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What is School Counseling?

Are you considering school counseling as a college degree option in Alaska? Majoring in this and related subjects can lead to a wide variety of engaging and impactful career opportunities within the state. Those who want to devote time to ensuring student success, access, and equality will find this area of study particularly alluring.

School counselors are generally responsible for helping students of varying ages develop academic and social skills, as well as helping them to establish plans for after graduation. While duties can differ depending on job title and parameters, many professionals in this field work directly with young people in academic settings. Responsibilities often include evaluating student abilities and interests, providing advice, and teaching specific topics. They also commonly assist with understanding and overcoming various social and/or behavioral challenges. The most successful candidates will possess great analytical, interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills. The ability to analyze data, such as poor attendance, to identify potential areas of concern is also required.

Additionally, these professionals often provide advice and guidance to individuals and small groups, depending on need. They may also work with students to develop certain skills meant to support learning, such as effective time management and study habits. Collaboration with teachers and family members to establish and maintain academic, career, and social goals is frequently necessary as well. School counselors must also maintain accurate records and report cases of possible neglect and/or abuse to authorities.

It’s important to realize that school counselor duties often vary depending on the age of students they work with. Elementary school counselors, for example, are more likely to visit classrooms and provide assistance in developing various social and academic skills. High school counselors, on the other hand, typically advise students one-on-one and spend more time helping to establish plans for after graduation. They may also help students overcome personal issues that may be interfering with academic development.

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Online School Counseling Education in Alaska

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of school and career counselors and advisors is expected to increase by 10% from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an additional 32,000 new job openings throughout the nation. The majority of available positions will be due to the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, however.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the fourth largest in Alaska. It accounts for $4.5 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2021, the state employed 350 educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors with an annual mean wage of $64,840. This is just above the annual mean wage of $63,480 for all occupations in Alaska. It’s also important to realize that graduates with education and training in counseling are likely to qualify to pursue many other related community and social service occupations, such as school social worker, family therapist, and rehabilitation counselor. As of May 2021, Alaska employed 6,400 individuals in these positions. The annual mean wage for these jobs was lower, however, at $58,040.

Prospective students should realize that while many colleges and universities offer degrees in school counseling, standard counseling programs are often easier to find. This is especially true for degrees at the undergraduate levels. Majoring in other related subjects may be necessary until enrolling in a graduate degree program.

Virtual learning is also becoming more and more popular among students, as online programs often allow more flexible scheduling options. Unfortunately, counseling is not as well-suited to online instruction as some other subjects because in-person interactions and practicums are often required. As a result, those interested in this field are likely to find more hybrid degree programs. These generally consist of mostly remote classes with periodic learning sessions offered on-campus.

Whether you plan to study in-person or online, choosing an Alaskan school is strongly recommended if you plan to work as a school counselor in the state. While programs are available throughout the nation, only local colleges and universities are familiar with the certification requirements in Alaska. Schools often adjust curriculums to ensure graduates are properly prepared to meet credentialing standards, as well as employer expectations in the region. Additionally, many academic institutions have pre-established relationships with nearby companies and organizations, which can lead to more internship and professional employment opportunities.

There are counseling, community, and social service occupations available at every level in Alaska. In order to qualify for most employment in this field, however, you will need some amount of higher education. Prospective students can generally enroll in associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs.

The state has varying academic standards depending on profession. The minimum necessary to become a certified school counselor in Alaska, for example, is a master’s degree. There are opportunities for those with associate or bachelor’s degrees, but the best-paying positions are typically reserved for those more education, training, and experience. Additionally, you will likely need some teaching experience to work as a school counselor, so it’s best to work your way up according to the prescribed route. There are no shortcuts to this role.

Online Associate Degree in School Counseling (AS)

Associate degrees in school counseling are relatively rare. Instead, students will need to select a related major such as those in counseling, education, human services, behavioral science, social science, or psychology. These degrees generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. As undergraduate-level programs, they typically include both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but those enrolled can expect to gain a basic introduction to their field of choice.

This type of degree is ideal for those who want to obtain the minimum knowledge and skills needed to pursue entry-level employment in community and social service occupations or to find out if the role of school counselor might really be for them. It does not satisfy Alaska state certification requirements for school counselors, however.

Not all graduates choose to pursue employment right away. In fact, many opt to continue their education by enrolling in bachelor’s degree programs. As undergraduate class credits can be transferred to other accredited academic institutions, it is possible for those with associate degrees to earn bachelor’s degrees with as little as two additional years of study.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in School Counseling (BS)

Again, there are relatively few school counseling degree programs available at this level. Instead, students will need to select a related major such as counseling, human services, behavioral science, social science, or psychology. These often consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. As another undergraduate learning option, students are still expected to take both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. Curriculums vary, but instruction tends to be more expansive and covers topics in greater depth. Those enrolled can expect to develop basic academic skills and knowledge, as well as learn about behavioral health and various counseling theories and concepts.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals who plan to pursue employment as educators or school counselors in Alaska. Even this degree will not satisfy the minimum education requirement for school counseling certification in the state. However, graduates will qualify for entry-level community and social service occupations, as well as promotions and certifications in these fields.

Those who choose to pursue further education by enrolling in related master’s degree programs must be prepared to meet various graduate school admittance standards. While these vary, most schools and universities in Alaska expect applicants to have minimum grade point averages (GPAs) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores.

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Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling (MS or MC)

Master’s degrees in school counseling generally range from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two to three years to complete. Some accelerated programs may also be available. Curriculums vary, but most include classes in school counseling techniques, multicultural counseling, lifespan development, academic and career counseling, and professional issues and ethics. Expectations differ from institution to institution, but those enrolled typically must complete hours of supervised clinical work prior to graduation. In most cases, a significant portion of this experience will take place in school settings.

As previously mentioned, this degree exceeds the minimum requirements for school counseling certification in Alaska. Those who have completed graduate school, however, will likely have greater success when applying for jobs in the state and may earn higher salaries. In addition to school counselor roles, graduates will likely qualify for jobs as career counselors, community service managers, social workers, substance abuse counselors, mental health counselors, and juvenile justice counselors.

Online PhD Degree in School Counseling (PhD)

A PhD or doctorate in school counseling may consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that can take full-time students two to four years to complete. Curriculums differ, but most are intended to further develop the knowledge and skills needed to help young people achieve at all level of schooling. Those enrolled may also have opportunities to pursue specialized counseling masters coursework, such as grief therapy and/or curriculum coaching. Many also place emphasis on management. Additionally, students should expect to perform a significant amount of research and writing, especially when preparing their dissertations, which are required to graduate.

This type of degree is best suited for those who wish to expand their clinical skills and career options. While some opportunities are available in research, most graduates pursue teaching positions in higher education.

Become a School Counselor in Alaska

The first step to becoming a school counselor in Alaska is establishing your ultimate career goals. There are many related career opportunities within the field, each with its own unique qualifications. Identifying your preferred occupation early will make it easier to research associated standards and expectations, allowing you to direct academic and professional pursuits accordingly. You will also have a better understanding of which elective courses, minor areas of study, concentrations, and/or internship opportunities will be most useful.

School counselors must be certified to work in Alaska. This process is overseen by the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. The necessary Type C Special Services certificate provides official endorsement to school counselors, as well as audiology, occupational therapy, physical therapy, school nursing, speech pathology, and library science-media professionals.

To qualify for a regular Type C Special Services certificate in Alaska, a bachelor’s degree or higher is required. Applicants must also complete three semester hours of approved Alaska studies credits and three semester hours of multicultural education/cross-cultural communication credits. Additionally, a recommendation from the preparing academic institution is necessary. Candidates must submit signed and notarized applications, along with official transcripts, two sets of completed fingerprint cards, and all associated fees.

Notably, the regular Type C Special Services certificate is valid for five years. Prior to this timeframe elapsing, applicants are required to provide proof of six semester hours of credit taken during the life of the certificate. A minimum of three semester hours must be upper division or graduate credit. Candidates will also need to verify current employment in an Alaska public school district that requires the Type C Special Services certificate. Applications, fingerprint cards, and all associated should be submitted prior to the expiration date of the original credential.

It is possible to obtain a Provisional Type C Special Services certificate. Those who lack the six credit hours of Alaskan studies and multicultural education/cross cultural communication may apply for this non-renewable credential. It’s important to realize, however, that this certificate is only valid for two years. Applicants will need to submit official transcripts to the Teacher Certification office showing the completed credits prior to the certificate’s expiration date. They will also be expected to apply for the standard five-year credential before the Provisional Type C Special Services certificate expires.

Those interested in becoming school psychologists must hold master’s degrees or higher in school psychology. Academic programs require approval by the National Association of School Psychologists (NCATE) or the American Psychological Association (APA). Additionally, a 1,200-hour internship is also needed. It’s worth noting that a master’s degree is recommended for the Provisional Type C Special Services certificate as well, but it is not required.

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Careers for School Counseling Graduates

  • College/University Admissions Counselor
    College and university admissions counselors review incoming student applications by verifying application information, checking submitted materials, and assisting in the approvals process. They often follow-up with students regarding application issues, as well as contact the references supplied. These professionals may also create profile for each applicant, meet with prospective students, and/or maintain recruitment guidelines. According to PayScale, admissions counselors make an average base salary of $41,850 per year.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Counselor
    Employee assistance program (EAP) counselors provide support and assistance to workers experiencing issues with personal well-being and/or job-related performance. They carefully evaluate employees, offering counseling or referrals to other professionals based on need. These individuals may also conduct surveys, recommend medications in order to meet employee care goals, coordinate with health insurance providers, and answers questions regarding program parameters. According to PayScale, employee assistance program counselors make an average base salary of $60,300 per year.
  • Guidance Counselor
    Guidance counselors help students identify personal goals, strengths, weaknesses, and interests by providing assistance with various aspects of academic, personal, and social development. They are responsible for assessing student needs, teaching various skills, providing basic counseling, and collaborating with teachers. These professionals may also notify the appropriate authorities of suspected crimes, abuse, and/or neglect. According to PayScale, guidance counselors make an average base salary of $53,600 per year.
  • High School Special Education Teacher
    High school special education teachers work with secondary education students who have learning, mental, emotional, and/or physical disabilities. They typically adapt general lessons to better suit unique learning needs. These professionals may also assess student skills, develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), plan activities, provide mentorship, and discuss progress with parents and other professionals. According to PayScale, high school special education teachers make an average base salary of $53,450 per year.
  • Mental Health Technician
    Mental health technicians provide assistance and support to mental healthcare professionals in hospitals, private institutions, and/or patient residences. They are often responsible for observing patient behavior and reporting relevant information to doctors. These professionals may also ensure the comfort of patients between treatments by assisting with bashing, dressing, and meal times. According to PayScale, mental health technicians make an average base salary of $34,650 per year.
  • School Counselor
    School counselors help students develop academic and social skills, as well as generating plans for after high school graduation. They often assist young people in understanding and overcoming various challenges, providing advice to individuals or small groups depending on need. These professionals also work to support students’ academic, career, and social goals by evaluating abilities, collaborating with teachers, presenting potential options, providing information about relevant topics, and reporting cases of possible neglect. According to PayScale, school counselors make an average base salary of $52,300 per year.
  • Social Services Manager
    Social services managers coordinate and supervise programs and organization that support public well-being. They often direct other workers who provide various services to people within communities. These professionals also oversee the administrative aspects of programs, analyze data to determine program effectiveness, suggest improvements, and write proposals for social services funding. According to PayScale, social services managers make an average base salary of $58,100 per year.

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