At first glance, a school counselor and a guidance counselor are interchangeable professionals. It’s easy to confuse or even combine these two terms, given the origins of the school counseling career.

The following sections examine the school counselor vs. guidance counselor comparison and take a look at the school counseling profession.

School Counselor vs. Guidance Counselor


School counseling originated as guidance counseling.

“A few decades ago counselors were introduced into schools to assist students with occupational/vocational choices, college preparatory support, etc.,” according to professional school counselor and psychotherapist, Marie Isom. “They were teachers that simply took a few extra classes and were then called ‘guidance counselors.’”

A great deal has changed, however. Today, “we have state and local professional organizations (The American School Counselor Association – ASCA) that support us professionally and legislatively, standards we’re required to follow, a requirement of (at minimum) a master’s degree in counseling, and oftentimes counselors have specializations in other areas,” Isom added. “[It’s] a far cry from the persona of those that play counselors on television, in movies, and those that many of us experienced when we were in high school.”

School Counseling Today

School counseling is now much more comprehensive than what guidance counseling used to cover. It is much more central to students’ needs.

“School counselors are such a vital part of the school community,” according to  Dr. Nisha Warbington, associate professor of counseling at the University of West Alabama. “We are uniquely trained to handle a diverse set of students’ needs from academic to career to social/emotional development needs. We are the advocates for all of our students and support them as they navigate their way to adulthood.”

Counseling Careers Guide

UWA’s Guide to Counseling Careers is a free resource that can help you navigate this in-demand field. Take a closer look at some of the most popular counseling careers.

Access the Guide


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers a look at duties that school counselors typically perform to support students’ needs.

  • Evaluating students’ abilities and interests through assessments, interviews and individual planning
  • Identifying issues that affect school performance
  • Helping students understand and overcome social or behavioral problems
  • Helping students create plans to achieve academic and career goals
  • Working with students to develop skills that help support academic and career goals
  • Collaborating with teachers, administrators and parents to help students succeed
  • Teaching students and school staff about specific topics, such as bullying, drug abuse and planning for college or careers after graduation
  • Counseling individuals and small groups on the basis of student and school needs

Roles and responsibilities can vary based on the students’ ages.

“The goal of the school counselor is to educate, motivate and inspire.” – Dr. Poppy Moon, assistant professor of counseling at the University of Alabama

Importance of School Counseling Programs

Research supports the value of school counseling for students across domains of academic development, college and career readiness, social/emotional development and more, according to the ASCA. Here are some examples of what several empirical studies from national peer-reviewed journals found while researching the impact and importance of school counseling programs.

  • There are stronger student learning and behavioral outcomes associated with students who have access to school counselors. This is especially true for students in high-poverty schools.
  • High school students who receive assistance from school counselors are more likely to apply for and enroll in college. They are also more likely to graduate from high school.
  • School counselors can enhance students’ ethnic identities, improve students’ behavior and provide early identification of and prevention of depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Studies concentrating on multiple impacts found that school counseling positively impacts students’ learning, behavior, mental health, misbehavior and social functioning.

School Counselor Salary

The BLS groups school and career counselors together. The median annual wage for school and career counselors is $54,560, with the lowest 10 percent earning less than $32,500 and the top 10 percent earning more than $90,000.

Employment of school and career counselors is projected to grow 11 percent by 2026, which is faster than the average for all occupations. “Rising student enrollments in elementary, middle and high schools is expected to increase demand for school counselors,” according to the BLS. “As enrollments grow, schools will require more counselors to respond to the developmental and academic needs of their students.”

Most states and the District of Columbia requires school counselors to have a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field. Many of these programs require students to have a period of supervised experience, such as an internship. In addition to a master’s degree, public school counselors must often have a state-issued credential (certification, license or endorsement, depending on the state).

Pursuing a School Counseling Career

The University of West Alabama’s online master’s in school counseling enables you to pursue a career as a school counselor. Develop the skills and knowledge needed to help youth in educational environments, all in a convenient, fully online format from one of Alabama’s oldest and most prestigious universities.