How to Become a School Counselor

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School councilor speaking to a student in a class room


When educating children, it is important to ensure that their growth and development are being guided by skilled and knowledgeable adults. School counselors specialize in helping students develop their social, emotional and academic aptitude. It follows then, that learning how to become a school counselor should be a priority for individuals who wish to pursue careers that involve advocating for the success of young people.

What is The Role of School Counselors?

School counselors are educators who have studied diligently to develop the specialized skills and competencies to address the needs of young students. School counselors mostly work in elementary schools, junior high schools and high schools. In these institutions, they assess students using an array of tools including aptitude tests, direct interviews and counseling sessions. Through these assessments, counselors can often find the root cause of problems that may negatively impact academic performance, and then they can begin to develop a solution. 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 mitigating factors or family life changes.

How to Become a School Counselor

School counselors work with young people whose minds, according to accepted scientific findings, are not fully developed yet. Because of this, it is 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 whether their personal goals are aligned with a career that involves working closely with young people. Individuals who lack patience and communication skills may not be best suited for the occupation. But those who do have these essentials 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 that can only be attained by students who have earned a Master’s 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.

The Different Types Of School Counselors

As children age, their needs tend to evolve. 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. Following are some of the basic duties common to each type of school counselor, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

  • Elementary School Counselor – Counselors who work with elementary school students emphasize the development of skills like decision-making and studying, which students can use to enhance their 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, 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 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 regarding colleges or vocational training programs. High school counselors should also be capable of helping students create resumes, research jobs and prepare for job interviews.

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, such as 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. Veteran 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 offering the opportunity to change students’ lives, the profession is one that is traditionally well compensated. The BLS reports the median annual salary earned by elementary and secondary school counselors working in state, local or private institutions is $62,990. This income level — plus the fact that employment of school counselors is expected to grow by 13 percent from 2016 to 2026 — shows that now is an excellent time to consider earning a Master’s in Counseling degree.

Learn More

The online Master’s 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 degree offers clinical instruction through practicum and internship experiences, as well as advanced therapeutic techniques.

If you are 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 Readings

How to Become a College Counselor
Picking the Right Degree for You: Master of Social Work (MSW) vs. Master’s in Counseling
What to Expect in Counseling Courses


American School Counselor Association, ASCA School Counselor Competencies
American School Counselor Association, The Role of the School Counselor
Bureau of Labor Statistics