How to Become an Education Counselor

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

Should I Become an Education Counselor?

Education or school counselors can work with students at all levels, from elementary to graduate school. They counsel students regarding personal and social development as well as academic and career goals. Working with children regarding social development may be frustrating and challenging. On the other hand, that aspect of this profession may turn into a great reward when viewing students' accomplishments.

There is, generally, a distinction between degree programs/majors for school counselors wishing to work with K-12 students versus postsecondary counselors, more commonly referred to as advisors. Certifications and state requirements, particularly with regard to requirements for teaching certificates and experience, are different for postsecondary counselors than for K-12 counselors. The information detailed here is specific to the K-12 counselor path, though higher education counselors do have a similar path. Requirements aspiring education counselors can expect include:

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree
Degree Field Education/school/guidance counseling or psychology
Licensure and/or Certification Licensure requirements vary by state, but all public school counselors must obtain state licensure (some states require counselors to hold a teaching certificate in addition to a counseling certificate); voluntary certifications are available
Experience A few states require counselors to have teaching experience; practicum/internship experience is generally required (this experience is usually obtained as part of a degree program)
Key Skills Communication skills, empathy and compassion; videoconferencing equipment, PDAs, and other multi-media technology devices, standard office equipment, education- and counseling-specific software, including diagnostic and testing programs
Salary $56,040 (Annual mean salary for an education counselor)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), O*NET Online

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Education counselors are generally required to have a master's degree or at least a graduate certificate, but first, they must acquire a bachelor's degree. There is no specific major required, but psychology or other social science courses may be helpful. In states that require teaching certification or experience, students may need to take education courses and complete a student teaching experience in order to qualify to teach at the elementary school level. To teach at the middle or high school level, a student typically needs to complete a degree program in a specific major, like English, biology or history, along with appropriate education courses and experiences.

Success Tips:

  • Take communication and speech classes. Communication and interpersonal skills are a large part of being a successful counselor so students should begin taking classes in these areas as soon as possible. School counselors are also frequently expected to give class or school presentations; thus, speech and public speaking classes would also be helpful.
  • Research requirements for your state. State requirements vary depending on the state in which the student plans to practice. Students should plan ahead and research what the requirements are for where they plan to live and practice.

Step 2: Gain Teaching Certification and Teaching Experience

In some states, education counselors are required to hold a teaching certificate and have some teaching experience. Requirements for earning teaching certification vary by state, but usually include clearing a background check, passing an examination and holding at least a bachelor's degree. Teaching certification candidates are also required to have completed a teacher preparation program and a student teaching experience.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree in school counseling or a related field is usually the minimum education requirement for education counselors. Courses typically cover human growth and development, counseling techniques, cultural diversity, relationships, assessment, career development and research methods. These programs generally take two years to complete and include one or more supervised practicums and/or internships.

  • Get involved during practicums. Students should fully participate in as many practicum or internship experiences as are available. These are valuable learning experiences in addition to providing an opportunity for students to make themselves visible for future employment opportunities and recommendations.

Step 4: Obtain State-Issued License or Certification

The terminology may vary depending on the state in which a counselor works, but all states require counselors to hold a state issued credential, sometimes called a license or certification. Requirements for obtaining the state-issued credential vary, but most states require education counselors to hold a master's degree, pass an examination and have a minimum amount of documented practicum/internship hours and/or teaching experience.

Step 5: Consider Voluntary Certification

Two organizations that offer voluntary certification for education counselors are the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). The NBCC requires candidates to have at least a master's degree, while the NBPTS requires candidates to have a bachelor's degree, teaching license and teaching experience. Voluntary certification can be advantageous because it shows that a person holds a high level of competence in education counseling and that the individual is dedicated. Many schools also offer incentives to counselors who are certified by these types of organizations.

Step 6: Continue Education

Many states require that education counselors take a minimum number of courses and/or workshops in order to maintain licensure or certification. In addition to postgraduate certificates that can be earned at colleges and universities, education counselors can join associations and other professional groups that offer workshops and various education opportunities that not only maintain credentials but may advance your career as well.

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