High School Guidance Counselor Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a high school guidance counselor career? Get real job descriptions, career outlooks and salary info to see if becoming a high school guidance counselor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Being a High School Guidance Counselor

As a high school guidance counselor, you'll have the opportunity to help teenage students develop their interests and prepare for life beyond high school. Check out these pros and cons to figure out if becoming a high school guidance counselor makes sense for you.

Pros of Being a High School Guidance Counselor
Well-paying career ($56,040 annual salary as of May 2014)*
Opportunity to help youth find career paths*
Chance to be creative and innovative in serving students and schools*
Increasing enrollment will create a demand for counselors in schools*
Average job outlook (with positions in this field growing at 12% between 2012-2022; as fast as average)*

Cons of Being a High School Guidance Counselor
Graduate degrees are typically preferred*
Pressure to make sure students' needs are met*
Work can be emotionally draining*
Long hours and paperwork are common*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Info

Job Description

As a high school guidance counselor, you'll spend most of your time at a public or private school working with students, teachers, administrators and parents. Part of your main responsibilities will be to help students better understand themselves so that they can overcome social, emotional and personal challenges. Providing guidance will be key because you'll have the opportunity to help students figure out what to do after high school, whether that means going to college, working or finding other options. You may also be in charge of maintaining student records and evaluating students through tests and tasks. Outside of career and academic planning, high school guidance counselors may help students deal with mental health struggles, bullying or abuse, which means you may have to keep in close contact with students' families and medical professionals.

Career Growth and Salary Stats

The BLS reports that there should be a 12% growth in employment between 2012 and 2022 for school counselors, which is average for all job markets. Overall, the BLS indicates that a rising number of students enrolled in school may mean a greater demand for counselors to provide support and guidance to them. School and career counselors generally make a comfortable living. The BLS reports that elementary and secondary school counselors earned an average of $63,000 annually in May 2014.

Education Requirements

While you may be able to find work with a bachelor's degree, the majority of guidance counselors earn a master's degree before working within a school setting. Before enrolling in graduate school, you'll need to earn a bachelor's degree in a field that relates to counseling, like education. Once you make it past the four years of undergraduate studies, you'll be able to study at a graduate school that offers a specialized degree in counseling. You'll learn about human development, ethics, counseling, research methods and tools for measuring student success. Depending on your preferred pace of study, your graduate degree program can last two or three years.

Beyond education, high school counselors should be able to connect to young people. You should have excellent communication skills and be empathetic to students' needs. Additionally, you should have a good knowledge of career and academic opportunities for high school students of all backgrounds.


Once you earn your undergraduate and graduate degrees, you'll need to earn a state-issued license before you can start work in a school. The process varies by state, but can include a combination of required courses, background checks and standardized examinations. You may also be required to take part in supervised internships or practicums where you work with students in a supervised setting.

Job Postings From Real Employers

Whether it's a private or public school, there are a number of high schools across the country that are hiring guidance counselors to help support their students. Employers generally look for candidates who can focus on addressing the needs of teenagers while working with school administrators to create action plans for students. Check out these job openings posted in April 2012:

  • A high school in Massachusetts seeks a guidance counselor who can support students with academic and emotional needs. You'll have a number of responsibilities ranging from performing outreach work to administering tests and working with the school principal and other administrators. The job requires a bachelor's degree at the minimum as well as a teaching certificate.
  • A high school in Texas is looking for a guidance counselor who can work with the school community to help students succeed academically, socially and professionally. The job requires a master's degree in guidance counseling, two years of teaching and a counseling certificate for the state of Texas.
  • A high school in Vermont is hiring for a guidance counselor who can work with students and prepare them for post secondary plans. You'll need to be licensed and skilled at working with students and teachers of all backgrounds.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

Consider earning specialized credentials, like the National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) certification. This certification is designed for counselors who hold a master's degree and have passed the nationally administered application and examination process.

High school guidance counselors also have numerous opportunities to engage in professional development so that they can gain an edge over others. There are organizations like the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) that regularly holds meetings, workshops and training institutes for counselors from across the country to meet, network and learn about the latest trends in school counseling. A key aspect of this professional development is training, which will further your skills and give you new strategies to work with your school community.

Alternative Career Paths


If becoming a high school guidance counselor doesn't interest you, think about becoming a psychologist. In this role, you'll be able to work with patients to address their mental and personal challenges. A key part of the job involves research and therapy, which means you'll need to go through a lot of schooling for the career path. Often times, psychologists need at least a master's degree, as well as a license to practice. The BLS reports that the employment outlook of psychologists is good with a 22% growth projected between 2010 and 2020.

Mental Health Counselor

Another option is to become a mental health counselor, which means you'll dedicate yourself to bettering the lives of others through therapy and counseling. You'll need at least a master's degree to become a mental health counselor and a license to practice. With an average annual salary of $43,000 in May 2011, the pay is less than a high school counselor; however, the BLS reports that there will be a growth of 36% between 2010 and 2020.

High School Teacher

You may also want to think about becoming a high school teacher if you still want to work in a high school setting. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree, along with certification from your state. As a high school teacher, you'll work in the classroom teaching academic lessons to students and preparing them for life beyond graduation. High school teachers earned an estimated $57,000 in May 2011, the BLS reported. The job outlook is slower than average, with an expected 7% growth between 2010 and 2020.

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