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 or individual counseling. Counselors also assist with 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 job outlook.

School Counselor Job Description

School counselors play an important role in the lives of students at both public and private schools. Their primary objective is to help students in their school succeed and make positive decisions to support academic and personal development. This will include working closely with students, teachers, and school administrators. 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 help define needs. They are also required to guide troubled students and work with differently-abled students.

School Counselor Requirements and Common Tasks

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 have behavioral issues. In the same vein, they might also help in identifying gifted students. Counselors teach elementary students how 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 and communication. Most school counseling programs also include a period of field work, allowing students to gain real-life experience in the field. Many states require a master’s degree to become a school counselor. This program may need to be approved by the state board of education, include specific courses, and/or hold specific accreditations – be sure to check with your state’s board for detailed requirements. The typical steps to become a school counselor are:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related subject.
  2. Earn a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related subject.
  3. Complete a school counseling internship or other qualifying clinical experience, depending on your state’s requirements.
  4. Pass your state’s required exams for school counselors.
  5. Apply for your counselor’s license.
  6. Begin applying for open school counselor jobs.

Suitable fields of graduate study in most states to qualify for this career include school counseling and child psychology. Some schools 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 school counseling certificate or license to practice. The rules for this certification vary from state to state; we recommend checking with your state’s board of education to verify the requirements.

School Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

The salary of a school counselor varies depending on such things as the level of the school (elementary, middle, high school, or college), whether the school is public or private, the school’s location, and the candidate’s education and experience. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for school and career counselors in 2015 was $53,660.1 Through 2024, employment for school counselors is expected to grow by 8%.1

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, able to easily relate 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.

School Counseling Programs

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Frequently Asked Questions about Becoming a School Counselor

Question: What types of courses do I take to become a school 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 and psychology.

Question: Do school counselors get summers off?

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

1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm