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How to Become a School Counselor

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School counselors work to empower elementary and middle and high school students as they pursue their education. They develop and implement counseling programs that address students' social and academic weaknesses, and help them make sound college and career choices. This career is suitable for individuals with an advanced degree in counseling who are passionate about influencing the lives of young people.

Obtaining the Degrees

Many employers typically hire school counselors with a master’s degree in counseling, educational psychology, child development or a closely related field. These programs cover topics such as parent communication, individual and group counseling, program evaluation and academic development. Since students are required to complete supervised internships, they graduate equipped with some hands-on work experience. Individuals who are looking to pursue any of these graduate programs must hold a bachelor’s degree in fields such as education, counseling, psychology or human services.

Developing Useful Skills

The work of school counselors primarily revolves around interacting with students and providing advice. As such, great speaking and listening skills are required in order to thrive in the position. When conducting a group counseling session, for example, counselors need to give full attention to the issues students raise, and respond in a clear and understandable manner. Effective school counseling calls for collaboration with educators, behavioral therapists, parents and administrators. To excel in this role, strong teamwork skills are mandatory. Because counselors often deal with students who are facing difficulties such as parent separation, they need compassion and empathy to give them appropriate support.

Getting Licensed

School counselors must hold a state-specific license or certificate to practice. Although licensing requirements vary among states, many require a graduate degree in counseling and two years of teaching or child advocacy experience, or a minimum of 600 hours working under a licensed counselor. Applicants must pass a written examination to obtain a license. Counselors can also earn the National Board for Certified Counselors' National Certified School Counselor credential to improve their employment and career progression prospects.

Getting Ahead

The primary employers of schools counselors include private and public elementary, middle and high schools. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 12 percent job growth for school counselors between 2012 and 2022 -- slightly better than the 11 percent average for all occupations. Ambitious counselors can pursue a graduate degree in education leadership to secure administrative positions, such as school principal, or a doctoral degree in counseling to become university instructors.


Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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