Guidance Counselor Requirements and Career Information

Sep 10, 2019

A career as a guidance counselor requires significant formal education. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

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Guidance counselors can have an array of responsibilities and benefits depending on where they are employed. Most guidance counselors will have started in some other educational capacity, typically as teachers.

Essential Information

Guidance counselors advise students at all levels of the educational system to help them first succeed at school and later transition into careers. They have a limited role in shaping curricula and school policy to further these goals. Guidance counselors hold a minimum of a master's degree and must obtain licensure or certification depending on the state's requirements. Some states also require guidance counselors to have classroom teaching experience and teaching certification before becoming certified counselors.

Required Education Master's degree
Other Requirements Licensure or certification typically required
Projected Job Growth 8% from 2018-2028 (all school and career counselors)*
Median Salary (2018) $56,310 (all school and career counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Requirements for Guidance Counselors

There are a few bachelor's degrees in guidance counseling, but most programs are offered as graduate certificates, master's degrees and doctoral degrees. Accordingly, degree candidates need to have earned an undergraduate degree, preferably in psychology, sociology or education.

Guidance counselor programs generally divide their time between classwork and an internship, the latter to gain experience applying concepts learned in the former. Courses are likely to cover counseling theory, behavioral counseling, group counseling, family therapy, research models, child and adolescent psychology, abnormal psychology, and collaborative consultation. Vocational and educational assessment, statistical analysis, issues in physical and psychological development and public speaking are also addressed. Some programs require a thesis project, while others give degree candidates the option of taking a heavier course load. Doctoral students must present a dissertation.

Licensing and Certification

Licensing policies for guidance counselors vary widely from state to state. Most require a master's degree, although a few will accept candidates who have started their graduate coursework. Some further specify the completion of continuing education credits. A small number want both counseling and teaching certificates and teaching experience. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a voluntary national certification, which some states will accept in place of a state certification.

Career Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for all school and career counselors was $56,310 in 2018. The BLS projects employment in this field will increase 8% from 2018 to 2028 in spite of tight school budgets. Growth will be driven by rising enrollment and the expanding responsibilities of counselors with respect to student alcohol and drug abuse.

Duties and Skills

The duties of a guidance counselor will vary depending on whether they work in an elementary school, middle school or high school. Elementary school counselors spend most of their time helping students adjust to the school environment. They observe children in class and at play, consult with teachers and parents about children's needs, and confer with teachers and administrators about curricular adjustments to meet those needs.

Career counseling becomes a little more prominent in middle school and a significant commitment in high school. Guidance counselors meet directly with students, as well as with parents, teachers and administrators, to discuss career possibilities for students and attempt to steer a student's academic studies in a direction that will meet them.

They also try to help students cope with social, behavioral, and personal problems. Counselors need to be good listeners, effective communicators, and comfortable interacting with children and teenagers. They also need patience when dealing with parents who are uncooperative or youths who are unmotivated to study or prone to self-destructive behavior.

Counseling can be a highly demanding job depending on the level at which one works. Because of this, a true desire to help young people grow and succeed is essential for doing well as a guidance counselor. While a master's degree and licensure are typically required for this position, projected employment growth is faster than average compared to all other career fields in the U.S.

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