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How to Become a School Counselor

Learn how to become a school counselor

Being a school counselor is not easy. But it’s perhaps the most rewarding and fulfilling job that anyone can have. In this career, you are literally responsible for guiding students towards success in the classroom and beyond.

At times, it will seem endlessly frustrating. At other times, it’s infinitely rewarding. When you see the positive impact you’ve had on a student, you’ll see why this is such a popular career choice and why it’s so respected among the greater community.

School counseling is tough, and there are many school counselor requirements, including advanced educations and licensing. But once you complete the extensive journey towards becoming a school counselor, everyday will be rewarding, interesting, and unique.

Keep reading if you want to learn all about the qualifications for a school counselor. We’ll provide answers to questions like..

  • What is the school counselor definition?
  • How to become a school counselor?
  • What are the educational qualifications for a school counselor?
  • What are the school counselor requirements by state?
  • How much does a school counselor make?
  • What are the pros and cons of working as a high school counselor?
  • How to become a school counselor with a psychology degree.

How to Become a School Counselor

This section will summarize how to become a school counselor so you have the basic information you need to start your education.

How to Become a School Counselor: A Quick Summary

  1. Complete a Four-Year Bachelor's Degree
  2. Complete a Master's Degree
  3. Complete an Internship
  4. Become Licensed to Work as a School Counselor
  5. Find an Employer
  6. Improve the Lives of Students Every Single Day!

It All Starts with a Bachelor’s

The first step to becoming a school counselor, after graduating high school or an equivalent program, is to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree. For a four-year degree, you have some flexibility in what you can study, but you’ll likely want to complete classes that relate to counseling, education, and psychology. This will prepare you for many excellent careers in counseling, including work as a high school counselor.

Master’s Degrees in School Counseling

The next step is to complete your master’s degree, an advanced education that will take a deep dive into counseling, education, and other critical topics. This is a more demanding, in-depth education, and it give you a deep understanding of school counseling. A master’s-level school counselor degree is almost always required.

Complete an Internship

While it may not be required by some employers, it’s a good idea to complete an internship as part of your school counselor degree. This will help develop your skills as you learn directly from an experienced professional, and in many cases the internship is a required aspect of the master’s degree.

Certificate & Specialty Options?

As you are becoming a school counselor, you may think about various specialities and certifications that can help advance your career and possibly bring a higher school counselor salary, depending on the specific specialization you choose. Possible options include mental health counseling, career counseling, and substance-abuse counseling, which can all enhance your school counseling career.

Licensing Required for Almost All Positions

While some positions do not require a school counselor to have licensing, most of them do. If you want to work in this career, you’ll need to complete licensing and certifications, which will be administered by the state where you plan to work in school counseling.

Is This a Psychology Degree?

Counseling is often confused with psychology, and while they share similar aspects, they are two different careers. Educationally, a psychologist needs a doctoral degree, while the typical minimum for a counselor is a master’s. Counseling, however, is often more broad and requires you to work with a range of people, while psychology is often focused in one specific area, such as child psychology. That said, there are certainly elements of psychology in counseling.

How to Become a School Counselor with a Psychology Degree

If you studied psychology in the past and are are wondering how to become a school counselor with a psychology degree, the process may be easier than you imagine. With a bachelor’s degree in psychology, you can likely enroll in a master’s counseling program, which will provide entry into many counseling careers.

School Counselor Education

School counseling is a career that requires an above-average level of education. There are careers that require more time in the classroom (psychologists, for example) but you can expect roughly six years of collegiate courses, as well as in-person internships, licensing, and other aspects.

The school counselor definition is simple: it’s a career that helps students. This can come in many ways, such as helping them with academic issues, personal and emotional problems, or choosing future career paths. A school counselor definition can vary, but at its core it is a role where you guide students to better outcomes in the classroom and in life. To achieve these goals, however, you need the right education, starting with a bachelor’s degree…

Step 1: Choosing the Right Bachelor’s Degree

The most obvious bachelor’s degree for an aspiring school counselor is a school counselor degree. Exactly what you’ll learn in a counseling program will vary depending on the school, but you can expect the program to cover topics like counseling children and young adults, as well as working with parents to improve academic outcomes. It will also cover aspects of school development and the prevention of classroom issues, such as troublemaking, bullying, and disengagement with learning.

Classes in a bachelor’s program will cover a diverse range of topics, and the classes will cover counseling directly, as well as topics that are important to the subject. For example, you can expect to complete courses such as “Foundations of School Counseling,” “Individual Counseling,” and “Ethics in School Counseling.” But there will also be course that, while related, are not directly about counseling. These might include group dynamics, behavioral science, and human development. All of these topics will make you a stronger guidance counselor.

In school counseling alone, there are a variety of concentrations and focuses that you can complete. For example, some schools offer educations in bilingual school counseling, which helps you provide outstanding service and support to students from a diverse range of backgrounds.

Education is another popular bachelor’s degrees for aspiring school counselors. While you don’t have to work as a teacher (but in some cases this experience may help your career), a bachelor’s degree in education will improve your overall skills and make you more capable as guidance counselor.

A bachelor’s degree in psychology can also be useful. Psychology teaches you how the brain functions, how and why we make certain decisions, and how emotions impact our decision making. The right psychology classes will teach you how young minds develop and think, which could be endlessly useful for your career.

Step 2: A Master’s Degree in School Counseling

The next step in how to become a school counselor will be to complete your master's degree. A master’s is an advanced education that usually takes two years, and it will go into greater depth with a more narrow focus on a specific topic.

While the focus of your bachelor’s degree can vary slightly, your master’s degree needs to be specifically and directly focused on counseling, preferably school counseling. For example, during your undergraduate (bachelor) studies, you can complete a degree in education or psychology and still be ready for the next step to becoming a school counselor. However, once you reach the graduate (master’s) stage, the education will need to be more focused.

A master’s degree in school counseling covers a variety of topics that help you guide students to better results in the classroom and, hopefully, better results in life. Course can include topics like counseling individuals, helping students with grief, family counseling, and counseling research.

Regardless of the classes, throughout your education you will gain the knowledge needed to create better students, help them identify potential career goals, and provide the emotional support they need to get through a variety of challenges. You will gain both practical and theoretical knowledge on counseling and the school environment, preparing you to become an outstanding high school counselor.

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Step 3 & 4: Internship, Licensing & Certification for School Counselors

No matter where you live and work, you can expect licensing to be required if you want to become a school counselor. Virtually all counselors working in public schools must have licensing through the state. It may be called “certification,” “endorsement,” or a “license” depending on the area, but the result is the same: basically you have to prove your competency to the state government.

To even test for licensing or certification to become a high school counselor, you’ll first need to complete your master’s degree, then an internship. Next, you will need to complete a test that shows your knowledge for counseling. Testing for school counselors is usually administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors. School counselor requirements by state will vary widely. For example, some states require applicants to have experience in teaching, but this is not a typical requirement.

The requirements for becoming a school counselor are different in every state. To highlight this point, we will take a closer look at the process in three different areas: Florida, New York, and Ohio…

Florida School Counselor Certification

To become a counselor in Florida, you’ll need to start with a master’s degree in school counseling or a subject that is related to the topic. Next, you will need to complete the College Level Academic Skills Test, the Professional Education Test, and the Subject Test in School Counseling, all of which will prove your skills and knowledge in the profession.

Once you have completed testing, you will need to complete proper Florida school counselor certification through the Florida Department of Education. There will be a processing fee, although the cost is usually small.

After Florida school counselor certification has been completed, you’ll be given an official statement of eligibility for your employment, which will allow you to start searching for a job.

If you are coming to Florida from another state where you are currently certified, you can likely transition into a new counseling job. As long as your state certification is valid and compares with the standards set by Florida, you will only need to complete a background check and fingerprinting to move forward.

How to Become a Guidance Counselor in NY

The process for the state of New York is slightly different. In this case, you may be able to start the certification process after only 30 semester hours of graduate study in the appropriate field, which creates a faster path to certification as a counselor.

The next step in how to become a guidance counselor in NY is to complete the certification process. During this step, you can likely find help, resources, and guidance from your school.

How to Become a School Counselor in Ohio

In Ohio, you need to fulfill experience requirements. This is an important part of how to become a school counselor in Ohio, and it can make a big difference in your overall certification. This experience requirement can be completed in many different ways depending on your current background. Also, you need to complete at least 600 hours of work in a K-12 setting.

Once you have this experience completed, you can complete one of the following: A one year-induction under supervision of a school counselor, two years of successful teaching, or three years of school counseling experience from another state.

The next step is to pass the guidance and counseling exam or appropriate exam requirements. Then you will complete a general background check and an FBI background check. Assuming everything goes well, you can then become a school counselor in Ohio.

As you can see, the differences from state to state can be large. For example, how to become a guidance counselor in NY is different than how to become a school counselor in Ohio. But once you complete the requirements, you can work in this vastly rewarding career.

Pros & Cons of Being a School Counselor

Being a school counselor is difficult, and just like every job, there are clear advantages and disadvantages.

The Benefits

Above all, this is a highly-rewarding career that allows you to work in a field where you are helping young people everyday. You get to wake up each morning knowing that today’s work will improve students and communities, an advantage that few people get to enjoy. You work in an exciting, vibrant, energetic environment, and you get to make a difference every single day.

There is also the advantage of working on a school schedule, which means you often get summers off!

The Downsides

If you research how to become a school counselor, you’ll see that the education requirements can be both time consuming and costly, and many people struggle to complete the difficult master’s degree. Even after completing school, you may need to work under the supervision of a current counselor, adding even more time to the process. It’s also a high-pressure job that requires you to work with difficult, impatient, and sometimes disrespectful youth; your calm demeanor could be challenged on a daily basis.

Because school counselor requirements by state are always different, it can also be tough to determine specific school counselor requirements. However, this is usually easy to overcome with a little research.

How Much Does a School Counselor Make?

Pay should not be the only factor for choosing a career, but it certainly makes a difference. While school counselors may not enjoy the highest of salaries, there is certainly potential for significant earnings, especially if you are in the higher levels of this career field.

So how much does a school counselor make? It may not be the highest possible earnings, but under the right settings the earnings can be significant.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median school counselor salary in May of 2019 was $57,040, which is over $17,000 higher than the national median income of $39,810. However, it appears that counselors working for schools usually do even better. Those employed by elementary and secondary schools (including state, local, and private schools) have median incomes of $64,060. Overall, the top 10% in this career can expect a school counselor salary over $96,090, so there is certainly the potential for higher earnings.

Job Outlook

The growth for this career, while not overwhelming, is certainly strong. Between 2019 and 2029, this career is expected to grow by 8%, adding almost 29,000 jobs in the process. People with degrees in counseling can expect a strong chance at landing and keeping a quality job.

Numerous factors will drive this increase. From rising student enrollment to additional counselors at colleges, there will be a growing demand for these highly-trained professionals. The number of on-campus career centers will be a major factor for the growth of this career. Counselors will also be needed to help people transition into new careers or help military personnel find gainful employment.

Find a Top-Quality Online School Counseling Degree

If you are ready to complete the qualifications for a school counselor or guidance counselor, visit our degree search engine to learn more about top-quality programs. Whether you need to start your journey with a bachelor’s, or you’re ready to complete your education with a master’s degree, you can complete the educational school counselor requirements on your own time, with a budget that fits your needs!

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