Becoming an Elementary School Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

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An elementary school counselor's mean annual salary is around $63,000, but is the job worth the education and licensing requirements? Get the truth about job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Elementary School Counselor

Elementary school counselors help students in their early years grow both academically and socially. Consider the pros and cons of a career in elementary school counseling to decide if it's right for you.

Pros of Becoming an Elementary School Counselor
Above-average salary (about $62,950 as of May 2014)*
Allows you to enable students to succeed academically*
May only need to work ten months out of the year*
Can help at-risk students and their families develop healthier habits*

Cons of Becoming an Elementary School Counselor
Requires you to earn bachelor's and master's degrees, which can lead to high debt**
State license needed for this career*
Working with troubled students can lead to high stress***
Counselors sometimes find themselves stuck with non-counseling duties, such as clerical work, grade calculations and dress code enforcement***

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Student Assistance, ***American School Counselor Association.

Essential Career Info

Job Description

Elementary school counselors address young students' educational and developmental needs and can help lay the groundwork for future academic and career success. They do so by designing and implementing programs that include both individual and group counseling, classroom sessions, and consultations with families and teachers. They work to make sure all their students gain essential skills, such as how to study effectively, make sound decisions and avoid problems like bullying and drug use. Through observations and meetings with parents and teachers, counselors must assess students' progress. They also watch out for both academic and personal problems that children may face and decide how best to intervene.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) calculated that elementary and secondary school counselors earned an average salary of about $62,950 as of May 2014 (www.bls.gov). This average was over $6,000 more than the mean salary for counselors at junior colleges and nearly $14,000 more than the average wage for counselors at universities, professional schools and 4-year colleges.

The BLS predicted that elementary and secondary school counseling positions would grow 12% between 2012 and 2022. This was about as fast as the average for all occupations.

What Are the Requirements?

Education

You typically need a master's degree in school counseling or a similar field to counsel at the elementary school level. Graduate programs in school counseling include coursework in such areas as legal and ethical concerns in counseling, diagnosing and treating students, interviewing skills and career planning. The program also normally includes an internship or practicum to ensure that grad students develop practical experience, which is often required for licensing.

Licensure

For public school employment, you'll need a state-issued license. It may also be called a certification or endorsement. Requirements vary but typically include some combination of supervised counseling experience (or time as a teacher), a passing score on a skills exam and a master's degree in counseling. Your license must be continually renewed through the completion of continuing education.

Skills

Counselors spend most of their time interacting with other people, including students, teachers, administrators and parents. To understand the challenges that students face, you need to have an empathetic personality and good listening abilities. You also need good communication skills to run a successful counseling program for all of your students. Since you'll be reporting to both parents and teachers, you must foster good working relationships with other adults, as well as children.

What Employers Are Looking for

Employers usually seek counseling candidates who have current state credentials. However, some employers do ask for relevant experience, such as a previous job with elementary-school age kids dealing with particular issues they may face, such as bullying. Here are some real job postings from May 2012.

  • A school district in Idaho sought an elementary school counselor with a state counseling certificate and a master's degree in counseling.
  • A New Jersey suburban district had four openings for elementary school counselors or social workers. Counseling candidates needed BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) certification. Experience working with the K-5 age group or implementing anti-bullying programs was preferred.
  • A county school system in Maryland advertised for an elementary school counselor. Requirements included a state counselor endorsement and the ability to communicate well with others, both individually and in small groups.
  • An Episcopal primary school in Florida wanted to hire a counselor or social worker with a state license. Prior experience with primary and middle school children was preferred.
  • A federally-run K-8 school in rural Arizona sought a counselor/social worker who could motivate students. Possible housing benefits were also offered.

How to Stand Out

Aspiring counselors should work on building a résumé that showcases their desire to work with children. A helpful way to increase your job prospects is to join a professional association of counselors, such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), to start networking, receive online professional training and keep up with the latest developments (www.schoolcounselor.org). ASCA also offers student memberships at a discount.

Get Certified

Once you've joined the counseling workforce, obtaining a voluntary certification can demonstrate the depth of your knowledge and skills - and possibly get you a promotion or better job opportunities. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) grants a school counselor certification based on an extensive peer review process (www.nbpts.org). According to the NBPTS, its certification might entitle you to a salary increase in many states and can establish you as an expert in the field. It can also satisfy continuing education requirements and make your counseling license portable across state lines.

A second voluntary certification is available from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). Becoming a National Certified School Counselor, according to the NBCC, can also lead to a salary boost at many school districts (www.nbcc.org). To earn the credential, you must already have or apply jointly for certification as a National Certified Counselor, earn a master's degree and pass an exam.

Alternative Careers

Elementary School Teacher

If earning a master's degree sounds like too much time and debt, you might want to help children by teaching them. Counseling and teaching both strive to enable children to fulfill their academic potential. Elementary school teaching generally requires only a bachelor's degree; however, for public school positions, you need a state license. The BLS predicted 12% job growth for elementary school teachers from 2012-2022. The average salary for elementary school teachers as of May 2012 was about $53,400.

Child Social Worker

If helping those children who are most in need appeals to you, then becoming a social worker might be a better fit than a counselor. Social worker duties can consist of direct services, which involve helping people overcome obstacles in their daily lives, and clinical practices, which involve diagnosing and treating emotional, mental, and behavioral problems. As a social worker, you could specialize in treating children and families and even work in schools, alongside counselors.

Clinical and school-based social workers must have a master's degree in their field and receive licensure, but direct-service social workers may only need a bachelor's degree. The BLS anticipated a robust job growth of 19% for social workers in all fields from 2012-2022. Child, family and school social workers made a mean annual salary of about $46,180 as of May 2014, although those employed by elementary and secondary schools earned more, averaging about $60,700 annually during the same time.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
      • Master of Arts in Education and Human Development in Educational Leadership and Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Integrating Technology, Learning, and Psychology
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership - Higher Education Leadership
      • Ed.D. in Organizational Leadership in - K-12 Leadership
      • EdS in K-12 Leadership
    Master's
      • M.Ed. in School Counseling (ITL)
      • M.A. in Communication with an Emphasis in Education
      • M.Ed. in Educational Administration
      • M.Ed. in Educational Leadership
      • MA in Curriculum and Instruction
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. in Educational Studies (Does Not Lead to Teacher Licensure)
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Higher Education - Student Affairs
      • MS in Educational Psychology
      • Master: Higher Education - College Admin./Leadership
      • Master: Higher Education - College Teaching/Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Concordia University Portland

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
      • M.S. - Educational Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Educational Technology Leadership
      • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math)
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Colorado Christian University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Curriculum and Instruction, M.A. - Emphasis in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse
      • Counseling, M.A.
      • Counseling, M.A. Online
      • Educational Leadership, M.Ed. without Licensure

Featured Schools

The George Washington University

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

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision
  • M.Ed. in School Counseling (ITL)
  • B.S. in Educational Studies (Does Not Lead to Teacher Licensure)

What is your highest level of education?

Purdue University Global

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Education - Special Education and Wilson Reading System Certification

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?

Concordia University Portland

  • Master of Education - Curriculum & Instruction: Leadership
  • M.S. - Educational Leadership
  • MEd in Curriculum and Instruction - Educational Technology Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • Master of Arts in Educational Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?