How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor

Learn how to become a high school guidance counselor. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career in school counseling.

Should I Become a High School Guidance Counselor?

High school guidance counselors help students assess their skills and interests, in addition to helping them develop academic and career goals. These professionals typically evaluate students through counseling sessions, interviews and aptitude tests. Counselors may also help students with social and behavioral problems. Dealing with often unruly teenagers can be challenging, but these professionals may feel rewarded when they observe students' accomplishments.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree is standard
Degree Fields Counseling, psychology
Licensure and Certification A state-issued credential is required
Key Skills Strong speaking and listening skills, compassion, people skills, organization
Salary (2014) $53,370 per year (Median annual wage for all guidance, career and school counselors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

At the undergraduate level, aspiring high school guidance counselors typically earn bachelor's degrees in psychology, counseling, or education. Foundational courses in these programs cover topics in child and adolescent development, cognitive psychology and personality theory. Programs may also include studies of psychological testing and the statistical methods used in research. As students advance in their respective majors, they are able to take more specialized courses such as abnormal psychology or curriculum development, depending on the major.

Success Tip

  • Take liberal arts and communications classes. Since communication is an essential part of a high school guidance counselor's job, aspiring counselors can benefit from taking elective courses in liberal arts and communications to improve their skills in that area.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a master's degree is the typical education requirement to become a high school guidance counselor. Students can choose from master's degree programs in secondary school counseling or in education. Such programs focus on developing the skills and techniques needed to help young adults identify the source of their problems and find a coping mechanism. Courses may cover topics ranging from family therapy to cultural diversity.

Success Tip

  • Complete an internship. An internship can help an aspiring counselor log required practicum hours for credentialing and earn first-hand experience working with students in a school counseling setting. An internship may even be required, depending on the school or program.

Step 3: Acquire a School Counseling Credential

Many states require high school guidance counselors to obtain school counseling credentialing, which may be referred to as a license, certification or endorsement. While the requirements for credentialing vary, most states require applicants to hold master's degrees, complete an internship and pass a state exam.

Step 4: Obtain a Teaching License

Some states require counselors to earn teaching credentials to work in school settings. In some such states, this may entail completion of a teacher education program, teacher certification through an alternative program or several years of teaching experience. The American School Counselor Association provides counselors with professional development resources, including a list of state-specific licensure requirements.

Step 5: Continue Education

High school guidance counselors may be required to renew credentialing regularly by earning continuing education credits. Continuing education can also help a high school guidance counselor stay current on industry trends and advances in counseling methods. A guidance counselor can complete their continuing education training through classes, workshops, seminars and online coursework.

Success Tips

  • Join a professional organization. Joining a professional organization, such as the American School Counselors Association (ASCA), can provide guidance counselors with access to a number of continuing education resources.
  • Consider earning professional certification. High school guidance counselors may benefit from earning professional certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The NBCC awards the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation to qualified candidates who pass a certification examination. Select states accept NCC certification in lieu of passage of a state licensing exam. To qualify for NCC certification, applicants must have master's degrees, as well as 100 hours of supervision and 3,000 hours of counseling experience within two years of graduating.

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