When they’re deciding on a career path, many college graduates with a strong passion for helping children often wonder what the difference between a school social worker and a school counselor is, either in elementary schools or at the middle school and high school level. It can be a tough question to answer because there is a lot of overlap, and when it comes to the licenses and requirements for either job, much of it depends on the state you live in. But in understanding what the careers themselves are like, there are a few clear distinctions.
1. Where they work
Virtually every public school employs counselors. They’re an important part of the staff no matter what the education level. But not every school employs social workers. Usually, states don’t require them to use social workers; but in urban settings, especially at low-income schools, many administrators and school boards find that social work is integral to their students’ success. Also, while counselors are employed at a particular school, social workers are usually district employees. It’ not uncommon for a school social worker to have two or three schools on their roster.
2. What they do
The areas that social workers and counselors deal with can definitely be similar and even combine, because the academic and social worlds are usually closely connected for students. But in general, a counselor is much more concerned with what happens at school and how to get a student to succeed in their schoolwork. They can delve into issues of bullying, behavioral problems, learning disabilities, and other things that prevent a student from getting good grades, but they are mostly concerned with academics.
Social workers are concerned with issues that go on at home. This can mean anything from making sure a student has their food and housing needs met to identifying and pursuing cases of possible child abuse. Social workers are also much more likely to meet with parents and school administrators to discuss what can be done about a student’s situation.
3. What it’s like
In many ways, school counseling is a much easier job than school social work. There are more jobs, you get to spend the day in a comfortable office, and you get to focus on issues of academic progress. But if you’re really passionate about making a difference in the lives of children, many people find social work more rewarding. Social workers can be faced with incredibly hard decisions, such as whether to place a child in foster care. They deal with harrowing and depressing cases, but they can also be the champions for kids whose suffering might otherwise have gone undetected. Choosing between counseling and social work all depends on what you want out of your career.
Children can potentially have many resources and many advocates on their road to adulthood, and counselors and social workers are two very important ones. Depending on the school they work in and the region they live in, they can end up handling very similar situations and helping students in similar ways. In choosing between them, you have to decide how willing you are to handle the toughest cases. Helping a child learn and helping them know they are valued can often go hand in hand.
About the Author
Brent Davis is an avid blogger on primary and secondary education the issues facing today’s schools.