School Counselor

classroom psychologist talking to kids

Did you have an amazing school counselor at your elementary, middle or high school?

Maybe the school counselor helped you deal with some problems you were having in math class, met with if you were dealing with a bully or a break-up, or helped you decide which program to take in college. If you and your friends went through a horrible trauma (like the loss of a classmate or teacher, or even a natural or human-induced disaster), your school counselor might have been a listening ear and that go-to person to refer you to some extra services required.

Please become a school counselor if you really love working with young people and want them to be the best they can be.” ~ Franklin Delano Roosevelt High School Counselor, Helayne Soloway Wagner

Source: The Atlantic; “Q&A: The Rewards of Being a School Counselor”; August 21, 2012.

If you or someone you knew had such a school counselor, then you were fortunate enough to observe or hear about the true importance of the profession—one that requires passion and empathy, proactive problem solving skills and enthusiasm, the ability to effectively communicate listen and understand, and a comprehensive knowledge of the academic, social, psychological and behavioral aspects of a student’s life.

School Counselors At a Glance

  • Degree Level Requirements: Master’s Degree
  • Licensure Requirements: Certification or Licensure requirements vary by state.
  • Specializations: Numerous specializations but they can also be age-specific (i.e. elementary versus middle versus high school).
  • Median Annual Salaries: $53,380*
  • Job Outlook: 19% growth from 2010 to 2020**

Career & Job Description

“…School counselors help students understand and cope with social, behavioral and personal problems,” state Tara L. Kuther and Robert D. Morgan in the 4th edition of their book Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World (2013). The authors add, “Although this job description may appear to overlap with the school psychologist’s, the school counselor’s job is vastly different. Whereas school psychologists work with children with special needs, school counselors are available for all children and maintain regular school hours to help students as they navigate the educational process.” This means that the best school counselors make it known that their doors are open to every single student in their elementary, middle or high school.

Some of the professional duties carried out by school counselors include:

  • Work with students (individuals and groups), parents, teachers and school administrators.
  • Develop and implement a school guidance curriculum (i.e. lessons on improving organizational skills, transitioning from elementary to middle school, self esteem, career exploration, etc).
  • Create and facilitate individual plans for specific students (in collaboration with parents, teachers and school administrators) to help them meet their academic, behavioral, social and/or personal goals.
  • Provide individual or group counseling services for those in need (and facilitate referrals to other services).
  • Develop and implement preventative and intervention programs, such as a peer support program; workshops for teachers, parents and school staff; presentations to classrooms (on topics such as drug abuse, bullying and peer pressure), etc.
  • Administer assessments and interviews to determine students’ abilities and interests.
  • Help students determine their academic and/or career goals and help them develop plans to reach those goals.
  •  Although this may be difficult when working with a huge student population, school counselors ideally approach students who are experiencing difficulties to offer their support (i.e. those students who may not be able to advocate for themselves). In extreme cases, school counselors may need to report when they suspect circumstances of abuse or neglect.
  • Participate in relevant in-school and school district meetings, as well as ongoing professional development courses/workshops.
“The best school counselors make it known that their doors are open to every single student…”


Specializations / Concentrations

School counselors tend to face numerous issues during the span of their careers—from helping students deal with divorce and loss to academic difficulties and bullying.

Thus through professional development and professional experiences, school counselors develop a number of specializations; and when they are entering unchartered territory—perhaps an issue they have little to no experience with— they ideally take the initiative to consult with professionals in the school system and community that will help the student(s) affected.

Students counselors do tend to develop particular concentrations, however, that are specific to an age group or developmental stage, depending if they work in an elementary, middle or high school.

  • Elementary Schools: An important specialty of elementary school counselors is to be able to look for early signs of developmental, learning, social, psychological and behavioral problems (in collaboration with teachers, school administrators and parents).
  • Middle Schools: Just some of the issues that middle school students face (and that school counselors address) include peer pressure, transitioning into adolescence/puberty, self-esteem, exploring their identity, etc.
  • High Schools: Just some of the issues that high school counselors address among high school students are academic pressure, career exploration, relationships, sex, drugs and alcohol, etc.

Some Results of the “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: 2011 National Overview” of Grade 9 to 12 Students (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention):

  • 16.6% students carried a weapon, like a gun, club or knife, at least once during the last 30 days.
  • 32.8% students had been in a physical fight at least once during the last year.
  • 20.1% students had been bullied at school and 16.2% had been cyber-bullied at least one during the last year.
  • 7.8% students had attempted suicide and 15.8% had seriously thought about committing suicide during the last year.
  • 21.9% of students drank five or more glasses of alcohol in a row and 23.1% had had consumed marijuana in the last 30 days.
  • 25.6% of students had dealt or received illegal drugs at school within the last year.

Explore Your Career Path

The Educational Journey

In most cases, to become a certified school counselor you need to complete a Master’s degree. However, some states may require only a Bachelor’s degree, while others may require prospective school counselors to have post secondary education in counseling and education. (See the “Certification Requirements” section below).

  1. Bachelor’s Degree: Some school counselors had no idea they would enter this field when they started their Bachelor’s degree and thus come from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds. If you know from the get go that you’d like to become a school counselor, it would be wise to complete a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Education or a related field. (Note that some Master’s of School Counseling programs may require several pre-requisite undergraduate courses, such as Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Statistics, etc.)
  2. Relevant Careers with a Bachelor’s Degree: You might wish to gain some career experience before going on to do your Master’s Degree in School Counseling. Some relevant careers include a child life specialist, a crisis center worker, a youth probation officer, a family services worker, a research assistant,  a family or youth shelter case manager, an early childhood behavioral specialist, a teacher assistant, a community recreational coordinator, etc.
  3. Master’s Degree: In most states, a School Counselor must complete a Master’s degree, such as a Master’s of Education in School Counseling, a Master’s of Education/Education Specialist in School Counseling, a Master’s of Psychology in School Counseling, a Master’s of Science degree in Counseling with a specialization in School Counseling, etc. According to the ASCA, “Most public school systems require advanced degree courses that include the following topics: Human growth and development, Theories, Individual counselling, Group counselling, Social and cultural foundations, Testing/appraisal, Research and program evaluation, Professional orientation, Career development, Supervised practicum [and] Supervised internship.”

Certification Requirements

Authors Kuther and Morgan state that all schools require their school counselors to be certified. The requirements (education, experience, exams, background checks, etc) for being certified vary by state. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) offers an overview of each state’s certification requirements (on their page “State Certification Requirements”); or you can check with your state’s Department of Education/Public Instruction. Note: Depending on the state, the required school counselor credential may be called a “certification,” “endorsement” or “license.”


Career Spotlight

Danielle Schultz is a K-12 School Counselor and Author of the “School Counselor Blog”. Some of the things she likes about her job are the unpredictability from day to day, working with students one-on-one and in groups (dealing with topics from grief to having parents in prison), as well as facilitating activities in the classroom.

She wrote in one of her blogs, Facilitating classroom lessons allows me to connect with all students. Some students with whom I never met before will come to meet with me after classroom lessons. Being visible in the school makes students more comfortable with coming to see me.”

  • Reference & Data Information Provided by the Following:
  • * May 2010 (for School and Career Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • ** May 2010 (for School and Career Counselors, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)
  • † Salary data from US BLS
  • ‡ Job Outlook data from US BLS
  • Other Sources/References
  • Careers in Psychology: Opportunities in a Changing World, (4th edition) by Tara L. Kuther and Robert D. Morgan (2013)