How to Become a Certified Guidance Counselor

Feb 27, 2019

Learn how to become a certified guidance counselor. Research the education and certification requirements required for starting a career in certified guidance counseling.

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Becoming a Certified Guidance Counselor

Certified guidance counselors meet with students, helping them with any emotional or educational problems they may be having. At the high school level, they also assist students in developing career and college plans.

These professionals often get to work in their own offices. The work is usually full-time with school guidance counselors usually off during the summer months to match students' schedules. However, working with troubled or indecisive teens can be stressful and challenging.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's or master's degree
Degree Fields Counseling or related discipline
Experience 0-2 years
Certification Voluntary but all counselors must be state credentialed; typically private practitioners must be licensed
Key Skills Organizational, listening, and speaking skills; compassion; knowledge of child development and educational policies and requirements; computer literacy with word processing and database management; scheduling flexibility
Salary (2015) $53,660 (median for educational, guidance, and school counselors)

Sources: job postings (August 2015), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Getting into this career requires a bachelor's or master's degree in counseling or a related discipline. It can require anywhere from no experience to two years. Certifications are voluntary but all counselors must be state credentialed and private practitioners must be licensed

The key skills that a certified guidance counselor needs are listening and speaking skills, compassion, organization, flexibility in schedule, knowledge of educational policies and requirements, child development knowledge, computer literacy with word processing and database management proficiency.

The median salary in 2015 for educational, guidance, and school counselors was $53,660 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Steps to Entering this Career

So what steps do you need to take to become a certified guidance counselor?

Step 1: Earn a Degree

A bachelor's degree is suitable in some cases for this career, but employers typically prefer candidates to possess a master's degree. In fact, many states require certified guidance counselors to have them. Certified guidance counselors have the option of specializing in elementary or secondary school for their graduate coursework. In addition to classroom lectures, students are usually required to perform supervised counseling work as part of the degree program.

To help you succeed in this step, you can:

  • Explore available degree options. Many master's degree programs in guidance counseling are designed for students who are already certified as teachers or already possess a master's degree in another discipline. Be sure to choose a degree program that provides the smoothest transition into certified guidance counseling.

Step 2: Attain a State License

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certified guidance counselors working in public schools must possess a counseling certification license or endorsement offered by the state ( Generally, state requirements include a master's degree, continuing education credits and passage of an examination.

Step 3: Consider Voluntary Certification

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers the certification necessary to be a National Certified Counselor (NCC). This is a distinct recognition separate from a state license, although some states do allow certified guidance counselors who have the NCC designation to be exempt from the state licensing examination.

You can also:

  • Explore specialty certifications. The NBCC also offers three specialty certifications including one for school counselors. The National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential is available and helps identify counselors working in school settings who possess a master's degree and have passed the required examination.

Step 4: Complete Continuing Education

Certification through the NBCC requires continuing education credits, which vary depending upon the credential. Up to 100 hours of study are required, and some of the hours may be required topics of study, such as group counseling and school counseling fundamentals.

In addition, each state has its own continuing education requirements to maintain licensure. The NBCC offers information on state requirements, however, it is best to verify the requirements with the state of practice directly.

To recap, with a bachelor's or master's degree and a state credential, a certified school counselor, which makes roughly $55,000 per year, can provide students in public and private schools with advice on emotional and academic problems.

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