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Guidance Counselor Career Options, Duties and Salary Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a guidance counselor. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs and education, job duties and licensing requirements to find out if this is the career for you.

Essential Information

Guidance counselors, or school counselors, help students achieve their goals by assisting them with coursework and providing them with the support they need to develop their skills and abilities. High school guidance counselors also help students prepare for continuing education or careers. Guidance counselors work in both public and private elementary, middle and secondary schools. Candidates are required to attain a master's degree, and many are required to be licensed by the state prior to attaining employment.

Required Education Master's degree
Other Requirements State licensing or certification
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) 12% for all school and career counselors*
Median Salary (May 2014) $53,370 for all school and career counselors*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options in Guidance Counseling

Guidance counselors generally work in public and private schools, where they meet with students individually or with entire classes for special events, such as substance abuse lectures and college recruitment information. To work in a school, counselors must be licensed by their state. Licensing requirements vary, but most states require a master's degree in school counseling from an accredited program. Some states also require guidance counselors to have a teaching certificate and teaching experience to work in a school.

Most guidance counselors work in elementary, middle and high schools; however, some work in colleges or universities and may be called academic advisers. Those who do not work in schools find jobs in vocational rehabilitation services and individual or family services.

Experienced guidance counselors may take on directorial or supervisory roles for counseling personnel services, become counseling educators and school administrators or work for a state's department of education.

Job Duties

School guidance counselors spend the bulk of their time with students who are having trouble with their schoolwork or who are experiencing emotional problems, such as stress and peer pressure. College guidance counselors primarily act as academic advisers and help students who are having difficulty selecting a major or identifying career goals.

Elementary School Counselors

Guidance counselors working in elementary schools assist students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. They observe students in classroom settings and during recreational activities to determine individual skills and identify potential emotional or academic development issues. They deliver aptitude tests and communicate students' strengths and weaknesses to their teachers and parents.

Middle School Counselors

Middle school guidance counselors work with students in the sixth through eighth grades. They help students transition to high school and identify emotional and developmental disorders. They design specific instructional materials and consult teachers, parents and other counselors regarding students' personal needs.

High School Counselors

High school guidance counselors perform many of the same tasks as those who work in elementary and middle schools; however, they also take on academic advisory roles. They help students select colleges, apply for financial aid and generally assist in the application process. Guidance counselors help those not planning to go to college prepare for the workforce by assisting with resume writing, job searches and interview practice.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that jobs for education, vocational and school counselors are projected to rise by 12% between the years 2012 and 2022 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for guidance counselors was $53,370 in May 2014. At $67,860, those working in the federal executive branch had the highest mean annual wage.

Salaries for guidance counselors vary by state and experience. The type of degree and certifications also affect salaries. While elementary schools are required to employ school counselors, many schools are experiencing budget cuts, which may limit job growth for guidance counselors. To supplement their income, guidance counselors may choose to work during the summer months tutoring students, providing family counseling services or working for their county's school system.

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