Interested in helping others and have a passion for working in an academic environment? A career as a guidance counselor can be rewarding as you help student address academic, social, and career concerns and goals. Learn what you need to know on your journey to become a school counselor.

School counselors assist students in addressing both academic and social concerns. They may provide services to all students in a building or be assigned to work with specific individuals. A school counselor career typically involves the following:

  • Meeting with students to assess skills, create goals and map out strategies to achieve those goals
  • Identifying potential barriers to student success and working with parents and teachers to address them
  • Leading individual or small group sessions to teach skills such as organization and time management
  • Notifying authorities of potential cases of abuse or neglect

A school counselor may find their job duties vary depending on the age of the students they serve:

  • Elementary school counselors may be just as likely to meet with parents as with students as they work to ensure a child's academic and emotional needs are being met.
  • Middle school counselors may still meet regularly with parents, but they also help students to gain the independence needed to successful transition to high school.
  • High school counselors spend a significant amount of time helping students with career readiness. They help students select the right classes for their career goals and may assist with preparing college applications and resumes.

How to Become a School Counselor

If you want to become a guidance counselor in a school, you'll need to be prepared to earn an advanced degree. Although career paths may vary, the following steps are typical for those becoming a school counselor:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. The first step toward a guidance counselor career is to earn a four-year degree. Majors such as counseling and psychology are popular choices for those planning to become a school counselor. However, in some states, a teaching degree is required.
  2. Earn a master's degree. Almost all states require public school counselors have a master's degree in school counseling or a related field. These degree programs can be completed via online courses at many colleges and universities.
  3. Gain necessary experience. Depending on your state, you may have to complete a supervised internship or have other experience before you can become certified to work independently. Some school counselor degree requirements include an internship so you may be able to complete this step while you're still in school.
  4. Obtain state certification. Beyond having a school counselor degree, all states have a form of certification, licensure or endorsement for those working in public schools. State laws vary, but they may include a background check, exam or other requirements.

Skills and Abilities Needed for a School Counselor Career

Part of learning how to become a school counselor is understanding the specific skills and abilities required by the job. Here's a look at what those working in the field need in order to have a successful career:

  • Social Perceptiveness: Children aren't always forthcoming with their concerns and questions. A school counselor needs to be able to perceive when the information they receive may be incomplete.
  • Reading Comprehension: School counselors often collaborate with parents and other professionals to help a student succeed. They need to be able to read and understand emails, reports and evaluations to do their work effectively.
  • Active Listening: Whether they are talking to adults or children, school counselors must give their full attention and be able to ask appropriate clarifying questions.
  • Speaking: Not only do school counselors have to speak directly to students, parents and teachers, but they may be called upon to give presentations to small groups or in classrooms.
  • Written Expression: Record-keeping and communication with others plays a significant role in within a school counselor career, and therefore, excellent writing ability is critical.

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Article Sources
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, School and Career Counselors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed July 2018,
  • State Certification Requirements, American School Counselor Association, Accessed July 2018,
  • Educational, Guidance, School and Vocational Counselors, O*Net OnLine, Accessed July 2018,