How to Become a School Counselor

Becoming a school counselor typically requires either an undergraduate degree in education or social work, or a graduate degree in school counseling, educational psychology, or a closely related field. Depending on your area of focus within school counseling, you may also require previous experience in education, social work, or counseling.


In addition to the proper education, you would also need a certain set of personality traits and characteristics, including:


• You have a keen interest in working in education

• You are able to listen to the problems of others without prejudice or judgment

• You have a good sense of personal integrity and ethics

• You are able to build trust and help people feel relaxed

• You have a genuine interest in helping students resolve their problems and/or determine their academic or professional direction


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin your journey into this profession, as well as what you'll need to succeed when you get there. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as salary expectations, an outline of the skills you’ll need, educational requirements, a list of possible employer types, and much more!



Required Education

The educational requirements vary from job to job and from region to region, however they typically depending on the scope of responsibility involved in the job. For example, those who will counsel in a strictly mental health capacity will likely need a different educational background than school counselors who work mostly in the area of career counseling. 


Some employers only require school counselors to have a bachelor’s degree in Social Work or Education, whereas other employers prefer to hire candidates with a master’s degree in School Counseling, Educational Psychology, Applied Psychology or Counseling.


Success Tip: In order to be sure of the exact educational requirements you will need, try contacting school boards and other employers in your area, as well as your local school counselor’s association.





School Counselor Job Description

School counselors are responsible for advising students on personal, educational and career related issues as well as coordinating counseling services for students, parents, staff and faculty. School counselors may also be known as guidance counselors, career counselors or education counselors.


Although many school counselors work in all of the areas of school counseling, such as education counseling, personal counseling or career counseling, some may focus their work in one of these areas, particularly those that work in post-secondary institutions. For example, school counselors in post-secondary institutions often work exclusively in the offices of career services, mental health services, or financial aid services.


One primary goal of a school counselor is to challenge their students in a positive way, in order to help them develop skills, as well as help them identify opportunities to solve personal problems, or pursue their academic or professional interests. They also seek to help students become self-directed in their decision-making, as it relates to personal, academic and career problems and ambitions.


School counselors may work in elementary, junior and senior high schools, as well as university and college counselors who work in post-secondary institutions such as universities, colleges and vocational institutes.


School counselors may work exclusively in one school, or they may be responsible for providing counseling services in multiple schools. They may work with individual students as well as groups of students. 



School Counselor Job Duties

• Provide direct counseling services for students who are experiencing educational, social or behavioural problems

• Collect career related information from various resources and make that information available to students

• Provide students with advice concerning what career options they have based on their degree, major or interests

• Collect information concerning scholarships that may be available to students and how to apply for them

• Provide students with information regarding peer tutoring or peer counseling programs

• Refer students to external resources and agencies

• Provide advice for students regarding how they can improve their study habits

• May liaise with employers in order to match them with students



Experience Needed

In some regions it is a formal requirement to have work experience in fields related to school counseling in order to be employed as a school counselor, whereas in other regions it is not (for example, many regions require school counselors to also be certified teachers).


Regardless of whether or not it is a mandated requirement, many employers prefer to hire candidates with experience in related fields, such as education, mental health counseling, human resources or occupational development and consulting. 



Certification Needed

Canada: In Canada, you do not need certification to become a school counselor, as there is currently no legislation regulating this occupation. Some schools however, many require that you have either certification as a teacher, or certification as a mental health counselor, in order to be employed with them.


United States: In the United States, public school counselors must have a state-issued credential to practice. Depending on the state, this credential may be referred to as certification, a license, or an endorsement. Licensure or certification as a school counselor typically requires a master’s degree in school counseling and completion of an internship or practicum under the supervision of a licensed professional school counselor.



Helpful Skills and Abilities

In order to become effective in a career as a school counselor, and perform your job duties with competence, you need to posses exceptional communication skills, interpersonal skills, as well as knowledge and skills in counseling.


Communication Skills


Great listening skills are absolutely essential. You would need to give your full attention to your students in order to understand their personal, educational and career related problems and ambitions. You must also have ability to listen and comprehend with empathy and understanding, without prejudice or judgment.


You would also need excellent speaking abilities, as you must be able to express ideas and information in a way that your students would understand easily.



Counseling Skills


You would need to be well versed in various aspects of counseling; you would have to have the ability to challenge students in a positive way, and be able to advise students on personal, educational and career related issues.


Being able to effectively coordinate counseling services for students, parents, staff and faculty would also be critical for your job. This would involve maintaining awareness of appropriate school and community resource services to which students can be referred in order to help them develop skills, as well as help them identify opportunities to pursue their interests.


You would also need to be able to develop recommendations and interventions for students, teachers, and families. These interventions are critical for helping to reveal student attitudes, feelings, interests, problems, available options and possible consequences to specific decisions, ultimately helping students be self-directed in their decision-making. 




Personality Traits You Would Need

In order to enjoy performing the duties of a school counselor, you need to have certain personality traits. Taking enjoyment from your job duties is important, as it helps you maintain a positive attitude towards your work, which can lead to having a long and successful career.


• You have a keen interest in working in education

• You have a genuine interest in helping students to resolve their problems

• You are comfortable listening to the personal problems of students

• You are able to listen with empathy, and without judgment

• You could see yourself enjoying administering and interpreting aptitude tests

• You enjoy coordinating information

• You enjoy developing innovative solutions to problems

• You are able to build trust and make people feel relaxed

• You are able to maintain confidentiality

• You are comfortable working with people from all backgrounds

• You have a good sense of personal integrity and ethics



Typical Salary Level

The salary level of school counselors can vary, typically depending on the following factors:


• Their level of education

• Their level of experience

• The budget of their school board

• The region in which they work


School Counselor Salary Alberta: According to the 2013 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Educational Counsellors occupational group earn an average salary of $63,756 per year.


School Counselor Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of Canadian workers in the Educational Counsellors occupational group is $52,380 per year.


School Counselor Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of American workers in the School and Career Counselors occupational group is $53,610 per year.



Who Creates Jobs for Them?

The following types of employers typically hire school counselors on a full-time basis (either permanent or contractual), although they may also hire them on a part-time basis:


• Elementary, middle, and high schools

• Private schools

• School boards

• Colleges and universities

• Correctional facilities

• Government agencies

• Consultancies



Work Conditions

Working Hours: School counselors usually work standard school or office hours, although they may spend additional evening and weekend hours supervising extra-curricular activities, attending meetings, advocating for students and planning for their interactions with students, families or co-operative professionals.


Work Setting: Typically, school counselors work in office and/or classroom environments. School counselors may work closely with a variety of other professionals, such as teachers, speech therapists, school psychologists, social workers and public health nurses. School counselors that work in university or college settings often work with personnel from the Registrar's Office, work experience programs and work placement services.


Work Environment: The work of school counselors can be emotionally demanding and stressful, particularly when caseloads are high. Their work can also be highly rewarding, such as when they help a student determine a career direction, or solve a personal problem.



School Counselor Jobs

Check our job board below to find available postings in your area.



Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a School Counselor can be found on our Education Scholarships and Human Ecology Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Careers Similar to School Counselor

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to School Counselor, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


• Career Counselor

• Family Counselor

• High School Teacher

• School Administrator

• Social Worker




To find out more about what a school counselor does, how much they make, and other details of the career, please consult the following resources:


Wages & Salaries in Alberta:Educational Counsellor.” (March 9, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 13, 2020.

Community and Social Service:School and Career Counselors.” (March 29, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 13, 2020.

Career Guide:How to Become a Guidance Counsellor.” (n.d.). Ontario School Counsellor’s Association website. Retrieved January 13, 2020.



Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is a great way to set the proper educational foundation for this career. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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