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School Counseling vs. Guidance Counseling

By: Dr.Elizabeth Wiggins, Assistant Professor of Counseling for the School of Behavioral and Social Science at CCU

The Evolution and History of Guidance Counselors

In order to understand the differences between a school counselor and a guidance counselor, one must first comprehend the history and role of a school counselor today, and how it has evolved from its original title as a guidance counselor.

In the 1950s, schools began to utilize aptitude assessments to provide vocational guidance for students. This was done in close collaboration with the United States military, as the government sought to recruit young men to join the armed forces (Gysbers, 2010). At this time, classroom teachers were often the ones supporting "vocational education” endeavors. Over time, it was realized that having a full-time position to “guide” students in their career planning would be helpful, and the role of guidance counselor was born.

The New ASCA National Model

Historically, due to the emphasis on career development, “guidance counselors” typically only worked in high schools. Today, the position has evolved from “guiding” older students towards the right career path, to supporting students with academic, social, and emotional development.

As a result of these changes, in the 1990s, the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) recommended renaming the profession from guidance counselor to school Counselor, which fully identifies what the position entails. The ASCA has continued to shape the role of counselors in schools, which has evolved even further to include Elementary Counselors and Middle School Counselors. The ASCA now provides a new ASCA National Model, which includes ethical guidelines, school counseling competency standards, and student mindset's and behavior standards.

Just as the term secretary was once used to describe an administrative assistant, the title of school counselor more accurately reflects the various activities that occur in this position.

The Role of School Counselors Today

School Counselors are pivotal members of the educational team at any school. From consulting with teachers on student behaviors to meeting with students in small groups to conducting mental health and suicide risk assessments to working with parents and community members on accessing college resources, the role of a school counselor is multi-dimensional.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) describes a comprehensive school counseling program as one where “relationships are developed between professional school counselors and others in the interest of students creates a school culture that promotes student success, systemic change, advocacy, and reinforces the mission of the school counseling program."

School Counselors Ensure Equity

In addition, school counselors today are proactive in providing equitable access to resources and opportunities within the education system. In the past, guidance counselors behaved more like career counselors and often focused strictly on helping college-bound high school students understand the degree programs available to them. Now there are positions available for high school counselors as well as in elementary schools.

Today's school counseling services are designed to help the entire student population understand their competencies and potential post-secondary opportunities.

Advance Your Professional School Counseling Career with CCU

Pursue your passion to help young people thrive and succeed with a master’s degree in School Counseling. CCU’s online Master of Arts in School Counseling program will prepare you to pursue a rewarding career and begin the credential process of licensure as a school counselor.


Colorado Christian University does not guarantee any job placement as a result of earning this or any other degrees offered by the university.

Learn more about CCU’s new Master’s of Arts in School Counseling program.

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