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School Social Worker vs School Counselor: What’s the Difference?

School counselor holding pictures during meeting with young patient with autism

The roles of school social workers and school counselors are often confused, and they do overlap some. Both school counselors and school social workers are professionals who provide support for students' education, but each one has a distinct primary focus.

School Counselor Job Description

The school counselor job description is more academic-focused than the school social worker job description. The school counselor focuses on designing and implementing a school counseling program that will help students build academic competencies, develop life skills and guide social skills. The counselor’s role may include creating academic schedules and administering tests, especially standardized tests, to students, and helping high school students plan and prepare for their post-school futures. The school counselor also helps guide students through challenges like family problems, peer pressure and personal challenges that may interfere with their ability to accomplish their academic goals.

Social Worker Job Description

School social workers are usually more focused on the student’s life outside of school and on helping deal with issues outside school that may interfere with or hinder their academic progress. For instance, many students have needs that teachers aren’t trained to handle. Those needs may include health concerns, financial issues or family trauma. The children dealing with such difficulties may have a hard time succeeding in school academically or behaviorally, and school social workers provide valuable support and services to help those students. 

School social workers may provide students with crisis intervention or assist them with developing appropriate social interaction skills or anger management. Social workers may also help teachers better understand the family or cultural issues influencing a child’s behavior or performance, or they may help teachers with assessing students who have mental health concerns or behavior management issues. School social workers may also work directly with parents and families, such as helping parents access community resources or helping parents facilitate their children’s adjustment to school. 

Getting the Education 

If you want to become a school counselor or a school social worker, you’ll be required to obtain the right educational background before you can be hired for these positions. While the jobs are similar and are both located in schools, each one requires practitioners to hold a degree in their distinct field. 

School counselor requirements include a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling, along with a certification from the state in which they work. To become certified, a person must complete a graduate supervised internship in a school, under the direction of a certified or licensed school counselor. 

School social work is a specialized area of practice within the broader field of social work, according to the School Social Work Association of America. School social worker requirements include having a bachelor’s degree in social work and in most school districts, a master’s degree in social work or school social work. To complete that master’s degree, you’ll have to undergo a practicum or internship under a professional social worker, so if you want to work in a school, it’s a good idea to try to do your practicum in a school. Some schools require social workers to also hold teaching certification. 

To work as a school social worker, you must also earn a social work license. Licensing requirements vary depending on which state you live in, but usually require an application, fee, and a passing score on the Association of Social Work Boards exam. Some states require a background check, official transcripts from your educational institutions, and professional references. Check with your local state to see what regulations apply to you or reach out to ProCare for any further assistance you may need.

Following a Career Path

Many school counselors start as teachers and after gaining teaching experience, return to school to earn master’s degrees in school counseling. While you can launch a school counselor career without being a teacher first, that teaching experience can provide you with great insight into how a school works and the needs of teachers and students. The average salary for school counselors is $49,811, according to Payscale.

The school social worker career path can vary. Some professionals start as teachers and go back to earn a master’s in social work to become a school social worker. Others begin their careers as social workers in other fields and gradually move into the school environment, while others go straight from earning a social work degree into working at a school. The average salary for a school social worker is $48,464, according to Payscale.

Search for school counselor jobs here and school social worker jobs here if you are looking to start your new career today!


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