School counselors play a vital role in our education 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 over the coming decade—about 37,000 jobs in addition to the 35,000 open positions already available each year!
Alongside this faster-than-average job growth, in recent years, school counselors have emerged as essential members of a school's leadership team. Whether working in elementary, middle, or high schools, school counselors play a vital role in students' academic achievement and personal development.
To be hired in most states, you’ll need a Master’s Degree in School Counseling plus 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. We’ll explore school counseling careers, how to become a school counselor, and the job prospects for graduates of school counseling programs.
What is School Counseling?
School counseling has evolved into an essential leadership role within K-12 schools. School counselors traditionally hold a Master's in School Counseling and work to remove barriers to academic performance, support the emotional and social development of students, and assist in student readiness for career or academic pursuits after high school.
Leaning on specialized training, school counselors are effective in individual and small-group counseling. Other responsibilities include educational planning, assisting teachers with classroom management, career counseling, and working with their school administration to facilitate a safe, educational environment.
School counselors must hold a master's degree and state licensure in school counseling. Whether online or in-person, prospective graduate students can complete a master's in school counseling in about two years.
What is a Master’s in School Counseling?
A school counselor’s guidance can alter the trajectory of students’ lives forever. When you think about the effects it can have on you, families, and society at large, it’s clear why school counselors require such a vast range of skills and an accredited Master’s in School Counseling Degree.
Here are some common tasks associated with school counseling:
- Offer personal and group counseling
- Help youth overcome educational or personal barriers
- Advocate for students with learning disabilities
- Motivate and help students plan for success
- Interpret data and advise school leaders of any need for changes
- Determine suitable career options for students based on aptitudes and desires
- Guide them to successful transitions into college or the workforce
- Aid with complex university and financial aid applications
What to Expect from a Master’s in School Counseling Program
Whether you earn an online Master’s in School Counseling or go the traditional on-campus route, you’ll gain several invaluable and applicable skills to put to work in your career. These may include:
- Leadership and management
- The ability to successfully collaborate with school leaders, faculty, staff, parents, and the wider community
- Advocating for students’ needs
- Working with students to overcome achievement gaps and achieve maximum success through individualized planning
- Encouraging positive relationships and healthy social and emotional development
- Offering sound advice on negative behavioral issues or substance abuse
- Providing responsive counseling to students suffering from trauma, crisis, or grief
- Resilience training and suicide awareness and prevention
- Ways to impart character education
- The ability to effectively assess and explain viable college and career choices
- Helping students prepare for college applications or workforce entry
- Collect and analyze data to help create or improve programs
- Management of individual and group counseling sessions
- Ability to address complex issues facing students, faculty, and parents
- Be an advocate for change
- Ensure all students are given equitable treatment and access to resources that will empower them to succeed academically and in their future careers or life choices
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.
Master’s Degree in School Counseling Programs Prerequisites
Every school is different, but here are a few of the standard prerequisites you’ll need to meet.
Potential Classes for a Master’s in School Counseling Degree
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 online Master’s in School Counseling courses listed by Capella University include:
- Counseling for College and Career Readiness
- Group Counseling and Psychotherapy
- Introduction to School Counseling
- School Counseling Program Development and Evaluation
- Theories of Counseling with Children and Adolescents
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.”
Skills Learned in a Master’s in School Counseling Degree Program
School counselors require empathy and resourcefulness. Individuals who are willing and ready to listen will both flourish in the role and provide excellent service to the students within their school community. A Master’s in School Counseling degree prepares graduates with the knowledge and skills required for the job based on the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) National Model.
The skills below are among the many taught in a Master’s in School Counseling program:
- Development of curriculum focused on students’ mindset and behavior and geared toward readiness and success
- Close achievement and opportunity gaps
- Improve student achievement, attendance and behavior
- Data collection
- Case management
- Time management
- Critical thinking
- Active listening
- Cultural competence
What Can You Do with a Master's Degree in School Counseling?
School counselors make a real and lasting impact on the direction of young people’s lives. They listen to students who need to be heard, guiding them through periods of confusion and frustration and helping them to set goals, make plans, and rise above.
As an advocate for students, school counselors are often the voice that reminds other administrators and teachers that student wellbeing is at the center of their mission.
The job provides other rewards too. School counselors constantly engage with a wide range of people and personalities, and no two days are the same, so the work is always interesting.
Master’s in School Counseling Salary and Career Outlook
Earning a degree in school counseling (or an online Master’s in School Counseling) can open the doors to various career paths in the education world:
- School social worker
- School principal
- Career counselor
The vast majority of those who graduate from a Master’s in School Counseling program are hired to counsel students in academic settings. Whether it’s elementary school or high school students preparing to move on to jobs or college careers, school counselors help them to meet academic challenges.
Other students who graduate with school counseling degrees can take different professional paths. Approximately 45% 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.
Because their education prepares them to be empathetic, competent leaders and agents of change, school counseling grads are well-suited to many other opportunities:
Community Mental Health Advocate
- Median Salary: $48,860
Work within a specific community to provide resources and support to individuals with mental health concerns.
- Median Salary: $78,504
A private practice licensed professional counselor diagnoses and treats those with mental and emotional disorders, usually through individual or group therapy.
School Counseling Educator or Researcher
- Median Salary: $71,247
Facilitates learning or conducts research within an in person school counseling program or an online counseling program; May also lead webinars, workshops, and continuing education courses.
Substance Abuse Counselor
- Median Salary: $56,330
Help people overcome addiction to alcohol and drugs by developing treatment and recovery plans.
- Median Salary: $49,880
Works with families, couples, and individuals to help clients overcome problems within their relationships and improve their interpersonal behaviors.
- Median Salary: $60,510
Help students and adults identify their strengths, skills, and interests to help them identify and achieve career goals.
*Data pulled from BLS, Salary.com, and Payscale
How Much Does Someone with a Master’s in School Counseling Make?
If you’re wondering how much a school counselor makes, know that it can vary considerably. However, BLS lists the median annual wage as $60,510.
Now let’s take a look at the broader range. BLS cites a range from under $37,550 to over $87,190, pointing out that workers in the K-12 arena earn more than their peers who work in colleges. Your salary can depend on a number of factors:
- Number of years of work experience
- Academic and professional credentials
- Geographic location
- Whether the employer is public or private
- Whether the job is in a K-12 setting or higher education
What to Expect in a Master’s of School Counseling Degree Program
Earning a Master’s Degree in School Counseling
Those pursuing a Master's in School Counseling Degree can expect a 30-60 credit curriculum that most students complete in about two years. Ideal for students wanting to help school-aged individuals in both their personal and academic lives, future school counselors are typically compassionate individuals who boast strong critical thinking, problem-solving, and interpersonal skills.
Through various academic degrees—master of science (MS), master of arts (MA), and master of education (MEd)—graduate students complete a substantial roster of both practical and theoretical academic requirements. Additionally, master's degree-seekers gain substantial hands-on learning opportunities through hundreds of hours of clinical work in a supervised professional setting.
Whether online or in-person, a Master's in School Counseling prepares students with the skills they need to offer competent care while equipping them with the knowledge they need to secure state licensure.
Pros and Cons of a Master’s in School Counseling Degree
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!
Meanwhile, a Master’s in Psychology can qualify graduates for a much broader range of job opportunities, in case they later decide education isn’t their cup of tea.
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. Just be sure before diving in! And of course the other perk…you might get a nice, long break during holidays and summers when school is out!
Master’s in School Counseling Program Prerequisites
Admissions requirements for school counseling programs vary, but applicants can expect requirements to mirror that of other graduate-level programs. Below, we spotlight some common prerequisites and application materials that applicants can anticipate.
- A bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
- A cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Official transcripts from all prior academic institutions
- Personal statement or essay outlining academic and career goals
- Letters of recommendation
- Professional resume
- Admission interview
Courses in Master’s in School Counseling Programs
While coursework can vary between school counseling programs, students can expect a curriculum that blends the theoretical foundations of the discipline and the practical techniques that inform competent and compassionate counseling in a school setting. We spotlight some common classes for a Master's in School Counseling below.
In addition to classroom-based learning, master's in school counseling students also gain extensive hands-on learning experiences through clinical hours, practicums, and internships. These in-person opportunities allow degree-seekers the chance to practice learned skills in a safe, supervised setting. Additionally, these opportunities often help with networking and can even lead to a job upon graduation.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in School Counseling?
A master's in school counseling typically takes about two years to complete but can vary depending on various factors:
- Whether a student is completing coursework online or in-person
- Whether an individual is enrolled as a full-time or part-time student
- The amount of prerequisite coursework a student has completed
- Some online programs offer an accelerated pathway
School Counseling Degree Specializations
Because school counseling is a specialization itself, there's not a significant list of academic specializations for this professional degree. When searching for the right graduate program for you, make sure the curriculum mirrors your academic and career goals. We highlight some common specializations below.
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling
- Family Counseling
- School Counseling and Guidance
- Art Therapy
- Special Education
How Much Does a Master’s in School Counseling Cost?
A popular question is “how much will grad school cost?” The truth is, costs vary so much that an “average” cost is virtually worthless for planning purposes.
A very rough average of grad school tuition at traditional public schools is $30,000 a year, though prices could be several thousand more or less. The “average” for a private school might be closer to $40,000 a year, but an Ivy League will set you back far more.
Most college students receive at least some financial aid via federal school grants or state and private scholarships which can offset costs significantly. However, attending an out-of-state university will drive costs through the roof!
A modern alternative for those who want to go to a school that’s not in their state is simply applying to an online program. Numerous accredited colleges offer affordable online Master’s in School Counseling degrees for under $15,000 in total costs.
Master’s in School Counseling Degree Costs Breakdown
Best Schools For Master’s in School Counseling Degrees in U.S.
Becoming a school counselor requires a master’s degree from an accredited program. There are excellent in-person and online school counseling programs to choose from, and candidates can review the unique benefits that each one offers to identify the one that best suits their priorities and needs as well as their budget. The outstanding programs listed below represent the very best in the nation.
Texas Christian University - Fort Worth, Texas
The counseling and counselor education program at Texas Christian University is offered through the school’s College of Education. The master’s program offers students three areas of concentration:
- School Counseling
- Human Services
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The specialization in School counseling consists of a rigorous 48-hour program preparing graduates for certification. Candidates who are within the last 12 credit hours of completing the program and who have received an official offer from a school district for a counselor’s position may apply for and be granted probationary certification.
University of Florida - Gainesville, Florida
The University of Florida at Gainesville offers a 72-credit-hour dual Master of Education and Education Specialist degree program that prepares graduates for placement in public or private elementary, middle, and high schools. Students have the option of completing a master’s thesis in order to graduate with a master of arts degree. It is a full time program that takes between 2 ½ to 3 years to complete both in class coursework and clinical hours. The program includes one practicum and one clinical internship.
University of Florida also offers related programs in marriage and family counseling and in mental health counseling.
University of Maryland - College Park, Maryland
Residing within the University of Maryland’s Department of Counseling, Higher Education, and Special Education, the School Counseling Program prepares graduates for certification as school counselors in K-12 urban educational settings, and awards a Master’s Degree in Education
The full time, in-person program takes two years to complete, and encompasses 60 credit hours and a 100-hour practicum, as well as two 300-hour internships in the urban public school systems that surround the university. Core classes include counseling, school counseling, research methods, and special education.
University of Georgia - Athens, Georgia
The University of Georgia offers three different school counseling programs: a dual Master of Education/Educational Specialist degree in Professional Counseling that prepares students for a career supporting students in elementary, middle, and secondary schools; an Educational Specialist degree that provides advanced certification as a school counselor; and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Counselor Education and Supervision.
The dual degree program is a 66-credit, full-time program that takes two years to complete. It leads to certification and licensure. Students participate in extended supervised counseling experiences with local school districts and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Students receive a stipend of $10,000 during their internship year.
Lipscomb University - Nashville, Tennessee
Lipscomb University’s school counseling program is offered under its College of Education. It provides students with training in cultural and socioeconomic mediation and collaborative techniques to use with teachers, parents, students, and administrators, but its emphasis is on guiding students who are approaching the college selection and application process, as well as career exploration.
Lipscomb offers its 42-credit school counseling program at several locations throughout Nashville on a flexible schedule, as well as an online school counseling program that accommodates the needs of working professionals. Skills Learned in a Master’s in School Counseling Degree Program
School counseling requires a dedication to helping school-aged children as they embark on their academic and personal journeys. Whether assisting in the emotional, behavioral, and academic development of young students or assisting in the college admission process for high school students, school counselors lean on innate and learned skills. We highlight some below.
- Verbal, non-verbal, and written communication
- Analytical skills
- Critical-thinking skills
- Empathetic listening
- Cultural competency
- Time management
School Counselor Licensure and Certification
In order to work in a school setting, school counselors are required to hold national licensure and state certification. Toward the end of the second year of a Master’s in School Counseling program, students can expect to sit for the National Counselor Examination (NCE), an assessment of their knowledge, skills, abilities, and preparation for providing counseling services to school students.
Passing the NCE is required for licensure in most states, along with 100 hours of post-graduate counseling supervision over a two-year period. These hours can also be applied toward certification as a National Certified Counselor.
Additionally, students approaching the end of their program will sit for the PRAXIS II Professional Counselor Exam. The test is administered via computer in testing sites all over the country. Passing this exam and completing all coursework and internship requirements qualifies the student for certification as a Professional School Counselor for Pre-k through 12th grade school students.
Next Steps & How to Get Started on Your School Counseling Degree
School counselors are committed to the well-being of children and young adults, and that dedication begins to be demonstrated during the process of choosing and applying to a Master’s in School Counseling degree program.
Every Master’s in School Counseling program will have its own unique admissions criteria, but application requirements are likely to be the same or very similar. Students can expect to provide:
- Proof of completion of an undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university
- School transcripts from previous institutions reflecting maintenance of an average GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Personal statement of purpose
- Letters of recommendation
Some schools expect their students to have work experience in human services or education, and to submit a current CV or resume.
The cost of attending an accredited Master’s in School Counseling program varies depending upon whether the curriculum is offered in person or online, whether the school is public or private, the school’s reputation, whether the program is being pursued on a full- or part-time basis, and where the school is located.
Online school counseling programs range from approximately $6,000 per semester to $23,0000 per semester, while the total costs for an in person school counseling degree range from an average of $54,500 for a public university to an average of $81,000 for a master’s degree from a private college.
Students in need of financial aid have several options available to them, including federal, state, and local financial aid and scholarships. As soon as a school is selected, applicants are strongly encouraged to complete the FAFSA to determine whether they are eligible for federal grants, and explore the scholarships that may be available to students through the degree program, as well as through educational and counseling organizations and advocacy groups.
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 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.
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.
Do school counselors make more than teachers?
- Yes, holding a master’s degree can enable school counselors to earn more money 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 then 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.
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 it better to get a Master’s in Social Work or a Master’s in Counseling?
- A Master’s Degree in Counseling equips the professional with an intensive knowledge of human behavior and development focused on specific individual needs. In contrast, a Master’s Degree in Social Work enables a professional to tackle a broader range of societal problems.
Do school counselors have to tell parents?
- School counselors build trust with students by protecting sensitive personal information, but they must adhere to ethical and legal standards. If a confidentiality law requires disclosing information to parents of minors, they must take that into consideration.
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.
Is a school counselor a psychologist?
- School counselors are great listeners and helpers who assist with various personal, academic, and social problems. Though they may offer short-term help for mental health issues, they are not psychologists.
Is a school counselor better than a psychologist?
- The answer depends on the circumstance. Oftentimes, a student experiencing problems turns to a school counselor. Together, they may seek ways to boost grades, handle social situations, or map post-graduation plans. A student experiencing a mental-health issue such as anxiety or depression may obtain better results from seeking the services of a psychologist.
Is a school counselor different from a college counselor?
- School counselors focus on obtaining the best educational outcome possible for each student. Interaction may include assistance with future college or occupational plans but is not limited to that area. By contrast, a college counselor concentrates solely on post-graduation guidance and steps necessary to get there.
Is a school counselor the same thing as a guidance counselor?
- The term “guidance counselor” harkens back to the days when the job mostly entailed offering vocational guidance. Since today’s professionals perform a multitude of other duties, the American School Counselor Association prefers use of the newer, broader term “school counselor.”
Master’s in School Counseling Career Resources
- American Counseling Association
- American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
- National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
- National Career Development Association
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
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