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High School Guidance Counselor Requirements

High school guidance counselor positions require significant formal education. Learn about the degree, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

The job of a high school guidance counselor requires an understanding of psychology, counseling, the school system, and college/university application processes and criteria. For those who haven't finished a master's degree but are working on one, it is still possible to find employment and obtain licensure.

Essential Information

High school guidance counselors help students with academic and personal issues. They also assist students in applying to college or entering the workforce. High school guidance counselors typically must earn a master's degree and meet licensure requirements before beginning their careers. However, the completion of some graduate education is sometimes sufficient. To earn a license, applicants may need to complete an internship, exam, and background check, gain teaching certification and accumulate teaching experience. These requirements vary by state.

Required Education Master's degree or graduate courses typically required
Licensure and Certification Licensure or certification is required for public schools; voluntary professional certification is also available
Projected Job Growth (2014 - 2024)* 8% for school and career counselors
Median Salary (2015)* $53,660 annually for guidance, educational, school and vocational counselors

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Education Requirements for High School Guidance Counselors

Most U.S. states require that high school guidance counselors in public schools complete at least some graduate coursework in educational psychology, school counseling or a related field, and many mandate completion of an entire master's program. They also might need to hold an undergraduate degree in teaching since some states require guidance counselors to have teaching certification and/or two or more years of teaching experience.

Master's programs in school counseling, which last 1-2 years, typically begin with general counseling courses, such as counseling theories and procedures, ethics, group counseling, human development and interpretation of research, followed by classes specific to school counseling. These might address counseling across various cultures and religions, assessing and intervening with at-risk students, finding ways to involve families in a child's schooling and preparing students for postsecondary education. In addition to their coursework, master's candidates in school counseling typically complete a practicum and an internship under the supervision of a licensed school counselor. They also might need to pass a comprehensive exam.

Licensure Requirements for High School Guidance Counselors

Licensure requirements for school counselors vary by state. In addition to meeting minimum education standards, aspiring school counselors usually must meet internship and/or practicum requirements and pass one or more state-administered or national school counseling exams. Other requirements might include a valid teaching certificate, teaching experience, certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and passage of a criminal background check.

Certification Options for High School Guidance Counselors

High school guidance counselors have two options for voluntary national certification. NBCC offers the National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential to candidates with a minimum of a master's degree. Certification candidates must pass the National Certified School Counselor Examination.

School counselors also can seek certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Applicants must prove their competence in 11 areas, including counseling techniques, student assessment and collaboration with families and community members. The certification process involves development of a portfolio and completion of an online assessment.

Salary and Career Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that vocational, school, guidance and educational counselors earned $53,660 as a median annual salary in 2015. The BLS also estimates an 8% job growth for career and school counselors in the decade 2014-2024.

High school counselors help students with social and performance issues, and can provide counseling in college and career placement. To prepare for this role, they must first finish an undergraduate degree program, preferably in education. Additional requirements include some graduate coursework and, preferably, a master's degree. Licensure is required and voluntary certification programs are also available.

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