Children and teenagers encounter many different challenges in school as well as in their homes, communities and other environments. These challenges can affect their academic performance, social behavior and emotional wellbeing in a school environment. To help students develop general skills and overcome obstacles, specially trained professionals like school counselors and school psychologists work in the school environment. Though these job titles may sound like they have a lot in common, they are also different in many respects, including the education you need to attain these roles, the degree of specialized knowledge needed and the median salary for these occupations.
Degree Path and Curricula
The typical level of education required to become a school counselor is a master’s degree, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Whether the program goes by the title Master of Arts (M.A.) in School Counseling, Master of Science (M.S.) in School Counseling or Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling, the curriculum will generally have the same focus: to develop skills used in counseling students. Classes may include counseling theories, individual and group counseling skills, abnormal psychology, psychology of human development, assessments in counseling and principles of learning and behavior modification.
Most psychologists need a doctoral degree, although school psychology is one field of psychology in which a master’s degree may suffice for certain positions, the BLS reported. Popular degree options for school psychologists include the post-graduate Education Specialist (Ed.S.) degree, a Ph.D. in School Psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree in School Psychology. Traditionally, an Ed.S. degree might include a stronger emphasis on academic and educational aspects of the field, with coursework in educational research, educational leadership and curriculum instruction.
As a historically research-based degree, a Ph.D. program is likely to include core research coursework that covers research methods and statistical models as well as an original research project or dissertation. The Psy.D. degree is a professional doctorate degree that requires less focus on research than a traditional Ph.D. Coursework is likely to include studies in child and adolescent developmental psychology, neuropsychology and psychopathology, child assessments, school learning problems, learning disabilities, applied social psychology, theories of personality and child and adolescent interventions. Gaining supervised experience through practicums, internships and other hands-on work opportunities is an essential part of both school psychology and school counseling degree programs.
Many states require 600-hour or 700-hour internships for school counselors, according to the American School Counselor Association. For psychologists, many states require 3,000 hours of experience, The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards reported.
Specialized vs. General Focus on Student Development
School counselors and school psychologists both work with students, helping them in their academic, social, behavioral and psychological development. However, there are differences in their scope of work. School counselors help students to develop positive skills in studying, decision-making, time-management and organization, according to the BLS. They may help students who are coping with difficult life events or stressful situations, but their focus is more on normal development and on choosing educational programs and planning for a future college education or career path. The services school counselors provide are more general than that of school psychologists, and counselors may work with every student in the school.
The work of a school psychologist is more specialized. School psychologists work primarily with students who have been diagnosed with learning or mental health disorders. They assess students’ mental health and provide mental health services to these students.
School counselors have historically been called “guidance counselors,” but the term has fallen out of favor as the scope of a school counselor’s job duties has expanded beyond providing college and career guidance.
Although the work of a school counselor and school psychologist may seem similar, this need for more advanced education and more specialized knowledge leads to substantially higher earning potential for school psychologists. The median annual wage for school counselors is $56,310, according to the BLS. For the category of psychologists that includes school, counseling and clinical psychologists, the median wage is $76,990, the BLS reported.
Public and private elementary and secondary schools, which account for 44 percent of school counseling positions, also pay the best, with a median wage of $63,280. This industry also employs 27 percent of psychologists, paying a median salary of $75,890 in this role.