Helping Children Thrive: The Impact of School Counselors and School Social Workers

At Vanderbilt University Peabody College of education and human development, we are dedicated to driving research and influencing practice in the fields of child development and human behavior. Through our online master of education (M.Ed.) in human development counseling with a specialization in school counseling, we equip future school counselors with the tools to help children in grades K-12 thrive in various contexts and stages of life.

While our graduates go on to positively impact children’s lives as school counselors, they are also prepared to work with various professionals and individuals who influence children’s development. In addition to working with school faculty, teachers, family members, and community leaders, school counselors may interact with school social workers when partnering with community organizations to implement programs or assist particular children at their school.

School Counselors vs. School Social Workers

Both school counselors and school social workers possess an understanding of child development and behavioral psychology. They are also skilled in program management, community organizing, and child advocacy, and share a mission to create lasting change for children and communities.

However, the two play different roles in their schools and employ varying methods of practice in order to accomplish this mission. School counselors and school social workers also do not earn the same type of master’s degree.

Individuals who decide to become school counselors or school social workers believe that all children should have the resources and support to reach their highest potential. They view their work as not just a job, but a vocation; their life’s mission is to help others and create positive societal change.

Job Descriptions

School Counselor

School counselors work in school settings to help students navigate academics, personal and social development, and college and career planning. Unlike a school social worker, a school counselor typically works in a single school. By practicing within one school community, school counselors may build close relationships with students, families, and faculty in that school.

School counselors develop, implement, continuously manage, and evaluate school counseling programs that assist students in various areas of development. They work with all school stakeholders, including teachers, administrators, and families, as well as those outside the school, such as community organizations and policymakers. By collaborating with all individuals who may have an impact on students’ lives, school counselors are able to assist students and improve the greater school community.

School counselors help students:

  • manage emotions and develop emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal skills,
  • choose courses and plan long-term academic and career goals,
  • engage with community support and programs beyond the school.

School counselors also leverage data to identify needs, plan solutions, and evaluate programs.

Through the Peabody Online master of education (M.Ed.) in human development counseling with a specialization in school counseling, students are prepared to support children in these ways. Peabody students develop a deep knowledge of human development theory, gain exposure to the latest research in the field, and practice in schools in their own communities to prepare for careers as effective counselors. Graduates of the program go on to assist children at various stages of development and have a positive impact on their lives.

School Social Worker

School social workers work across a larger community, such as neighborhoods, school districts, and municipalities. School social workers assist students from a number of schools and address their needs beyond the classroom.

While school social workers and school counselors both support students struggling with many of the same issues, school social workers typically facilitate programs to manage these challenges outside of school. For example, they may develop prevention programs for issues like school violence or substance abuse, or programs for students who have struggled to remain in school. These programs may be implemented at various schools within one community.

School social workers may also refer students to counseling or community services outside of the school as well as provide direct services, such as home visits, to students and their families.

School Counselors vs. School Social Workers: Salary Comparison

Currently, school counselors and school social workers have similar average salaries and projected employment growth rates. While these statistics account for national averages according to Bureau of Labor Statistics 2018 data, salaries and employment growth rates for school counselors and school social workers can vary by state, school type (public or private school), and school district.

School Counselor

$63,280 Median Annual Salary 1

8% Employment Growth Rate 2

School Social Worker

$63,000 Median Annual Salary 3

7% Employment Growth Rate 4

With the current average national career growth rate at 5%, both school social work and school counselor jobs are growing faster than average.

How to Become a School Counselor

Aspiring school counselors must earn a school counseling-focused master’s degree and pass a licensure exam required by the state in which they would like to practice.

Vanderbilt Peabody College Online M.Ed. With School Counseling Specialization

The Peabody Online master of education (M.Ed.) in human development counseling with a specialization in school counseling focuses on all areas of human development and counseling theory and practice. Students in the program gain a theoretical background in children’s development and explore current educational issues to inform their practice.

The curriculum emphasizes promoting student success in diverse and underserved communities, giving future counselors the tools and understanding to help students of all backgrounds. By bridging empirical knowledge with social justice principles, the program offers aspiring school counselors an unparalleled view of how students learn and grow.

Graduates of the Peabody College online program are prepared to pursue licensure. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, but most mandate that students first complete a certain number of hours of supervised internship or fieldwork experience. Peabody Online M.Ed. students will complete 800 fieldwork hours through internships.

Most states require the PRAXIS Professional School Counselor test, and a few require exams specific to their state’s history, civics, and/or curriculum. View school counseling licensure requirements by state here.

Internship Experiences

Students in the program complete 800 hours over the course of three terms of internships in schools located near their communities. Students must complete a one-term field experience each in an elementary school, a middle school, and a high school. These intensive fieldwork experiences allow degree candidates to apply knowledge developed through coursework to real-world practice, while enabling them to build professional networks in their communities. This practice also allows them to meet licensing requirements if field experience is required in their state.

How to Become a Social Worker

Most aspiring school social workers will need to earn a master’s in social work and meet licensure requirements depending on the states in which they wish to practice. Although, some schools may hire social workers with a bachelor’s degree in social work.

Earn a Master of Social Work

School social workers must hold a master of social work and complete a practicum, internship, or supervised field experience. However, some school social workers may not need a license or master’s degree to practice, depending on the state in which they plan to work.

In a master of social work program, students may focus on how to advocate on behalf of children in a community and how to manage a caseload that includes a number of children and families in need across schools or a region. These degree candidates may also study or conduct social work research and explore modern social policy.

More so than a master’s degree that leads to a school counseling license, a master’s degree in social work will focus on larger social contexts and the services and policies which affect the children within them.

Ready to Take the Next Step Toward Becoming a School Counselor?

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1 Median annual wage for school counselors in elementary and secondary schools, including state, local and private schools. U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook: School and Career Counselors. Retrieved December 2019.

2 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook: School and Career Counselors. Retrieved December 2019.

3 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook: School and Career Counselors. Retrieved December 2019.

4 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook: Social Workers. Retrieved December 2019.