How To Become A School Counselor

A career helping students can be rewarding. Learn about how to become a school counselor here.

Updated August 31, 2022 · 4 Min Read

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How To Become A School Counselor

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School counselors play a key role in the educational system. They help elementary school students gain social and emotional skills and advise high school learners on college and career plans. Many rewarding careers in school counseling feature above-average salaries.

School counselors apply their academic training and counseling skills to connect with students. Experienced school counselors can pursue board certification to increase their earning potential. This guide covers how to become a school counselor, including degree requirements and employer expectations.

Questions About School Counseling

How do you become a school counselor?

School counselors need a master's degree. Master's programs in the field require advanced coursework and hands-on experience.

What skills are needed to be a school counselor?

School counselors need strong listening and communication skills. Analytical abilities help professionals identify students' individual challenges. Patience and compassion help school counselors connect with students.

Do school counselors get paid well?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school and career counselors earn a median salary of $60,510 per year. The highest 10% of earners make more than $98,190 annually.

What degree do I need to be a school counselor?

To qualify for a career in school counseling, individuals need a master's degree in counseling or school counseling. Master's degree-holders apply for state licensure to practice.

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What Do School Counselors Do?

School counselors in K-12 settings help students improve their social skills and thrive academically. School counselors identify issues or challenges affecting students. These counselors offer individual and group counseling to help students strengthen their interpersonal and academic abilities.

A school counselor's responsibilities depend on their work setting. Elementary school counselors support young students' social and emotional development. These professionals coordinate with teachers to integrate behavioral topics into the curriculum. At the middle school level, counselors emphasize interpersonal skills and prepare students for high school. High school counselors assist with college and career planning.

To become a school counselor, individuals typically earn a master's degree in school counseling. Master's programs provide theoretical and practical training. Graduate students practice their counseling skills during an internship or practicum in a school setting.

How to Get Hired as a School Counselor

To qualify for a career in school counseling, individuals first earn a master's degree in the field. Many top-ranked institutions offer online master's in school counseling programs. These programs offer flexible scheduling options for busy learners.

Master's degree-seekers typically complete an internship or practicum. Pursuing internships related to their career goals can help counselors stand out in the job market. For example, a practicum at a public elementary school provides direct training for elementary school counselor positions.

After completing school counselor training, candidates apply for a state license. The licensure process varies by state. In addition to credentials, job applicants can highlight their communication skills, teaching background, and counseling experience to secure positions in the field.

What Are the Education Requirements for School Counselors?

A career in school counseling requires a master's degree. Applicants to graduate programs need a bachelor's degree. School counselors can also pursue a doctorate. This section introduces each school counseling degree's classes and corresponding career paths.

Associate programs introduce the major field and require general education courses. These two-year programs prepare graduates for entry-level roles and further education. Because few schools offer an associate degree in school counseling, learners at this level typically pursue a counseling or teaching degree.

Associate programs in counseling typically require coursework in counseling methods, psychology, and social science. Teaching degrees introduce instructional and assessment methods, teaching techniques, and education research. Each of these majors provides valuable training for bachelor's-level school counseling programs.

A bachelor's degree prepares aspiring school counselors for graduate-level coursework. Most bachelor's programs require 120 credits, which full-time learners typically complete in four years. Graduation requirements usually include general education classes, major courses, and electives.

Common undergraduate majors for aspiring school counselors include counseling, education, psychology, and sociology. Learners pursuing these majors strengthen their research, writing, and critical-thinking skills.

Bachelor's degree-holders can apply to master's programs in school counseling. A bachelor's in education also meets the requirement for a teaching license, which some states require school counselors to hold.

A master's in school counseling prepares students to obtain licensure. Master's programs require coursework in areas such as counseling theory, human development, and group counseling. Learners complete an internship supervised by a licensed school counselor. Many programs offer specialized electives.

Most students earn their master's in school counseling in 2-3 years. Institutions may offer an MA or an M.Ed. in school counseling. Prospective students should review their state's licensure requirements before choosing a program.

The highest available school counseling degree, a doctorate generally requires 3-7 years to earn. Doctoral degree-seekers strengthen their research and practice skills. Learners typically complete counseling research courses and specialized classes in their focus area. In addition to completing coursework, students must pass comprehensive examinations and write a doctoral dissertation.

Many programs require a master's degree for admission. With a doctorate, school counselors can pursue practice and policy leadership roles. A doctoral degree also qualifies holders to become school counseling professors.

How Much Does a School Counseling Degree Cost?

The total cost to become a school counselor can be substantial. Aspiring school counselors complete a bachelor's and master's program. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), in-state tuition and fees at public schools cost an average of $9,349 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Out-of-state tuition and fees at public schools cost an average $27,023 for the same year, while the average cost of tuition and fees at private institutions was $32,769.

Undergraduate students often save money by earning an associate degree and transferring credits into a bachelor's program. According to NCES data, the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at two-year schools was $3,377 for the 2019-2020 academic year. Additionally, learners can save money by choosing online programs. Distance learners can live in an area with low cost of living while earning their degree.

Graduate degree-seekers at public schools paid an average of $12,410 in tuition and fees for the 2019-2020 academic year, according to NCES data. The average cost of graduate tuition and fees at private institutions was $26,597 for the same year. Most students need 2-3 years to earn a master's in school counseling. Students should also budget for books, living expenses, and internship or practicum costs.

Career and Salary Outlook for School Counselors

School counselors earn a median salary approximately $15,000 higher than the median of $45,760 for all occupations.

However, earning potential varies based on industry, experience, and location. For example, K-12 school counselors earn a median salary of $63,460 per year. Counselors at higher education institutions earn a median of $49,430 annually. The highest-paying states for school counselors include California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Washington.

Currently, about 322,000 school and career counselors work across the country. The BLS projects 37,000 new jobs from 2020-2030, representing faster than average job growth.

Certifications and Licensure for School Counselors

After meeting educational requirements, aspiring school counselors can pursue licensure to work in public schools. Licensure requirements vary by state. However, school counselors must typically have completed a master's program featuring a supervised internship or practicum. Licensure candidates must also pass an exam.

Some states require school counselors to hold a teaching license or classroom experience. The American School Counselor Association provides information on each state's requirements.

School counselors can also pursue voluntary certifications to improve their job prospects. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the national certified school counselor credential. Certification candidates need a graduate degree and at least 100 hours of post-graduate supervised school counseling experience. Candidates must also possess passing exam scores and at least two academic years of professional experience as a school counselor.

Resources for School Counselor

ASCA offers professional development tools, research, and publications for school counselors. The association provides resources to help individuals become a school counselor and hosts networking events. ACAC provides resources and information for counselors who specialize in working with children and adolescents. The association publishes a journal and delivers a newsletter. Founded in 1952, ACA represents professional counselors, including school counselors. The association provides resources to help individuals become a counselor, understand best practices, and obtain continuing education. Members can attend conferences to network and develop professionally. NBCC administers the national certified counselor credential for experienced counselors. The organization provides resources for counselors and certification candidates.

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