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What is a School Counselor?

male college student meeting with campus counselor
Published 06/20/2020
9 minutes read
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 Childhood and adolescence are times of learning, development, and exploration. They can also be hard to navigate alone. Whether a child is facing academic challenges, social pressures, or troubles at home, they often need an adult they can safely turn to. Sometimes a school teacher or educator isn't enough.

That's where school counselors may help. School counselors offer a wide range of support services to students, including individual counseling and a comprehensive school counseling program across the entire campus. 

If you enjoy helping others, becoming a school counselor can be a rewarding career choice. You’ll have ample opportunities to make a meaningful difference in children’s lives, from increasing their social skills, pushing for academic success, to helping them setting up their career goals. In turn, you can make the tumultuous years of growing up a little bit easier for the students in any school setting. 

Click here to learn more about our School Counseling Master’s Program

What Is A School Counselor?

A school counselor is a licensed counselor that works in educational environments. A professional school counselor has an in-depth understanding of human development and counseling techniques. The purpose of school counseling is to support the entire student body’s well-being and overall success.1 

School counselors help students in all areas of their lives, including social, personal, academic, and career readiness through a counseling program. They do so with a caring and patient demeanor.2 Some school counselors may have a background in EdS in School Counseling or any related field, and may also have special training around kids with special needs, unique cultural backgrounds, or difficult home lives. 

Become a School Counselor 

School counselors may provide:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • School-wide program organization
  • Student assessments
  • Career counseling
  • Meetings with parents
  • Referrals to other mental health professionals

Team Effort

While school counselors have a wide range of responsibilities, they don't do it all on their own. They work in close conjunction with teachers, parents, the school administrator and other school staff. Through this collaboration, children can receive integrated support.

What Does a School Counselor Do?

One of the primary functions of being a school counselor is meeting with students one-on-one and listening to their concerns with empathy.3 After hearing them out, counselors then may provide:

  • Academic support
  • Emotional support
  • Problem-solving guidance
  • Advice for navigating social dynamics
  • Conflict mediation
  • Career counseling
  • College application assistance

In addition to these services, school counselors may organize and facilitate many larger programs, such as:

  • Peer counseling training programs – School counselors often don’t have time to see every student one-on-one. Peer counseling programs broaden the availability of counseling services. Peer counselors provide their fellow students with counseling services. As the school counselor, you train these student counselors and guide them along the way. 
  • Academic boards – Due to school counselors’ insights into the students’ academic experience, they strive to help academic boards improve learning conditions at their schools. They offer suggestions on ways to enhance learning outcomes for kids who are struggling academically. 
  • Career aptitude testing – Career aptitude testing analyzes students’ personalities, preferences, and strengths. The test results provide possible career paths based on this information. By organizing aptitude testing, school counselors help college-ready students determine which careers align with their natural abilities. 
  • Drug and alcohol prevention – Most high schools hold annual school-wide programs to teach students about the dangers of substance use. As a school counselor, you will play a large part in organizing these events. 

These are just a few of the programs that school counselors may be involved in. The full range of programs will vary from school to school.

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What School Counselors Can’t Do

Unlike psychiatrists or psychologists, school counselors cannot diagnose students or write prescriptions. Thus, if a school counselor suspects a child has a learning disability or mental health concern, they can refer the student’s parents to the appropriate resources. 

What Issues Do School Counselors Deal With?

Every student faces a unique set of challenges. You never know what a child is going through until you speak with them. In turn, school counselors must be adept at picking up on signs of problems, even if students are not explicitly forthcoming about them. 

During the school years, some of the common issues students face are:

  • Academic issues – Many students will seek counseling if they're falling behind in their classes. For students who chronically underperform, school counselors can test them to see if there's a learning disability at play. However, if no learning disability is present, troubles to their academic success may indicate something deeper, like bullying, abuse at home, or depression.4
  • Bullying – Unfortunately, kids and teens can be cruel to each other. For students who experience bullying, school days can feel like a daily battle. Furthermore, with social media, bullying often follows students to their homes, giving them no reprieve. A school guidance counselor can give support to bullying victims and help them navigate the situation, bringing in disciplinary help when necessary.5
  • Family issues – As a child grows up, family problems can significantly impact their well-being. These include divorce, death, financial hardship, and abuse. If a student is going through any of these situations, a school guidance counselor can provide them with a sense that they're not alone. An objective, empathetic adult outside the family can provide solidarity to kids going through these tough experiences.Social problems - From being the new kid to dealing with popularity-based cliques, it can be hard to find your place at school. Students can greatly benefit from a listening ear, thoughtful advice, and potentially some conflict mediation.6 
  • Social problems – From being the new kid to dealing with popularity-based cliques, it can be hard to find your place at school. Students can greatly benefit from a listening ear, thoughtful advice, and potentially some conflict mediation. 
  • Substance abuse – While schools strive to eliminate drug and alcohol use, some students inevitably still partake. Teenagers are especially susceptible. If a student’s substance use is harming them, a school counselor can match them with the appropriate resources.7 
  • Graduation anxiety – As graduation approaches, older students often have anxiety about the future. They may fear moving away from home, going to college, or becoming financially independent. As a guidance counselor, these professionals can guide students through these feelings and provide insight into what the future holds.

As you can see, school guidance counselors can offer invaluable support to kids who often have no one else to turn to. By becoming one, you will have the opportunity to act as an important advocate for the children in your community. 

To learn more about our online programs at Alliant, click here

What Age Group Do School Counselors Work With?

School counselors work with kids of all ages, ranging from kindergartners to high school seniors. School counselors work at elementary schools, middle schools, or high schools, giving them the option to counsel their preferred age group of students.8 

Elementary School Counselor

Elementary school encompasses children who are five to ten years old. During this stage, children develop at a rapid pace. They begin learning foundational skills to succeed academically, emotionally, and socially. 

To be a capable elementary school counselor, you must have a thorough understanding of this stage of child development. This way, you’ll be able to identify potential learning disabilities and behavioral problems that need additional attention. 

Working with young children requires patience, creativity, and a calm demeanor. If you have these traits, elementary school counseling can be an enriching experience.

High School Counselor

High school students face a unique set of challenges as they transition into adulthood. They begin differentiating from their parents and pursuing independence. They can care deeply about their relationships with their peers. Technology and social media play a complex role in how they communicate with each other. 

Here are some important areas you’ll focus on as a high school counselor

  • Peer pressure – Teenagers can be highly influenced by their peers. Dealing with peer pressure can be difficult. An objective, adult perspective can be of great benefit during this time. 
  • Sex, drugs, and alcohol – High schoolers are often introduced to sex, drugs, and alcohol for the first time. It can be hard for them to balance the peer pressure with their own values and make safe decisions. With proper guidance and education, they’ll be more empowered to make responsible choices. 
  • Heightened academic stress – With college applications looming, stakes are high for students’ academic performance. Thus, many high schoolers become overwhelmed with their coursework. Having someone to talk to can help them gain perspective. 
  • College admissions – Leaving home for the first time and venturing off to college can be both exciting and anxiety-inducing. Many students need help with their college applications, while others seek emotional support for the upcoming changes in their lives. 
  • Career readiness and development – Finding the right career path is hard at any age. Graduating seniors may want to discuss their options with someone. School counselors can review a student’s ideas and interests, as well as organize career fairs to expose students to various professions. 

The Benefits of School Counseling

No matter which age group you decide to work with, school counseling can be a deeply fulfilling career. You get to watch your students grow socially, emotionally, and academically.9 

Empirical studies show that school counseling:

  • Improves learning and behavioral outcomes
  • Promotes higher academic achievement
  • Reduces racial disparities in AP courses
  • Improves college decision-making
  • Increases students’ knowledge of potential occupations 

If helping students is fulfilling and you want to contribute to these meaningful outcomes, becoming a school counselor is a great way to do so.

Alliant International University: Start Your School Counseling Career

To be a school counselor, you need to earn your master’s degree in counseling from an accredited university. Once you’ve got your degree, you can pursue the appropriate state certifications and receive your official counseling license.

Alliant International University offers accreditation, hands-on training, and small classes so you get a top-notch counseling education. Check out Alliant International University’s graduate psychology programs today. 

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Sources

  1. Team, GoodTherapy Editor. “School Counseling.” School Guidance Counselors: How They Help Students. GoodTherapy. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/modes/school-counseling…;
  2. “Asca Ethical Standards for School Counselors.” ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counselors - American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/About-School-Counseling/Ethical-Legal-R…;
  3. “Counseling / the Benefits of School Counseling Services.” Counseling / The Benefits of School Counseling Services. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.bcbe.org/Page/14433. 
  4. Team, GoodTherapy Editor. “Common Academic Concerns.” GoodTherapy. GoodTherapy. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/academic-concern…;
  5. Gavin, Mary L., ed. “Dealing with Bullying (for Teens) - Nemours Kidshealth.” KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation, February 2019. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/bullies.html. 
  6. BA, Al Ubaidi. “Cost of Growing up in Dysfunctional Family.” ClinMed International Library. clinmed journals. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://clinmedjournals.org/articles/jfmdp/journal-of-family-medicine-a…;
  7. “The School Counselor's Role in Substance Abuse Prevention.” The School Counselor's Role in Substance Abuse Prevention - American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.schoolcounselor.org/Newsletters/April-2019/The-School-Couns…;
  8. “How to Become a School Counselor.” Online Counseling Programs. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://onlinecounselingprograms.com/become-a-counselor/counseling-care…;
  9.  “Counseling / the Benefits of School Counseling Services.” Counseling / The Benefits of School Counseling Services. Accessed November 23, 2021. https://www.bcbe.org/Page/14433. 

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