When you were in school, you may have been sent to the guidance counselor for help with your, er, behavioral problems. Guidance counselors still exist, but most are now called school counselors. School counselors are often the members of a school staff that have the opportunity to make the biggest difference in the lives of students who are struggling with behavioral, personal, or academic struggles. As a professional in this field, you will help in character development, college planning and preventive services. An online school counseling degree will give you the skills needed to successfully guide students of all ages inside the public school system. Most states require counselors to hold at least a master's degree in school counseling that has been state approved for licensing or certification. Make sure you understand your state’s licensing and certification requirements before enrolling in any online school counseling program.
THE CAREER PATH
It’s no surprise that school counseling is among the top social services jobs in the country, since the majority of professionals report having a high job satisfaction — according to a survey by PayScale. It’s easy to imagine why having a positive impact in the lives of young people would yield satisfactory results for professionals. In order to gain the skills necessary to fill the many different shoes of a school counselor, a Master’s degree is usually the requirement to enter this job field.
Although a counselor’s responsibilities may vary depending on the age of the students served and the strengths and weaknesses of unique communities, a graduate level education can help to prepare school counselors with the skills they need to perform tasks such as:
- Using aptitude assessments and interviews to evaluate the abilities, interests, strengths, and weaknesses of students
- Teaching students and school staff about topics that may include bullying, substance abuse, or even planning for college and careers
- Maintaining accurate and complete student records
- Helping students develop the skills they need to be successful, like time management, organizational skills, and effective studying
- Connecting students with resources to prevent domestic abuse, mental health issues, or other challenges that may interfere with academic performance
At different levels of education, school counselors may be asked to focus on different aspects of the job:
- Elementary School Counselors may focus on developing skills to help students be successful in school. They may meet with parents and teachers more often to discuss the student's strengths, weaknesses, and needs. They may help the school to ensure that the learning curriculum is meeting the developmental and academic needs of the students they serve.
- Middle School Counselors may work more closely with staff, parents, and the community to create a caring and supportive environment for students that are going through a lot of physical and mental changes.
- High School Counselors may pay more attention to advising students to make appropriate plans for after they graduate; they may also help students choose classes and provide information about college prep, job training, financial aid, internships, resume building and other professional skills. They can additionally help students overcome personal issues that impact their development.
As more students enroll in school and the importance of an effective learning environment is emphasized, the demand for school counselors to help meet the needs of students is expected to increase by nearly 11% in the upcoming years. The hard work and commitment of school counselors pays off in the long run, according to the United States Department of Labor, school counselors make nearly $55,000 each year on average.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Most people think of anti-bullying campaigns and dropout prevention when they imagine school counselors; really, that’s only half the picture. Instead, these professionals bring a comprehensive perspective on student success that is providing more schools with the resources that they need to help students thrive in the most supportive environment possible. If you imagine yourself walking down hallways, conducting group counseling sessions, organizing assemblies, and helping to train staff of public and private schools, you may have found yourself in the right line of work with school counseling.
When considering a career in school counseling, you should be prepared for a dynamic, challenging, and rewarding career. School counselors must be dedicated and compassionate enough to provide the support that students need, regardless of their background or future direction. School counselors must be analytical enough to assess students and school programs, and interpersonal enough to form relationships with students and staff and to actively listen to and address their concerns. Positions in school counseling require a knowledge of not only psychology and therapy skills, but also education and human development.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
The best online school counseling degrees follow the standards of the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model. Many online programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), in addition to standard regional accreditation. For the best career options inside the public school system, attend a graduate school that is accredited by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). These programs will prepare you to pursue licensing upon graduation. Your studies will include core courses in education, psychology and counseling. You will also participate in field training and an in-school counseling residency. By the end of your program, you will be equipped to counsel and lead students toward a bright future.
You have numerous options when it comes to an online school counseling degree. Most counseling options are available at the master's level. You could earn a master of education in school counseling, guidance and counseling, educational psychology, or counseling psychology. Another option is a master of arts in counseling with a K-12 emphasis. Consider who you want to counsel—young students, troubled teens, etc.—and the type of setting—public school, private school or private practice—where you ideally want to practice. You can also pursue a doctorate degree. Terminal degrees in this field include the educational specialist degree (EdS) and the doctor of philosophy degree (PhD). The EdS focuses more on applied counseling inside school systems, while the more academically rigorous PhD focuses on research and psychotherapy methods.
Consider which schools offer programs that include internships or apprenticeships that help connect students to potential job opportunities after graduation. These programs can provide additional value beyond curriculum and make a slightly higher price tag worth it. Prepare to spend between $30,000 and $50,000 for a bachelor's in school counseling. Master programs are less expensive—the average cost is $18,000 in the United States.