How to become a career guidance counselor
Career guidance counselors aim to help people looking to find a career path where they can thrive. From the worker displaced by layoffs to the soon-to-be or new college graduate looking to enter the professional world, career counselors use a variety of tools and methods to help potential workers determine and meet their professional goals.
What do guidance counselors do?
Working in places such as colleges, schools, career centers and private practices, career or school guidance counselors help students and clients work toward employment goals that best fit their capabilities. Here's what their services typically entail:
- Using aptitude and achievement assessments to help students and clients evaluate their interests, skills and abilities
- Evaluating backgrounds, education and training to help develop realistic career goals
- Helping students and clients learn job search skills, such as interviewing and networking
- Advising on how to resolve problems in the workplace, such as conflicts with bosses or coworkers
- Guiding students and clients through making decisions about their careers, such as choosing a new profession and the type of degree to pursue
Essentially, if a student needs help answering the question "what do you want to do with your life?", career guidance counselors can help.
How to become a guidance counselor
Depending on your background, steps to become a career counselor can vary. In general, here's what you need to do to embark on this career path:
1. Graduate high school or earn a high school education
2. Complete a bachelor's degree program
- A specific major may not be required, but consider a field such a psychology, or check out top schools for counseling degrees
3. Verify the coursework and major you'll need for admission to a master's program
- Many master's degree programs require students to have a certain minimum GPA to be admitted
4. Complete a master's degree program
- According to The Princeton Review, many career counselors have a master's degree in mental health, psychology or community services
- Some schools offer specific master's degrees in career counseling
- Some places of employment might require the master's degree to be in counseling with an emphasis on career development
5. Obtain licensure
- Earning a license, according to the National Board of Certified Counselors, protects the general public by defining who is and who is not defined as a professional career guidance counselor.
- Note that this often includes passing a background check and exam
- Licensure might not be required in all work settings, but in private practice, career guidance counselors are generally required to be licensed according to jurisdictional requirements
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that licensure typically requires a master's degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience
6. Maintain license by completing continuing education requirements
Career guidance counselor salary
For statistical purposes, the BLS places career counselors under the umbrella of educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors. For that employment category, the mean annual salary nationally was $58,620 in 2017. Also as of 2017, the five top-paying states for these positions were:
- New Jersey: $72,190
- Alaska: $69,820
- California: $68,000
- New York: $67,100
- Massachusetts: $66,640
Check out the visual guide below to learn more about helping others achieve their career goals and aspirations, get details on where career counselors work and how much money they earn, and see a complete list of sources.
National Certification and State Licensure, National Board for Certified Counselors,
Occupational Employment and Wages: Educational, Guidance, School and Vocational Counselors, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2017,
School and Career Counselors, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2017,