CareerExplorer’s step-by-step guide on how to become a school counselor.
Is becoming a school counselor right for me?
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The first step in the education of a school counselor is to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, often in counseling, 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
• Research design
• Statistical analysis
• Data collection methods, including observation, interviewing, and using questionnaires
An overview of the various factors and forces that form the basis of individual personality at different developmental stages
• Cognitive development
• Emotional development
• Social development
• Moral development
The history of various programs designed to address social issues, and their ultimate effectiveness
• 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
• Client assessment techniques
• Problem solving
• Ethics of counseling
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
• 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
• 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
• 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
• Biology of addiction
• Pharmacological aspects of alcohol and drugs
• 12-step programs and other treatment models
• Relapse prevention and intervention techniques
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.
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.
Certifications (recommended / optional)
In addition to obtaining mandatory licensure, school counselors can consider earning professional certifications. For information, visit these websites:
• The American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
• The American Counseling Association (ACA)
• The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
• The American College Counselling Association (ACCA)
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:
*Ph.D. * 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.
How to become a School Counselor
At the undergraduate level, prospective school counselors earn a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology, counseling, or education. Foundational courses in these programs cover various topics in child and adolescent development, cognitive psychology, and personality theory. Curricula may also include studies of psychological testing and the statistical methods used in research. Different majors will comprise specialized courses, such abnormal psychology and curriculum development. Liberal arts and communications classes are common electives.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Master’s Degree is the standard education requirement to work as school counselor. Majors in secondary school counseling or in education are popular choices among graduate students. Coursework in these programs expands upon related undergraduate curricula and generally covers advanced topics ranging from family therapy to cultural diversity. Many Master’s programs expose students to real counseling environments through a mandatory internship or practicum.
In addition to holding a Master’s, school counselors must generally be credentialed by the state in which they wish to practise. This credential may be referred to as a license, certification, or endorsement, depending on the jurisdiction. Counselors may also be required to regularly renew credentialing by earning continuing education credits. A criminal background is often part of the credentialing process.