school psychologists and counselors are expected to maintain their licenses, keep their skills sharp, and continue their professional development.

Choosing the Career Path for You

School psychologists and counselors play significant roles within educational institutions and have a tremendous impact on their students’ well-being and educational development. Regardless of the career path you choose, working with young people and helping them to improve their academic performance makes for a very rewarding career.

If school psychology seems like the right fit for you, begin your journey by applying to Northeastern University’s MS/CAGS in School Psychology program.


Download Our Free Guide to Advancing Your School Psychology Career“ width=