Highly Qualified School Counselor: Education & Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Learn how to become a school counselor. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in school counseling.

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Becoming a School Counselor

Should I become a counselor? School counselors provide educational, career, social and emotional support and various resources for students. Counselors can work at career centers, secondary schools, colleges and universities. They often interact with students, teachers and parents to address behavioral and academic concerns. School counselors can find employment in a variety of academic settings, as well as businesses, prisons and government offices.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree in most states
Degree Field School counseling or related field
Licensure or Certification All states require formal licensing or certification
Experience 2-3 years counseling experience
Key Skills Strong people skills (listening, verbal, written); excellent relational skills; compassion and service-oriented; knowledge of scientific analytical, database, word processing, and spreadsheet software; use of LCD projection equipment, photocopiers, and videoconferencing equipment
Median Annual Salary (May 2018)* $56,310 (for all Educational, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors)

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net Online, and job postings in October 2012

What are the career requirements for a high school counselor? Employers require a bachelor's and a master's degree. The degree should be in school counseling or another related field. All states require licensing and certification. Employers look for someone with 2-3 years counseling experience. The key skills required for a school counselor include strong people skills; listening, verbal and written communication skills; excellent relational skills; compassion; service orientation; and knowledge of scientific analytical software, database software, word processing and spreadsheet software. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for a school counselor is $56,310.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

How do you become a school counselor? Step 1: Earn a bachelor's degree. The first step to becoming a highly qualified school counselor is to earn a bachelor's degree in any area. Most graduate programs accept any undergraduate major, as long as the degree was earned from an accredited institution. The main focus of earning this 4-year degree is to prepare for further graduate studies. Therefore, it may be advantageous for a student to consider a major in a relevant area, such as counseling, psychology or education.

Here are few tips for success:

  • Network and build relationships while enrolled in your bachelor's program. Graduate program admission not only depends on good academic record, but requirements also typically include several recommendation letters from faculty or professional contacts. Building solid academic and professional relationships are important for further graduate studies.
  • Get field experience while enrolled in your undergraduate program. When applying to graduate school, any experience gained while still in the bachelor's program can be valuable. Completion of internships or volunteer work can show commitment and help distinguish one individual from other candidates.
  • Build communication and people skills. Since counseling relies heavily on effective communication and relational skills, having excellent listening and speaking skills is crucial. Students can opt to take elective courses in communications or public speaking or get involved with campus or community organizations to improve their people skills.

Step 2: Get a Master's Degree

Step 2: Get a master's degree in school counseling or a related field. Graduate programs that prepare students for school counselor licensure can result in various degrees, such as a Master of Education or Master of Arts. Some can result in dual degrees as well. Programs can take anywhere from 3-4 years to complete and usually feature an emphasis on field experiences or internships for supervised practical instruction prior to entering the workplace. Other key areas of study include topics in research and analysis, counseling and student affairs. At the end of the program, students may be required to successfully pass comprehensive exams, take seminars or complete a thesis project.

Step 3: Earn a State License

Step 3: Earn a state license. After completing a master's program in school counseling, an individual is ready to get licensed. School counselor licensing is usually issued and regulated by a state's education board or department. Some states may only require the completion of an approved academic program, while others may also require successfully passing an exam. Once an individual is licensed, he or she is ready to start working as a school counselor.

Step 4: Continuing Education

Step 4: Meet continuing education requirements for license renewals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that most states have continuing education requirements for license renewals, usually on an annual basis. Requirements may typically be met by taking appropriate courses in a variety of areas related to education, such as drug abuse prevention, family collaboration techniques and educational assessments. Keeping up with continuing education requirements is not only an important part of a school counselor's job, but the new knowledge and skills learned may further their career as well.

Obtaining a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, getting licensed and continuing your education are great steps to take to become a school counselor.

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