How to Become a School Guidance Counselor

Learn how to become a school guidance counselor in this video. We'll go over the job description, the education and the licensing requirements for starting a career in school guidance counseling.

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Should I Become a School Guidance Counselor?

School guidance counselors play an integral part in a student's development, from kindergarten through college. They advise students on everything from issues at home to college or career planning. These professionals must have excellent communication skills in addition to having the ability to relate to young people. The job requires emotional strength. Working with young people who are experiencing family or school issues may be challenging and often requires a great deal of patience.

School guidance counselors typically need a master's degree and state-approved credentials that may depend upon experience. The following table outlines the main requirements for school guidance counselors:

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Career Requirements

Degree Level A master's degree is typically required
Degree Field School counseling or a related field
Experience Up to 3 years of experience may be required to earn state credentials
Licensure Requirements vary from state to state, but all school counselors must hold a state-issued credential, whether a license, certification or endorsement
Key Skills Communication skills; ability to use Microsoft Excel, Word, Outlook and Access, as well as computerized testing software, computerized diagnostic programs and database software like Social Solutions ETO and Zoomerang; use of videoconferencing equipment
Salary $56,040 (Annual mean salary for a school guidance counselor)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014), American School Counselor Association, O*Net Online

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Although undergraduate majors specific to school counseling are not common, majors in psychology, education, sociology or social work may be beneficial. Bachelor's degree programs in these areas provide a foundation for future school counselors with coursework in areas like child psychology, lifespan development and human behavior. Undergraduate internships may be available for elective credit.

Success Tip:

  • Check state requirements. Some states substitute teaching experience toward school counselor licensing requirements. Individuals should review a state's licensing requirements to ensure that their major is in-line with becoming a school counselor.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree

A master's degree in school counseling or a related area is mandatory for licensure in most states. Curricula in these programs cover areas of individual and group counseling, human development and research methods in counseling. Students may consider programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Accreditation from the CACREP is nationally recognized and ensures that a program is preparing students to meet professional standards.

Success Tip:

  • Use practicum and internship requirements to gain valuable experience. School counseling programs require fieldwork that builds experience and satisfies licensing requirements. Students can use this time to become comfortable in school settings and sharpen their interpersonal and communication skills.

Step 3: Become Licensed as a Certified School Counselor

All states require school guidance counselors to be licensed. The process to becoming licensed typically involves a comprehensive written exam and at least 1-3 years of supervised experience. One can also choose to complete licensing programs offered by CACREP or the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which generally meet the requirements in most states.

Step 4: Maintain Licensure

Once licensed, school counselors must meet continuing education standards over a five-year period to remain eligible. Continuing education credits may come from organizations like the NBCC or in the form of college courses, which may also help to advance your career. In some states, continuing education may need to be approved by a school counselor's supervisor or the area superintendent.

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