How to Become a School Counselor

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In a world where bullying and active shooter drills are commonplace in K-12 schools, the role of a school counselor is more important than ever. Today’s school counselors are responsible for much more than helping students with their course schedules or college applications. They also assist with emotional and social development, provide guidance on academic achievement and play an integral role in a school’s educational team.

If you are interested in learning how to become a school counselor, you will need to fulfill educational requirements, consider internship opportunities and in some cases, pass a licensing exam. You’ll also need to develop strong analytical, interpersonal and communication skills.

What to Study to Become a School Counselor

Students who are considering a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program with a focus on working in a K-12 learning environment will need to complete foundational and core classes.

In addition to becoming familiar with emerging and established theories of counseling, students will also study how to use statistical modeling to help them monitor students’ progress and evaluate the  effectiveness of a school’s counseling program.

Completing coursework in life span development will also be necessary, as this will help future school counselors understand the effects of crisis and trauma across age groups. This class will also enable aspiring school counselors develop a greater perspective on the types of changes and transitions that take place throughout a student’s life.

Consider a School Counseling Internship

Although an internship is not always necessary, many public school systems require it. In addition to allowing future counselors to perform most, if not all of the position’s usual duties, internships help students develop and practice their counseling skills. This includes relating to diverse student populations, providing classroom guidance and assessing students’ risk of self harm.

School Counselor Duties and Responsibilities

Individuals who are exploring how to become a school counselor should know that the position  includes myriad responsibilities, including but not limited to counseling students, communicating with parents and teachers, and evaluating the effectiveness of a school’s counseling program.

  • Counseling Students: One of the primary functions of a school counselor involves counseling students, either one-on-one or in a group setting. In some cases, the objective is to help students establish academic goals, while in others, counselors will work to help students resolve problems with friends, classmates or their personal lives.
  • Collaborate with Parents and Teachers: School counselors occasionally work with parents and teachers in developing strategies to help students with learning difficulties. They may also need to communicate directly with parents and teachers if they determine a student is having behavioral or mental health issues.
  • Monitor Effectiveness of the Counseling Program: Counselors must monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of their school’s counseling program to ensure it’s as successful as it can be. In many cases, this can be accomplished by measuring specific data, such as absenteeism and discipline referrals against the school’s target goals. If they determine that one or more areas could use improvement, counselors present their findings to the principal or school board for consideration.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements for school counselors are different from the requirements to obtain a teaching credential, although there are some commonalities. For example, most states require school counselors possess a master’s degree in a related field, such as psychology or school counseling.

In addition, much like the requirement to obtain a teaching credential, aspiring counselors may be mandated to pass the Praxis I and/or Praxis II exams. Arkansas, Colorado and Delaware are among the states that require this. The American School Counselor Association website provides a full directory of state licensing requirements. However, the association suggests that aspiring school counselors also check with the education department of the state in which they plan to work.

Skills School Counselors Need

Students who enroll in a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) program will find the coursework has been designed to develop several key skills that will help them be successful.

  • Analytical Skills: School counselors need to hear, understand and carefully consider information that students communicate to them. Strong analytical skills will help counselors evaluate students’ problems and suggest solutions.
  • Compassion: A school counselor must demonstrate kindness and empathy. Students won’t feel comfortable if they don’t feel the counselor understands their perspective and cares about helping them solve their problems.
  • Interpersonal Skills: School counselors must be able to connect with colleagues, students and parents; develop rapport; and earn trust. Developing strong interpersonal skills will help.
  • Communication Skills: Listening, reading and writing skills are critical for individuals who are interested in learning how to become a school counselor. Aspiring counselors will need to be able to receive and process information; discuss problems; and suggest solutions in a clear, concise and effective manner.

Projected Demand and Salaries for School Counselors

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that the job outlook for school counselors is favorable. Employment is projected to grow by 13% through 2026, which is faster than the forecast for all other occupations.

As of May 2018, the median annual salary for school and career counselors was reported as $56,310. Those earning in the top 10% indicated they received an annual income of more than $94,690. Most school counselors work full time and do not work when school is not in session.

Your Path to Become a School Counselor Starts Today

Aspiring school counselors are likely to find that completion of a graduate degree, such as the Wake Forest University Online Master’s in Counseling (MAC) can help them achieve their professional goal.

Upon completion of the program, graduates are confident and eager to serve the unique needs of children, while working collaboratively with their parents and educators. Discover how an online MAC from Wake Forest University can prepare you for this rewarding career.


Recommended Reading

What to Expect in Counseling Courses

How Counselors Help Students Cope with Traumatic Events

Counseling, Social Work and Psychology: What’s the Difference?



American School Counselor Association, School Counseling Data Specialist

American School Counselor Association, Role of the School Counselor

American School Counselor Association, “Types of Data to Measure School Counseling Program Success

Wake Forest University, Online Master of Counseling Curriculum

Wake Forest University, 5 Responsibilities of the School Counselor