What is School Counseling?
School counselors are professionals trained to provide support and guidance to children within the K-12 academic environment. Educated at both in-person school counseling programs and online school counseling programs, their overarching goal is to help students achieve their full potential, and they do so by helping them navigate academic issues as well as social and environmental issues that may impact their advancement.
After successful completion of accredited school counseling programs, school counselors act as advocates for students, providing them with the resources they need to succeed. Their day-to-day activities may include:
- Meeting with students regarding social, emotional, or academic concerns
- Guiding students through processing and planning their goals
- Navigating student/teacher issues and parent/teacher issues
- Connecting students with professional resources including psychologists, peer counseling programs, and substance abuse programs
- Assisting older students with college selections and applications or vocational guidance
- Working with administration and teachers to improve learning conditions and outcomes
While the job can have its challenges, school counselors also benefit from the gratification of identifying and applying effective motivational tools for a particular student or helping them become more resilient.
What Does a School Counselor Do?
School counselors work to maximize educational outcomes for all students. Common duties include:
- Meeting with students individually or in small groups to discuss academic, personal, or social problems
- Acting as a sounding board for students who want to talk to a trustworthy adult
- Helping students with special needs or behavioral issues receive the support they need for success
- Directing students and their families to potential resources, such as social service organizations, therapists, or substance abuse programs
- Organizing assemblies and other programs on applicable topics, such as bullying, stress, and study habits
- Assisting students in choosing classes appropriate to their interests and academic competency
- Helping teenagers formulate post-graduation plans, including college selection and career exploration
- Guiding students through the college application process (securing letters of recommendation, signing up to take standardized tests, filling out financial aid forms, etc.)
What Does A School Counselor’s Day Look Like?
Though every day in the life of a school counselor is different and dependent upon the school’s environment and flow, the responsibilities remain largely the same: it is the school counselor’s job to provide direction and organization for children’s academic life, to guide them through emotional or social difficulties, and to help prepare them for what lies ahead, whether that is the next phase of their education or a vocation.
Roughly one-third of a school counselor’s day is spent consulting with students and parents, and a good portion of time is spent administering and evaluating tests. The profession requires both a significant commitment of time and emotion, as well as knowledge provided by accredited school counseling programs.
What is a School Counseling Degree?
Currently, there are no associate or bachelor’s programs dedicated specifically to school counseling. However, the common bachelor’s programs that students pursue when following the school counseling path is education, psychology, or sociology. For students who specifically want to become school counselors, a master’s degree will be required.
A Master’s in School Counseling degree is a two-to-three-year program frequently taught through the department of education at a larger college or university. Whether attending an in person school counseling program or one of the many online school counseling programs available, students learn how to deliver compassionate academic, social, personal, and career services for students from diverse populations in the K-12 educational settings.
What to Expect in a Master’s of School Counseling Degree Program
Though it is common for Master’s in School Counseling candidates to enter their program with a bachelor’s degree in a related field of study, having a background in psychology, education, or sociology is not a requirement for admission. Both in person school counseling programs and online school counseling programs provide students with courses in counseling, school counseling, special education, and research as well as engaging in hundreds of hours of in-person learning and supervised fieldwork within K-12 school environments.
Potential Master’s in School Counseling Classes
Classes typically required by a Master’s in School Counseling program include:
- Counseling Theory
- Counseling Skills
- Developmental psychology (childhood/adolescence)
- Personality development and socialization
- Family and Social Support Systems
- Multicultural Issues in Counseling
- LGBTQ Issues in Counseling
- Group Counseling in Schools
- Appraisal/Assessments in Counseling
- Psychological Measurement
- Special Education for Counselors
- Counseling the Chemically Dependent
- Ethical Issues in Counseling
Earning a Master’s Degree in School Counseling is a minimum requirement in school counseling. Online school counseling programs and in person school counseling programs both do an excellent job of preparing candidates to meet state certification/licensure standards and upholding ethical and professional standards. Every state requires school counselors to pursue specific continuing education courses in order to maintain a high level of connection and to stay up-to-date on research and trends.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy Being a School Counselor
Sometimes, it’s hard to know if you’ll truly like a job until you’re in it. However, the following factors make it likely that a position as a school counselor might be a good match:
- You want a career helping others
- Working in an educational environment sounds appealing
- You’re comfortable interacting with a variety of people, including students, parents, and staff members
- You like to offer advice and assist people in finding solutions to problems
- You’re an excellent listener
Salary and Career Info for School Counselors
The earning potential for school counselors can vary depending on experience, education level, specialization, and even geographic location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for school counselors is $60,510. In addition to yearly earnings, BLS projects that this field may grow by as much as 11% between 2020 and 2030.
While the median salary doesn't indicate an especially lucrative career, the top 10% of school counselors make more than $98,000 per year. School counselor salaries also rise with tenure and experience, and the pay rate is higher in some areas of the country. The annual mean wage in the five highest-paying states for educational counselors are:
- California: $81,590
- New Jersey: $76,040
- Massachusetts: $75,660
- Washington: $75,160
- Maryland: $72,730
School Counseling Career Paths
A Master’s Degree in School Counseling provides the tools and education needed to offer competent and compassionate support to school-aged individuals.
Though the job of a school counselor is highly specialized, professionals who are interested in advancement and boosting their earnings do still have options. A school counselor with a master’s degree can continue their education and earn a doctoral degree that prepares them for mentoring, training, and supervising future school counselors, as well as roles in school administration. Here are some career options you could pursue with a degre in school counseling.
- Median Salary: $60,510
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
Whether working in elementary, middle, or high school, school counselors help students address emotional and behavioral challenges. Additionally, these workers help students enhance academic performance and develop valuable skills for the future. High school counselors also play a significant role in helping students establish academic and career goals while assisting in the college admission process.
- Median Salary: $60,510
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
Career counselors help clients explore their academic and professional interests and how those match up with their skills. These professionals help facilitate the college admission process, direct students towards relevant trade schools, and introduce various resources for both college and future work.
- Median Salary: $50,390
- Career Outlook: +12% (2020-2030)
Another specialized profession relevant to school counseling, social workers utilize their training to help teachers, administrators, and parents maximize the academic performance and social skills of their students. Dealing with issues spanning from bullying to anxiety and depression, social workers offer support and direct their clients to valuable resources.
- Median Salary: $98,420
- Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)
From middle school to high school, principals manage the daily operations of their school, working to create a safe and effective learning environment. These professionals implement and oversee curriculum standards, evaluate teacher performance, and manage their school's budget. Additionally, school principals work with parents to address the behavioral issues of students.
- Median Salary: $63,620
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
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.
- Median Salary: $54,946
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
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.
- Median Salary: $60,369
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
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.
- Median Salary: $73,080
- Career Outlook: +11% (2020-2030)
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).
Outstanding Schools Offering Master’s in School Counseling Degrees in U.S.
You’ll need a master’s to become a school counselor. Some institutions award a Master of Science in School Counseling or a Master of Arts in School Counseling.
Compared to MEd programs, which often focus on practical experience, a school counseling degree puts a greater emphasis on therapies and behavior modification techniques. A research project or thesis may be part of the graduation requirement. Individuals with an MA or an MS oftentimes go on to obtain licensure to work as a school counselor while others pursue doctoral studies.
There is no shortage of universities offering high-quality online and traditional Master’s Degrees in School Counseling. The trick is finding the best one for your unique background, needs, and goals.
For instance, if you’re currently working full- or part-time, the flexibility of an accredited online degree might be beneficial. Alternatively, if you have plenty of free time, a solid GPA, strong application materials, and can afford (or get a scholarship for) a private institution, you could consider traditional attendance at any of the top-ranked schools in the nation. There are options for anyone and everyone who wants to go to college!
No single “best” school exists for prospective school counselors. Individuals must evaluate their career goals, personal circumstances, and finances to choose an institution that suits their needs. However, many great options exist, including these schools we’ve identified at Universities.com:
The state school board wants to lower the student-to-counselor ratio in Missouri from 400-1 to 250-1, and “Mizzou” is ready to help. Already respected for excellence in school counseling, the university recently added a fully online MEd program. Graduates are license-eligible at both the elementary and secondary levels. Students looking to work outside of Missouri should check for reciprocity acceptance.
Combining online studies with hands-on experiences, Capella offers students the opportunity to develop a solid knowledge base and put what they learn into action. The Master of Science in School Counseling program has 3 specializations: Addiction Treatment and Recovery, Child and Adolescent Counseling, and General School Counseling). They all require the following:
- 13 core courses
- Four specialization courses
- Two in-person residencies
- One practicum
- Two internships
The online program at this public institution leads to an MEd in School Counseling. Students come out strongly prepared in crisis intervention strategies and counseling multicultural populations. A valuable aspect of UWA’s online program is assigning each student an alumni mentor who can assist in educational and career development.
KSU’s 48-credit-hour program leads to a Master of Science in School Counseling and licensure. It involves a combination of online and on-campus coursework and may be completed in 24 months. Options exist for students who do not already hold a professional teaching license to become school counselors through additional field experiences.
This public institution offers a Master of Education in Professional Counseling, with school counseling being one of the three options of study (clinical mental health counseling and college student affairs are the other two). Students need a minimum of 60 semester hours to graduate. About a third of the program gets completed online, with the rest delivered face-to-face or hybrid.
Counseling theories, career development, human development, and clinical assessment strategies are just a few of the courses students in UTSA’s Master of Education in School Counseling program take toward the 48 semester credit hours needed for graduation. Those wishing to become professional school counselors in a Texas public school also apply to UTSA’s School Counseling Certification Program.
Whether you choose to study online or attend the beautiful campus in Alabama, you’ll be ready to fulfill career ambitions after completing this public institution’s program leading to a Master of Education in School Counseling. In addition to coursework in areas such as group counseling and crisis intervention, students get plenty of hands-on experience through practicums and internships. Graduates receive recommendation for Class A Alabama professional educator certification.
An interesting aspect of GWU’s master’s program is the practical experience students receive by working in the institution’s Community Counseling Services Center in Alexandria, Va. The center provides confidential, low-cost services to students in the Washington, D.C., metro area. Students further put their classroom knowledge into action with a year of immersion training in a local K-12 public, private, or charter school.
Students who complete this hybrid program earn an MSEd in Counseling and Counselor Education. The degree requires a minimum of 48 credit hours and involves both coursework and field experiences. Graduates leave ready to take on positions as school counselors in PreK through post-secondary school settings.
Classes in this Master of Education in School Counseling program meet once a week in the late afternoon or evening. Such scheduling accommodates student work and internship schedules. Most classes meet on-site, though some online and hybrid options exist. Graduates can sit for the National Counselor Examination in order to qualify for the National Certified Counselor credential.
Remember to look for schools accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)! Securing accreditation is a voluntary but critical process universities and certain programs go through to ensure quality and adherence to external standards and guidelines. Graduating from a program that isn’t CACREP-certified could potentially jeopardize your ability to get licensed, certified, or even hired.
Check out our full list of the Best School Counseling Colleges in the U.S.
If you’re looking for other schools that offer Master’s in School Counseling degree programs, check out the Find Your Perfect “U” tool. You can search over 6,000 colleges and universities with 11 different filters to find the perfect school for you!
School Counseling Degree Specializations
It’s also important to decide which area you might want to specialize in. While some colleges only offer a generalized curriculum, several allow for specialization. A few popular specializations include:
- Crisis and trauma
- Military families
- Student addiction
Online Master’s in School Counseling
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!
Online vs. On-Campus Degrees
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, 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.
How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?
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 pre-recorded 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.
Applying to Master’s in School Counseling Programs
Every school is different, but here are a few of the basic, most common admission requirements.
Admission Requirements for Master’s in School Counseling Programs
Colleges don’t just want your money; they are genuinely invested in your future success. Bear in mind many programs have limited slots available, meaning faculty and students will have to work closely together. It makes sense those smaller programs want to enroll students who will be active contributors!
Interview Skills Needed
Next Steps to Becoming a School Counselor
One does not become a school counselor overnight. The path to the job involves a mixture of education, practical experience, and licensure. Naturally, high school students will want to take college prep courses before starting their post-secondary educational journey! Following high school, your next steps are:
How Long Does It Take to Become a School Counselor?
Becoming a school counselor starts with earning a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes four years. Then, aspiring school counselors seek a master’s degree.
Graduate programs in school counseling require completion of 48-60 credit hours. In terms of time, this translates to 2-3 years of full-time study. 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. 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.
Upon completion of graduate studies, factor in some time to pass a licensing or certification exam.
School Counseling Certification and Licensure
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.
- American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
- National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
What Are the Pros and Cons of Being a School Counselor?
Every job has its pros and cons, and school counseling is no exception.
- The job definitely offers the chance to make a difference in the lives of others
- The pay is among the best in the education field
- Job prospects look promising
- It takes a significant amount of education and training to become a school counselor, which means less time, energy, and money for other endeavors
- Caseloads in some schools are very high, which can lead to busy and stressful days
- Certain students (or their parents) may tax a school counselor’s patience
- School counselors may get frustrated by bureaucracy, limited resources, and other factors influencing how well they can do their job
Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a School Counselor?
American School Counselor Association – This organization with a current membership of over 40,000 professionals has been supporting school counselors since 1952. The group is particularly focused on advocacy, professional development, and effective school counseling practices.
American Counseling Association – This not-for-profit dedicates itself to the growth and enhancement of the counseling profession. Its website has a special section of resources and motivational material specifically for school counselors.
Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling – Members stay abreast of current topics related to counseling youngsters from birth through teenage years through the organization’s newsletters, blogs, conferences, website, and journal.
Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs – CACREP accredits master’s and doctoral degree programs in counseling. Choose an accredited program in school counseling to ensure what you’re learning meets standards set by the profession.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a school counseling degree worth it?
- For students interested in a helping career while working with children and young adults, a degree in school counseling is a solid choice. School counseling students gain foundational counseling knowledge while focusing on the development and issues unique to school-aged individuals. Whether online or on-campus, this degree typically prepares graduates to complete the requirements necessary for state licensure.
What can I do with a Master's in School Counseling?
- A Master's Degree in School Counseling is a professional academic path that usually leads to state licensure. As a result, most students go on to careers as school counselors. That said, many of these professionals are also armed with the clinical skills needed to pursue work in private practice or for various healthcare organizations.
How long does it take to complete a Master's in School Counseling?
- Most Master's in School Counseling programs take about two years to complete for full-time students. Whether completing an MS, MA, or EdD program, graduate students are introduced to foundational counseling knowledge while honing the specialized skills related to school counseling. In addition to standard classroom-based learning, grad students also complete hundreds of hours of hands-on learning through internships and clinical requirements.
How much money can I make with a degree in school counseling?
- People don't get into the field of school counseling for the money. But while school counselor jobs aren't recognized for their high wages, licensed professionals in leadership roles tend to make the most. Additionally, some school counselors go on to complete the requirements necessary to tackle various administrative roles, including principals.
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