How to become a school counselor

Written by Kate Lopaze

School counselors are some of the most important professionals in the educational system. They can help bridge the gap between personal and educational issues for students and help students navigate life issues throughout their school careers. If you’re interested in both psychology and teaching, it can be a fulfilling career path.

What does a school counselor do?

School counselors (often referred to as guidance counselors as well) are educational administrative professionals who work with students to assist them on a variety of issues that can affect a student’s school day. Issues can range from class scheduling, to behavioral issues, to issues at home. Any given group of students’ needs are going to be diverse, and so the school counselor must be a versatile professional.

School counselors are tasked with supporting students and promoting positive academic, social, and personal development. Their responsibilities may include:

  • Meeting with students one-on-one or in groups
  • Assisting with college applications, job applications, and financial aid applications
  • Counseling students on social, academic, or emotional problems
  • Meeting with parents as necessary
  • Facilitating peer counseling programs
  • Mediating conflicts between students, or between students and staff
  • Facilitating help with personal problems like substance abuse, eating disorders, bullying, or other personal issues students may have
  • Referring students to social or emotional help resources like psychologists, mental health professionals, or social workers
  • Advocating for student well-being

School counselors work at all levels, from elementary school up through high school. Like teachers, school counselors work primarily during the school day and school year, but because there is an administrative component to the job there may be after school or year-round work related to the job. School counselors work in public schools, private schools, or other facilities that have educational components.

What skills do school counselors need?

Because this is a role that combines the academic needs of teaching with the personal skills of a psychologist, the skill set for school counselors is heavy on people skills and understanding.

Observational Skills: School counselors need to be able to determine issues and potential solutions, even if they’re not getting direct information from students. That means being able to piece together academic, social, or behavioral problems, or at least being able to assess students’ needs accurately.

Listening Skills: Much of a school counselor’s job is talking with students, determining what’s wrong, and working with them to find a solution (or more help). Active listening skills are key in helping students, who may have varying levels of communication skills.

Conflict Resolution Skills: Many students end up in a school counselor’s office because they need help resolving issues—whether that’s in the classroom, at home, or with other students. A school counselor needs to be well-versed in techniques for opening up communication, and finding healthy ways to resolve disputes.

Communication Skills: School counselors communicate with a number of different people: students, families, school colleagues and staff, and others. Clear, concise writing and speaking are very important, as is a strong sense of audience-appropriate communication.

Organizational Skills: School counselors may be working with a number of different students on a diverse range of issues, from college applications to bullying. It’s essential for the counselor to be able to keep information properly organized, so they can help meet students’ needs.

Discretion: School counselors can be privy to all sorts of private information about students, and so they need to be discreet.

What do you need to become a school counselor?

Most school counselor jobs require, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or a related subject. School counselors typically also have a master’s degree specifically in school counseling. Most states require some form of licensing, so make sure you know what your own state’s requirements are for school counselors.

How much do school counselors make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school counselors make a median annual salary of $54,560 per year.

What’s the outlook for school counselors?

Like most educational careers, this is a path that will continue to grow as student bodies increase and student needs get more complex and diverse. The BLS anticipates that the demand for school counselors will grow by 11% by 2026, which is faster than average for all jobs.

If you’ve got a background in psychology (or are thinking about one) and have an interest in working with students, then becoming a school counselor could be the right educational career path for you. Good luck!

About the author

Kate Lopaze

Kate Lopaze is a writer, editor, and digital publishing professional based in New York City. A graduate of the University of Connecticut and Emerson College with degrees in English and publishing, she is passionate about books, baseball, and pop culture (though not necessarily in that order), and lives in Brooklyn with her dog.