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What is the Difference Between a School Counselor and a Social Worker?

Image of a therapist and client for our FAQ on the difference between a school counselor and social worker

Differences Between a School Counselor and a Social Worker

The main difference between a school counselor and a social worker would lie in the scope of their functions. School counselors play a vital role in the education team, helping students to make the most of their educational opportunities by addressing issues such as conflicting class schedules, behavior modification and even serious issues such as substance abuse. On the other hand, social workers in the school system help children cope with challenges brought about by socioeconomic factors, including s poverty, trauma and disabilities.

Role of the School Counselor

The school counselor, also referred to as guidance counselor, takes charge of designing and overseeing a comprehensive school counseling program that covers all aspects that may contribute to the best outcomes for students in terms of building academic competencies, developing life skills and guiding social skills as needed. The program should align with the school’s mission and should encourage parent or guardian participation. The school counseling program deals with day-to-day as well as long-term issues. The school counselor takes an active role in guiding students through challenges such as peer pressure, family problems, personal and health issues that may be interfering with their ability to cope with their academic goals. They administer or supervise the administration of tests to students.

School counselors may work as part of a team, but they also spend some on-on-one time with students and their families as needed. School counselors are employed by the school districts or directly by private schools. Due to the workload, school counselors are typically assigned to one school, and it is customary for high schools to have more than one school counselor at each campus to facilitate career counseling and college preparation.

Role of the Social Worker

The general role of the social worker is to assess the needs of students, identifying their strengths and challenges to provide access to appropriate support services. Social workers may be called upon to provide counseling and other support services in crisis situations such as immediately after a traumatic incident affecting the student body. Social workers are the contact points for connecting students and their families to critical community services such as food stamps, healthcare services and childcare alternatives. They may provide psychotherapy and similar therapies with a referral from school guidance counselors.

Social workers may be assigned to the school district as a whole instead of a single campus. They may have a rotating schedule of school visits, or their services may be available when requested by the schools.

Career Pathways

The minimum credential required for school counselors is necessarily stringent because it requires special expertise to cope with the demands of the job. A master’s degree in psychology, counseling, educational counseling or similar field is typically required to be considered for the position. Relevant work experience in the school setting is preferred although some school districts may consider experience in community work as valuable.

Social workers should have completed at least a bachelor’s degree in social work, psychology, sociology or a similar field. They should have earned the certifications required to work in a school setting or a community environment.

School counselors and social workers play important roles in ensuring that students have a positive experience in schools with productive outcomes for their future. While they have a common goal, the primary difference between a school counselor and a social worker has to do with their access to resources and to the students themselves. The school counselor has more direct access to the students as well as to school resources while the social worker works at the behest of the school’s leadership.

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