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How to Become a School Counselor

What Does a School Counselor Do?

school counselor providing guidance to student

The role of a school counselor is vital to the success of students of all ages, from elementary school to college. These specialized counselors have a positive impact on the students they work with. They help their young charges gain a stronger understanding of themselves and their potential.

A school counselor acts as a dependable, informative mentor and guide, typically for a vibrant community of students with diverse individual personalities, interests, aptitudes and future plans. These compassionate professionals work with youth to help set reasonable and realistic academic, social, and career goals; create the strategies needed to fulfill those goals; and develop the necessary skills for success. School counselors are a well of important information on career and educational opportunities, as well as valued advisers and counselors for students who are unsure where their futures lie.

School counselors work one-on-one with students of all ages, performing a range of assessments to pinpoint their strengths and to uncover any areas in need of improvement. They also provide information about educational and career opportunities to students in classroom settings. These counselors also train students in basic skills, such as writing a resume or personal statement or filling out a job application.

With younger students, counselors are charged with additional responsibilities that include safeguarding the health and wellness of the children and reporting suspected cases of abuse or neglect. They also provide academic assistance and advice as well.

At every level, becoming a school counselor is an opportunity to contribute to the positive growth and development of an entire generation. School counselors often take pride in their career accomplishments, and with good reason - they are a driving force behind the success of their communities and society as a whole.

Workplace Details

A school counselor may work at any level of education, including elementary, middle and high school as well as college. They are employed for all grade levels at both private and public schools. In general, counselors work a full-time schedule, some visiting multiple schools over the course of a week or month. However, some have summers off, depending on the school’s operating calendar.

The specific scope for the day-to-day activities of school counselors varies according to the grade level and the size of the school that employs them.

  • Counselors who work at an elementary school are more involved with behavioral issues and overall student health and safety. They may meet with “problem students” or students struggling to meet educational requirements, in order to work through the source of their problems or assess them for psychological or learning disorders. They may also mediate conflicts between peers or meet with parents to help form behavioral plans.
  • Middle school counselors typically work with students on social skills and study skills, as they make the difficult transition from youth to young adult. Middle school counselors may also assist some students with their educational goals - particularly students in gifted programs and students with special needs or disabilities. Early adolescence is the time when most students first begin to consider their future goals and their place in the world, and a school counselor can provide vital guidance in what opportunities lie ahead.
  • For high school counselors, the most essential tasks are to help students choose the best strategies for formulating future goals, and to help them prepare for further education or entry into the work force. This entails providing training in basic educational and career skills; informing students of educational opportunities; helping students decide what their goals are; and locating financial assistance opportunities for students in need.
  • Finally, college-level counselors assist students with making the most of their time in college by helping them to select classes, build their resumes, and prepare for entering the work force. As graduation approaches, counselors can assist students through advice on topics such as career selection, job skill development, internship experience, resume writing and essential interviewing techniques.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$64600
Texas
$57980
New York
$66350
Florida
$53300
Illinois
$57300

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

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ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$53,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$31,790$52,000$74,290
Huntsville$38,210$57,640$75,380

ALASKA

Median Salary: 
$70,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $44,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $100,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Anchorage$43,960$68,760$105,060
Fairbanks$51,200$70,920$109,390

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 310

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$29,340$$46,020$63,420
Tuscon$22,860$37,640$54,230

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$51,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$33,450$49,130$74,940
Fort Smith$27,520$43,700$71,160

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$59,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$34,350$61,920$100,750
San Francisco Bay$40,290$57,340$97,030
San Diego$35,440$56,970$99,800
Sacramento$25,550$62,650$94,370

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$46,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$28,700$46,810$75,480
Colorado Springs$33,870$45,800$62,370

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$57,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $26,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Hartford$34,020$57,120$95,250
Bridgeford$19,900$51,710$102,880
New Haven$25,610$52,140$89,290

DELAWARE

Median Salary: 
$64,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wilmington$36,710$61,940$86,280
Dover$42,720$65,700$82,340

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$41,690$65,880$105,950

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$52,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 410

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$18,820$49,420$94,540
Orlando$34,980$50,750$77,450
Tampa$32,660$53,820$86,540
Jacksonville$34,050$63,660$77,220

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$55,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 16%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$34,870$57,030$86,610
Augusta$32,350$50,320$78,690

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$53,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 40

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Honolulu$33,120$53,980$75,680

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$37,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 640

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$30,140$41,680$70,880
Idaho Falls$26,830$36,110$58,470

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$53,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $97,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$31,540$55,880$100,320
Rockford$29,720$44,880$105,380

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$49,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$34,150$52,150$76,310
South Bend$32,160$45,580$69,450
Fort Wayne$32,300$43,550$70,980

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$49,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Des Moines$34,950$50,320$79,030
Cedar Rapids$32,410$48,240$66,760

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$49,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$33,040$50,810$64,990
Kansas City$29,200$47,630$74,000

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$55,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 19%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 230

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Louisville$27,680$50,680$94,880
Lexington$28,470$56,150$88,570

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$53,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 8%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 120

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baton Rouge$22,900$50,510$73,820
Lafayette$40,580$55,320$72,740

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$46,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: -2%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$34,760$47,950$74,300
Lewiston$32,290$42,550$67,860

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$59,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 500

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$33,580$54,550$89,390
Frederick$49,860$73,500$108,080

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$60,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 200

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boston$34,480$58,270$94,970
Worcester$30,730$62,650$85,290
Springfield$32,200$61,150$94,140

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$51,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $82,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$33,540$51,830$87,360
Grand Rapids$31,730$46,780$87,180

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$50,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 90

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$36,220$53,970$80,890
Rochester$34,800$50,380$70,940

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$48,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $68,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 60

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$18,830$43,730$60,530
Gulfport$40,170$52,050$72,090

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$43,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 200

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$25,620$44,500$81,320
Kansas City$29,200$47,630$74,000

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$46,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Billings$28,930$38,740$74,630
Missoula$17,500$23,780$69,800

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$52,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$31,720$48,160$66,340
Lincoln$27,370$50,870$77,320

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$55,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$40,330$55,490$76,770
Reno$35,590$52,510$74,500

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$56,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Manchester$35,710$56,420$75,150
Nashua$41,910$56,570$77,530

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$70,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $101,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$44,600$66,380$97,760
Trenton$45,920$71,760$97,500

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$50,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $22,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $88,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Albuquerque$19,690$50,730$84,590
Las Cruces$33,870$48,420$93,490

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $103,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 790

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$35,630$64,650$106,110
Buffalo$30,080$50,320$84,220
Rochester$34,340$51,980$79,920
Albany$33,110$51,900$84,680

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$47,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $63,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 180

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$33,150$47,280$64,750
Raleigh$38,010$49,690$74,210
Greensboro$34,290$47,500$67,340
Winston - Salem$32,470$45,540$59,580

NORTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$53,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Fargo$34,170$46,830$64,460
Bismarck$37,310$55,400$76,590

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$52,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $86,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 6%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cleveland$35,300$61,290$94,860
Columbus$33,410$51,830$95,300
Cincinnati$38,700$54,210$79,840
Dayton$31,530$49,570$77,470

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$41,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $25,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $67,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 7%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$27,780$40,280$63,150
Tulsa$30,080$44,940$79,510

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$53,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $78,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$34,840$56,540$78,590
Salem$41,910$57,450$95,820

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$54,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 280

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$35,850$60,930$96,150
Pittsburgh$32,590$50,850$82,300
Harrisburg$27,600$51,820$73,050
Allentown$36,890$57,450$88,640

RHODE ISLAND

Median Salary: 
$60,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $89,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Providence$36,280$62,940$90,880

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$49,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Greenville$29,950$47,910$74,740
Columbia$31,530$45,920$73,900
Charleston$35,980$55,260$75,600

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$39,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $59,300

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Sioux Falls$32,790$42,870$59,740

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$46,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $71,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 150

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$31,890$49,380$78,280
Memphis$32,990$49,540$81,520
Knoxville$31,840$45,990$63,010
Chattanooga$32,680$50,170$67,730

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$57,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 1,060

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$37,300$61,850$79,360
Houston$38,320$59,070$78,850
San Antonio$33,960$56,410$75,140
Austin$32,800$55,630$77,160

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$51,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$24,620$51,480$84,760
Ogden$26,510$42,260$60,940

VERMONT

Median Salary: 
$51,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 5%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Burlington$32,680$53,330$88,010

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$56,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 14%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 240

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$33,610$51,780$80,220
Richmond$35,890$56,380$77,370

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$58,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 210

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$40,030$57,920$76,470
Spokane$40,660$60,110$77,170

WEST VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$43,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $24,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $61,700

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Huntington$22,390$41,000$64,120
Charleston$39,770$46,780$68,340

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$48,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 4%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 170

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Milwaukee$33,250$57,630$91,150
Madison$21,390$42,460$65,370

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$54,700
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $37,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 9%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Cheyenne$40,910$56,690$77,470

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income of school counselors is $57,620. The median salary is $32,400 for the bottom ten percent and $90,030 for the top ten percent.

The salary for a school counselor is typically dependent on the educational level of the position (elementary or secondary school versus college and university); the location of the position (rural or urban); and the experience level of the individual counselor. The BLS reports that counselors at the elementary or secondary level earn an average $65,070 annually, whereas counselors at university level earn an average annual income of $51,260.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that school counselor employment will increase by 8% from 2014 to 2024, which is roughly the same as the average for all occupations.

With rising enrollment in schools from elementary levels through college, the prospects for employment in school counseling should continue to improve. Currently as a nation, we employ not nearly enough school counselors to meet the nationally recommended ratio of one counselor for every 200 students; our current ratio is roughly one counselor per 471 students (less than half the number deemed sufficient).

However, an increase in employment of school counselors depends to an extent upon increases in education funding. Unfortunately, many under-funded schools deal with the scarcity of school counselors not by hiring additional employees, but by stretching counselors thin, asking them to visit several schools per week and provide services to an ever-expanding body of students.

Recent stirrings on the national policy front may bode well for greater job prospects in the future. In July 2014, as part of an effort to bolster college attendance among low- and middle-income students, the Obama administration organized a summit of experts to discuss ways to make school counseling more robust, casting greater focus on the vital importance of counselors in the lives of students. As long as young people attend school, there will be opportunities for school counselors to make profound and positive contributions in their lives.

Compare Salaries by City

New York City NY Median Pay

$64650 Per Year

$31.008 Per Hour

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$61920 Per Year

$29.76 Per Hour

Steps to Become a School Counselor

1

Enroll in a 4-year bachelor's degree program.

The first step in the education of a school counselor is to obtain a bachelor’s degree - usually in counseling, psychology, education or social work, though a degree in a related field can be acceptable.

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Get your master's degree.

Following the bachelor’s degree, candidates must obtain a specialized master’s degree in school counseling, which is required by most states for employment as a counselor in a school or university setting. Some school counselors first work more directly in education (as teachers or tutors) before entering graduate school to specialize in counseling. While this may provide useful insights into how educational settings function and how best to interact with students, it is by no means required.

Basic coursework for a master’s degree in school counseling includes counseling techniques and various approaches to academic, social and behavioral issues. Aspiring school counselors should select their age or education level of interest, and accordingly select coursework that will best prepare them for working with such students. For those looking to become college counselors, for instance, additional courses that deal with career counseling are required. Training in childhood behavioral disorders or abuse reporting may be required of prospective elementary school counselors.

Once classroom training is complete, the majority of counseling programs require an internship or mentoring program, where the candidate is paired with an experienced counselor to learn through observation. Some states require this mentorship stage as a condition for employment or licensure.

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Follow state requirements for licensure.

Most states require school counselors to hold some form of certification or license. These requirements and programs vary from state to state. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) provides links for each state’s requirements, as well as information on professional development. Overall, though, licensing involves taking a one-time sit-down exam, logging a required number of internship hours, demonstrating adequate education, and paying registration fees.

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Enroll in continuing education.

A school counselor should also expect to enroll in continuing education courses throughout his or her career, in order to keep up with the latest developments in the field and maintain certification.

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Consider the directions in which your career may evolve.

Within the academic framework, there are opportunities for school counselors to advance into positions as administrators or educators. They may also become mentors for students seeking to enter the counseling field, or they can choose to enter management or supervisory positions, where responsibilities include overseeing the work and training of other counselors. In small school districts or those in remote areas, however, there may not be many opportunities for direct and local advancement.

College counselors can advance into positions as college professors, where they often work to further the counseling profession through teaching and field research.

Exploring Degree Paths

If you’re interested in becoming a school counselor, first check your state’s licensing requirements. They vary quite a bit from state to state and can have a big impact on your educational pathway.

For example, most states require a master’s degree in school counseling for practice. However, a few states also require counselors to hold a teaching license or have teaching experience. And in a very few states, it’s still possible to work as a counselor with a teaching license and some additional graduate-level coursework.

However, the trend nationwide has been toward requiring master’s-level training in school counseling, so that’s what we’ll focus on.

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

To become a school counselor, you’ll first need a bachelor’s degree. Technically, you could major in any subject, but to make your application as strong as it can be and to prepare yourself best for graduate work, it’s advisable to choose a major in education, counseling, psychology, social work or a related field. In states that require school counselors to hold a teaching certificate, you’ll save time by majoring in education and completing this process as an undergrad.

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Admission to school counseling graduate programs can be competitive. Try to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above in your undergraduate years. Also, seek out work and volunteer experience with school-aged children that you can share with the admissions committee.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2 years

Once you’ve earned you bachelor’s degree, your next step is to choose a graduate program in school counseling. These can usually be found at four-year universities.

A growing number of schools offer online master’s programs in school counseling. If you choose this route, bear in mind that it raises some additional barriers to education and employment. Some questions to explore before committing to this path:

  • How do distance students practice counseling skills and techniques?
  • Will I be responsible for arranging my own practicum and internship experiences? Does the program offer any support for this?
  • Who will provide my supervision hours? How will these be conducted?
  • Are there any residency requirements? How much will it cost me to take time off from work and travel to the school?
  • How do employers in my area feel about candidates who trained online? Is there a bias in hiring?
  • Could I get a better education for less money by studying at a local university?

At minimum, the program should be approved by your state. Most of the more reputable programs also pursue voluntary accreditation by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Graduating from an accredited program makes it a lot easier to get certified. And in a few states, it’s a condition of licensure.

School counseling students begin their education in the classroom. Classes tend to be very experiential, with hands-on practice in individual and group counseling techniques. Other common courses include:

School counseling program development

Learn to plan a program, set goals, collect data, and evaluate results.

Assessment

Study common educational and psychological tests used in schools, including their selection, administration, and interpretation.

Ethics

Discuss issues that arise in counseling like informed consent, dual relationships, and confidentiality.

Research methods

Become familiar with the scientific method and gain the knowledge you need to critically evaluate studies in the social sciences.

Students in CACREP-accredited programs also complete 100 hours of supervised counseling practicum and a 600-hour internship in a school setting.

Keys to Success as a School Counselor

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Communication skills

Successful school counselors have excellent, highly developed listening skills, and both written and oral communication skills. A school counselor should be able to listen to students’ needs and interests in order to collaborate with them to select an optimal career path. A good school counselor will never dictate to students what their career path should be; rather, a counselor should listen to the student’s interests, assess his or her abilities, and provide information about a variety of appropriate options.

Solid organization and analytical skills

These professionals are detail-oriented, able to think critically, and efficiently organized, with the ability to maintain detailed records. They should have a strong command of data. They must also know a great deal about a variety of potential career paths, job markets, educational institutions, major programs and vocations.

Good ethics

Any counselor - particularly those who are employed in school settings - must maintain high ethical and professional standards at all times. School counselors often have serious legal responsibilities, such as state laws that mandate the reporting of suspected abuse, and must be able to deal with delicate and potentially damaging situations. Counselors also must maintain healthy boundaries with their students, providing an open, empathic environment without becoming inappropriately involved.

Empathy and people skills

Equipped with compassion and understanding, an effective school counselor enjoys working with people of all ages, from youth to parents and school staff members. School counselors must possess the ability to read personalities and potential, in order to guide the decisions that will have a lifelong impact on their students.

Additional Credentials

While not mandatory, school counseling certification looks good on your resume and may even count toward the licensure requirements in some states.

School counselors can begin with the National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. If you’re a graduate of a CACREP-accredited program, you can sit for this exam right away. If not, you’ll need to document required coursework, 100 supervision hours, and 3,000 hours of work experience.

NCCs with two years of full-time work experience can pursue NBCC’s National Certified School Counselor credential. Candidates must demonstrate completion of additional graduate-level coursework, supervision, and field experience.

Erika Price, PhD

Erika Price has a PhD in Social Psychology from Loyola University Chicago, and serves as an instructor at North Park University and The Chicago School for Professional Psychology. A recent Postdoctoral Research Associate, Erika has studied Open-Mindedness and Political Tolerance with support from the John Templeton Foundation.

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