Becoming a School Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

About this article
A school counselor's mean annual salary is around $56,040 per year, but is it worth the lengthy education requirements and debt? Get the truth about the job duties, salary and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a School Counselor

As a school counselor, you might find employment at the elementary, middle, high school or postsecondary level. Read on for more of the pros and cons of this job to see if it is right for you.

Pros of a School Counselor Career
Average expected employment growth rate (12% growth between 2012 and 2022)*
Higher-than-average salary (nearly $10,000 higher than mean wage for all occupations)*
May have summers off when school is closed *
Rewarding job making a difference in lives of youth *

Cons of a School Counselor Career
Entry-level education usually requires master's degree (about 36-60 credit hours to complete)*
Must have state-issued certification or licensure to practice (can require 2,000-3,000 hours clinical experience)*
High cost of education and licensure compared with average starting salary (about $40,000 with less than a year of experience)**
May need to work with uninvolved parents to be successful in helping youth*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com.

Career Info

Job Duties

A school counselor's main goal is to help students achieve educational success, although they can also help students to develop social skills. No two days are the same for a school counselor; however, some of the main duties include meeting with students who need help and then involving teachers and parents in a successful development plan. This may require analyzing the student's issues, compiling the information, holding parent conferences, developing a treatment plan and then communicating the results of the treatment.

Schools may ask counselors to develop special programs, such as bullying seminars, to educate groups of students in social skills and help alleviate problems. Communicating what school counseling can do for the staff, the students and the community is also part of this position.

Career Paths and Specializations

Your duties as a school counselor will vary depending on what age of students you wish to work with. As an elementary school counselor, you will likely help students to develop academically and improve their study skills. You may also help to work with those students who are identified as having developmental or learning disabilities. As a middle school counselor, your tasks might also include helping students to determine their academic and career goals. High school counselors focus even more heavily on this task, and help students to choose colleges, trade schools or career paths.

Salary Information

In May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that about 246,280 educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors were employed in the United States (www.bls.gov). The mean annual wage for these professionals was about $56,040. In 2014, those school counselors employed by elementary and secondary schools earned the highest median salary of $62,950. Those school counselors employed by vocational rehabilitation services earned the lowest median salary of $39,750.

What Are the Requirements?

According to the BLS, you will most likely need a master's degree to enter the school counseling field. You will also typically need state credentialing in the form of a license, certification or endorsement, depending on the state in which you intend to practice. The American School Counselors Association offers a state-by-state breakdown of requirements. In your graduate degree program, you should acquire knowledge in areas like counseling, therapy, psychology and sociology. Most graduate degree programs include a supervised practicum experience. Some of the skills you will need to succeed as a school counselor include:

  • Active listening skills
  • Reading, English, oral and written comprehension skills
  • Critical thinking and deductive reasoning skills
  • Written and oral communication skills

What Employers Are Looking For

Schools hiring counselors look for applicants who meet their educational and experiential specifications. Some may include specific certifications or credentials. Here are some examples of job openings posted on Monster.com in April 2012:

  • A college-preparatory school in New York, NY, is hiring a school counselor to for both group and individual counseling. The individual hired will also help with peer leadership, health curriculum and general advising. This school prefers a master's degree for this full-time position.
  • A private school in Palm Beach Gardens, FL, seeks a full-time school counselor with a master's degree and clinical social worker or mental heath care license. This school also requires two years of experience working with middle school children or younger. Experience in a private school setting is also preferred.
  • A school district in Greenville, PA, is hiring a secondary guidance counselor with experience in special education procedures. Bullying prevention and student assistance program experience is also required. Prospective employees should have a PA teaching certificate and current required PA clearances in Acts 34, 151 and 114 and submit proof when applying.

How to Stand Out in the Field

One of the ways you can stand out in the field of school counseling is to gain specific certifications and credentials along with your master's degree. Some graduate degree programs in school counseling offer preparation for certificates specific to your state of residence or practice. For instance, a professional master's degree program might provide graduates with a school counselor certificate that is designed to meet specific state certification requirements.

Other schools offer different paths of study that lead to different credentials. For example, some graduate degree programs can prepare you to become a certified teacher as well as a school counselor. Some professional programs are also tailored to certified teachers who are interested in becoming school counselors. If you already possess a master's degree in another discipline, there are programs that help you gain education and licensure in school counseling or achieve a teaching certificate if it is required for employment.

Other Careers to Consider

If you find you would rather generalize in your counseling career, you could pursue an overall social worker occupation. This position involves helping individuals of any age with their life problems. Social workers also diagnose and treat behavioral and emotional problems and mental illness. According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for the job classification of social workers was about $54,000 in May 2011. Employment in the profession is predicted to grow at the faster-than-average rate of 25% between 2010 and 2020.

Another route you may wish to pursue is becoming a teacher. Many positions in school counseling require you obtain your teacher's certificate, which qualifies you for this career. The mean annual salary in May 2011 for elementary school teachers, excluding special education, was about $55,000, stated the BLS. Occupational growth for these teachers is expected to be about 17% between 2010 and 2020.

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      • Master: Higher Education - Student Affairs
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      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
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    High School Diploma
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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Higher Education - Student Affairs
  • MS in Educational Psychology
  • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership

Which subject are you interested in?

The George Washington University

  • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration

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Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Coaching and Mentoring
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology
  • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Psychology

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Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • MS in Professional Counseling
  • B.S. in Educational Studies (Does Not Lead to Teacher Licensure)

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Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

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Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership

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South University

  • Clinical Mental Health Counseling (MA)

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Penn Foster High School

  • HS Diploma

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