A major part of the school guidance counselor's function is to help students define career interests and develop realistic academic and career goals. They may also assist students with personal and social issues when needed. Studies in school counseling and school psychology are offered at the master's and the doctoral levels.
School guidance counseling can be an area of specialization or concentration within a psychology, education or counseling program. Some of these programs include clinical experience. These studies can prepare students to pursue necessary state certification.
Prerequisites usually include a bachelor's degree, satisfactory GRE scores and letters of recommendation. Completion of some master's level programs may be done online, but traditional in-class programs are common.
Master's Degree in School Counseling
Many counseling psychology master's degree programs - resulting in a Master of Arts or Master of Science - allow students to specialize in school guidance counseling. The completion of introductory coursework in psychology is required. Programs also seek applicants who are good communicators and have excellent analytical skills. These programs teach methods used to assess students' abilities and job interests. Aspiring school counselors also learn how to help students who have mental health issues. Coursework emphasizes the theoretical and practical elements of mental health care and career planning and may include:
- Child development
- Adolescent development
- Career counseling
- Educational statistics
- Psychological testing methodologies
Master of Education Degree in School Counseling
A Master of Education (M.Ed.) degree in school counseling prepares graduates to work with school administrators, educators and students in either elementary or secondary schools. The programs teach students how to provide both mental health and vocational counseling. To achieve this, school counseling M.Ed. coursework blends training in psychology with instruction on education theory and practice. Courses focus on counseling techniques, educational pedagogy and career planning and may include:
- Multicultural counseling
- Educational leadership
- Human development
- Educational research methodology
- Career planning
Doctorate Degree in School Psychology
While doctoral programs in school psychology cover both mental health and career guidance, they often focus more on the mental health counseling side. Doctoral degree programs in school psychology are relatively rare, and admissions can be competitive. In addition to high GRE scores, applicants need to demonstrate strong research, analytical and writing skills. Students in school psychology doctorate programs learn the methods and theories behind counseling young people. These doctoral programs also teach students about mental health assessment, educational research and aptitude testing. Coursework may include:
- Child psychopathology
- Experimental research design
- Academic assessment
- Educational statistics
- Child therapy
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were about 273,400 school and career counselors in 2014. Job opportunities are expected to increase by 8% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS reported that school and career counselors earned a median salary of $53,660 in May 2015.
Continuing Education Options
Each state has its own licensure requirements for school counselors. Many states require school guidance counselors to pass a written exam and complete continuing education coursework. Other states ask that counselors hold valid teaching certificates.
In addition to obtaining state certification, school guidance counselors can pursue voluntary certification from the National Board for Certified Counselors by passing a written exam. Earning voluntary national certification can help job applicants stand out from those without certification.
A master's or Ph.D. in school counseling and school psychology can provide individuals with the knowledge and skills needed to earn state certification as a school guidance counselor. It can also help them start a career helping students define career interests, set academic goals and develop realistic career goals.