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What is a School Counselor?

School counselors play important roles in schools and other educational systems. These highly trained professionals help students reach their academic potential and promote social skills. School counselors may also help students adjust to new school surroundings. They work with students at all age levels as part of a stable and supportive learning environment.

These professionals help students set academic goals and help assess student abilities, identify areas of need, and work to improve the student’s ability to learn. Counselors can help identify learning barriers and social issues that can interfere with learning and social adjustment. Counselors work not only with students, but also with student groups and families. They may also provide information to the local communities to support education.

Counselors can impact student progress in many ways. They can help students organize resources and focus their abilities and they can help create work and study habits that will form the basis of a lifetime of success and achievement.

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Steps to Become a School Counselor:

Working in educational settings, a school counselor connects students with the resources they need to be successful. They listen to students and interact with their families or guardians. Each counselor must assess a student’s situation and help identify and resolve barriers to learning and social development.

Today, school counselors must work with students in an ever-changing situation as they make their way through their education, into careers, and deal with the overall economy. The global economy offers many opportunities for careers and entrepreneurship that did not exist as recently as 20 years ago, but it is also infinitely more complex. And these dynamic changes extend to social issues and social development. School counselors also work with current issues such as political influences, gender equity, and racial justice.

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As custodians of young children and minors, school counselors must have high ethical standards. Counselors often teach students during emotional periods or personal crisis. They must always be mindful of their obligations to report signs of abuse, neglect, and mistreatment. Counselors today must often handle issues that have heightened levels of concern such as bullying, substance abuse, and cultural diversity.

  • Step 1: Get the Required Education

  • Step 2: Get Field Experience

  • Step 3: Licenses and Credentials

  • Step 4: Get a Job


Step 1: Get the Required Education

Counselors must have a high level of formal education. To qualify for a license, most states ask for a master’s degree in counseling or a closely related field like a masters in psychology. This education begins with a high school diploma or equivalent. Student must then attend a two- or four-year college or university. You must complete coursework and requirements for bachelor’s degree.

A counseling bachelor’s degree can be a four-year course of study or combination of an associate degree that leads to a bachelor’s degree. Students should make sure to attend an accredited institution. Since many states require teaching experience prior to licensing as a school counselor, students should consider undergraduate studies that qualify them for teaching credentials.

After graduation from the bachelor’s degree program, students must apply to a graduate school to study school counseling or a closely aligned field. The master’s program should include facilities for supervised practice. To qualify as a school counselor in most states, the student must have a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related field from an accredited institution. The related fields include special education, education, and educational psychology.

If you intend to practice in a state that requires prior teaching experience, then you must qualify as a licensed or certified teacher. If your desired state required one-two years of teaching experience, then you will have to take the time to earn that experience and be able to prove that you spent the required time teaching.

Step 2: Get Field Experience

In addition to education, counselors must demonstrate their readiness to provide professional levels of counseling services. Licensing authorities require field experience in the form of supervised, hands-on school counseling practice. Students can meet this requirement by graduate internship, graduate field work, or supervised training on the job.

Field experience should be supervised by a fully licensed school counselor. Qualified experience must be practical counseling work performed under the direct supervision of a fully licensed school counselor. The goal of the practical experience is to prepare the student for independent work as a school counselor. Supervision allows the student to both observe, practice, and learn by interaction with the students and the supervisor.

Step 3: Licenses and Credentials

Licensing is a legal requirement in many states. Public school systems usually require a state-issued license to practice. Sometimes referred to as certification, endorsement, or license, the education required is usually a master’s degree, supervised experience, and passing a qualification exam. Students can check requirements for states in which they may seek to work at the American School Counselor Association website.

Using standards from the US Department of Education, each state sets testing requirements for school counselors. Many states use the PRAXIS testing system for core requirement. For example, the grades P-12 school counseling standards is the Professional School Counselor examination.

State licensing requirements vary by each state’s determination. Many states require prior experience as a teacher before you may receive licensure as a school counselor. In those states, the counselor must possess a teacher license or certification in addition to a master’s degree in counseling or a related field.

Step 4: Get a Job

School counseling can be a rewarding career. The school counselor is an advocate for each student. They promote academic achievement, aid in college access, and help students find affordable future educational options. Counselors promote each student’s social and emotional growth and overall development and success.

Getting a job is an important career step for school counselors and the options include public schools, private schools, and many types of non-profit educational organizations. In educational settings, you can impact the lives of young people and improve their chances for success as well as expanding their economic opportunities.

Options for employment outside of educational settings include licensed professional counseling, educational consulting, and social work. Government agencies use school counseling skills in many ways including policy development, resource allocation, and educational assessment and improvement efforts.

The Bureau of labor Statistics projects greater than average occupational demand for school counselors. The BLS projects rising enrollments in elementary, middle, and secondary schools across the US.

What Does a School Counselor Do?

School counselors often work in an office setting in the school or institution that employs them. In the COVID-19 era and after, they may also work from home or a remote location. When supervising students at more than one location, they may travel from site to site or work from a remote location.

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However, counselors must be able to work in quarters that permit confidentiality. Students have rights to protect their personal information and many discussions must be protected from disclosure under requirements for confidentiality. Privacy protection is one of the main ways that school counselors encourage students to come forward and discuss sensitive issues.

The essential effort required from counselors is to focus resources to resolve problems. The counselor can interact with students and families. Many issues require further assistance including mental health professionals, medical assistance, or nutrition assistance. Emotional issues can require psychological counseling or family interventions. The counselor can provide the key process of identifying potential issues and directing the correct resources to resolve them or directing families to easily accessed local resources that they can make use of.

School counselors are part of the administration and educational system. On a daily basis, they track information on attendance, student capabilities, and performance. The counselor is also the first line resource for student problems. They may receive information, notices, and complaints about student behavior. Counselors must maintain data and access school information systems daily. They review reports concerning every student and pay specific attention to problem areas. They interact with families on matters of achievement, poor performance, and outstanding performance.

School Counselor Skills to Acquire

School counselors use a wide range of skills and knowledge when working in educational and private business settings. The first competence is recognition of universal human dignity. In all contacts with any person, the counselor must understand and recognize human dignity and respect. An equally important component is empathy or compassion. Counseling requires an ability to relate to the situation of a student and their family.

  • Counseling Education is a fundamental part of school counseling. Many employers require a master’s degree on counseling or a closely related field. Counseling experience enhances the educational background and sets the counselor on a path of continued education and on-the job experience. Counselors must keep learning and growing throughout their careers.

  • Crisis Intervention involves identifying critical situations and detecting warning signs before they worsen into crisis. Prevention is the best remedy and interventions focus counseling and other resources on specific or general problems.

  • Critical Thinking is another key to success. Counselors must also use insight and analytic thinking. They must avoid emotional responses to situations and use disciplined, evidence-based approaches. School counselors have training, education, and experience that equips them with abilities to manage a wide range of events and duties. However, counselors must remain flexible and open to new methods. They often face new challenges and novel situations as their roles expand to accommodate social changes and educational needs.

  • Oral and written Communications are also an essential skill set for counselors. They must be good listeners that can process information and deliver solutions. Communications are essential to work with students, families, communities, and other groups. Counselors must also prepare useful records and work with coordinate professionals such as mental health, medical, and social experts.

  • Computer/Software/Office Tools are essential for successful work as a school counselor. Educational settings are increasingly automated and computerized environments. Counselors must access records, databases, and reports of many kinds. They must enter important findings, reviews, and investigations into record systems and information systems.

  • Information Management is another important skill to have when working with student populations. Counselors must use data to determine their courses of action when impacting policy or addressing problem solving situations. Information management includes the ethical obligations and legal responsibilities for the information you gather.

  • Workload management is a critical skill, and it includes scheduling, task management, and coordination with other roles. Student populations can be large and involve many contacts and actions. Counselors must also contend with unexpected events, crisis episodes, and demands for assistance by other school departments and functions.

Alternative Paths

The typical path for school counselors are to get a bachelor’s degree in education, get a teacher’s license, and teach for one to two years. Then teachers will enter a master’s program in school counseling, get supervised experience to qualify for the licensing exams, and pass licensing exams. As with most counseling fields, there really isn’t any other way to get into the field. You must have the appropriate education in order to be licensed and you must be licensed if you don’t want to be criminally or civilly liable for acting as a counselor without the proper training and expertise.

The BLS reports that most employers require a master’s degree in school counseling. Experienced teachers can move into the field by getting a master’s degree in school counseling and getting field experience. Student can begin with an associate degree from a community college and then move up to a four-year college for a bachelor’s degree. At the master’s level, students should investigate ways to distinguish their qualifications and follow a special interest. For example, some schools offer school counseling in bilingual (Spanish-English) systems an include special training on the adjustment of immigrant earners.

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Online education offers an alternative to on-campus and in-person class attendance. Online programs can help more students enter the field of school counseling with affordable, flexible, and part-time education.

School Counselor Career & Salary

Where Might You Work?


School counselors can work in public and private schools. In public schools, counselors can work in elementary school settings with the youngest group of learners. Middle school counselors often need specialized awareness during these critical socialization and developmental years. High school settings require additional attention to further education and career goals for students about to enter the workforce, college, or military service.

In private school employment, school counselors can often work closely with fewer students and maintain high levels of contact with guardians and family. Private age groupings may be similar and the counselor coordinates resources to resolve social and developmental issues.

School counselors also work in healthcare and social assistance organizations in the public, private, and volunteer or non-profit sectors. Counseling can be an important part of social actions to improve education for individuals and communities.

Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for school and career counselors is strong. The BLS projects a growth rate over the upcoming decade through 2029. The factor that drives growth in this field is mainly the rising demand for college and post-secondary education. Population growth is also a factor, along with the changing dynamics of the global economy. The increasing reliance on technology creates many new technical jobs, managerial roles, and educational or training needs.

Government expansion will also create further demands for school counselors. Counselors have responsibilities for important social policies such as those aimed at bullying, detecting neglect, and identifying potential physical and emotional abuse in student populations. As society opens to more effective action on gender equity, diversity, and inclusion, the roles of school counselors expand to meet these new priorities.

Salary estimates show increased pay for school counselors as they gain experience and seniority. Mid-career, late career, and experienced counselors show significantly higher income that entry-level and early-career levels. Demand indicators suggest that salaries may continue to grow. Recent year comparisons by BLS show estimated wage increases for the occupational class.

Advancing From Here

School counselors gain insights into the operation and management of schools and working with student populations. They use interpersonal skills with students, teaching faculty, and families. They routinely address groups and make public presentations. These skills and experiences can help counselors advance.

Counselors can move into school administration in public and private educational settings. Those that worked at elementary and secondary levels can advance to post-secondary institutions. They may find themselves working in fields such as community outreach, community educations, and public administration. With the wide range of interpersonal and presentation skills, they can become managerial and senior executives in educational institutions, social institutions, and public service.


School counselors make presentations, work with families and groups, and coordinate among professional peers. They manage databases and work with enterprise information systems. They work with students in a wide range of age groups. They provide educational and career related counseling and advice.

  • Licensed Professional Counselors are qualified by education and experience to provide counseling services to the public. Licensed counselors often specialize through education or certification in specific fields.
  • Guidance Counselors provide specialized services top students and adults to help plan and carry-out career goals. Guidance counselors work with all age groups and particularly with high school-age students seeking a career or higher education.
  • High School Counselors work with students in the critical grades 9 through 12. Many students at this level need help with college admissions, educational financing, career education, and special needs.
  • Social Services Case Manager use knowledge of education systems and options to provide input into policy processes. Case mangers help governments assess the needs for and availability of educational resources for the populations they serve.
  • Outreach Specialists use interpersonal skills, database management, and group presentation experience to deliver critical information, increase motivation, and raise public awareness. For example, in the COVID-10 era, they promote public safety and awareness.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the components of a school counseling program?

The components of a school counseling program include school counseling curriculum, individual student planning, responsive services, and system support.

What is the outlook for school counseling programs?

School counseling jobs are expected to increase by 11% by 2030.

Do you need a license to practice as a school counselor?

The public school system usually requires a state-issued license to practice counseling within a school setting.

How long does it take to become a school counselor?

The process to become a school counselor can take around seven years. School counselors need a master's degree and a license to practice in most states.

What qualities should a school counselor have?

A school counselor needs to be a good listener, be friendly, be well-rounded, and have excellent communication. They need to be able to assess, coordinate, and give good advice.

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