School counselors play a vital role in our educational systems. They support future college students on their journeys and prepare K-12 students for future successes beyond the school environment.
Now is the perfect time to enter this impactful career field, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting an 11% job growth in the coming decade! To be hired in most states, you’ll need a Master’s Degree in School Counseling plus typically a license or certification.
Many excellent schools offer high-quality, affordable training programs to get you qualified for this empowering career. If you’re ready to make a difference in the lives of America’s youth, here’s the ultimate guide to earning your Master’s Degree in School Counseling.Click Here to See the Best Colleges in the US
Ranked among the Best Online Programs for Grad Education by U.S. News & World Report, Mizzou’s online Master of Education in School Counseling program is focused on the “science-practitioner model” made popular by Dr. Norm Gysbers, and hailed as “one of the foremost scholars of our time in school counseling.”
Capella University offers 8 School Counseling degree programs. It's a very large, private for-profit, four-year university in a large city. In 2020, 233 School Counseling students graduated with students earning 203 Master's degrees, 18 Doctoral degrees, and 12 Certificates.
Nestled away in Olathe, Kansas, this KSU campus branch offers a 48-credit hour M.S. in School Counseling in a smaller, more supportive environment that integrates school experiences and developmental activities. Students complete a professional portfolio that can help them stand out during job applications.
UWG’s versatile 60-credit hour Master’s of Education in Professional Counseling can be tailored to school counseling or clinical and mental health counseling. Accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, courses are held at the Carrollton Campus, with ~1/3 online and ~1/3 taught in a hybrid fashion.
While some colleges only offer a generalized curriculum, several allow for specialization. A few popular specializations include:
Earning your Master’s in School Counseling opens the doors to several career paths. According to BLS, approximately 44% of all counseling degree graduates opt to work in K-12 settings, either for public or private schools. Another 35% elect to work in higher education, at community colleges, vocational schools, or universities.1 A Master’s Degree in School Counseling gives grads a wealth of knowledge and a wide range of critical skills and strategies:
BLS includes non-school counseling degrees in their statistics, noting that other counselors serve the public in the healthcare and social assistance sector or at other local or state-level agencies. A small fraction of all counselors, including school counselors, work as self-employed entrepreneurs!
If you’re wondering how much a school counselor makes, know that it can vary considerably. BLS lists the median annual wage as $58,1201. Payscale notes a median yearly salary of $51,102.
Now let’s take a look at the broader range. BLS cites a range from under $35,620 to over $97,910, pointing out that workers in the K-12 arena earn more than their peers who work in colleges. Factors that impact earnings include the following:
The job outlook for school counselors is projected to grow 8% in the coming years, which is twice the average rate of all jobs nationally.1 That said, nobody has a crystal ball, so projections are not a guarantee of future employment.
One thing that won’t change? Students will still keep going to school, one way or another! Thus, they’ll need motivated, highly-trained counselors to usher them along on their educational journeys.
Now let’s examine a few typical school counseling career paths, their median salaries, and projected job growth rates.
|Career||Salary||Projected Job Growth (2020-2030)||About the Position|
|Elementary School Counselor||$50,313||11%||Works with diverse groups of young children, as well as teachers and school administrators in K-5 settings. Addresses health, development, and learning concerns with parents. Offers advice on behavior, communication skills, study, and goal setting.|
|Middle School Counselor||$58,488||11%||Works with grades 6-8, developing success strategies for school and life during this often emotionally turbulent phase of students’ lives. Collaborates with staff, leadership, and parents to discuss relevant issues such as student socialization, substance abuse awareness, career ideas, and pertinent academic topics.|
|High School Counselor||$53,218||11%||Assists adolescent students as they prepare for life after K-12. Helps build strong study habits, plan for academic success, and evaluate suitable career options based on aptitude and interest. Guides students through college application processes. Addresses areas of concern with students, parents, and relevant school parties.|
|Post-Secondary School Counselor||$51,660||11%||May work as psychological or educational counselors (i.e., academic advisors). Academic advisors work with students to select suitable classes and stay on track to graduate. Psychological counselors help students tackle mental health challenges impacting academic success. Their median pay may be higher (~$75,760).|
There are pros and cons to every decision, and degrees are no exception. Many who enter the world of education are so eager to jump in that they don’t consider the long-term economic ramifications of their choices.
For instance, yes, a school counseling degree may be a faster way to begin working with students than becoming a School Psychologist with an Education Specialist (EdS) degree. However, a qualified School Psychologist could earn tens of thousands of dollars more per year!
The biggest “pro” here is this—if you’re sure you’re ready to help children, adolescents, or young adults succeed in an academic setting, you really can’t beat a Master’s in School Counseling! Another pro? You might get a nice, long break during summers when school is out!
Every school is different, but here are a few of the standard prerequisites you’ll need to meet.
Most Master’s in School Counseling programs update their curricula regularly to stay aligned with the latest research and guidance set forth by professional organizations in the field. Revised or new classes are also offered to fill the gap when areas are identified as deficient in national surveys.
A few sample courses listed by Capella University include:3
Marquette University lists course topics such as “human development, psychopathology, research, assessment, theories of counseling, ethical and legal issues as well as individual, group and other school counseling interventions.”13
For those who put in the effort and study hard, you’ll gain several invaluable and applicable skills to put to work in your career. These might include:
School counselors put their knowledge and skills to use to change student lives and improve communities. They also use them to jumpstart their careers, which is a good thing!
Counselors often complete a doctoral degree or additional certifications to advance to new roles with increased responsibilities. In such positions, they can make broader, more sweeping changes at higher levels.
On average, it takes 2 to 2 1/2 years to complete a Master’s Degree in School Counseling. Of course, many variables can impact the timeline.
The most significant variable is whether a student attends full-time or part-time. Going part-time can double your estimated completion time, turning two years into four. In fact, if you’re only able to take one class per term, it might take up to five or more. But don’t let that discourage you. Slow and steady wins the race!
Programs are all slightly different, and a few schools offer accelerated learning options to help you finish faster, such as Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s program which can be done in 12 months plus practicum.17
Online school counseling programs are especially keen on ensuring students can complete requirements in as little time as possible, however, most still require at least 24 months.
Many online students are super busy with other obligations such as work or family, but they work around those to pursue their advanced degrees. Online programs expedite the process by delivering lessons at your fingertips and eliminating the need to commute. Not having to radically alter your schedule allows you to take more courses per term!
Another factor that impacts the length of time it takes to graduate is previous education. Many students hold transferable grad credits, which, if accepted, can cut the timeline down by up to a few months. Check with the school and program if you have credits that could potentially be transferred.
Note: Transfer credits usually need to be relatively current to qualify, and there’s a cap to how many can be transferred. There’s no guarantee a program will accept transfer credits, so if you have a lot of them, shop around for programs that’ll take as many as possible.
School counselors working in a public school setting must hold a state-issued credential. Some states want counselors to be certified (or endorsed). Other states require a license. In both cases, workers must first complete their master’s degree and typically an internship (or practicum).
Those seeking licensure or certification must pass an exam and, oftentimes, a criminal background check. Every state is different, and many want practical teaching experience before they’ll grant a license.
Review the resources below to check out regional and state requirements for the positions you’ll be applying to. But remember—employers have differing requirements, too. Meeting all state requirements doesn’t automatically qualify you for every job.
The world of higher education has increasingly shifted to offer more distance learning opportunities. Online education reduces access barriers and makes learning more convenient for busy adults. If you’re interested in earning an accredited, online Master’s in School Counseling Degree, keep reading to find out everything you need to get started!
Some majors are far more conducive to online learning than others. STEM majors, for example, require ample hands-on learning in labs and workshops, making on-campus attendance more logical. By contrast, certain liberal arts degrees are taught via distance learning just as well as through traditional methods.
An online Master’s in School Counseling is a good degree to obtain online, though there are aspects of this degree requiring in-person practice. But in our current Zoom society, it is possible to do some of those classes online, too. Indeed, many schools offer virtually 100% online counseling programs, with only brief residencies and practicums required.
While traditional attendance is still quite popular, online higher ed options are just as well-recognized as their in-person counterparts. Meanwhile, there are unbeatable advantages to going online, such as being able to participate in a program that’s not in your state, having zero commute, and learning at your own pace.
Naturally, online students miss some of the live social components of in-person attendance, but at the end of the day, most adult learners just want to focus on getting their education so they can pursue the job they want.
When it comes to online learning, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Some programs offer synchronous courses that allow distance learners to attend lectures simultaneously with on-campus peers. More common are asynchronous courses, taught through prerecorded lectures that can be viewed anytime.
While online education is more convenient, some programs are taught via a hybrid method. Hybrid programs and courses integrate an online portion of the material into a traditional class.
Some schools offer compressed 7.5-week asynchronous courses online. Synchronous courses follow the same schedule as live classes, which are not usually compressed, so classes may run for 15-16 weeks. Summer classes may only be 10 to 12 weeks long.
A school counselor’s guidance can alter the trajectory of students’ lives forever. When you think about the long-term individual, familial, and societal ramifications of such work, it’s clear why school counselors require such a vast range of skills and an accredited Master of School Counseling degree. School counselors work to maximize educational outcomes for all students. To that end, common duties include:
What is the best degree for school counseling?
Most school counselors first earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, Counseling, or Psychology before obtaining their Master’s Degree in School Counseling or Educational Psychology.
Do school counselors make more than teachers?
Yes, holding a master’s degree can enable school counselors to earn more than some teachers.
How long does it take to become a school counselor?
Going full-time, it can take four years to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology, Education, or other related fields. You’ll add another two years for a Master’s Degree in School Counseling or Educational Psychology. Other factors include time to pass a licensing or certification exam.
What is the difference between a guidance counselor and a school counselor?
School counselor is a newer, broader term that embraces all the additional responsibilities that traditional guidance counseling has taken on over the years.
Is being a school counselor stressful?
It can be! School counselors are people, too, and are not immune to being overwhelmed with large numbers of cases, multiple responsibilities, and limited resources.
Is a school counselor a therapist?
No, school counselors aren’t therapists, but they do help students with emotional or behavioral problems. A good school counselor recognizes when a case is beyond the scope of their duties and will recommend appropriate resources.
Are school counselors considered mental health professionals?
Yes, school counselors with master’s or doctoral degrees are mental health professionals providing both mental health and academic services to school employers. This is not done via therapy but through counseling within a trust-based relationship.
What can I do with a Master’s in School Counseling?
People who obtain their Master’s degree in School Counseling work in private or public educational institutions, helping students with emotional and behavioral development and college or career choices.
Is a Master’s in School Counseling worth it?
Pursuing a Master’s Degree in School Counseling is a worthwhile career endeavor that lets you help guide children and young adults to success! It also has a good median annual salary and solid 8% job growth forecast.
What is the difference between a Master’s in Psychology and a Master’s in School Counseling?
Someone with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling primarily works in educational institutions, while those with a Master’s in Psychology often work in other places concerned with mental health.
Is it better to get a Master’s in Social Work or a Master’s in Counseling?
|School||Average Tuition||Student Teacher Ratio||Enrolled Students|
|Regent University Virginia Beach, VA||79 : 1||10,483|
|University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO||23 : 1||31,089|
|Capella University Minneapolis, MN||220 : 1||38,930|
|University of West Alabama Livingston, AL||50 : 1||5,734|
|Kansas State University Manhattan, KS||21 : 1||20,854|