School Psychologist vs School Counselor: What’s the Difference?


The fields of school counseling and school psychology share many similarities. As school-based mental health professionals, both counselors and psychologists work in schools to improve the lives of the students they serve. Both groups provide counseling services to students, may implement programs in their school and participate in crisis intervention. Despite their similarities, school counseling and school psychology are distinctly different, with different degree paths, training, licensure requirements and eventual services provided. Understanding the differences between the two careers can help better direct your decisions as you evaluate education programs and plan for the future.

School Psychologists

School psychologists spend their time performing academic and psychological assessments, identifying special education needs and developing support strategies. These mental health professionals consult with teachers and parents about students’ academic and behavioral issues, identify specific challenges, plan interventions and monitor their effectiveness. On a larger level, school psychologists also work with administrators to develop and implement policies that promote student motivation and engagement, support diverse learners, create a safe school environment and more.

How To Become A School Psychologist

In California, licensing for educational psychologists is handled by the Department of Consumer Affairs of Behavioral Sciences, which is the same department that regulates licensure for marriage and family therapists, clinical counselors and clinical social workers. It should be no surprise then that school psychologists approach their work from a similar standpoint as these professions.

To become a school psychologist in California, you will need a minimum of a Master’s degree in Psychology, Educational Psychology or School Psychology, with at least 60 semester hours of postgraduate work in Pupil Personnel Services. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) requires a minimum of three years of full-time graduate study.

Courses in a School Psychology degree program focus on preparing students to provide mental health and special needs services, including assessments, interventions and personalized education and behavior plans. Students will learn how to help students cope with a variety of challenges, ranging from substance abuse and violence to learning and behavioral disorders.

Students in a School Psychology program will also have the opportunity to apply the knowledge they are learning in a practical setting through internships and supervised practice. NASP requires that school psychology training provide an internship that is one academic year and provides 1,200 hours of supervised practice, 600 of which must be in a school setting.

School Counselors

Whereas school psychologists might work with select individuals, school counselors’ work focuses on the entire student population and work with students in areas of academic achievement, personal development, social skills, and career development. Job duties of a school counselor might include planning individual student academic programs, providing counseling to students with disciplinary problems, working with teachers to develop better classroom management techniques, and analyzing and interpreting student records.

How To Become A School Counselor

In California, school counselors are licensed and regulated by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing—so it should be no surprise that school counselors usually have a background in education. In order to become a school counselor, you will need a minimum of a Master’s degree in School Counseling, consisting of 48 semester units and a practicum. Training in a School Counseling program focuses on creating positive learning environments, how to develop and implement counseling programs for students, and providing guidance through career and academic counseling.

To become licensed as a school counselor in California, you will have to apply for the Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Counseling. In addition to the above education and training requirements, candidates will need to pass some of the same tests as the teacher credentialing process, including the California Basic Skills Requirement (CBEST) test.

Alliant’s School Counseling and School Psychology Programs

Which career path you choose is entirely up to your interests. Are you interested in working with children more from guidance role, helping them navigate academic issues and prepare for college? Or are you more interested in working with children on behavioral challenges and social and emotional development?

Whichever career path you choose, Alliant can help you on your way. Our California School of Education offers programs in both School Counseling and School Psychology.

All of Alliant’s School Psychology and School Counseling degree programs are embedded with the Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) credential recommendation required for employment as a school counselor in California’s school districts.

If you are interested in learning more about any of these programs, or about the fields of School Psychology and School Counseling in general, we encourage you to contact us today!


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