Becoming a Public School Counselor: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a public school counseling career? Get real job descriptions, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a public school counselor is right for you.
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Public School Counselor: Pros and Cons

Counselors guide students in their personal and social development, academic progress and decisions about higher education and careers. Check out the pros and cons to be sure a career as a public school counselor is right for you.

Pros of Becoming a Public School Counselor
Helping students recognize and cope with problems and maximize their potential**
Average Job growth (12% expected growth from 2012-2022)*
Decent wage potential ($56,000 average as of May 2014)*
High job satisfaction***

Cons of Becoming a Public School Counselor
High level of preparation (master's degree required)*
State certification required in all states*
Above average stress level***
Overburdened schools sometimes saddle counselors with non-counseling duties**

Sources: * U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American School Counselor Association, ***U.S. News & World Report

Career Info

Job Description

Public school counselors use individual meetings, group discussions, classroom sessions and testing to help students identify their abilities, interests and goals. At the high school and postsecondary level, they offer information and advice on higher education, career paths and job-seeking skills. They work with families, administrators, medical personnel, social workers and psychologists to make sure students in crisis get the right help. School counselors are responsible for interpreting aptitude tests, collaborating with teachers, analyzing achievements, counseling troubled youth, assisting administration with behavior issues and advocating for student education.

Specializations

For K-12 counselors the school level is the main variable in their work. Elementary school counselors lay foundations for academic success, self-confidence and good decision-making skills. Middle school counselors help students negotiate the transition from parent-oriented childhood to peer-centered adolescence, while continuing their academic progress. High school counselors assist students as they explore growing personal independence and tackle the tests and decisions that will shape their future.

Student counseling services at public colleges and universities constitute a separate career path, where clinical or culturally-based specializations may be important. Some counselors develop an expertise in treating specific conditions, such as substance abuse or eating disorders, while others focus on multi-culturally oriented services for diverse populations or services tailored to a specific minority group.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors earned an average salary of $56,000 as of 2014. In New Jersey, the highest paying state, they averaged nearly $71,200. At junior colleges, counselors averaged $56,320 and at colleges, universities and professional schools counselors had a mean wage of $49,070.

The BLS predicted average job growth of 12% between 2012 and 2022 for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors. Even as school budgets strain, counselors' roles should continue to expand with their work increasingly valued by administrators.

Education and Certification Requirements

Education

You'll generally need a master's degree to work as a school counselor. Master's degree programs in school counseling are available at universities throughout the U.S., some with online options. These programs explore concepts in group counseling, human growth, career development and cultural foundations. In addition to coursework, you complete practicum and internship opportunities. For college-level counseling, the standard qualification is a master's in counseling psychology or social work. Supervisory jobs may require a doctoral degree, though for some a master's is acceptable. Acceptance into a master's degree requires a bachelor's degree.

Certifications

For K-12 counseling, state education departments may require subject area exams, training hours and specific coursework to grant school counselor certification. For postsecondary counseling, you normally need a state license as a counselor, social worker or psychologist, which is administered separately.

Two additional voluntary credentials are available for K-12 counselors. The National Board for Certified Counselors offers the National Certified School Counselor qualification to those who have sufficient experience and education, as well as pass an exam. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards grants school counselor certification after completion of a lengthy peer assessment process. Some states provide salary increases and other benefits to counselors who gain these certifications. Certifications of various kinds need to be renewed, normally every five years. States have various continuing education requirements that must be met for renewals.

What Employers Are Looking for

Counseling is a people-oriented job and schools seek good communication and interpersonal skills. Teaching experience and familiarity with state-designed or commercial educational software are desirable to many employers, too. At the college level, employers may seek specific clinical competencies or culturally based specializations, but also need good generalist counselors. Here are some real job postings from March 2012:

  • A school district in Kentucky was looking to hire an elementary school counselor. Requirements were a master's degree with a concentration in counseling and guidance, state certification in counseling and a year of teaching, with three years of teaching preferred.
  • An Illinois district advertised a 1-year opening for a high school counselor with a state counseling certificate. Desired qualifications are experience working with high school students and their families, good interpersonal and writing skills and the ability to use Naviance counseling software.
  • A school district in Virginia sought a guidance counselor able to speak and write effectively. Minimum qualifications were a master's degree in education or similar area, fulfillment of state criteria for counselors and a state teaching license.
  • In West Virginia, a county school system needed a high school counselor holding a state certificate in professional student support with a 7-12 grade-level counselor endorsement. Preferred candidates would know the state's education information system, including the newer web-based version.
  • The counseling center at a public university in Illinois sought a new staff member to provide generalist counseling and specific services to Latino/a students. Qualifications were a master's degree in counseling psychology or social work, with a doctorate preferred, state license as a psychologist, clinical counselor or social worker and demonstrated competence as a generalist counselor. Ideal candidates would also be fluent in Spanish and have college counseling experience and extensive computer skills.

How to Stand Out

Employers want to be sure that a counselor will be happy working with kids or young adults. Volunteering or work that involves the age group you hope to counsel can be crucial on a new counselor's résumé. Becoming active in a national counseling association is an effective way to show your professional enthusiasm and to network. The American School Counselor Association offers a discounted student membership and allows non-counselors to join, while the American College Counseling Association encourages student members to serve in leadership roles.

Advance Your Skills

Knowing the software a counselor uses is also beneficial. It is wise to be fluent with managing data in widely used software, like Microsoft Excel. With a bit of investigating, you could find out if there is specific education software, like Naviance, used by your target schools or districts and then familiarize yourself with it.

Alternative Careers

School Teachers

If the prospect of getting a master's is off-putting, you can also help children every day by teaching. Most public elementary and secondary school teachers need only a bachelor's degree; however, like counselors they must hold a state license. Teachers should be good motivators, effective communicators and inspire confidence and trust. Teaching does not have as robust an employment outlook as counseling. The BLS predicts job growth ranging from 7% for high school teachers to 18% for kindergarten teachers from 2010-2020. However, as of May 2011 the average salary for secondary school teachers was similar at $57,000.

Human Resources Specialist

If you have strong interpersonal skills and want to help people, but aren't sure a school is the right workplace for you, consider a career in human resources. Human resources careers are found in every industry, and there are entry-level jobs available to holders of various kinds of bachelor's degrees. Areas include recruitment, compensation and benefits, job analysis, training and development, employee assistance plans and labor relations. The BLS predicts a job growth of nearly 21% for human resources specialists from 2010-2020. As of May 2011, the average salary for compensation, benefits and job analysis specialists was $61,000 and $59,000 for training and development specialists.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. University of the Rockies

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Education - Distance Learning
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Education
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Education - Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
      • Doctor of Psychology - Educational Leadership
    Master's
      • MA Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Clinical Mental Health Counseling
      • MA Counseling - Marriage, Couples, and Family Counseling
      • M.A. in Psychology - Career Management & Counseling
      • Master of Arts in Education
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Kaplan University

    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
    3. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • 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
      • MS in Professional Counseling
      • 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)
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Ed.D. - Higher Education Leadership
      • PhD in Education - Educational Leadership
      • PhD in Psychology - General Psychology
    Master's
      • M.Ed. - Higher Education Leadership
      • M.A. in Psychology - General Psychology
      • M.Ed. - Educational Leadership
      • MEd - Accelerated Educational Leadership
      • MEd - Accelerated Leadership in Higher Education
    Certificate
      • Education Specialist - Instructional Leadership
      • Education Specialist - Educational Leadership
      • Education Specialist - Curriculum and Teaching
      • Education Specialist - Leadership in Higher Education
  • Online Programs Available
    5. University of the Southwest

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSEd - School Counseling
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Special Education
      • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
    Certificate
      • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
      • Certificate - Special Education
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Trident University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Educational Leadership (Ed. D.)
      • Educational Leadership (Ph. D. EL)
    Master's
      • Master's - Education
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Teaching and Learning
  • Online Programs Available
    9. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education in Teacher Leadership
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Education - School Administration
      • Master of Business Administration - School Administration

Featured Schools

University of the Rockies

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education - Distance Learning
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Education
  • MA Counseling
  • MA Counseling - Addiction Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

Grand Canyon University

  • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Integrating Technology, Learning, and Psychology
  • MS in Professional Counseling
  • B.S. in Educational Studies (Does Not Lead to Teacher Licensure)
  • Graduate Certificate of Completion in Life Coaching

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Ed.D. - Higher Education Leadership
  • M.Ed. - Higher Education Leadership
  • Education Specialist - Instructional Leadership

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Southwest

  • MSEd - School Counseling

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Special Education
  • MS - Special Education with Wilson Reading Certificate
  • Certificate - Online Accelerated Teacher (OATCERT)
  • Certificate - Special Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Trident University

  • Educational Leadership (Ed. D.)
  • Educational Leadership (Ph. D. EL)
  • Master's - Education

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Teaching and Learning

What is your highest level of education?