Become a Special Education Counselor: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Should I Become a Special Education Counselor?

A special education counselor needs to be a skilled communicator as they will be frequently consulting with parents, other teachers and administrators about the progress or any problems a student may be experiencing at school. These professionals must maintain student records so superior organizational skills are necessary. A special education counselor may advise students on how to reach their vocational or educational goals or may schedule further testing for special education students. Most schools require school counselors to have at least a year of counseling and frequently some teaching experience as well.

As is true with teachers, special education counselors will probably work over 40 hours a week and more than 8 hours a day. They must be available for school emergencies at nearly any time during the school day but fortunately, these emergencies tend to be rare.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree minimum; master's degree or doctorate recommended
Experience At least a year of counseling and teaching experience
Licensure and Certification In most cases, licensure and/or certification will be required
Salary (2015) $38,554 (Annual median salary for all education counselors)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

In order to become a school guidance counselor, interested individuals must complete state requirements to become a school counselor and work in primary or secondary schools. State counseling requirements include licensure. Before starting a master's degree program in school counseling, it is first necessary to earn a bachelor's degree. Common bachelor's degree programs for those looking to enter school counseling are those that are required for becoming a certified teacher.

For those looking to specifically work with special needs students, an education degree focusing on this topic may be an excellent choice. Because entry into master's programs can be competitive, special attention to grades and relationships with faculty who will later be asked provide recommendations may be important at the undergraduate level.

Step 2: Search for Job Openings to Gain Experience

Applicants should explore K-12 schools in their area that may be hiring candidates with their special education qualifications. At most schools, some prior experience counseling and teaching is required.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for school and career counselors are expected to increase by 12% between 2012 and 2022.

Step 3: Become a Licensed Special Education Teacher

In order to become a school guidance counselor, including those specializing in special education, applicants may also need teaching certification and teaching experience. For those looking to positions as special education counselors, special education teaching licenses are often available at the state level. Some guidance counseling positions may require a certain number of years of teaching experience before moving into this new role.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree in School Counseling

After completing a bachelor's degree, individuals need to enter and complete a master-level program in counseling. These programs often have specific requirements for guidance counselors. These requirements may be directly related to later testing requirements at the state level. Public school systems generally require that graduate programs cover:

  • Career development
  • Individual and group counseling
  • Psychological theories of human development
  • Research methods
  • Social and cultural foundations
  • Student testing and program evaluation

Step 5: Complete State-Mandated Internship and Testing

While most states require licensed practicing counselors to work for a period of up to two years in a supervised setting before licensing, the training for school counselors is specific to the field and does not have this same requirement. Instead, many states have specific internship requirements for school guidance counselors, referred to as certification or licensure and administered through departments of education. Fulfilling these requirements certifies counselors to work in K-12 environments. Some states may have multiple certifications for different age brackets and may require specific state-mandated tests.

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