How to Become a School Counselor in Montana

School Counseling Education Guide for Montana

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What is School Counseling?


School counseling is an integral component of education, providing students with guidance and assistance that helps them achieve academic, social, and emotional success. Montana boasts a vibrant counseling field, in which many professionals strive to support Montanan youth. Based on data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Montana employed 820 school counselors as of May 2020, representing an employment concentration rate of just 1.76 counselors per 1,000 jobs statewide; however, this compares favorably with national figures of 1.72 counselors per 1,000 jobs.

School counselors are trained professionals who work within schools to support students' academic achievement, personal and social development, and career exploration. They offer guidance and counseling services for students, teachers, and parents, with the goal of creating a safe and positive learning environment.

School counselors play an invaluable role in education by helping students navigate academic challenges, personal issues, and plan their futures. School counselors may assist their pupils with time management skills, study skills, and goal setting. Furthermore, they offer support to students experiencing anxiety or depression issues.

School counselors not only help individual students, but also provide guidance and advice to both teachers and parents. For example, they might offer guidance regarding classroom management strategies, provide resources for parenting, or host workshops related to student wellbeing.

Becoming a school counselor typically requires earning a master's degree in counseling or a related field, with some states mandating certification or licensure of school counselors. They should possess strong communication and interpersonal skills, as well as being adept at working well with people from diverse backgrounds. School counselors are an essential component of education.

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Online School Counseling Education in Montana


One factor contributing to Montana's increased need for school counselors may be the high rates of poverty among public school students in the state. According to the National Center for Education Statistics figures, 27% come from low-income households compared to an average national figure of 22%. Furthermore, Montana had over 3,000 homeless students during 2018-2019 school years alone; both factors likely play a part in driving demand for counselors in Montana.

Montana school counselors face many challenges, yet still report high levels of job satisfaction. According to a 2019 survey of Montana school counselors conducted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction, 90% reported being satisfied with their job and 88% felt valued within their school community.

One potential area of counseling concern in Montana is its shortage of licensed counselors statewide. According to a 2019 report by Montana Healthcare Foundation, only 185 professional licensed counselors exist statewide, with many not working as school counselors. This lack can make it challenging for schools in rural areas with limited access to mental health services to provide sufficient counseling services to their students.

Despite these challenges, school counseling remains a cornerstone of education in Montana, providing support and helping students meet their goals. With school counselor demand rising steadily over time, we expect continued growth in this field in coming years. And those students interested in earning a counselor education will have options for various related educational programs in a Montana college or university, including a school counseling program that gives you more than just general counseling skills. These options include Montana State University, the University of Montana - Missoula, Highlands College, Carrol College, and any school that is accessible to students making use of the Western Undergraduate Exchange (WUE). Those looking to work in counseling should look for options accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

Online Associate Degree in School Counseling (AS)

An associate degree in counseling is a two-year undergraduate program that prepares students to become school counselors. School counseling students enrolled in these related educational programs learn the basic skills and knowledge of mental health counseling required to work with children, adolescents, and their families. They also gain an understanding of the various challenges faced by students in schools and develop strategies to help them overcome these challenges.

The curriculum for an associate degree in this field typically covers topics such as child development, psychology, counseling techniques, ethics, and legal issues. Students are also required to complete supervised fieldwork in a school setting where they can apply what they have learned in real-world scenarios. Graduates of these programs usually move into higher level education, as is required to earn full licensure. However, they can also find work as psychiatric aides, substance abuse counselros, or in other areas, where they cannot provide counseling to clients but can learn more about the industry.

Colleges at this level do not often provide programs that cater specifically to individuals who want to pursue a career in school counseling. Instead, students should look for programs focused on psychology, counseling, social work, and other pertinent majors. These degree programs can provide students with the foundation necessary to earn more education and eventually succeed as professional counselors within educational settings.

Online Bachelors Degree in School Counseling (BS)

School counseling is a critical component of any educational institution, and it requires highly trained professionals who can support students' personal and academic growth. A bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, social work, or other pertinent fields can provide the foundational knowledge, skills, and experience to move into a master’s degree and launch a career as a school counselor. Many colleges offer degree programs that focus specifically on counseling and related educational options in schools only at the master’s level, which is why earning an applicable bachelor’s degree is so important. Relevant degrees will provide training in areas such as child development, psychology, sociology, ethics, and communication.

Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in relevant majors typically take courses that cover topics such as counseling theories and techniques, group dynamics, assessment strategies for mental health issues, crisis intervention methods, and legal and ethical considerations. They can also gain hands-on, supervised experience through internships or practicums in local schools or community agencies.

Graduates of these programs are well-prepared to work as substance abuse counselors, psychiatric aides, in another pertinent career experience, or pursue further education at the graduate level to obtain licensure as professional counselors. The demand for qualified school counselors continues to grow nationwide; thus, obtaining a bachelor's degree in this field may lead to many opportunities upon graduation.

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Online Masters Degree in School Counseling (MA or MC)

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Counseling in schools is a field that focuses on the social, behavioral, and emotional well-being of students. A master's degree in school counseling prepares candidates with all educational requirements for various roles such as school counselors, academic advisors, and educational consultants for elementary and secondary students. By completing these degree programs, graduates can help students navigate through academic challenges, personal issues, or even relationship problems that may impact their learning.

There are many colleges and universities offering master's school counseling programs to prepare counselors to practice across the United States, though you’ll likely want to complete one within whatever state you wish to work. These programs typically take two years to complete and include coursework in counseling theories, ethics, research methods, human development, diversity issues, and counseling practices. School counseling students also participate in supervised practicum experiences to gain hands-on experience working with students in school settings. They can also ensure their program focuses on mental health counseling, family counseling, group counseling, behavioral health, rehabilitation counseling, and more options to work as licensed clinical professional counselors in the counseling profession.

Graduates of master's degrees in this field can work in K-12 public or private schools as licensed school counselors or pursue careers outside the traditional education system, in community mental health centers or private practice. As the demand for qualified school counselors continues to grow nationwide, pursuing a master's in counseling can provide access to a variety of career opportunities for individuals passionate about helping young people reach their full potential both academically and personally.

Online PhD Degree in School Counseling (PhD)

Earning a PhD in school counseling can provide access to various career opportunities for individuals seeking to work in the education sector. Many colleges and universities offer degree programs that prepare students for leadership roles as school counselors, supervisors, and administrators. Coursework may include advanced topics such as psychological theories, counseling techniques, research methodologies, and program evaluation.

In addition to completing coursework, PhD students majoring in counseling in schools or clinical mental health counseling are often required to conduct original research in their field of interest. This research is typically presented in the form of a dissertation or thesis. Upon graduation, graduates can apply their knowledge and skillset to improve student outcomes within K-12 schools or pursue careers in academia. Overall, earning a PhD in this field requires dedication and perseverance but can lead to rewarding professional opportunities.

Online School Counseling Certifications

School counseling or clinical mental health counseling certifications are essential for professionals who want to provide guidance and support to students in K-12 settings. These certifications are available at both undergraduate and graduate levels, with colleges across the country offering programs that prepare students for careers in counseling. Programs typically cover topics such as child development, social justice issues, mental health challenges, diversity and inclusion, assessment and evaluation methods, and crisis intervention strategies.

Aspiring school counselors can pursue various certifications depending on their academic background and career goals. For example, a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Education with a specialization in counseling in schools may be suitable for individuals who want to work as paraprofessionals. A Master of Education (MEd) or Master of Arts (MA) degree with a concentration in school counseling may be more appropriate for those seeking advanced roles, such as lead counselor or program coordinator. Additionally, some states require school counselors to obtain additional licenses or endorsements depending on the grade level they plan to work with.

Overall, earning a certification in school counseling is an excellent way to gain specialized knowledge and skills while also demonstrating one's commitment to the profession. Graduates can expect to find employment opportunities in public or private schools, community organizations, non-profit agencies, mental health facilities, juvenile justice systems, and other areas where they can make a significant impact on children's lives by providing them with much-needed support during critical stages of their development.

Become a School Counselor in Montana


Becoming a school counselor could be the career for you. In Montana, becoming a school counselor requires taking specific steps in order to ensure you possess the necessary knowledge and expertise to assist in their success.

  • Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Montana requires that school counselors possess at least a bachelor's degree in either psychology, counseling, or education as the starting point for becoming school counselors. When selecting your program, it should offer courses such as human development theory and diversity/social justice coursework.

  • Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program in School Counseling

    Montana requires that those aspiring to become school counselors complete a master's degree program in school counseling from an accredited institution, which includes classroom instruction, supervised clinical practice, and comprehensive field experiences.

  • Step 3: Pass the Montana School Counselor Exam

    Once you complete your master's degree program, the Montana School Counselor Examination must be taken. This exam assesses your knowledge of Montana school counseling standards and ethical practices.

  • Step 4: Gain Work Experience

    Montana requires at least 600 hours of supervised school counseling experience under the supervision of a licensed school counselor in order to become licensed as a school counselor.

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What Can I Do with a Bachelor's in School Counseling?


A bachelor's in school counseling can lead to various career opportunities, though those opportunities might be limited within the education sector. Graduates of these programs cannot, unfortunately, work as school counselors, guidance counselors, or academic advisors. You’ll need a master’s degree in order to earn the licensure to work in these fields.

Instead, you will either have to earn more education, or you can find work as a social worker (with a social work degree), in human resources, freelance editing or writing work, as a paraprofessional in the classroom, as a psychiatric aide or technician, as a substance abuse counselor if you completed education in this area, helping out in a psychiatric facility (but not as a counselor), or in non-profit organizations or community centers. However, you cannot work as a school counselor without the appropriate education. Or, you can continue your education and earn a master’s degree in school counseling and earn licensure.

With further education and licensure requirements met through graduate studies, you may become a licensed professional counselor (LPC), which allows you to start a private practice in counseling services or work as a school counselor. As a school counselor, graduates can provide emotional support to students who are struggling with social and emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, or bullying. They can also assist students in developing effective study habits and time management skills to improve their academic performance. Additionally, they may collaborate with teachers and parents to provide resources for students who need additional support.

Potential Careers for School Counseling Graduates


  • School Counselor:

    A school counselor is responsible for providing academic, career, and socio-emotional support to students in a school setting. They work with students individually or in group settings to help them overcome personal, social, or behavioral issues that may hinder their education.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master's degree in counseling or related field
    • State licensure and certification as a school counselor
    • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
    • Knowledge of student development and learning styles
    • Ability to work collaboratively with a team

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for school and career counselors and advisors in the US in 2021 was $60,510
    • The mean annual wage for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors in Montana is $55,130
  • Substance Abuse Counselor:

    A substance abuse counselor is responsible for providing counseling and support to individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. They work with clients to develop treatment plans, identify triggers and coping mechanisms, and provide tools for managing cravings and maintaining sobriety.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor's or Master's degree in psychology, social work, or a related field
    • State licensure/certification as a substance abuse counselor
    • Strong communication skills
    • Ability to work effectively with individuals from diverse backgrounds
    • Knowledge of evidence-based treatment practices for substance abuse disorders
    • Experience working in a clinical setting is preferred

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the US in 2021 was $48,520
    • The mean annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Montana is $48,690
  • Guidance Counselor:

    Guidance counselors are responsible for providing guidance and support to students to help them meet their academic, personal, and social goals. They work closely with students, teachers, parents, and school staff in order to make sure each individual student can make informed decisions about their future.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor's degree in Counseling, Education, Psychology or related field
    • State certification as a Guidance Counselor
    • Strong communication skills and ability to work collaboratively with others
    • Ability to maintain confidentiality and handle sensitive information
    • Experience working with diverse student populations

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for school and career counselors and advisors in the US in 2021 was $60,510
    • The mean annual wage for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors in Montana is $55,130
  • Academic Advisor:

    An academic advisor's role is to offer guidance and support to students so that they may meet their academic goals. They offer advice regarding course selection, degree requirements, career pathways and personal issues which might impede performance. They generally work at the college level rather than lower grade levels.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Bachelor's degree in a related field
    • Strong communication and interpersonal skills
    • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
    • Knowledge of academic policies and procedures
    • Experience working with college students preferred

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for school and career counselors and advisors in the US in 2021 was $60,510
    • The mean annual wage for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors in Montana is $55,130
  • Outpatient Therapist:

    An outpatient therapist is a licensed mental health professional who provides counseling and therapy services to individuals, couples, families, and groups on an outpatient basis. They work in private practices, clinics, hospitals, and community mental health centers.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master's degree in counseling, psychology, social work, or a related field
    • State licensure as a mental health professional (e.g. Licensed Professional Counselor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker)
    • Experience providing outpatient therapy services to diverse populations
    • Familiarity with evidence-based therapeutic interventions (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy)
    • Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
    • Ability to work independently and as part of a team

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for psychologists in the US in 2021 was $81,040
    • The mean annual wage for psychologists, all other in Montana is $83,080
  • Postsecondary Psychology Teacher:

    A postsecondary psychology teacher is responsible for creating and delivering lesson plans in psychology at the college or university level. They must be knowledgeable in the field of psychology, and be able to effectively communicate complex ideas to their students.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • A Ph.D. in psychology or a related field
    • Prior teaching experience preferred
    • Strong communication skills
    • Ability to work independently and as part of a team
    • Passion for teaching and helping students succeed

    Estimated Salary

    • The mean annual wage for psychology teachers, postsecondary in the US in 2021 was $88,470
    • The mean annual wage for psychology teachers, postsecondary in Montana is $86,470
  • Mental Health Counselor:

    Mental health technicians aim to assist psychologists or counselors who work with a variety of clients. These clients are often live-in patients in hospitals or other private institutions. They may provide patients with their prescribed medication each day or help them with daily tasks, like getting to their counseling sessions or even self-care.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • High school diploma or equivalent
    • Completion of a mental health technician training program or equivalent experience
    • Strong communication skills
    • Ability to remain calm in stressful situations
    • Compassionate and empathetic personality
    • Knowledge of mental health disorders and treatment options
    • Ability to maintain confidentiality of patient information

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for psychiatric technicians and aides in the US in 2021 was $36,230.
    • The mean annual wage for psychiatric technicians in Montana is $34,470
  • Behavioral Disorder Counselor:

    A behavioral disorder counselor's primary goal is to assist those struggling with various behavioral disorders including ADHD, anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. They utilize various techniques that allow clients to better manage their symptoms while improving overall mental health.

    Necessary Requirements:

    • Master's degree in counseling or a related field
    • State licensure or certification as a counselor
    • Experience working with individuals with behavioral disorders
    • Knowledge of various therapeutic techniques, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based therapy
    • Strong communication and interpersonal skills

    Estimated Salary

    • The median annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in the US in 2021 was $48,520
    • The mean annual wage for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors in Montana is $48,690

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