CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a school counselor.

Step 1

Is becoming a school counselor right for me?

The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursuing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:

What do school counselors do?
Career Satisfaction
Are school counselors happy with their careers?
What are school counselors like?

Still unsure if becoming a school counselor is the right career path? to find out if this career is right for you. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a school counselor or another similar career!

Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.

Step 2

Bachelor’s Degree

The first step in the education of a school counselor is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Psychology, Psychology, Education, or Social Work. In states that require school counselors to hold a teaching degree, it is more common for students to obtain their undergraduate degree in education.

As admission to graduate programs in school counseling can be competitive, undergraduates are advised to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or above and to pursue volunteer opportunities working with school-aged children and youth.

While designated graduate level degrees or majors in counseling are uncommon, they do exist. Curricula introduce the core behavioral science components of the discipline. Below is a summary of bachelor’s level classes offered in counseling:

Research Methods in the Social Sciences
Exploring how research is designed, conducted, and analyzed, for use in counseling programs
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Research design
• Statistical analysis
• Data collection methods, including observation, interviewing, and using questionnaires

Lifespan Psychology
An overview of the various factors and forces that form the basis of individual personality at different developmental stages
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Cognitive development
• Emotional development
• Social development
• Moral development

Social Policy
The history of various programs designed to address social issues, and their ultimate effectiveness
Target Skilled/Knowledge
• Poverty programs
• Healthcare reform
• Educational initiatives
• Criminal justice policy

Case Management in Social Work and Counseling
The study of proper in-the-field practices for individual cases in social work and counseling
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Client assessment techniques
• Problem solving
• Ethics of counseling

Step 3

Master’s Degree

Although a master’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, sociology or education may be considered adequate preparation for a career in counseling, it is more common and generally preferable to earn a degree specific to school counseling.

Here are some courses that students generally take in a master’s program:

Counseling Theory and Practice
An overview of the various concepts and techniques used in counseling
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Cognitive therapy
• Behavioral therapy
• Feminist and multicultural perspectives on therapy

Ethical and Legal Issues in Counseling
Examination of the laws and ethical codes pertaining to counseling
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Historical perspectives of mental health counseling
• Philosophical concerns in counseling
• Confidentiality; confidentiality and consent

Appraisal and Testing for Counselors
How to design and utilize various assessment techniques
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Standardized testing and evaluation
• Interpreting behavioral, psychological, and educational results
• Test construction

Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling
Exploration of theories and assessments of various addiction models; the pharmacological basis of addiction; and various treatment methods, from the perspective of individual, family, and group counseling
Target Skills/Knowledge
• Biology of addiction
• Pharmacological aspects of alcohol and drugs
• 12-step programs and other treatment models
• Relapse prevention and intervention techniques

Step 4

Internship / Practicum

Most accredited master’s degree programs in counseling include an internship or practicum as part of the core curriculum. This usually involves up to 2000 hours of supervised fieldwork in schools and other professional settings.

Experiences typically include shadowing, observing, and assisting a veteran school counselor; as well as taking an active role in providing counseling to students. Licensure is often contingent upon completing a practicum or internship.

During an internship, students are also exposed to how the counseling sector uses computerized testing, diagnostic and statistical programs. They learn how to interpret and sort data to best understand results.

Step 5

Licensure and Continuing Education

Most U.S. states require school counselors to be licensed and, because they work with minors, to undergo a full background check.

To find counselor licensing requirements by state visit the Counselor License website. Before sitting for the state exam, candidates must demonstrate adequate education, have logged the required number of internships hours, and submit applicable fees.

Every state also has regulations regarding license maintenance and renewal. In general, the primary requirement is completion of accumulation of a specified number of education credits, obtained through formal classes, attendance at professional conferences, curriculum development, publication of books and/or journal articles related to the counseling field, and participation in other professional development activities.

Step 7

Doctorate Degree (optional)

While not required to work in the field, some school counselors may choose to earn a doctorate, especially if they wish to teach school counseling at the university level or to pursue upper-level management roles. There are basically three degree options:

A Doctor of Philosophy is offered in counseling and school psychology; counselor education and supervision; guidance counseling; and counseling psychology.

A Doctor of Psychology degree is analogous to a Ph.D., but is historically more rooted in clinical practice than in academic study. Psychology Doctorates are available in school psychology and counseling psychology.

The Doctor of Education degree is essentially a Ph.D. or Pys.D. tailored for educators and educational researchers and administrators. Ed.D. degree programs are offered in counseling psychology; professional counseling and supervision; and educational leadership.