School Guidance Counselor: How to Become a School Guidance Counselor

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

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Should I Become a School Guidance Counselor?

School guidance counselors assist students with academic, social and psychological issues. They may work at elementary and secondary schools, universities, community colleges, prisons or government career centers. Besides working with students, guidance counselors also interact with parents and school administrators. In most states, individuals interested in this profession will need to earn a bachelor's degree and then continue their education with a master's degree in school counseling or a related area. A practicum or other type of field experience is also normally required. Additionally, all states require a license or similar credential to practice, and some states expect prospective school counselors to first attain teacher certification. These professionals usually maintain full-time schedules, but often have summers off.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degree (generally required) or related graduate coursework
Degree Field Education or counseling psychology
Licensure and/or Certification State-issued license and background check
Experience Fieldwork or practicum
Key Skills Listening skills, compassion, people skills
Salary $53,370 (median annual wage 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American School Counselor Association.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Most states require school counselors to have a master's degree. Prospective school guidance counselors can generally choose any undergraduate program, depending on their state's requirements and their desired graduate school's prerequisites. An individual who plans to work in a state that requires teacher certification for school counselors may choose a major that will lead to teacher certification. A bachelor's degree is the minimum level of education required to be eligible for state certification as an educator. Additionally, students who are required to obtain teacher certification will also be required to complete student teaching.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

In many states, a master's degree is required to work as a school counselor. Common master's programs include school counseling or educational psychology with a specialization in school counseling. Students may be required to complete coursework addressing the needs of special education students. Additionally, most programs require clinical experience, which places students in a school setting, under the supervision of experienced school counselors.

Success Tip:

  • Work at your school's clinic. Many colleges or universities have clinics that counseling students may work in to gain experience working one-on-one with kids or with groups. While at the clinic, students work under the supervision of faculty and experienced counselors.

Step 3: Become Licensed

All states require a state license to work as a school counselor in a public school. To become licensed, most states require a background check and experience, either through an internship or practicum completed during the master's degree program. Many states also require aspiring school counselors to pass an exam, such as the Praxis. According to the BLS, some states require individuals to acquire both counseling and teaching certifications. An individual can learn what's required for his or her state by contacting the state's Board of Education.

Step 4: Consider Certifications

According to the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), professional certification demonstrates commitment to the profession and may lead to a higher salary. The NBCC offers both the National Certified Counselor (NCC) and National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credentials. In order to test for the NCSC credential, one must also earn the NCC credential. An individual who has not previously tested for and earned the NCC credential can apply for and take both exams. These credentials have eligibility requirements similar to state licensing boards, including graduate education and work experience.

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