how to become a high school counselor

School counselors play a critical role in student development, aiding in academic achievement, career planning, and social/emotional progress.

how to become a high school counselor

School counselors provide support for students and their families, and the need for them continues to rise. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the projected job growth rate for school counselors between 2019-2029 is more than double the national average.

This guide explores school counseling careers, highlighting job responsibilities, how aspiring counselors can find employment, and future career opportunities.

What Do School Counselors Do?

Counseling in schools can take many shapes, with many professionals acting as career counselors, guidance counselors, and health and wellness counselors all at once. These professionals help students manage and overcome issues by developing academic improvement plans and providing support for social or behavioral problems.

School counselors work with students, families, teachers, and school staff to ensure that each child receives the individualized support and education they need to succeed. They use their assessment skills to identify student needs, their development skills to help learners progress, and their counseling abilities to evaluate and resolve interpersonal and behavioral issues.

Where Do School Counselors Work?

Most of these professionals work in schools as career or guidance counselors. According to BLS employment data, 44% of trained school counselors work in elementary schools and 35% work in higher education institutions, with 7% working in healthcare, 4% in educational services, and 3% self-employed.

School counselors work in all types of institutions, including private, public, and professional schools. They usually provide office hours for students to drop in whenever they need. These professionals also schedule meetings with students, host group sessions, and meet with families and school visitors. Counselors typically work traditional full-time hours with time off during the summer.


School counselors need many skills to effectively connect with and help students. They need to understand the behavioral and academic development of various age groups and have the psychological skills to properly assess them. School counselors may also implement and run student development or outreach programs.

Most importantly, counseling in schools requires strong interpersonal skills, including both individual and group counseling abilities. School counseling degrees help learners build and strengthen these skills, often including internships to help aspiring counselors develop their craft.

Featured Online Counseling Programs

How to Become a School Counselor

While students can take different pathways to the school counseling profession, the most direct route requires a master’s degree in guidance and counseling. Some states and schools may accept candidates with related degrees or only bachelor’s degrees, but it’s less common. Depending on the state, aspiring counselors may also need teaching or counseling licensure to practice.

The following sections outline typical career requirements for school counselors, including degrees and certifications.


Most school counselors earn master’s degrees in school counseling, but degrees in psychology or behavioral sciences may also qualify. Typically, counselors earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another social science, then complete a graduate degree in counseling, often specializing in a particular area, like early childhood development.

To enroll in a bachelor’s program, applicants generally need to submit transcripts demonstrating a high school diploma and SAT or ACT scores. In-person master’s and online master’s in school counseling typically require a behavioral or social science bachelor’s degree for admission. Competitive programs may set minimum GPAs.

Typically, counselors earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology or another social science, then complete a graduate degree in counseling, often specializing in a particular area, like early childhood development.

Within these programs, enrollees can often choose courses or specializations that match their desired professional focus. The school counseling field relies heavily on practical experience, so programs often feature internships.

After graduating, most states require school counselors to complete post-master’s supervised clinical work for licensure. Once licensed, school counselors need to meet continuing education requirements to renew their licenses. Some may even pursue doctorates in the field, particularly if they’re interested in policy, research, or influencing statewide or national programming.

Certification and Licensure

While requirement details vary by state and school, counselors need licensure to work in the public school system. According to the American School Counselor Association, every state has distinct requirements, with differences in required education level, grade minimums, and certification exams.

In addition to state licensure, school counselors can pursue voluntary certification through the National Board for School Counselors. This credential demonstrates that candidates meet high industry standards.

Depending on the state, school counselors must renew their licenses every 2-10 years. Renewal requirements vary considerably by state, with some even using point-based systems. Typically, however, a school counselor needs to complete approximately six continuing education credits every five years, and the license must remain in good standing to qualify for renewal.

What to Look for in a Program

When choosing a school counselor degree, there are a few considerations students should factor in for both on-campus and online programs. For example, prospective enrollees should ensure their school received regional accreditation, which can affect financial aid access, licensure, and employment opportunities.

Programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs can also affect licensure access after graduation. Students should check that their program’s curriculum meets state licensure standards in their area, including practicum requirements.

Career Information

Nationwide, school counselors enjoy strong salary and workforce numbers. According to BLS employment data, median annual school counselor salary rates and projected job growth far exceed national averages. The data below highlights school counselor salaries in the highest-paying cities, which are primarily high population city centers.

Salary and Job Growth for School Counselors

Median Salary


Job Growth (2019-2029)


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