Become a School Counselor or Guidance Counselor

Becoming a school counselor is well worth the investment of time, money and resources it takes to embark upon a rewarding vocation that will allow you to make a lasting impact on students throughout their academic careers.

U.S. News & World Report ranked school counselors 6th in its Best Social Services Jobs and 59th in its list of 100 Best Jobs in 2023, based on criteria that includes “higher salaries, ample open positions and opportunities for promotion,” all of which are commonly valued among job seekers.

In addition to these benefits, school counselors experience high job satisfaction as they have the honor and responsibility of making a difference in the lives of students at all levels, especially students of color and students from low-income families. School counselors are integral to successful educational outcomes and positive student experiences.

To become a school counselor, you must have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling or a related field. Most states require that school counselors have a master’s degree in school counseling, but in some states you can earn your certification after obtaining a master’s degree in a related field.

students talking in group setting

Below are a few schools offering associate and bachelor degree programs in human services, psychology and education and master’s degree programs in school counseling.

What Does a School Counselor Do?

School counselors’ responsibilities vary depending on the grade level and age of their students, their state and their school district, but all school counselors and guidance counselors are trained and qualified to support students’ educational success, social and emotional problems, and career readiness.

In an excerpt from her book, “Fulfilling the Promise: Reimagining School Counseling to Advance Student Success,” Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Mandy Savitz-Romer emphasized the change of the title “guidance counselor” to “school counselor,” explaining that the title shift matched the evolution of the role.

According to Savitz-Romer, school counselors “use data to identify students at risk of dropping out, refer students for intensive mental health support and treatment, implement positive behavioral support programs, screen students for signs of suicide, and perform a host of other responsibilities that extend well beyond career development.”

These professionals must now support students in the wake of school shootings, gender identity issues, substance use disorders and social and mental health issues that have become commonplace in the 21st Century in addition to guiding students in their decisions about college and career planning.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists the following duties for school counselors:

  • Help students understand and overcome social or behavioral challenges
  • Analyze data to identify factors, such as poor attendance, that negatively affect academic performance
  • Advise individuals and small groups based on their needs
  • Work with students to develop skills that support learning, such as effective time management and study habits
  • Evaluate students’ abilities and interests through aptitude assessments and interviews
  • Collaborate with teachers and families to help students plan academic, career, and social goals
  • Teach students and school staff about specific topics such as bullying and drug use
  • Present options to students for educational or vocational plans after graduation
  • Maintain records as required
  • Report cases of possible neglect or abuse and refer students and parents to resources for additional support

The expanding and essential role of school counselors is needed across elementary, middle and high schools, colleges, universities and educational services.

Requirements for Becoming a School Counselor

Each state has its own requirements for school counselors, but most require a bachelor’s and master’s degree from an accredited college. Typically, students must complete coursework in school counseling, including a supervised practicum and internship to be eligible for employment as a school counselor.

Students must also pass a teacher certification exam, such as Praxis, the National Evaluation Series (NES), or another state-level test.

According to the American School Counsel Association (ASCA), required courses for certification in most states include topics such as human growth and development, individual and group counseling, and social and cultural foundations.

The ASCA also recommends contacting the education department in your state — or the state where you wish to work — to learn more about the process of becoming a school counselor or guidance counselor and its continuing education requirements.

How Much Money Does a School Counselor Make?

School counselor and guidance counselor salaries vary depending on location and industry.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for school counselors was $60,510 in May 2021, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $98,190.

Public and private elementary and secondary schools pay the highest wages for school counselors. At a median annual wage of $63,460, these industries pay roughly 25 percent more than junior colleges, colleges and universities.

It’s important to keep in mind that school counselors may not work during school breaks.

diverse students meeting with counselor

The states with the highest wages are:

  • California
  • Washington
  • Massachusetts
  • New Jersey
  • Connecticut

In addition to having the highest wages, California employs the most school counselors, with 36,440 workers currently employed in the Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors occupational category.

However, the concentration of school counselor jobs is higher in New Hampshire, Vermont, Delaware, Missouri and South Carolina, where annual mean wages range from $52,590 to $66,310. This means, simply, that there are more school counselor jobs per 1,000 jobs in these states than there are per 1,000 jobs throughout the nation.

Metropolitan areas also pay higher wages in general than nonmetropolitan areas.

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Job Outlook and Opportunities

The BLS expects the field for school counselors and guidance counselors to grow by 10 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average growth rate for all jobs in the United States and faster than similar occupations in the same environment.

The bureau projects 31,000 jobs to open per year in that time frame, resulting in 368,400 school counselors and career advisors in 2031. This estimate aligns with the ASCA’s recommendation that schools should have one school counselor per 250 students and its position that the United States needs more school counselors.

people with direction, up

Related Jobs

Occupations that are similar to school counselors include elementary, middle school and high school teachers, social work professionals, and psychologists and specialized counselors.

Although the BLS notes that these roles require skills and education similar to those of school counselors and guidance counselors, they differ from school counselors in profound ways.

In the words of the ASCA’s 2023 School Counselor of the Year, Meredith Lindsey Draughn, the rewards of being a school counselor come from the opportunity to be “a consistent, supportive part of student’s lives through their highest highs and their lowest lows.”

This privilege is unique to school counselors and produces a singular and unparalleled level of career satisfaction.

student high fiving his counselor

You’ve taken the first step toward becoming a school counselor, so don’t stop now! Contact schools with school counseling programs and speak with representatives who can give you more information. It is also encouraged to speak with school counselors in your area by contacting local school districts.