School Guidance Counseling Degree and Certification Program Info

A master's degree, graduate certificate, or doctoral degree in school guidance counseling is available to those who wish to become guidance counselors. These programs prepare the individual to work with children and adolescents, as well as the parents and teachers of these students.

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Essential Information

School guidance counselors are typically required to have at least a master's degree as well as state licensure or certification. Graduate programs in this field help students develop competencies to assist in the school guidance counseling process by identifying, evaluating and assessing issues on an individual basis. Master's degree programs in school guidance counseling are most commonly available as on-campus programs and take 2-3 years to complete. The available online programs may require students to attend some on-campus residencies. Both types of master's degree programs typically require an internship or practical experience.

Students who have a master's degree in a related area can enroll in a 1-year graduate certificate program in school counseling. This program will often meet the state requirements for licensure. Doctoral-level programs in school counseling are also available and typically prepare students for administrative or research roles. Admission to these programs might be reserved for applicants with a master's degree and related professional experience. Once admitted, the curriculum for a doctorate can take around 3-5 years to complete.

Master's Degree in School Guidance Counseling

In addition to a bachelor's degree, some master's degree programs may require prerequisite coursework in relevant subjects, such as statistics, abnormal psychology or developmental psychology for admission. These programs commonly confer a Master of Education, Master of Arts or Master of Science. With a master's degree in the field and experience, students are usually eligible to seek licensure or certification as school guidance counselors. Students in these programs learn how to successfully communicate with school staff members and parents to better understand and treat problems.

Generally, core curricula include coursework in human development, research methodologies and theories of counseling. Through their studies, students gain knowledge of curriculum methods and individual considerations, such as ethnic or cultural distinctions. Course topics in a master's degree program in school guidance counseling might include:

  • Social, legal and ethical issues in counseling
  • Assessment tools
  • Counseling philosophy
  • Group counseling
  • Child and adolescent counseling
  • Impact of childhood trauma

Post-Master's Graduate Certificate in School Guidance Counseling

Students with a master's degree outside of school counseling but in a related field, such as social work or psychology, can enroll in a post-master's certificate program in school guidance counseling to meet the requirements for state licensure. The program teaches aspiring school guidance counselors how to develop the professional skills required to become leaders and advocates in the educational field so that they can encourage students to succeed both academically and socially.

Core coursework delves into the fundamentals of counseling techniques and student assessment. Like a degree program, students also regularly participate in practica in a school setting. Course topics studied throughout the program might include:

  • Research methods
  • Multicultural counseling and psychology
  • Learning and behavior modification
  • Psychology of human development
  • Professional school counseling
  • Counseling children and adolescents

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Doctoral Degree in School Guidance Counseling

Completion of a doctoral degree program in school guidance counseling often results in acquiring basic competency in clinical psychology as well as advanced skills in school psychology. Admission to some programs could be limited, and a high GPA and professional experience could be necessary. In addition to coursework, students might complete a clinical internship, conduct research and defend a dissertation as part of the program. Some schools offer a combined doctoral program in counseling and school psychology.

Programs cover basic coursework in school guidance counseling in addition to advanced topics in career development, prevention methods, research and clinical practice. Students can tailor coursework to meet future professional goals. Course topics studied at the doctoral level might include:

  • Counseling and career theories
  • Multicultural issues in counseling
  • Counselor education instruction
  • Theories in group counseling
  • Child and adolescent therapy
  • Multivariate educational statistics

Popular Career Options

A doctoral degree program in school guidance counseling can prepare a student for advanced leadership positions in a number of settings, such as in K-12 public school systems, colleges or universities, social service agencies or rehabilitation facilities. Students might pursue a career in an educational, clinical or administrative capacity. Some careers related to school guidance counseling might include:

  • School psychologist
  • Student service administrator
  • School guidance coordinator

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors was $53,660 in 2015 ( Additionally, jobs are projected to increase 8% in this field from 2014-2024. Although school budgets and closures could affect employment of guidance counselors, the increase in duties performed by these individuals and the financial assistance supplied through federal funding is expected to counter the constraints and lead to a decrease in the number of students each counselor is responsible for.

Licensing and Certification Information

Students with a master's degree in school counseling can pursue credentials as an elementary, middle or high school guidance counselor. Requirements for licensure and certification vary but often require at least a master's degree in school counseling and some academic experience. In addition to a school counseling endorsement, some states require public school guidance counselors to become licensed as a teacher. To qualify for licensure, most states use the PRAXIS exams, which offer specialized testing for school guidance and counseling. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers voluntary certification as a National Certified School Counselor for candidates who earn a master's degree that covers specific course topics and who complete 3,000 hours of postgraduate experience in the field.

Aspiring school guidance counselors can meet the licensure and certification requirements needed to work with children and adolescents by completing the coursework and internships found in a master's degree, graduate certificate, or doctoral degree program in school guidance counseling.

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