How to Become a School Counselor
At a glance, here are the general steps required to become a school counselor:
- Earn a bachelor's degree in an applicable major
- Complete a teacher preparation program
- Obtain a master's degree in school counseling (required by some states)
- Earn credentials and/or licensure that's applicable to your state
If you want to work as a counselor at a public school (as well as most private schools), you'll need to earn a credential from your state, which entails achieving one or more college degrees. You'll start by enrolling in an undergraduate program, where possible majors to become a guidance counselor, also known as a school counselor, include education, psychology and human services. Then, you'll either complete a teacher education program or pursue a master's degree in school counseling, depending what your state mandates. You may also need to meet any other credentialing requirements, such as completing a supervised practicum or internship, passing an exam, securing a teaching license and/or gaining teaching experience.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a School Counselor?
In most states, you'll need a master's degree in guidance counseling or school counseling to qualify for licensure as an elementary school, middle school or high school counselor. Bachelor's degree programs in counseling are not typically available; however, some states accept a related bachelor's degree under certain circumstances.
For example, you can meet the education requirements for licensure in Alaska if you hold a bachelor's degree and also have completed a teacher education program. And in Maine, you can gain 1-year conditional licensure once you've earned a bachelor's degree and completed at least 24 semester hours of graduate study in school counseling.
Master's in School Counseling
As a school counseling master's degree student, you might earn a Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Education (M.Ed.) or Master of Science (M.S.). These programs prepare you to work as a school counselor for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
Your master's degree program in guidance counseling will likely entail between 48 and 60 semester hours, which includes at least one practicum and at least one internship. You also might be required to complete a thesis. Courses in your master's degree program could include the following:
- Addictions counseling
- Career counseling
- Counseling techniques and theories
- Cross cultural counseling
- Ethics and professional issues
- Group counseling
- Human development
- Research and program evaluation
For admission to this school guidance counselor degree program, you'll need a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university. Other admission requirements might include a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Miller Analogies Test (MAT), academic or professional references, a criminal background check, a resume and/or an interview.
Ph.D. in School Counseling
A school counseling doctoral program, either a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Guidance Counseling, prepares you to direct, coordinate or consult for a K-12 counseling program or to conduct research, teach or counsel students at a college or university.
The number of credit hours you'll need to earn your doctorate in school counseling will depend on whether your program is postbaccalaureate (meaning you can be admitted with just a bachelor's degree) or post-master's (meaning a master's degree is required for admission). A postbaccalaureate program likely will require at least 96 credit hours, while a post-master's program usually requires at least 66 credit hours.
Regardless how many credits you need, you'll have to take both professional and elective courses, complete practicums and/or internships, and research and write a dissertation to earn your doctorate. Courses available to you in a doctoral program in school counseling might cover:
- Advanced counseling theory
- Advanced data analysis
- Advanced statistics
- Applied multicultural counseling
- Counselor education and supervision
- Educational administration
- Instructional theory in counselor education
- Qualitative research in education
In addition to needing a bachelor's or master's degree for admission, you'll usually be asked to provide documentation of professional experience, academic and professional references, a writing sample, and GRE scores, in addition to sitting for an interview.
Online School Counseling Degrees
If you're looking to earn an online degree in guidance counseling, you can find several colleges and universities that offer a master's in school counseling online. These programs are a great option if you have personal or professional commitments that would inhibit you from attending in-person classes.
There are also a handful of online Ph.D. in School Counseling programs available, but it should be noted that only some of your courses will be available online. The majority of doctoral programs in this field are campus-based.
Online Master's in School Counseling
Although you'll likely be able to find programs that allow you to take 100% of the classes in your online master's degree in school counseling program from the comfort of home, your program probably will require that you complete an in-person practicum and/or internship. Additionally, some programs have mandatory on-campus weekend seminars.
Courses in an online school counseling degree program are identical to those you'll find in an on-campus program, covering such topics as individual and group counseling, theories of counseling, career counseling, and law and ethics in school counseling. Online programs also have similar admission requirements to on-campus programs, though online programs are less likely to require an interview, and when they do, it can often be conducted - you guessed it - online.