School Counseling Programs: Becoming a School Counselor

Because of the increasing involvement of school counselors in crisis counseling, which involves helping students cope with things such as drug and alcohol abuse or death or suicide, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that this occupation will grow faster than average by 14 percent through 2018. It also means that more school counseling programs focus on these areas when educating students interested in this position.

School counselors often have dual functions. They play large roles in helping students deal with learning difficulties, stressful situations, and social or personal problems. They also help students to evaluate their abilities, talents, and interests; advise them on eventual careers that they are suited for; and assist them in choosing the appropriate academic courses that will prepare them for their vocational goals.

The requirements for becoming a school counselor can be different according to the state you live in, but most of them require the following:

  • Bachelor’s Degree. This is a prerequisite to the master’s degree that most states insist that counselors hold. If you are interested in becoming a school counselor, you should earn a bachelor’s degree with a major in psychology or a related field such as sociology, education, or child development. These degree programs usually include courses in childhood development and psychology, along with observational field work or a research project.
  • Master’s Degree. This is the minimum level of education that most states require counselors to have. According to the Council of Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), programs for a master’s degree in school counseling should include course work in core areas such as human growth and development, individual and group counseling, social and cultural diversity awareness, and research methodology, as well as completion of a six-hundred-hour clinical internship under the supervision of a licensed school counselor. Many school counseling programs at this level also include study in substance abuse or addictions counseling, rehabilitation counseling, relationship counseling, career development counseling, and related fields.
  • License or Certification. All school counselors must be licensed or certified by the state in which they work, but the requirements for eligibility can differ greatly according to the state and the occupational specialty. Some states allow school counselors to practice with counseling certification and completion of at least some graduate course work, but most states require school counselors to complete their master’s degrees. Some states require school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates and to have some experience in teaching. (Many school counselors, in fact, start out as teachers and later on decide to take advanced course work in order to become counselors.) States that require licenses also usually require counselors to undergo continuing education in order to keep their licenses valid. Make sure you know what the specific certification or licensing requirements are for the state in which you wish to work so that you can fulfill all of the educational and experience obligations.

After you are qualified to begin practicing as a school counselor, you will find that your duties and approaches can vary according to the grade level you are working with. With elementary students, you may observe them during classes or playtime in order to appraise their problems, special needs, or strong points. With high school students, you provide advice on academic majors, career counseling, and special services.