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How to Become a School Counselor

By Andrea Delgado

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If you’re passionate about guiding students toward brighter futures and providing the support they need, a career as a school counselor could be your calling. School counselors play a crucial role in shaping students’ academic success and personal growth, fostering a positive learning environment. In this article, we’ll explore the steps and insights you need to embark on the rewarding journey of becoming a school counselor.

Career Summary

School Counselor Salary

School Counselor Salary

Compensation for school counselors can differ due to various influences. Based on data from glassdoor.com, here’s a broad breakdown of the salary spectrum for school counselors:

  • Entry Salary (US$55k)
  • Median Salary (US$67k)
  • Executive Salary (US$81k)

The mean salary for school counselors in the US is slightly higher than the national average wage for all professions, which stood at roughly $61,900 in 2022.

What does a School Counselor do?

The school counselor job description encompasses providing academic, emotional, and social support to students, aiding them in navigating challenges and planning for their futures.

They collaborate with students, teachers, and parents to address various academic and social-emotional needs, offering counseling sessions and workshops to enhance students’ well-being and interpersonal skills. Additionally, school counselors assess students’ aptitudes and interests, aiding them in making informed decisions about their educational and career paths.

School Counselor Career Progression

The career progression of a school counselor typically follows a trajectory of growth and increased responsibility.

  • Entry-Level Counselors: Individuals often work under the guidance of experienced professionals to gain practical experience and develop their counseling skills.
  • Senior Counselor or Lead Counselor: As they accumulate expertise, they may advance to roles with higher responsibilities, such as a Senior Counselor or Lead Counselor, where they may supervise junior counselors, coordinate counseling programs, and engage more deeply with school administration.
  • Counseling Department Head or Coordinator: Continuing their ascent, experienced counselors may step into roles like Counseling Department Head or Coordinator, overseeing the entire counseling department, designing and implementing comprehensive counseling strategies, and collaborating closely with school leadership.
  • Director of Guidance or School Counseling Director: For those seeking an even broader impact, positions like Director of Guidance or School Counseling Director may become attainable, involving the leadership of the entire counseling department, strategic planning, and working closely with educators, parents, and community stakeholders to shape the school’s overall educational environment.
School Counselor Career Progression

Pros:

  • Witnessing the positive impact you have on students’ lives.
  • Building meaningful relationships with students, teachers, and parents.
  • Variety in daily tasks.
  • Pivotal role in shaping school culture.
  • Professional development and specialization.

Cons:

  • Managing a high caseload of students with diverse needs.
  • Burnout and strained time management.
  • Dealing with students facing serious emotional or behavioral issues.
  • Navigating bureaucracy and limited resources.
  • Challenges in communication and collaboration with parents, teachers, and administrators.

Valuable Skills to Have as a School Counselor

  • Strong Communication Skills
  • Active Listening
  • Empathy
  • Problem-Solving Skills
  • Critical Thinking

Popular School Counselor Specialties

  • College and Career Counseling
  • Mental Health and Emotional Support
  • Behavioral Intervention and Conflict Resolution
  • Grief and Trauma Counseling
  • Substance Abuse Prevention and Intervention

How to become a School Counselor

School Counselor 5 Steps to Career

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, education, or a related field. Building a solid foundation in these areas will prepare you for advanced studies and practical experience.

Do I need a degree to become a School Counselor?

Yes, to become a school counselor, you typically need a degree. Most school counselor positions require candidates to have at least a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related field. This advanced degree provides the necessary training and education to effectively support students’ academic, social, and emotional needs.

While a bachelor’s degree in a related field like psychology or education is a starting point, a master’s degree is generally considered the minimum requirement for licensure and certification as a school counselor. It equips you with the skills, knowledge, and practical experience needed to excel in this role and make a positive impact on students’ lives.

Pursue a Master’s Degree

Complete a master’s degree program in school counseling or a closely related discipline. This advanced education is typically required for licensure and equips you with the necessary skills to support students effectively.

How long does it take and how much does it cost to get a degree in School Counseling?

The time and cost to obtain a degree as a school counselor can vary based on factors such as the level and type of degree, the institution you attend, whether you study full-time or part-time, and whether you’re eligible for financial aid or scholarships. Here’s a general overview:

  • Bachelor’s Degree: To become a school counselor you first need to obtain a degree in a related field such as counseling, education, psychology, etc. This typically takes around 4 years of full-time study. The cost varies widely depending on the school, location, and whether you attend a public or private institution. On average, tuition and fees for a bachelor’s degree can range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars per year. The average annual cost of a bachelor’s degree in counseling is $23,050.
  • Master’s Degree: To become a licensed school counselor, a master’s degree is often required. A master’s in school counseling usually takes around 1 to 2 years of full-time study. The cost varies significantly based on the institution. On average, tuition and fees for a master’s degree can range from several thousand to over twenty thousand dollars per year. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the median annual tuition cost for a Master’s in counseling is about $12,170 for public tuition and fees.
  • Additional Costs: Keep in mind that in addition to tuition, you’ll likely have to budget for textbooks, supplies, and possibly internship or practicum expenses. Some programs may require background checks or certification exams, which also come with associated costs.

Financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, and loans, can help offset the costs of your education. Many universities offer financial assistance specifically for students pursuing degrees in counseling or related fields. It’s important to research and compare different schools and programs to get a more accurate estimate of the time and cost required to obtain a degree as a school counselor. Additionally, factors like your location, whether you attend in-person or online, and your personal circumstances will influence the overall cost and duration of your education.

Can I complete an online degree program in School Counseling?

Yes, you can pursue a master’s degree in school counseling through online programs offered by many accredited universities. Online degree programs in school counseling provide flexibility and convenience, allowing you to balance your studies with other commitments, such as work or family responsibilities. Some programs also require in-person or virtual practicum or internship experiences to ensure you gain hands-on skills and practical training.

When considering an online degree program in school counseling, it’s important to ensure that the program is accredited by a recognized accrediting body. Accreditation ensures that the program meets certain standards of quality and that your degree will be recognized by employers and licensing boards.

Before enrolling in an online program, research the curriculum, faculty, and any in-person requirements to make sure the program aligns with your career goals and learning preferences. Additionally, check if the program provides support services, such as academic advising and career counseling, to help you succeed in your studies and future career as a school counselor.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a School Counselor?

There are several web resources that can help you learn skills and gain knowledge to become a successful school counselor. Here are some valuable online platforms and websites:

  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA): The ASCA website offers a wealth of resources, including webinars, articles, toolkits, and professional development opportunities specifically tailored to school counselors.
  • Counseling Today: This online publication by the American Counseling Association covers a wide range of topics related to counseling, including school counseling. It provides insights, research, and practical tips for aspiring school counselors.
  • Education Week: Education Week’s counseling section features articles, blogs, and resources related to school counseling and student well-being.
  • The Counseling Teacher: This website offers a range of educational videos on topics relevant to school counseling, such as emotional intelligence, communication skills, and personal development.
  • National Center for Youth Issues (NCYI): NCYI offers online resources and training for school counselors, covering topics like bullying prevention, behavior management, and social-emotional learning.
  • Therapist Aid: While geared towards therapists, Therapist Aid provides free worksheets, handouts, and resources that can be adapted for school counseling purposes.
  • CounselingTools.com: This website offers a variety of counseling resources, worksheets, and activities that can be useful for school counselors working with students on various issues.

Gain Practical Experience

Acquire hands-on experience through internships, practicums, or supervised counseling sessions. Many programs include a practical component to help you apply theoretical knowledge in real-life situations.

Internship opportunities for aspiring School Counselors

Aspiring school counselors can benefit from various internship opportunities to gain practical experience and develop their skills. Here are some avenues to explore for school counseling internships:

  • Local Schools and School Districts: Reach out to schools and school districts in your area to inquire about internship opportunities. Many schools offer formal internship programs where you can work alongside experienced counselors, observe counseling sessions, and assist with various tasks.
  • Colleges and Universities: Colleges often have counseling centers where you can intern and gain experience working with college students on academic and personal issues.
  • Nonprofit Organizations: Some nonprofit organizations focus on youth development, mental health, or educational support. These organizations may offer internship positions that align with school counseling goals.
  • Community Centers: Community centers often provide programs and services for children and adolescents. Volunteering or interning at such centers can give you the chance to work with young people in a supportive environment.
  • Mental Health Clinics: Some mental health clinics offer internships or volunteer opportunities that allow you to work with clients, including children and adolescents, under the supervision of licensed therapists.
  • Youth Camps and Programs: Summer camps, afterschool programs, and youth organizations offer opportunities to engage with children and teenagers, helping you develop your counseling and mentoring skills.
  • Online Counseling Platforms: Some online platforms offer virtual counseling services for students. Interning with such platforms can give you experience in providing remote counseling and support.
  • Professional Associations: Organizations like the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) may provide information about internship opportunities, conferences, and networking events.

When seeking an internship, make sure to clarify the expectations, responsibilities, and supervision provided. Additionally, internships may be paid or unpaid, so consider your financial situation and availability when exploring these opportunities.

Essential Skills You Will Learn as a School Counselor

As a school counselor, possessing a range of valuable skills is essential to effectively support students and contribute to a positive school environment.

  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills: Strong communication skills are paramount, enabling you to connect with students, parents, teachers, and administrators. Active listening, empathy, and the ability to convey information clearly and compassionately are crucial in building meaningful relationships and providing effective guidance.
  • Decision-making and Critical Thinking: Problem-solving skills are equally important, allowing you to analyze complex situations, identify underlying issues, and develop tailored solutions. Adept at critical thinking, you can help students navigate academic, social, and personal challenges, empowering them to make informed decisions.
  • Cultural Competence and Collaboration Skills: Cultural competence is invaluable in today’s diverse educational landscape. Being sensitive to various backgrounds, beliefs, and identities ensures that you can provide inclusive and culturally relevant support to all students. Collaboration skills enable you to work seamlessly with colleagues, parents, and community resources to create a comprehensive support network.
  • Organization and Adaptability: Organization and time management are essential for juggling multiple responsibilities, from individual counseling sessions to organizing events and maintaining records. Adaptability allows you to respond effectively to changing needs and unexpected situations, ensuring that your support remains relevant and impactful.
  • Ethical and Legal Responsibility: Lastly, a solid foundation in ethical and legal considerations is vital. Upholding confidentiality, abiding by ethical guidelines, and understanding relevant laws are essential to providing responsible and effective counseling services.

By cultivating these valuable skills, you can thrive as a school counselor and make a lasting positive impact on the lives of students.

Obtain Licensure or Certification

Research the specific licensure or certification requirements in your state, as they vary. Typically, you’ll need to pass an exam and meet certain educational and experience criteria to become a licensed school counselor.

Start Your Career

With your education, experience, and licensure in place, you’re ready to embark on your career as a school counselor. Apply for positions in educational settings, such as elementary or secondary schools, and begin making a positive impact on students’ lives through counseling, guidance, and support.

What’s the Career Outlook for School Counselors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the field of school and career counseling is expected to experience a 10 percent growth in employment from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the overall average for various professions. Approximately 32,000 job opportunities for school and career counselors and advisors are anticipated annually during the upcoming decade.

School Counselor Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for a School Counselor?

School counselors have a world of exciting job opportunities that extend across the educational landscape and beyond. Some potential job opportunities for school counselors include:

  • Elementary School Counselor: Imagine stepping into the shoes of an elementary school counselor, where you become a trusted guide, helping young minds navigate the path of academics and emotions.
  • Middle School Counselor: As a middle school counselor, you’ll lead students through the maze of adolescence and prepare them for the exciting journey to high school.
  • High School Counselor: As a high school counselor, you’d be the beacon of support, helping students chart their courses to colleges, careers, and personal growth.
  • College and Career Counselor: Alternatively, you might find your calling as a college and career counselor, opening doors to higher education and helping students unlock their true potential.
  • Special Education Counselor: Provide tailored guidance and support to students with special needs, assisting them academically, emotionally, and socially to navigate their unique challenges and achieve their potential.
  • Mental Health Counselor: For those with a heart for empathy, being a mental health counselor could be your realm. You’d dive into the depths of emotions, providing a safe space for students to share their struggles and triumphs.
  • Behavioral Intervention Specialist: If you have a knack for understanding behavior, consider being a behavioral intervention specialist, crafting strategies to guide students toward positive choices.
  • Grief and Trauma Counselor: Provide support to students who have experienced loss, trauma, or significant life changes, helping them cope and heal.
  • Substance Abuse Counselor: Educate students about the risks of substance abuse and provide counseling and support for those struggling with addiction.
  • Bullying Prevention Specialist: A champion against bullying, standing strong to make schools safe havens of inclusivity.
  • Academic Support Counselor: You might don the hat of an academic support counselor, unveiling the secrets of effective study skills and boosting students’ confidence.
  • Conflict Resolution Specialist: Mediate conflicts among students, teach conflict resolution skills, and promote positive peer relationships.
  • Community College Counselor: For those yearning to explore uncharted territories, imagine being a community college counselor, sculpting futures through academic guidance.
  • Private Practice Counselor: If you dream of making an impact beyond the classroom, consider a private practice, offering services to students and families outside of a school setting.
  • Consultant or Trainer: Provide training to educators, parents, or organizations on topics related to student well-being, academic success, and counseling techniques.

These are just a few examples of the diverse job opportunities available to school counselors. The specific roles and responsibilities can vary based on the educational level, institution, and focus area of the counselor.

What Type of Organizations Hire School Counselors?

  • Public and Private Schools: Work in schools, both public and private, where your expertise is used to equip students with essential skills.
  • Colleges and Universities: Assist students on college campuses in overcoming academic hurdles and navigating university life.
  • Community Colleges: Counselors in community colleges help students with academic planning, choosing courses, and transitioning to four-year schools.
  • Vocational and Technical Schools: Guide students in vocational schools towards specific careers that match their interests.
  • Youth Organizations: Work in community centers and youth groups, providing guidance to young people outside the school setting.
  • Mental Health Clinics: In mental health settings, support children and teenagers dealing with emotional issues.
  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Offer emotional support to young patients and their families during difficult health situations.
  • Government Agencies: Collaborate with government bodies and consulting firms to develop youth-focused policies and programs.
  • Crisis Centers: Work in crisis centers, providing immediate help and using online platforms for virtual counseling.
  • Online Counseling Platforms: As telehealth grows, online platforms are hiring school counselors for virtual services.
  • Educational Consulting Firms: These firms hire counselors to advise schools and educational entities.
  • Professional Associations: Work with associations related to education and counseling, creating resources and training materials.
  • Research and Advocacy Organizations: Join these groups to influence educational strategies and support student success.

What is the Work-Life Balance of a School Counselor?

The work-life balance of a school counselor can vary depending on factors such as the specific school or organization, caseload, and the counselor’s personal preferences. School counselors typically follow the academic calendar, which provides breaks during holidays, weekends, and summer vacations. School breaks and holidays offer valuable time for school counselors to recharge, spend quality time with family, and engage in personal interests.

School counselors usually work during regular school hours, which provides a predictable routine and the opportunity to be present for family activities after school. While school counselors engage in counseling sessions, these are often scheduled during school hours.

Depending on the school’s policies, some school counselors might have the flexibility to adjust their schedules to accommodate personal needs or family commitments. It’s important to note that there may be times when school counselors face periods of increased workload, such as during college application season or when addressing specific student needs.

Ultimately, the work-life balance of a school counselor can be quite favorable, with ample opportunities to engage in personal activities, spend time with family, and pursue hobbies while making a positive impact on students’ lives.

Should I become a School Counselor?

Deciding whether to become a school counselor is a personal journey that depends on your interests, strengths, and aspirations. If you are passionate about helping students navigate challenges, providing guidance, and fostering their growth, a career as a school counselor could be deeply rewarding. Your ability to listen, empathize, and connect with young minds can have a positive impact on their lives. Consider your dedication to education, your desire to make a difference, and your commitment to continuous learning. If these qualities align with your goals, becoming a school counselor could be a fulfilling path to explore.

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Andrea Delgado

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