Guidance Counselor vs. School Counselor: What Is the Difference?

Guidance counselor speaks with a student

You will often hear the terms “guidance counselor” and “school counselor” used interchangeably. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) considers the term “guidance counselor” outdated and encourages the use of “school counselor.” Understanding the differences between these two positions helps clarify the growing importance of academic and personal guidance in education.

What Do Guidance Counselors Do?

Guidance counselors began to emerge as common members of the education system around the 1930s, and counseling services became a common part of the education system during the 1950s in response to the National Defense Education Act as a way to help guide students toward professions in mathematics and science.

Guidance counselors took on a limited role in the lives of students, performing guidance in post-graduation planning and vocational opportunities. Guidance counselors generally worked in isolation and did not have to plan a guidance curriculum that accommodated students with specific needs. Additionally, this position handled student guidance case-by-case rather than ensuring that all students had equal access to them as an integrated part of their education.1

What Does a School Counselor Do?

School counseling is integrated into public education, and school counselors take a far more comprehensive approach to student success. The ASCA considers school counseling to be a proactive approach that leads to measurable results. Modern school counseling does cover vocational assessments and training, but it also explores aspects of the social, emotional, behavioral and mental wellness of students to ensure academic success. School counselors are trained to assist students with everything from applying to college to connecting students with resources that may help them cope with traumatic events or crises.

School counselors take an active role in developing complex guidance curriculums that are meant to apply to all students and reduce the success gap for students with obstacles to their learning, such as limited English fluency. The ASCA states that the ideal caseload per counselor is 250 students. The high importance of professional counseling in elementary, middle and high schools means that school counselors require a high level of training and professionalism. School counselors must hold a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling to qualify for licensure in their state.2

School guidance curriculums typically require that students at the high school level have some interaction with a professional counselor to ensure that they have post-graduation plans and that they have access to school counseling if problems in their life are poorly impacting their academic success.

Consider beginning your journey as a school counselor at Grand Canyon University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences with our Bachelor of Science in Psychology degree program. This program can help to provide the foundations you need for advanced education in psychology or counseling. You can be eligible to obtain initial licensure as a school counselor following the completion of our Master of Education in School Counseling degree program. To learn more about our college, please fill out the form on this page to speak to a university counselor.

Retrieved from:

American School Counselor Association. School Counselor Roles & Ratios (Guidance Counselor vs. School Counselor). Retrieved on Jan. 3, 2024.

American School Counselor Association. School Counselor Roles & Ratios (The Role of the School Counselor). Retrieved on Jan. 3, 2024


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.