How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor

Jul 26, 2019

Learn how to become a high school counselor in this video. See the job description, find out what degree you need to become a guidance counselor, learn about licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in school counseling.

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  • 0:04 High School Guidance…
  • 1:15 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:05 Earn a Master's Degree
  • 2:49 School Counseling Credential
  • 3:08 Obtain a Teaching License
  • 3:33 Continue Education

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What Do School Counselors Do?

High school guidance counselors help students assess their skills and interests in addition to helping them develop academic and career goals. These professionals typically evaluate students through counseling sessions, interviews, and aptitude tests. Counselors may also help students with social and behavioral problems, acting as a high school advisor. Dealing with unruly teenagers can be challenging, but these professionals may feel rewarded when they observe students' accomplishments.

Degree Level Master's degree is standard
Degree Fields Counseling, psychology
Licensure and Certification A state-issued credential is required
Key Skills Strong speaking and listening skills, compassion, people skills, organizational skills
Salary (2018) $56,310 per year (Median annual salary for all guidance, school, and vocational counselors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

High School Counselor Qualifications

In order to become a secondary school counselor, prospective workers will need to a bachelor's and master's degree, obtain a high school counseling credential and teaching license, and participate in continuing education.

Undergraduate Requirements

There isn't one particular high school guidance counselor major required at the undergraduate level, though one might choose from top schools with degrees in psychology, counseling, or education. Foundational courses in these high school guidance counselor degree programs cover topics in child and adolescent development, cognitive psychology, and personality theory. Programs may also include studies of psychological testing and the statistical methods used in research. As students advance in their respective majors, they are able to take more specialized courses such as abnormal psychology or curriculum development, depending on the major.

Bachelor's students might also want to take liberal arts and communications classes. Since communication is an essential part of a high school guidance counselor's job, aspiring counselors can benefit from taking elective courses in liberal arts and communications to improve their skills in that area.

School Counselor Master's Program

According to the BLS, high school guidance counselor requirements include a master's degree. Students can choose from schools offering master's degrees in school counseling or in education. Such programs focus on developing the techniques needed to help students identify the source of their problems and find a coping mechanism. Courses may cover topics ranging from family therapy to cultural diversity. Online school counseling programs are also available.

Master's students might also want to complete an internship. An internship can help an aspiring counselor log required practicum hours for credentialing and earn first-hand experience working with students in a school counseling setting. An internship may even be required, depending on the school or program.

School Counseling Credentials

Many states require high school guidance counselors to obtain a school counseling credential, which may be referred to as a license, certification, or endorsement. While the requirements for credentialing vary, most states require applicants to hold a master's degree, complete an internship and pass a state exam.

Teaching License Requirements

Some states require counselors to earn teaching credentials to work in school settings. In these states, this may entail completion of a teacher education program, earning teacher certification through an alternative program, or having several years of teaching experience. The American School Counselor Association provides counselors with professional development resources, including a list of state-specific licensure requirements.

Continue Education

High school guidance counselors may be required to renew their credentials regularly by earning continuing education credits. Continuing education can also help a high school guidance counselor stay current on industry trends and advances in counseling methods. A guidance counselor can complete their continuing education through classes, workshops, seminars, and online coursework.

In addition, joining a professional organization such as the American School Counselors Association can provide guidance counselors with access to a number of continuing education resources. Also, it might be worth it to consider earning professional certification. High school guidance counselors may benefit from earning professional certification through the National Board for Certified Counselors, which awards the National Certified Counselor designation to qualified candidates who pass a certification examination. Select states accept this certification in lieu of passing a state licensing exam.


In summary, becoming a high school guidance counselor involves earning a bachelor's and master's degree, obtaining a high school counseling credential and teaching license, and participating in continuing education.

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