Becoming a Career or School Counselor

The role of the school counselor has dramatically changed as demands on our education system have grown. Counselors are now involved in not only academic achievement, but also in career development, as well as social and personal development. Counselors are a valuable part of our educational system since they provide assistance to students from elementary school through college. On a daily basis, they come in direct contact with students to provide curriculum guidance, planning, and support. At times, they will also organize career fairs and school college visits.

Occasionally, when a student is having difficulties in class, the school counselor will be advised before seeking other options. Sometimes known as a guidance counselor, this individual will be involved in helping children who are struggling with social challenges, such as bullying or problems at home. They also offer a certain level of intervention should the student fall behind in his studies and need tutoring. The school counselor can also help mediate if there is a student-teacher conflict.

The role of the school counselor is to create a collaborative partnership between teachers and parents to empower students. Counselors usually manage the intake and orientation of new students, make appropriate student academic placement, establish formal student/parent communication and mechanisms, coordinate weekly instructional team meetings, review student attendance, and flag students at risk for withdrawal. This person is required by law to report any incidents or suspicions of child abuse and may help make decisions about policies and procedure handbooks. The school counselor is instrumental in supporting administrators with key metrics involving school data. This information is helpful to administrative staff concerned with excessive absences, at-risk behavior, mental and physical health, and family-peer relations.

The educational requirements to practice as a school counselor vary by state and specialty. Many undergraduate psychology majors continue their education and receive a master’s degree in counseling. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) provides accreditation to counseling programs.

A master’s degree is required to become a licensed or certified counselor. Some schools require that the counselor be both licensed and hold a teaching certificate with some teaching experience. Counselors working outside of a school usually have some type of counselor licensure. Licensure requirements vary by state. The Department of Education compiles all the information on licensing by state. There are two national boards, in addition to the state boards, that provide licensure to school counselors. The first agency is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standard (NBPTS) which provides certification to individuals who meet the educational and experience requirements. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) will grant the NCSC credential to candidates who have a master’s degree, possess a school counseling credential from their state with three years supervised experience in the field, and pass the certification exam.

School counselor programs are found in most education, psychology, or human services departments at colleges or universities. Character traits of a good school counselor include the ability to connect with the students and parents, confidentiality, trust, respect, and confidence. A school counselor should be resourceful and have ideas and potential solutions to a student’s problem.

According to, the salary range for a school counselor ranges from $29,000 – $63,000 per year. Highest salaries are earned by individuals with a Masters in Education Counseling, (MEd). Mostly women are drawn to the profession with 78% of women compared to 22% of men in the field. Popular states for school counselor jobs are California, New York, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Georgia, and Pennsylvania.

School Counseling Programs

School counselors form an important part of the team of administrators who work with adolescents, both personally and developmentally to impact academic achievement. They provide support and guidance to students as they encounter challenges at school. A school counselor works with students, teachers, and parents to respond to these challenges and engage the students as they prepare for their future. A school counselor will be proactive in designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating comprehensive school counseling programs. She will do this by providing academic skills support through career and academic planning and helping the student set goals and make decisions. Some of the programs a school counselor may conduct at a school address peer relationships, effective social skills, substance abuse education, multicultural/diversity awareness, communication, test-taking strategies, coping strategies, problem solving, and conflict resolution. To help students in middle and high school prepare for their futures, a school counselor may provide seminars in understanding individual strengths and weaknesses, as well as transition planning.

School Counseling Programs

School counseling programs could occur in small groups or individual counseling. Programs could consist of peer facilitations or individual, family, or school crisis interventions. School counselors collaborate with parents, teachers, administrators, students, and the community at large. For parents, programs might consist of communication and networking meetings, parent and family education, one on one parent conferencing, college career exploration, resource referrals, and assessment interpretation. Programs that may be organized for teachers include classroom career speakers, career portfolio development, at-risk student identification, classroom guidance on study skills and academic plans, learning-style assessments, and parent communication education.

The school counselor forms part of the leadership team who can gauge the climate of the school by assessing the needs of the teachers and student body. This professional can implement behavioral management plans and team building seminars. Along with providing peer education and support, she can help develop existing and future leaders at the school. The counselor may assist the community by conducting job shadowing, referrals, support groups, and parenting classes.

Many schools publicize their school counseling programs on the internet or in other school literature. Most schools will state the beliefs, mission, objectives, and funding for their programs. One school district on the west coast stated that the mission of their K-12 counseling programs were to provide comprehensive guidance to every student in the state with the skills, knowledge, and dispositions essential for success. The school believes in diversity and that all students should graduate with the career decision-making and management skills to succeed in postsecondary education and in the workplace. As a best practice in developing a school counseling program, the philosophy of this school is to develop programs that are comprehensive, student-centered, collaborative, preventative, driven by data, and incorporated throughout a student’s education.

School counseling programs are created to identify, select, plan, and prepare students for a career choice. Well-designed programs will provide encouragement to achieve goals and increase confidence in making choices. Some programs may be technical in nature to prepare the student for a career pathway that may involve trade or computer skills. Career and technical education programs provide instructional support for developing skills, personal characteristics, values, and attitudes considered necessary to lead healthy productive lives. The planning process usually involves activities to assist students and their parents in planning and managing the students’ learning, personal preferences, education, and career goals. Intervention programs such as dropout prevention, drug and alcohol prevention and abuse were designed to meet the immediate concerns and needs of the students. A counselor and school should be immediately responsive upon discovering these problems. Most schools have developed a system support network to connect students and families to other support services that can assist the student improve his quality life and academic achievement.

Facts about an Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling

Most people are familiar with the role of a school counselor. Their job is to help students in their academic, personal, social and career development. They may include violence protection and character education. School counseling is a vital role in the education system from elementary school, to middle school, high school and beyond. Every state has different requirements for practicing school counselors. Formal education, certification and continuing education will vary. For those counselors who choose to become certified, many states provide financial incentives through additional salary increases or stipends. The two certifying agencies are the NBCC, National Board for Certified Counselors and the NBPTS, which is the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. In some cases, the applicant must meet all the educational and work experience requirements before taking the test to become certified. In most cases, a master’s degree in counseling is part of the requirement.

To earn a master’s degree in school counseling is much easier now than in past years, since many schools now offer an online learning option. Most distance learning programs are accredited, and the school requirements are very similar to an in-person degree program. So, despite the convenience and flexibility an online program has to offer, a brief residential component may be required. All programs, in-person or online, will require internships and practicum that qualify for clinical experience. All degrees will require field training which consists of working in a school under the guidance of a qualified supervisor. After completing the master degree, a number of hours of practical experience are required before granting certification. The national average for student counselor ratio in a school is 457-to-1, therefore the professional must be skilled and prepared to handle the workload.

More and more professionals are choosing the online master’s degree option to receive their education. Internships and practical experience are still required, though. While distance learning is a viable option with many benefits, including less expense and more flexibility, the time commitment is equivalent. Salaries for online degrees are comparable to traditional degrees, earning on average between $38,000 and $65,000 per year. Median salaries for individuals pursuing a career in school counseling are around $50,000, with the top ten percent in the profession earning more than $80,000. The services that school counselors provide can be utilized throughout the year with many individuals working in the summer or in other jobs to earn extra income.

The future job outlook for school counselors is bright, despite the recent cutbacks in education. The online master’s degree in school counseling will be worth the investment. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is an organization that can help you research school counseling programs. This association has over 28,000 members and is dedicated to providing professional development, knowledge, skills, and resources to promote student success in the community, school, home, and the world. The site also identifies school counseling degree programs by state and professional degree. Information on the role of the professional school counselor, state certification requirements, mandates for each state, legislation, state school counseling web sites, and information on working with Boards can also be found on the site. The ASCA also has an online bookstore and information for administrators, parents, and the public.

There are many other resources for potential school psychology students. Websites, such as ( provdie an online directory where you can find direct links to school websites. You can search for schools by program type, online or campus, by location, state or city, program level, certificate, and master’s or doctorate with helpful information on financing. Many students are not aware of all the types of financial assistance that exist for online school counseling programs. On this site, you can learn about student loans and assistantships, graduate fellowships and scholarships, and other financial advice such as consolidation and repayment options.

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