woman guidance counselor talking with students

How to Become a School Counselor


Becoming a school certified counselor is a great way to make a difference in the lives of students. If you are a good listener and care about helping to shape young minds, it might be the perfect profession for you. 

While school counseling can be a challenging career, at the end of the day, it’s incredibly rewarding. It enables you to connect with students in a meaningful way and help them reach their fullest potential.

Furthermore, you will improve your school’s community through valuable programs that enhance safety, learning outcomes, and the quality of students’ lives.

If you are looking to take your career to the next level, browse our online programs including our master's in school psychology degree at Alliant University today. 

What Do School Counselors Do?

The goal of school counseling is to support students during their academic careers. While academics are an important focus, school counselors also help students with their social life, emotions, family life, and career aspirations. 

Due to their unique insights, school counselors often assist the administration in improving policies and learning environments for students. Day-to-day, school counselors provide support services to students, staff, and parents in a variety of forms, including:

  • Individual counseling 
  • Group counseling
  • School-wide program organization
  • Academic testing
  • Learning disability assessments

In addition to helping students, school counselors support teachers, staff, and parents as well. Parents will often meet with school counselors to discuss concerns about their child. Likewise, teachers frequently seek guidance from school counselors when faced with a challenging situation involving a student. If you are looking for a rewarding career in education, becoming a school counselor may be the right fit for you. 

Click here to learn more about our School Counseling Degree options

How to Become a School Counselor

So how can you start your career in school counseling? To get a job in the field, you must first earn the necessary degrees, state school counselor certification, and state licensure. Here are the steps to do so:

#1 Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

Before you can apply to a school counseling master’s program, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter which bachelor’s degree you choose. You can apply to a school counseling program with any major. Thus, if you have developed an interest in this career path after graduating from college, it won’t be a problem. 

However, if you want to set yourself up for success, choose a bachelor’s degree in psychology, counseling, education, or child development. These subjects provide a solid foundation for what you’ll learn in graduate school. 

#2 Get Your Master’s Degree

To be a school counselor, you need a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related field. During your master’s program, you will learn about:

  • Individual and group counseling theories
  • Learning disorders
  • Behavioral disorders
  • Stages of human development
  • Crisis intervention tactics
  • Counseling ethics

This education will prepare you to work with students and support their well-being. 

Field Experience

As you work towards your master’s degree, your university will provide practicum opportunities. These are real-world counseling experiences that help you explore the field. As you go through your practicum, you’ll gain insight into what it takes to be a school counselor. 

What is Accreditation and Why Does It Matter?

It’s very important to choose your master’s program wisely. You need to get your degree from an accredited institution. For a university’s program to be accredited, it must pass a peer review from experts in the field. This means it will properly prepare students for their professional responsibilities. 

When reviewing a university for accreditation, experts look at a school’s:

  • Academic preparation
  • Research opportunities
  • Course content and rigor
  • Practicum experiences

Without accreditation, a school counseling master’s program won’t prepare a student adequately for licensure. Thus, if you intend to get a job as a school counselor, you must choose an accredited school for your master’s program.

#3 Complete Your Internship

As with your practicum experience, you will need to fulfill a certain number of internship hours, depending on your state’s requirements.

This internship will be supervised by a counselor that is already certified and licensed. It will take place in a school setting, enabling you to gain exposure to the day-to-day tasks of a school counselor. 

#4 Take Your State’s Required Exams

To get your counseling license, you must first pass your state’s required exams. Each state has its own exam requirements. Some accept national exams, like the National Counselor Examination (NCE), while others have tests unique to their state. 

Here are some of the tests you might have to take:

  • Praxis Exam – Some states require school counselors to take a Professional School Counselor Praxis exam. This test determines whether you know enough about school counseling theories, methods, and ethics to practice in the field effectively. 
  • Basic Skills Exam – Other states require prospective school counselors to take a basic skills exam, which tests your math, reading, and writing skills. In California, you won’t need to take the Praxis exam, but you will need to take a Basic Skills exam. 
  • Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) Credential – Finally, some states require school counselors to get a Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) credential. This credential is necessary for any professionals that work in schools in California.

#5 Apply for Your State’s School Counseling Licensure

Once you’ve completed these steps, you will officially receive your state licensure. This means you’ll have the official qualifications to practice as a professional school counselor. Keep in mind that your license may or may not transfer to other states. The following states will not accept a California school counseling license:

  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Louisiana
  • Minnesota
  • Nebraska
  • North Dakota
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Texas 
  • Wisconsin

However, most other states have reciprocal agreements in place that allow you to practice with your license. 

#6 Apply for Additional Certifications

Even if you successfully acquire your state’s school counseling license, some states require a few more certifications. For example, you may need to get an education certification to work at certain schools. 

To differentiate yourself and grow your skill set further, you can also pursue specialized counseling certifications in:

  • Anxiety and stress management
  • Bullying prevention
  • Cultural competency
  • Grief and loss
  • Trauma 
  • Personal and professional development
  • College admissions

With this specialized knowledge, you can be a better school counselor and increase your earning potential. 

#7 Apply for Jobs

Once you’ve completed all these steps, you can start applying for jobs at schools in your area. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for school counselors is growing fast. Thus, you should be able to find a position with ease. 

What is the Average Salary for a School Counselor?

While salaries vary nationwide, the median salary for school counselors was $57,040 as of May 2019. However, your salary will depend on:

  • Which city you work in
  • Whether you work for a private or public school
  • Your degree of specialization
  • Your level of experience

What Are The Job Titles of a School Counselor?

Many job titles fall into the category of “school counselor.” As you conduct your job search, keep an eye out for the following job titles:

  • School Counselor
  • Guidance Counselor
  • Career Counselor
  • College Counselor
  • Elementary School Counselor
  • High School Counselor

Choose An Age Group to Work With

Schools are typically broken down into elementary school, middle school, and high school. Within these schools, kids fall into the following age ranges: 

  • Elementary school – 5 to 10 years old
  • Middle school – 11 to 13 years old
  • High school – 14 to 18 years old

At each of these stages, students have different challenges and concerns, requiring tailored techniques. Thus, you should carefully consider which age group you’d like to work with most. 

How to Become An Elementary School Counselor

To be an elementary school counselor, you need to be well-versed in the stages of child development. When children are at this stage, learning disabilities become noticeable and behavioral problems are more common. 

You’ll also need to pay close attention to students’ burgeoning academic capabilities. Some students may need to be challenged more, whereas others might require additional assistance to avoid falling behind. 

How to Become A Middle School Counselor

Middle schoolers are just entering adolescence. During this stage, they go through puberty, explore their identity, and navigate increasingly complex social dynamics. Middle school counselors support students during these changes so they can grow and thrive. 

How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor

As students enter high school, they are faced with a whole new set of obstacles and responsibilities, including:

  • Transitioning into adulthood
  • Considering a career path
  • Completing college applications
  • Facing peer pressure
  • Exploring their sexuality
  • Facing drugs and alcohol

High schoolers greatly benefit from having an adult  to turn to during these challenges. Furthermore, since the role of colleges and careers becomes increasingly important, it can be beneficial for school counselors to get specific training in these areas. This will enable them to help their students more effectively. 

Alliant University: Get Your California School Counseling Degree

If you’re ready to become a school counselor, choose Alliant International University for your master’s program. Its California School of Professional Psychology will provide you with an accredited education. Plus, you’ll have the option to take classes online or at one of the California-based campuses. 

During the program, you’ll learn invaluable skills that will serve you in your career as a certified counselor and help you make a meaningful difference in students’ lives. 



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