How to Become a School Counselor

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A school counselor and student work at a desk.

The role of school counselors dates back to the early 1900s, according to the American School Counselor Association. Although it originally focused on vocational guidance, the role shifted by 1920 to providing personal guidance for students. Now, career counselors and school counselors are usually separate roles, with school counselors focusing on helping students develop their social, emotional and academic aptitude.

Drawing from an online master’s in school counseling and professional experience, school counselors help students navigate their lives and help shepherd them into adulthood. Learning how to become a school counselor should be a priority for individuals who wish to pursue a career that involves advocating for the success of young people.

What Do School Counselors Do?

School counselors are educators who have studied diligently to develop the specialized skills to address the needs of young students. School counselors mostly work in elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.

In these institutions, they assess students by using tools including aptitude tests, direct interviews and counseling sessions. Through these assessments, counselors can often identify the root cause of problems that may negatively impact academic performance and then begin to develop solutions. For example, if a student is frequently sleeping in class, the counselor might be inclined to look into that student’s home life to determine related factors or family life changes.

The following are typical examples of what a school counselor does on a daily basis:

  • Help students overcome social or behavioral challenges
  • Advise students one-on-one or in small groups
  • Help students develop good habits and skills that will support their learning in the classroom
  • Analyze data and identify the main factors that negatively impact learning, such as absenteeism and discipline referrals
  • Identify students’ abilities and interests using specialized aptitude tests
  • Work with teachers and the families of students to help students plan their academic and social goals
  • Discuss problems that occur within schools, such as bullying or peer pressure
  • Maintain student records

The school counselor’s role is both proactive and reactive. School counselors use data, analysis and experience to anticipate or discover what may impact students’ learning experience. They also address students’ social or academic problems as they arise.

Becoming a School Counselor

School counselors work with young people whose minds, according to accepted scientific findings, are not yet fully developed. Because of this, it’s critical that school counselors are rigorously trained and educated before they enter the profession.

When deciding whether to become a school counselor, aspiring professionals should first consider if they can commit to a career that involves working closely with young people. Individuals who lack patience, empathy and interpersonal skills may not be best suited for this occupation. But those who do have these essential skills — along with a passion for helping shape young lives — can start by earning an undergraduate degree in a human services discipline such as counseling, education or psychology.

Becoming a school counselor also requires a state-issued credential (license, endorsement or certification) that can only be attained by first earning a master’s degree in school counseling. To become licensed, graduates are also required to complete an internship or practicum that is supervised by a licensed professional school counselor. After that, candidates must pass a test to verify their level of competency.

In addition to the previous requirements, some states may also request that applicants hold a teaching license or have at least one to two years of classroom teaching experience. School counselors may also be required to take the Praxis I and Praxis II exams to demonstrate their teaching ability.

Types of School Counselors

As children age, their needs, personalities and behaviors evolve. Students are also developing cognitively, which is why they learn at different rates and have different areas of proficiency. To ensure that students of differing ages have access to counselors who understand their common issues, schools usually have a set of counselors for each age group.

Different types of counselors focus on distinct student demographics and work in different environments. The following are some of the basic duties common to each type of school counselor, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Elementary School Counselor

Counselors who work with elementary school students emphasize the development of skills such as decision-making and studying, which can help enhance students’ social lives and academic performance. Elementary school counselors also work with teachers, administrators and parents to ensure lesson plans and instructional techniques meet the needs of students in this age group.

Middle School Counselor

Middle school students, usually defined as being between the ages of 12 and 15, are transitioning into adolescence. In this age range, middle school counselors still help students improve academically, but a significant level of focus is placed on enabling students to cope with mental and emotional struggles. The priority is to promote the skills that students will need to develop a supportive community of friends, family members and mentors as they grow older.

High School Counselor

High school counselors offer support and guidance to students who are starting to plan for their adult futures and careers. To this end, they offer many services, such as providing application information for colleges or vocational training programs. High school counselors should also be capable of helping students create resumes, research jobs and prepare for job interviews. However, some high schools are able to provide students with a career counselor that is solely focused on helping students enter the job market.

Career Advancement for School Counselors

Anyone wondering how to become a school counselor may also be interested in knowing whether they may qualify for related jobs, including those that don’t revolve entirely around providing counseling services. Counselors who have several years of experience may have the option to use their expertise to train future generations of school counselors. Experienced school counselors may also be able to transition into administrative roles, which involve coordinating the activities of counselors working within a single school or throughout a school district.

Returning to school to become a school counselor can be a professionally and emotionally rewarding decision. In addition to providing an opportunity to change students’ lives, the profession is traditionally well compensated.

School and career counselors and advisors earned a median annual wage of $60,500 in 2021, according to the BLS. Additionally, it reports that job opportunities are projected to grow by 11% from 2020 to 2030, which is faster than the average for the U.S. job market as a whole.

Considering the versatility of a counseling degree and the growth of these types of roles, now is an excellent time to consider earning a master’s in counseling.

Work Toward Your Career as a School Counselor

Becoming a school counselor begins with a passion for working with young people and the desire to make a positive impact in their lives. Through their important work, school counselors help children of all ages overcome academic and social problems. However, an advanced education is typically needed before assuming this exciting and rewarding role.

The online Master of Arts in Counseling program at Wake Forest University teaches students valuable skills that can help fuel success in a number of possible career fields, including school counseling. The 60-hour online master’s in school counseling program offers counseling courses and clinical instruction through practicum and internship experiences. It also covers advanced therapeutic techniques in eight different areas, including human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, and helping relationships.

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

Recommended Reading:

How to Become a College Counselor

The Role of a School Counselor After a School Shooting

What is Human Growth and Development?


American School Counselor Association, About ASCA

American School Counselor Association, Embrace the Past, Welcome the Future: A Brief History of School Counseling

ETS, Prepare for Your Teaching Career with the Praxis Tests

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors