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

High School

Here are some suggested high school courses that can provide a solid foundation for those interested in pursuing a career as a school counselor:

  • Psychology: Taking courses in psychology can provide a fundamental understanding of human behavior, mental processes, and development. It covers topics such as personality, cognition, social psychology, and abnormal psychology.
  • Sociology: Sociology courses explore the study of human society, social interactions, and social institutions. This subject can provide insights into the broader social context that influences individuals and communities.
  • Communication: Courses in communication can enhance your interpersonal skills, active listening abilities, and effective communication techniques. These skills are essential for building relationships and facilitating productive conversations as a school counselor.
  • English/Writing: Strong written and verbal communication skills are vital for school counselors. English and writing courses can help improve your ability to articulate thoughts, express ideas clearly, and communicate effectively in written and verbal forms.
  • Education/Pedagogy: Courses in education or pedagogy can provide a foundational understanding of the educational system, teaching methods, and classroom dynamics. They can give you insights into the educational environment in which you'll be working as a school counselor.
  • Human Development: Courses that focus on human development, particularly in childhood and adolescence, can provide insights into the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical changes that occur during these stages. Understanding human development is crucial for addressing the unique needs and challenges of students.
  • Counseling or Peer Support Programs: Some high schools offer counseling or peer support programs that provide training and hands-on experience in supporting fellow students. Participating in such programs can provide valuable experience and insights into the role of a school counselor.
Step 3

Formal Education Steps

To become a school counselor, the following formal education steps are generally required:

  • Earn a Bachelor's Degree: Begin by completing a bachelor's degree in a field related to education, psychology, or a related social science. While specific majors may not be required, it is beneficial to choose coursework that aligns with the knowledge and skills needed for counseling and working with students.
  • Pursue a Master's Degree in School Counseling: After obtaining a bachelor's degree, pursue a Master's Degree in School Counseling or a closely related field. Look for programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). The master's program typically includes coursework in counseling theories, human development, multicultural counseling, career development, and ethical practices.
  • Complete Practicum and Internship Experiences: Most school counseling programs require students to complete supervised practicum and internship experiences. These experiences provide hands-on training in a school setting under the guidance of a licensed school counselor. They allow you to apply counseling skills, gain practical experience, and work directly with students.
  • Obtain State Licensure or Certification: Each state has specific licensure or certification requirements for school counselors. Research the requirements of the state in which you plan to practice. Generally, obtaining licensure involves completing the required education, accumulating a specified number of supervised clinical hours, and passing a state-recognized counseling exam. Some states may also require background checks or additional coursework.
  • Meet Additional State Requirements: In addition to licensure, some states may have additional requirements. These can include completing specific coursework, attending workshops or trainings, or fulfilling continuing education requirements to maintain licensure.
  • Optional: Pursue National Certification: While not mandatory, obtaining national certification can demonstrate your expertise and commitment to the field.
Step 4


There are several certifications available for school counselors. While certification requirements may vary by state, here are some notable certifications commonly pursued by school counselors:

  • National Certified School Counselor (NCSC): Offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), the NCSC certification is a nationally recognized credential. It requires candidates to possess a master's degree in school counseling or a related field, have relevant supervised experience, and pass the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE). The NCSC certification signifies that a school counselor has met rigorous standards and possesses advanced knowledge and skills in the field.
  • School Counseling Certification: Many states have their own certification programs specific to school counseling. These certifications often require completion of an approved master's degree program in school counseling, the accumulation of supervised clinical experience hours, and successful completion of state-approved examinations. The specific requirements and exams vary by state, so it is essential to research the certification process in the state where you plan to practice.
  • State-Specific Credentials: Some states may offer their own specialized credentials for school counselors. These credentials may have specific requirements beyond licensure, such as additional coursework, trainings, or examinations. For example, some states offer endorsements or certifications in areas like college and career counseling, special education counseling, or bilingual counseling.
  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model Training: The ASCA offers professional development and training programs, including the ASCA National Model Training. This training focuses on implementing the ASCA National Model, a framework that guides comprehensive school counseling programs. Completion of this training can enhance a school counselor's understanding of best practices and help align their work with the ASCA's recommended standards.
Step 5

Employment Opportunities

The demand for school counselors is expected to remain steady, driven by the increasing recognition of the importance of students' mental health and well-being, as well as the need for academic and career guidance. School counselors have a range of employment opportunities across various educational settings. Here are some common employment options for school counselors:

  • Public Schools: Public schools at the elementary, middle, and high school levels employ a significant number of school counselors. These counselors work directly with students, providing academic guidance, career exploration, social-emotional support, and intervention services. They collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents to ensure students' overall well-being and academic success.
  • Private Schools: Private schools, including independent schools, religious schools, and boarding schools, often employ school counselors to support students' academic and personal development. Private school counselors provide similar services as their public school counterparts, offering guidance and support tailored to the specific needs and culture of the institution.
  • Charter Schools: Charter schools are publicly funded schools that operate independently. School counselors may be employed in charter schools, working with students to address academic, social, and emotional needs. They may also play a role in implementing specialized programs or interventions based on the charter school's mission or focus.
  • College and Career Counseling Centers: Colleges, universities, and vocational schools employ school counselors in their college and career counseling centers. These counselors assist students with college applications, career exploration, academic planning, and the transition from high school to post-secondary education. They provide guidance on course selection, scholarships, college admissions processes, and career pathways.
  • Community and Technical Colleges: Community colleges and technical schools often have counseling departments that employ school counselors. These counselors assist students in academic planning, career exploration, transfer opportunities, and accessing support services to facilitate their success in higher education.
  • Online and Virtual Schools: With the rise of online education, there is a growing demand for school counselors in virtual schools or online educational platforms. These counselors provide support to students remotely, offering guidance on academic progress, social-emotional well-being, and career planning through virtual platforms.
  • Alternative Education Settings: School counselors may work in alternative education settings such as alternative schools, juvenile justice facilities, or therapeutic schools. In these settings, counselors work with students who may have unique needs or face significant challenges, providing counseling, academic support, and helping with their reintegration into mainstream education.
  • Additionally, school counselors may also find employment opportunities in educational consulting firms, community organizations, government agencies, or as independent consultants, offering services related to counseling, program development, or educational advocacy.