School Counseling Degree and Career Guide

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School Counselor Job Description (Duties & Responsibilities)

You’ll need a lot of patience in your role as a school counselor, but students will thrive under your guidance.

troubled girl teen leaning against brick wall

“Go to the principal’s office!” Nobody wants to hear that. But sometimes, the pressures and demands of school are enough to make anyone act out.

That’s where you can come in as a school counselor, and make a fulfilling career from easing students through the often tumultuous school years. With your help, they can navigate problems with confidence.

Children and young adults need guidance and support, especially when it comes to dealing with academic, personal, parental and social pressures. Helping people reach their potential should be your number one goal—and to achieve it you should be caring, flexible, adaptable and patient.

What do school counselors do?

School counselors play a vital role in supporting students’ academic, career, and personal development. They provide individualized guidance to help students create academic plans, navigate career choices, and address personal challenges. Additionally, school counselors often engage in broader initiatives to raise awareness about important issues such as drug abuse, bullying, and other significant challenges faced by students in high school.

On the job, school counselors:

  • Listen to students’ concerns about academic, emotional or social problems
  • Help students process their problems and plan goals and action
  • Mediate conflict between students and teachers
  • Improve parent/teacher relationships
  • Assist with college applications, jobs and scholarships
  • Facilitate drug and alcohol prevention programs
  • Organize peer counseling programs
  • Refer students to psychologists and other mental health resources
  • Work on academic boards to improve learning conditions

They act as advocates for students’ well-being, and as valuable resources for their educational advancement. As a school counselor, you’ll first and foremost listen to students’ concerns. Because everyone’s home and social life is different, you could be the only person who fulfills that need for them at a given time.

You may help students with issues such as bullying, disabilities, low self-esteem, poor academic performance and relationship troubles. You can refer them to a psychologist or mental health counselor for further treatment if necessary. In addition, you’ll evaluate students’ abilities, interests and personalities to help them develop realistic academic and career goals. You’ll facilitate aptitude tests and formulate potential paths to success.

What education or certification will I need to become a school counselor?

Earning a four-year undergraduate degree is the first step in your education toward becoming a school counselor. A bachelor’s in education, psychology, or sociology will best prepare you for your graduate school work, but if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s in another field, that’s OK.

Most commonly, the master’s degree you will pursue is the Master of Education in Counseling, which will take two to three years to earn. This degree offers a combination of learning and hands-on experience in classroom settings.

After receiving your master’s, two years of practical experience is typically necessary in order to become licensed as a counselor by the state. Some states also require a teaching certificate.

Licensing and certification guidelines for psychologists vary by state; be sure to check the guidelines for the region in which you plan to study. Information about requirements for each state is available from the American School Counselors Association.

Things to consider when choosing a school

Nancy Brandes, who earned her master’s in school counseling from DePaul University, offers a couple things to consider when choosing a school. She used these criteria for picking DePaul University:

  • Location – “They were right in the city, where I want to be.”
  • Reputation – “They have an excellent reputation in the Chicago area. I also had a friend who went there and loved it.”
  • Programming – “The counseling program at DePaul meets the requirements set by the American School Counseling Association.”

It took Nancy three years to become a professional school counselor. Her first two years were dedicated to earning her master’s degree, and the following year she began working as a practitioner. During her first year of practice, she was supervised by a licensed counselor. She also documented 300 hours of service in order to qualify for the counseling licensing exam.

What career paths can I take in school counseling?

As a school counselor, you can work in various school environments, from elementary through higher education. State, local and private schools, colleges, universities and professional schools, and vocational schools all require a counseling presence. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, school counselors are predicted to have a 5.4% job growth through 2032 for school counselors (based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. The BLS suggests that this rise in growth will stem from schools responding to the “developmental, academic and career-planning needs of their students.”

If you’d like to seek more education after earning your master’s and working in the field of school counseling, you can pursue a doctoral degree in clinical psychology and go on to become a school psychologist. School psychologists interact with students in many of the same ways as school counselors, but can go further with diagnosis and treatment of problems. This will require a time commitment of an additional five to seven years, and will broaden your employment opportunities to include academic research, consulting and more.

Learn about Pay and Job Projections for school counselors. Pay and job growth is based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.