Helping Students Thrive: The Role of a School Counselor

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On the surface, school counselors help students prepare for success in school and their future jobs. Dig a little bit deeper, however, and it becomes clear that the role of a school counselor is substantially more complex. Professionals in this field must have a deep understanding of human behavior, social and cultural dynamics, career development and a variety of other elements involved in educating young people. Earning a master’s in school counseling can provide a strong foundation for those who are interested in pursuing this complex but satisfying career.

The Position Defined

School counselors work with students to develop various academic and social skills that can translate to better grades, stronger friendships, improved behavior and other positive outcomes. The specific duties of school counselors depend on the educational settings in which they work. For instance, an elementary school counselor may meet with parents or guardians to address their children’s strengths, behavioral issues or special needs. Middle school counselors may guide students through tough transitional years by helping them establish supportive communities comprising their parents, teachers and friends. High school counselors may direct students to think more seriously about their academic and professional options as they prepare for graduation.

Because different students have different needs, no two days are identical in a school counselor’s work life. However, this variety tends to be one of the reasons why the position is one of the most intriguing and satisfying positions in the education field.

Key Roles of School Counselors

School counselors have several important responsibilities associated with their efforts to create supportive learning environments that position students for future success.

Human Growth and Development

Students are in a constant state of physical, mental and emotional growth. School counselors help them navigate through these confusing times. Leveraging their understanding of human development stages, counselors may help design academic programs and projects that complement a student’s individual behavior patterns and interests.

Social and Cultural Foundations

School counselors must have a firm grasp of the social and cultural metrics that shape behaviors and relationships within the school environment. Counselors are trained to recognize issues that may hinder a student’s ability to thrive, such as bullying, academic struggles and conflicts with friends. They help students overcome these challenges by implementing support programs designed to build confidence, positivity and self-worth.

Career and Lifestyle Development

School counselors, particularly high school counselors, are typically charged with helping students prepare for life beyond school walls. They can help students identify and nurture specific strengths and interests. They can also help correct weaknesses that can persist later in life, such as poor time management or a lack of organization. Counselors often collaborate with students to develop plans for achieving specific academic and career goals. These plans can also help establish responsible lifestyle habits that benefit students as they venture into the real world.

Research and Program Evaluation

School counselors routinely assess school programs to ensure that they are meeting students’ needs. These evaluations typically involve collaboration with students, parents, teachers and administrators, and their goal is to identify potential stumbling blocks within a curriculum that could impede a student’s progress toward graduation and a career. Counselors then work with other school stakeholders to develop strategies for closing these gaps and preparing students for the challenges ahead.

Helping Relationships

At its core, the role of a school counselor is to cultivate trusting relationships. These connections define the dynamics among counselors, students and parents. Counselors sometimes participate in developing parenting and bonding strategies to form stronger connections within a student’s family. This element can be particularly helpful for teenagers as they go through dramatic developmental changes.

The Importance of an Advanced Degree

School counselors are typically required to have a master’s degree, either in school counseling or a related field. They must also have a state-issued credential, and some states require future school counselors to have classroom teaching experience before they issue this credential.

However, attaining an advanced degree, such as a master’s in school counseling, does more than fulfill a requirement. A graduate-level curriculum provides students with more robust knowledge of the fundamental components of the role of a school counselor. Master’s programs can also help students improve their interpersonal, analytical, listening and speaking skills, which are essential for success within the profession.

A Fulfilling Career

School counselors make a difference in the lives of young people on a more personal level compared with many other education professionals. In addition to guiding students’ paths through school and beyond, they can also help young people develop as a whole — personally, academically and professionally. The position entails great responsibility, but it can also lead to substantial rewards.

Learn More

The online master’s in school counseling program at Wake Forest University teaches students valuable skills that can help fuel success in a number of possible career fields. The 60-hour online degree program offers clinical instruction through practicum and internship experiences, as well as advanced therapeutic techniques.

If you are interested in becoming a catalyst for positive change in students’ lives, learn more about how Wake Forest University can help prepare you to achieve your professional goals.


Recommended Readings
How to Become a College Counselor
What to Expect in Counseling Courses
How to Get a Counseling Degree

American School Counselor Association, “The Role of the School Counselor”
Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors
KidsHealth, School Counselors
U.S. News & World Report: “3 Ways High School Counselors Can Help Students, Parents”
Wake Forest University, Online Master’s in Counseling and Human Services