How to Become a College Counselor

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Female student speaking to her professor.


School counselors play an indispensable role in preparing students to take the next step in their educational paths. Many of them also help students define their professional ambitions. The need for school and career counselors is increasing as more students seek support in dealing with a wide array of academic, social, familial and other pressures.

Before learning how to become a college counselor, aspiring professionals should first be aware of the educational and licensing requirements for becoming a school or career counselor.

Specific Steps to Become a College Counselor

The first step toward becoming a licensed school counselor is to earn a bachelor’s degree in school counseling or a similar subject. The next requirement is to earn a master’s degree in school counseling. However, some states require students to complete one or two years of classroom teaching experience before applying to graduate school. Those who enroll in master’s degree programs may have the option to complete the coursework online while working full time.

Master’s programs with an emphasis in school counseling often have courses in:

  • Research and Statistical Analysis: Students read published research and journal articles alone and in small groups. They analyze the research data, develop conclusions, create presentations and share their findings.
  • Professional Orientation to Counseling: This introductory course covers the history of school counseling and the roles that contemporary school counselors assume in school systems. Students learn about licensing and certification issues as well as other topics facing college counselors.
  • Lifespan Development: This course covers how students develop cognitively, physically, psychologically, morally and socially as they progress through various stages of their early development.

After completing the Master of Arts in Counseling with a specialization in school counseling, those who want to become college counselors must attain licenses or certifications to practice in their states. Licensing requirements typically include completing a supervised internship and passing an exam. Some states also require a criminal background check as part of the certification requirements.

Career Basics

The overriding role of school and career counselors involves assisting students to prepare for their adult lives. For instance, counselors should be aware of, and champion, certain academic habits and strategies that enable students to increase their chances of collegiate success. School counselors may also be required to discuss and illustrate the opportunities that await students in community colleges. Counselors also help students cultivate the necessary social and academic skills to succeed in college and beyond.

School counselors who specialize in college counseling may have responsibilities such as conducting aptitude tests to evaluate student abilities, helping students deal with behavioral issues, initiating small-group and individual counseling, assisting students with developing realistic goals, and working with both teachers and parents to address specific concerns.

The duties of a school counselor might also include career counseling, which primarily involves helping students choose a career trajectory and search for employment opportunities. For example, career counselors may assist students in developing crucial job-hunting skills, such as writing cover letters, networking with employers and applicants, and interviewing.

Licensed college counselors who work at high schools should have a practical set of skills in their professional toolbox. They are encouraged to develop the ability to listen, demonstrate genuine compassion, develop interpersonal relationships and communicate effectively.

Statistics About Career Growth and Salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the rate of job growth for all school and career counselors to be 13 percent from 2016 to 2026. This is 7 percent higher than the average growth rate for all other occupations.

BLS also estimates that an additional 36,700 educational, guidance and school counselors will be needed through the year 2026. The median wage as of May 2017 for school counselors and college counselors stands at $55,410. Some of these counseling professionals might even earn as much as $91,960.

Further BLS data show that in 2016, school counselors filled 291,700 U.S. jobs. Elementary and secondary schools employed the most school counselors, followed by colleges and universities.

School counselors play a significant role in the development of students ranging from elementary schoolers to upcoming high school graduates. In addition to helping students understand how to achieve their academic and professional goals, school counselors also help students become confident learners, valuable employees and responsible adults. Students who are wondering how to become a college counselor should begin their journey today to take advantage of growing opportunities in career and school counseling.

Learn More

The human services field is expansive and varied, as are the positions available within it. There are associate, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs available to help those seeking a career in human services learn what they need to do to reach their goals and understand what those jobs will look like once they’re there. The Master of Arts in Counseling program at Wake Forest University can help give students the tools they need to enter the counseling profession with a firm grasp of key concepts and training. Find out more about our comprehensive curriculum and apply today.

Recommended Readings:
What to Expect in Counseling Courses
Why Now Is the Right Time to Pursue Your Master’s in Counseling
Picking the Right Degree for You: Master of Social Work (MSW) vs. Master’s in Counseling

American School Counselor Association
Wake Forest University
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Interview with a School Counselor
Bureau of Labor Statistics: School and Career Counselors