How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor

Learn how to become a high school guidance counselor in this video. See the job description and the education and licensing requirements, and find out how to start a career in school counseling. View article »

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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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Video Transcript

High School Guidance Counselors

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. Dealing with often 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 (2015) $53,660 per year (Median annual salary for all guidance, career, and school counselors)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

At the undergraduate level, aspiring high school guidance counselors typically earn bachelor's degrees in psychology, counseling, or education. Foundational courses in these 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.

Earn a Master's Degree

According to the BLS, a master's degree is the typical education requirement to become a high school guidance counselor. Students can choose from master's degree programs in secondary 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.

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.

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School Counseling Credential

Many states require high school guidance counselors to obtain school counseling credentialing, 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.

Obtain a Teaching License

Some states require counselors to earn teaching credentials to work in school settings. In some such states, this may entail completion of a teacher education program, teacher certification through an alternative program, or 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 credentialing 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 training 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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