How to Become a School Counselor: Education, Licensure & Careers
- March 17, 2021
- Posted by: Writing Staff
- Category: Student Resources,
Are you considering a career in school counseling? If you’re interested in education and psychology, enjoy working with students, and have a passion for helping others to achieve their goals, this may be a great option. Read on to find out if this is the right career for you and how to make it happen.
What Does a School Counselor Do?
School counselors provide students with the tools they need to succeed throughout school and after graduating. They do this by providing social, emotional, academic, and career-readiness services. Responsibilities may include counseling students either in a group or individually, coordinating activities, helping with crisis response, and occasionally teaching classes.
School counselors educate students on how to navigate social and emotional issues. This can include topics like self-esteem, bullying, peer pressure, mental health, or family issues. Students or parents may reach out to school counselors for help in times of crisis.
Academic and career-readiness services are also provided by school counselors. If a student is struggling in a class or needs help choosing the right courses, they may meet with their school counselor for guidance. It is important for school counselors to have empathy and good listening skills.
What Education Does a School Counselor Need?
To become a school counselor, you will need to complete a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related field. Depending on your state’s requirements, you will typically need to complete field experience, pass your state’s school counselor exam, and apply for licensure.
Before earning a master’s degree in school counseling, you will need to complete a bachelor’s degree. While the degree can be in any field, it is helpful to major in something related to school counseling, such as education, psychology, communication, or social work. This will provide you with a strong background in human development and communication skills.
After completing your bachelor’s degree, you will need to earn a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field. During your coursework, you will learn counseling techniques as well as communication skills. A master’s degree in school counseling will include an internship or some other kind of hands-on experience, often focusing on a specific age group or setting, such as elementary school or high school counseling.
If you’re attending school full-time, you can earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology within four or five years. If you decide to go for your master’s degree, expect another two to three years. A doctorate degree in psychology can take anywhere from four to seven years.
Credentials and Licenses
Requirements for school counselors vary by state but usually include:
- Earning a bachelor’s degree in a related field
- Earning a master’s degree in school counseling
- Passing your state’s school counselor exam
- Applying for state licensure
Some states may also require teaching experience or a teaching certificate. State exams often will cover general knowledge of mathematics, literacy, and education as well as topics more specific to school counseling, including human development, ethics, and counseling skills.
What Fields Can a School Counselor Work In?
Most school counselors work in elementary and secondary schools, working with students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The next most common setting for school counselors to work in is colleges, universities, and professional schools. Most school counselors work full-time. The age group a counselor works with will determine the types of issues they may encounter.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as many as 44% of school counselors are employed by elementary and secondary schools, both public and private. At the elementary level, school counselors often collaborate with teachers and school administration to teach students about social and emotional issues including self-esteem, adjustments, or behavioral difficulties. They also help students develop skills and behavior for academic achievement.
A high school counselor will need to help students explore career and employment options. To do this, they may coordinate college visits or help a student connect their interests to a potential career. They may also need to intervene and deal with challenges such as drug abuse or bullying.
Thirty-five percent of school counselors are employed by colleges, universities, and professional schools. These school counselors can have roles in different areas, including admissions advisors who work with incoming and prospective students and academic advisors who help students with decisions from selecting courses to changing majors. In any field, school counselors may talk to students about how they are doing in their classes and assist with planning for their future. (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
How Much Do School Counselors Earn?
The median yearly salary for school counselors in 2019 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $57,040. For hourly employees, the median rate in 2019 was $27.42. This means that half of school counselors made less than $57,040 while the other half made more. Keep in mind that many school counselors in elementary and secondary schools have summers off.
Over the next ten years, school counselors will have an expected job growth rate of 8%, which is much faster than average. The top-paying states for this occupation include California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia (Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Exploring Next Steps
If you are considering a career in school counseling, the first step is to complete your bachelor’s degree. While working on your degree, it would be helpful to get some experience related to the field. Find ways to volunteer in a school setting working with students. Your own school may have organizations or departments that offer student services that are looking for volunteers.
Even after completing your degrees, it is also important to look for professional development opportunities. You can find a variety of resources online for professional development, from meeting with a coach in the field to conferences and training opportunities. Look for organizations specializing in school counseling.
Once you have completed your master’s degree in school counseling, it is time to take your state’s school counselor exam to become a licensed school counselor. Make sure to keep up to date with your state’s requirements for school counselors to be sure you are on the right track.