School Counselor Career Guide

A school counselor, also commonly known as a guidance counselor, provides students with academic, career, and college advice, as well as personal and social guidance. This guide provides information on what school counselors do, how to become one, and the occupation’s salary and job outlook.

Table of Contents

How to Become
Job Description
Salary & Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions
Related Pages

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. All states require a master’s degree in school counseling to become fully licensed as a school counselor. The program you select should be approved by your state’s board of education and may need to include specific courses and/or hold specific accreditations. All master’s in school counseling programs also include a period of fieldwork, allowing students to gain real-life experience in the field. 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 with adequate coursework in school counseling to fulfill state requirements.
  3. Complete a school counseling internship or other qualifying clinical experience as part of your program, depending on your state’s requirements.
  4. Pass your state’s required exams for school counselors.
  5. Apply for your school counselor’s license.
  6. Begin applying for open school counselor jobs.

Some schools also prefer candidates to have a teaching certificate and a few years of teaching experience before becoming a school counselor. The rules for school counseling certification vary from state to state. We recommend checking with your state’s board of education to verify the requirements.

School Counselor Job Description

School counselors were historically known as “guidance counselors.” The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has been active in promoting the change in terminology because they say school counselor better reflects today’s “whole person approach” to student success, which focuses on much more than vocational assessment and placement.

A school counselor’s primary job is to help students make positive decisions that lead to academic and personal success. Counselors work closely with students, teachers, and school administrators to accomplish this. School counselors may work in elementary, middle, or high schools as well as in colleges and universities. They mainly work in an office setting, but they may also spend time in classrooms observing students, helping to identify and define needs. They also assist students facing challenges and differently-abled students. The number of students that a school counselor works with can vary widely by district, but according to the ASCA, the ideal caseload is 250 students per school counselor.1

Common Tasks

In addition to assisting with personal or emotional challenges, counselors guide students in their academic lives, helping them develop better study habits and test-taking skills. They may also help students identify their interests and natural abilities, set achievable goals for the future, and create plans to reach those goals. In elementary schools, counselors may help teachers identify students with special needs or behavioral issues. In the same vein, they might also help identify gifted students who require more challenging content than they can get in the regular classroom.

Counselors teach elementary students how to make sound decisions, which will contribute to their overall success and well-being. In middle schools and high schools, the school counselor introduces students to possible colleges and universities, career opportunities, and scholarships and grants that may be available to them. They also might counsel students on choosing classes that will support their long-term goals. They may help students write resumes, apply for jobs, and learn interviewing skills. School counselors may also help students deal with tragedies that affect the student body as a whole (e.g., the death of a teacher or fellow student).

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
  • College Counselor
  • Elementary School Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • High School Counselor
  • School Counselor

School Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

The salary of a school counselor varies depending on the school level (primary or secondary), whether the school is public or private, the school’s location, and the candidate’s education and experience. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for education, guidance, and career counselors was $60,140 and $98,530 at the 90th percentile.2 Through 2032, employment for school counselors is expected to grow by 5%, which is faster than average for all occupations.3

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

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. American School Counseling Association, “The Role of the School Counselor”: https://www.schoolcounselor.org/getmedia/ee8b2e1b-d021-4575-982c-c84402cb2cd2/Role-Statement.pdf
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 Occupational Employment and Wages, Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211012.htm
3. 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