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What is School Counseling?

California's image may be one of sandy beaches, surfers, and movie stars, but the state is far more than just that. In fact, California is the largest economy in the United States, and it’s one of the top 20 economies in the world. On top of its entertainment and tourism industries, California is home to Silicon Valley, the veritable capital of tech for the US. Its Central Valley is also one of the nation's largest agricultural centers and there is excellent snow skiing in the Sierra Mountains.

Given the state's brilliant geography, it may come as no surprise that real estate is the state's largest industry and is also the #1 real estate industry in the nation. In fact, with the exception of finance and insurance, which is #2 in the nation, all of California's top 10 industries lead the US. This includes the state's #5 industrial sector, social services including education, healthcare, and social assistance.

Local counselors can bring special insights to the classroom. They may find themselves addressing the difficulties facing the children of farmhands in the Central Valley or newly arrived Chinese students in San Francisco who are struggling with a new language and culture. These insights and personal anecdotes help students engage with the material and become better counselors in their schools and communities.

A school counselor is an educational professional who often works with primary and secondary students who may be having trouble. They seek to address the causes and conditions surrounding a student's inability to perform, as well as offering troubled students someone to talk with when there's a difficulty at home or with peers. When a student has an emotional episode in school, they can visit the counselor who can help them process their feelings and arrive at a new understanding of the matter.

School counselors must hold a master’s degree in school counseling and qualify for teaching credentials. Aspiring counselors need to not only qualify themselves with a professional exam for their counseling work, but they also need to pass a PRAXIS exam that focuses on counseling. They also must complete a period of supervised work that ensures that they are implementing best practices as counselors.

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Online School Counseling Education in California

Since this fifth largest sector brings in a whopping $218 billion to the state, it's clear that both counseling and education are very important for the well-being of the Golden State. School counseling is a vital part of every school, and counselors who start out in schools often peel off into the private sector to help children and their families. California recognizes that school counseling professionals are vital to the state, and so its public colleges and universities strive to produce a steady stream of highly qualified counseling professionals for its public school system.

Thus, California's higher education system continually recruits the best academic all-stars for its school counseling programs. Faculty members search far and wide for school counseling, college counseling, or even marriage and family therapy experts who have done cutting-edge research in the field, with special notice given to those who have a proven track record of counseling in the field. Naturally, Californian schools seek out counselors from their local area, as well.

In order to be a credentialed counselor in California, aspiring professionals need to complete a master’s degree to meet the state's minimum education requirement. Since counselors aren't seeking a teaching credential, per se, they don't need to complete a teacher preparation program in their undergraduate years. Rather, they can focus on a subject that more directly relates to counseling such as psychology, social work, or even clinical mental health counseling. They can also earn a pupil personnel services credential and other specialized endorsements, as well as becoming a licensed professional clinical counselor with a focus on mental health counseling, college counseling, or marriage and family therapy.

Aspiring counselors might choose to study education in their undergraduate degree program and then later enter a Master of Education degree that focuses on professional counseling.

Online Associate Degree in School Counseling (AS)

An associate degree from one of California's terrific community colleges is a great way to launch a career in education and to find college counseling programs. While this degree won't be sufficient for a teaching credential, or a counseling position, it can help a student gain valuable classroom experience. Many who graduate with an associate education degree land positions as teacher aides, also known as para-pros.

Para-pros often provide even more hands-on assistance to students than the main teacher. This can help them gain insights into the students as individuals who may be having a tough time with their work. Given that educational professionals are mandatory reporters, a para-pro may be the first to identify that a student is in crisis and then report their thoughts to the school counselor.

An associate degree makes sense for other reasons, too. California's community colleges are very affordable, so students can complete their first two undergraduate years at a steep discount relative to four-year institutions.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in School Counseling (BS)

A four-year degree in school counseling is not yet enough to earn a school counseling license in California, but it's a great place to start. Undergraduate students can study a field related to school counseling, such as psychology or social work, and thus prepare themselves for a graduate degree. Meanwhile, the four-year degree will be helpful as a steppingstone toward their long-term goals.

A student with a four-year college degree in psychology or social work might take a year or two to work prior to taking the plunge into a school counseling program. An undergraduate degree will qualify them to land an entry-level position in a social services agency where they might work with children in need. Another option might be to work as an addiction counseling professional who can't yet provide individual clinical mental health counseling but who can still gain experience in mental health.

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

Students who are interested in becoming school counselors should aim to earn a master’s school counseling degree and school counseling credential. This is a requirement for licensure in school or clinical mental health counseling in California and every other state. There are a few ways to approach this degree. Some enter a program for a master’s in education with a focus on school counseling, but you can also find a dedicated school counseling program. There is also the option of a clinical psychology degree, which the state will recognize, and those with the correct education can earn a pupil personnel services credential. You might also choose, at this point, to earn a different degree in marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, or many other counseling programs.

Once graduated, school counseling master’s degree holders need to continue on the road to licensure. They need to pass a PRAXIS examination that tests their knowledge of counseling and best practices for school counseling. They also need to complete a period of supervised counseling work. During that time, they will have a mentor, a licensed counseling supervisor, who can help them hone their practice.

Online PhD Degree in School Counseling (PhD)

A doctorate may not be necessary to practice as a school counseling professional, but it will help a professional earn more money and enjoy higher status as a licensed professional clinical counselor or working in clinical mental health counseling. A PhD can help you earn the title of school psychologist, and it has other uses, as well.

A counselor with a doctorate might fare better if they decide to leave the school system or if they retire and desire a second career outside of the schools. Psychologists in the private sector can charge more to insurance companies, and they may have an easier time publishing books and articles. Since all counseling professionals need to complete continuing education units for every licensure period, psychologists might use their credentials to attract students to their seminars.

Further, a psychologist can qualify for a full-time tenure track position with a California college or university. With a doctorate they can teach at the undergraduate and graduate levels. On the other hand, they might prefer to work as research faculty, though they may need additional coursework in research methods.

Become a School Counselor in California

Californians who are interested in working with primary and secondary students should consider working as a counselor in California schools. The state has guidelines for how to achieve this goal and there are a few variations available, but all school counseling professionals follow essentially the same path to licensure, and success in the field.

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First off, aspiring school counseling professionals need to establish a firm foundation for their career. This starts in their undergraduate degree program. There are many options here, but those who start with a degree in psychology, social work, or education should have an easier time. This is because a master’s school counseling degree program will want to see an undergraduate transcript that reflects a degree in a field related to education or counseling. Note that qualifying undergraduate programs must have a regional accreditation from a CHEA-approved accreditation agency.

In California, counselors in schools hold credentials as Licensed Educational Psychologists. To earn the credential, counseling students need a degree in school psychology, clinical psychology, counseling and guidance, or something the board deems equivalent. All degrees should be accredited by a regional accreditation agency approved by CHEA. There are a few more items that must accompany a master’s (or doctoral) degree to qualify for licensure and work in schools.

Qualifying universities in California include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • California State Universities (CSU)
  • Universities of California (UC)
  • Alliant International University
  • Fresno Pacific University
  • Loyola Marymount University
  • University of the Pacific

Since applicants are trusted with so much, they must provide the state with a set of fingerprints. At that time, it's a good idea to procure a criminal background check. Once these items are accepted and processed, aspiring school counselors need to complete the all-important period of supervised practice. In total, applicants for full licensure must complete three years of counseling practice. The first full year can be supervised while in graduate school or it can be completed in a public school the under supervision of a licensed counseling professional. Applicants must then pass the written examination for Licensed Education Psychologists.

Careers for School Counseling Graduates

  • School Counselor
    Every school aims to employ a counselor who works with students who are struggling with various issues. School counselors are trained and licensed professionals who can help students learn to overcome their emotional or social difficulties and thrive in their schoolwork. Most counselors specialize in an age range such as elementary students, middle grades, or high schoolers.
  • Career Counselor
    These counseling professionals work in colleges or universities and help students achieve their long-term career goals. Most career counselors hold a master’s degree, but they are not often licensed by the state to conduct one-on-one counseling sessions. Rather, they may help individuals by administering personality tests to help them narrow down their career options. Career counselors also spend a lot of time planning and administering career fairs for students.
  • Marriage and Family Therapist
    A marriage and family therapist has training in marriage and family therapy and work with couples and their children to help them achieve harmony at home. This is a specialized area for which many earn specialized credentials. However, licensed mental health counselors may also choose to work with couples or families, though it is recommended that they take continuing education credits that help them in this specialty.
  • Social Worker
    This field is very broad and sometimes doesn't require any degree at all. However, social workers who are interested in working with individual clients can earn a Master of Social Work degree and then state licensure to practice psychotherapy. Licensed Clinical Social Workers then have the option to work as case workers in a social services agency instead of, or maybe in addition to, their clinical work.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor
    California, like so many other states, has suffered greatly during the ongoing opioid epidemic. Substance abuse counselors can work with less than a master’s counseling degree, but they cannot conduct individual therapy. Though there are master’s substance abuse counseling degree programs, other licensed counseling professionals can work with clients who suffer from substance abuse disorder.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    This position requires a state license from one's state of residence. Generally speaking, mental health counseling professionals need to earn a master’s degree in counseling, pass an examination, and complete a period of supervised counseling under a licensed professional. Mental health counselors meet clients on an individual basis for psychotherapy but may also assemble groups for group therapy. They may start out in marriage and family therapy or similar counseling programs for their counselor education before moving into general practice.
  • Postsecondary Psychology Teacher
    To qualify for this position, it is necessary to earn a master’s degree in psychology. However, those who desire a full-time tenure-track position and a full professorship need a PhD in psychology. A doctorate will also qualify professionals for work as research faculty who don't teach but who spend their time producing research for various clients.
  • College Counselor
    These counselors may not hold state licensure to conduct one-on-one therapy, but they are often educational professionals who have opened a consultancy. These counselors help students assemble and submit their college applications. Along the way, they advise students of their prospects and help them improve upon those to gain admission to an even higher-ranked college or university.

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