School Counselor Career Guide

A school counselor provides students with academic, career and college advice, as well as personal and social guidance. This can be accomplished through group counseling, individual counseling, developing a school’s counseling curriculum and the annual academic planning for each student. This guide provides further information on what school counselors do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and outlook.

School Counselor Job Description

School counselors play a very important role in the lives of students at public and private schools. Their primary objective is to help students in their school succeed and to make positive decisions that will affect their academic and personal development. This will include working closely not only with students, but also with their teachers and school administrators if necessary. Counselors may work in elementary, middle, or high schools, helping students in a variety of ways. Counselors mainly work in an office setting, but they also work in classrooms, observing students to define their needs. They are also required to guide troubled students and work with handicapped students.

School Counselor Requirements and Common Tasks

School counselors work with troubled students who may have behavioral problems or even issues originating from home. Aside from personal or emotional problems, counselors also help students in their academic lives, helping them develop better study habits. They may also help students to identify their interests and natural abilities, set achievable goals for the future, and work with them to create plans to reach those goals. In elementary schools, counselors may help teachers identify students who need extra help, have special needs, or behavioral issues. In the same vein, they might also help in identifying gifted students. Counselors teach elementary students how to study and to make sound decisions, which will hopefully set them up for later success. In middle schools and high schools, the school counselor plays an important role in advising students about possible colleges and careers. They also might counsel students on choosing classes that will support their longer-term goals. In high school, their job might include helping students write résumés, apply for jobs, and learn interviewing skills. Strong communication skills and compassion for others are essential in the career of counseling, since a genuine desire to help students succeed is at the heart of the profession.

How to Become a School Counselor

For those seeking information on how to become a school counselor, the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree. Some courses that will help prospective counselors gain the skills needed to enter the profession are child psychology, communication, and social sciences. Most programs also include a period of field work, to gain real life experience in the field. Next, many states ask persons to complete graduate work or a master’s degree to become a school counselor. Suitable fields of study include education, career development, secondary school counseling, and related fields. Many public school systems also require a person to have a license to become a school counselor. In order to keep this license, the counselor will have to complete ongoing educational courses. Some states also prefer candidates to have a teaching certificate and a few years of teaching experience before becoming a school counselor. Finally, many states also require a counselor to acquire a certification from the state in which they will be working. The rules for this certification vary from state to state.

School Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

The salary of a school counselor varies depending on such things as the type of school (elementary, middle, high school or college), the school itself, location and experience. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for school counselors in 2012 was $53,610.1 Through 2022, employment for counselors is expected to grow by 12%, which is similar to that of teachers.1 The projected growth in school enrollment will need to be balanced with the possibility of budget cuts in the government, which could possibly have a negative effect on the employment of counselors.1

Some school systems offer benefits, as well, such as health insurance and paid vacations. Regardless of possible budget cuts, there is no question that the demand for qualified school counselors is growing rapidly in that many states are not only requiring all schools to use them, but the schools are increasing the responsibilities of the job, as well. In other words, the job counselors do is becoming more necessary and valuable to schools. For persons with strong communication skills and a compassion for children, this occupation is an ideal choice.

Helpful Skills and Experience

Since school counseling requires working with students, parents, teachers, and administrators, people in this role should be excellent communicators. Counselors should be keen listeners, easily relatable to people of different ages and backgrounds, and compassionate. Since school counselors will likely mentor students with emotional or behavioral issues, they should possess kindness and a natural ability to empathize. It is helpful if the prospective counselor has prior experience in counseling children, either through an internship or previous employment.

Possible Job Titles for This Career

  • Career Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • School Counselor

Additional Resources

The American School Counselor Association – The American School Counselor Association (ASCA), supports counselors at schools with professional development opportunities, publications, research and advocacy.

Counseling and Psychology Degrees and Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a School Counselor

Question: What types of courses do I take to become a counselor?

Answer: The courses required will vary depending on the school, but most school counseling programs will require coursework in fostering academic development, group and individual counseling, as well as sociology/ psychology.

Question: Do school counselors get summers off?

Answer: Depending on the school, some counselors might get their summers off, like many teachers. Check with the individual school to find out more.

1. Bureau of Labor: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm