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How To Become A School Counselor

March 31, 2021 | Staff Writers

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School counselors are some of the essential professionals globally. Although they may not get the same recognition as doctors, or even teachers, the duties they perform are usually of vital importance. If you’d like to be a school counselor, it’s worth noting that each state has different requirements. However, one thing is constant: you must complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or education to become a certified counselor. By earning your bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, education, or any other related field, you take on a career working with students and assisting them in achieving their goals.

Credentials and Qualifications Required to Become a School Counselor

School counselors play a critical role in the development of students. They help students develop the skills they need to succeed, whether academically or generally in life. School counselors have a significant influence on the welfare of students and training to become one is extensive.

As a result, there are a few requirements and qualifications that anyone looking to become a professional counselor has to meet. They are discussed in detail below.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: The first educational requirement needed to become a school counselor (other than a high school diploma) is a bachelor’s degree from a recognized university or college. While you can be a school counselor with an undergraduate degree in a variety of fields, the most relevant ones are counseling, psychology, or any other behavioral and social science.
  • Master’s Degree: Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree, the next step is getting a master’s degree. Unlike the bachelor’s degree, your master’s has to specifically be in school counseling or a closely related subject with adequate coursework in school counseling.
  • Graduate Internship/Clinical experience: A part of your master’s degree is a set number of internship or clinical hours. Most involve hours in practicum experience and hours of supervised internship experience. A practicum is an in-person experience that helps you understand better what it takes to become a school counselor. An internship is usually more hands-on and puts all the things you’ve learned at the classroom level to the test.
  • State School Counselor Exams: After you’ve completed the internship hours and satisfied the requirements, the next natural step is to pursue licensure. To obtain your license, you will need to pass the school counselor exams prescribed by the state. This exam is a critical requirement because failing it means that you can’t get your license. If you can’t get your license, then you can’t practice school counseling.

    Some of the areas covered on the exam include the school counselor role, human growth and development; ethical and legal aspects of counseling, counseling skills and interventions; and management of counseling programs. To improve your chances, choose a master’s program with a track record of preparing its students successfully for licensure exams.
  • Official Certification: Once you have passed the exams, the last hurdle is official state certification. This process tends to vary depending on the state, but typically, applicants are required to complete a form, provide transcripts and official test scores, and pay a fee.

Once you have completed all these steps and passed each stage successfully, you are ready for the job market and can start sending out your resume to potential employers.

How To Become A School Counselor With A Teaching Degree

As seen above, you don’t need to have majored in psychology or counseling at the undergraduate level for you to become a certified school counselor. It is very possible to transition from teaching to counseling; however, you will need to add a few things to your skillset, as discussed below.

  • Get A Master’s Degree In School Counseling
    To become a school counselor with a teaching degree, you need to have an educational counseling master’s. This way, you will learn about what it takes to be a school counselor and study topics such as the history of school counseling, human development, theories and techniques of personal counseling, and psychology.
  • Rack Up Supervised Training Hours
    Just as anyone else looking to become a school counselor, you, too, will need to engage in a supervised training experience. It could be as a practicum or internship as long as you get clinical training hours under a certified school counselor.
  • Get Licensed
    The final hurdle is acquiring a license, and the procedure is the same for everyone. You have to sit for the state counselor exams then make a formal application for licensure.

There isn’t an exact timeframe for aspiring school counselors to follow as the requirements vary from state to state. After high school, your bachelor’s degree will take about four years. Once that is done, your master’s could take you between three and five years, depending on the length of the internship. Applying for a license doesn’t take long, and within a year, you could be fully licensed.

Becoming a school counselor is pretty straightforward as long as you fulfill all the required qualifications. The most critical one is the master’s degree, and if you sail through that, your state school counselor exams shouldn’t be much trouble.

Credentials & Qualifications Required to Become A School Counselor

Due to the massive responsibilities that school counselors face, only the best get to practice this profession. There are plenty of requirements and qualifications needed so that schools can be sure that only those capable of taking on these responsibilities get the jobs.

A school counselor is one of the very few careers that require one to have a postgraduate degree, in this case, a master’s in school counseling being the minimum requirement. This required level of education speaks volumes. Some of the other careers that have similar requirements are in law and medicine, among others.

Credentials Needed

As for the credentials you must have to become a school counselor, a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree are a necessity, as well as a valid license from the required state authorities.

  • Bachelor’s Degree: After getting your high school diploma, the next natural step would be a four-year course in university. If you started with community college, you might want to get an associate degree, then transfer to a four-year college where you can complete your studies and earn a bachelor’s degree. If you know you want to become a  school psychologist or counselor, then it helps to major in a related course right from the beginning. A few good examples are behavioral and social sciences, which should set you up nicely for your master’s program.
  • Master’s Degree: As mentioned, a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to start a school counselor career. The minimum requirement is a master’s degree in school counseling, and typical coursework includes counseling theories, learning and behavior disorders, human development, and counseling ethics. Here you should be able to learn a lot more than what you did at the undergraduate level, as well as equip yourself with the necessary skills required for on-the-ground work. You could choose to take your master’s degree online or even through classroom learning. The important thing is to make sure that it is from an accredited university; otherwise, all your hard work and effort would count for naught.
  • State License: Just like most professions, you need a valid license from the state to practice school counseling. You will not be able to get a position in the field if you don’t have a license. It’s illegal to practice without a license, and no employer will believe that you have the skillset to do the job of school counselor if you lack a license. To get your license, you have to pass school counselor exams provided by the state. This exam, alongside any other state-required certifications, should qualify you for a counselor’s license.

Qualifications Needed

In addition to the credentials mentioned above, there are a few other qualifications you must have to become a school counselor. For example, you need to be patient and display good communication and problem-solving skills. Below are some of these qualifications in detail. 

  • On the Ground Experience: You will need to rack up a few hours of field experience. An easy way to achieve this is through internships and practicums. These experiences allow you to work under the supervision of a certified school counselor. More often than not, these internships will be part of your master’s program. 
  • Essential Skills & Qualities: It takes a lot to work with troubled teenagers of different personalities daily. For this, you need a few qualities and skills, some of which cannot be taught. These include patience and good communication skills as well as problem-solving skills, a motivational nature, time management, and an ability to comfort others.

Typically, it doesn’t take as long as it would take a therapist, but it could be between seven to nine years, depending on the path you choose to take. That time includes four years for the bachelor’s degree and a further two or three years to complete your master’s program. The state license shouldn’t take you any longer than four months as long as you have passed the state counselor exams and your credentials are in order. People who decide to get teaching experience will take a longer time than that.

The credentials required to be an elementary school counselor are almost the same as those of a high school counselor. However, high school counselors tend to have more experience because the responsibility is greater.

Qualities of School Counselors

A school counselor should be well-trained, experienced, and possess specific characteristics. This job is challenging and requires a special person who deals with various conflicts in schools. School counselors listen and document the essential points, and each counseling session could take several hours. Therefore, solving disputes helps to bring peace in schools and prepare students to face their next stages in life. 

Sometimes, conflict occurs among students and school staff, and comprehensive school counseling is needed. If the issues aren’t addressed appropriately, learning and other school activities are negatively impacted. Anytime a school experiences conflict, a counselor comes in handy.  Below are the qualities a successful school counselor should have to resolve conflicts.

  • Strong Assessment Skills
    School counselors should document essential points to maintain a counselor-student relationship during a school counseling program before resolving any problem. They should try to understand what is going on in the student’s mind to get to the source of the problem, connect with facts, and conclude the issue. These counselors should also have strong observation skills to guide students and support them to solve various personal issues.
  • Great Listening Skills 
    School counselors should listen keenly before resolving a conflict between two or more students. These counselors spend more time interacting with one or more students. Because they are highly-trained, they can guide a conversation and support students’ opinions without favors. Therefore, they can read the body language and know when things are left unsaid during conflict resolution.
  • Empathy
    School counselors should win the students’ trust to resolve conflicts faster. Regardless of the issues they are solving, school counselors build trust with the student to gain their confidence. Thus, they understand the source of the conflict and improve social cooperation among students.

What Qualities Will Help School Counselors Deal with Emotionally Disturbed Students?

According to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY), there are six types of emotional disturbances. They include obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, conduct disorders, anxiety disorders, and eating disorders. That’s why most counselors attend a master’s degree program.

Emotionally disturbed children have difficulties in socializing and academic life. Most school counselors have either a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in school counseling. Therefore, school counselors should possess the following qualities to help these students.

  • Have a Sense of Humor
    Mostly, emotionally disturbed students prefer isolating themselves from others. It’s hard to know what they are going through because they are mostly quiet. However, school counselors have a great sense of humor to amuse these students, gain their trust and help them to open up.
  • Be an Excellent Communicator
    Assessing mentally disturbed students is vital, and knowing how to listen is an essential skill to an accurate assessment. Therefore, school counselors should be excellent communicators to help assess these students and know how to help them. They get students to open up to what is emotionally disturbing them and help them resolve the issues. They offer them guidance counseling to help them in the next step of life.
  • Friendliness
    Whether one is an elementary school counselor or a high school counselor, it would help if one is friendly to the emotionally disturbed students. Thus, they can trust these counselors more than they trust their parents or other faculty members. Whenever the school counselors treat these students as friends, they speak up about their problems and feel less stressed. 

What Qualities are Needed for a School Counselor Compared to a Guidance Counselor?

According to the American School Counselor Association, a school counselor covers several services ranging from assessing the students’ behavior to conflict resolution. Both the school counselor and the guidance counselor provide services that help students succeed academically and have excellent mental health. Attending a master’s program in counseling is crucial, and most school counselors have an online master’s counseling degree. However, their qualities differ.

  • Understanding of Diversity
    Guidance counselors may have a limited role in students’ lives compared to school counselors. School counselors help students in various aspects, including behavioral, mental, social, and emotional wellness. They also engage professional school counseling to deal with complicated guidance programs.
  • Flexibility 
    School counselors cover a more comprehensive range of services compared to guidance counselors. Thus, they should be all-rounded to help students with family, academic and social issues. No matter how complex an issue seems, they can quickly resolve it.
  • Being in Control 
    School counselors have to walk a careful line of maintaining trust with the student and maintaining professionalism. This idea mostly applies when students involved are engaging in risky behaviors or are facing abuse. Being authoritative helps these school counselors to take proper steps in resolving the issue. However, a guidance counselor can help maintain a friendly relationship when offering a guidance counseling program.

Best School Counselor Degree Programs

Did you know that school counselors are in schools at every level? They play different roles to ensure that students are well-behaved and have peace of mind. Whether you are hoping to be an elementary school counselor or a high school counselor, you must earn a four-year undergraduate degree to qualify and, as mentioned, most schools require these counselors to have a master’s degree in school counseling. 

Most school counselors have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, or education. These school counselor degree courses require students to combine science and liberal art courses. Students who are confident in this field should start making graduate plans while in junior year. They should also take core courses to help them work in different fields. A master’s program takes two or three years to complete and graduate. Students can attend classes or take online master’s studies. 

Below are examples of prerequisite and core courses in most counselor degree programs that can enable a graduate to offer the best school counseling program.

  • Law and ethics for school counselors
  • Introduction to special education and learning disabilities
  • Diagnosis and assessment
  • Consultation, leadership, and advocacy
  • Social justice in professional practices
  • Fundamental counseling skills
  • Group counseling
  • Introduction to behavior disorders and intervention

Colleges that Offer the Best Counselling Degree Programs

University of Maryland– College Park, MD

University of Florida– Gainesville, FL

University of North Carolina– Greensboro, NC

University of Georgia– Athens, GA

Pennsylvania State University– University Park, PA.

Where Can You Find Information About the Best School Counselor Degree Programs?

Every student interested in pursuing a school counseling degree intends to learn the best school counselor degree programs. However, with many schools offering these programs, it’s not easy to choose.  Below are various areas where students can find information about a bachelor’s degree program or a master’s degree program.

  • Internet
    A student interested in becoming a school counselor or a guidance counselor can find information about degree programs from the internet. They should do thorough online research to make the right decision and avoid regrets later in life. Information provided by the school and government sites is the best because they are more likely to contain facts, but you should still look at other sources after narrowing down your decision.
  • Ask for Referrals
    There are successful school counselors who earned their degrees from various colleges. Students can talk to them and know where the best counselor degree programs are offered. They should then analyze the information given by these referrals to know which colleges offer the best school counselor degree programs.
  • Newspapers and Magazines
    Today, most students rush to the internet and rarely read newspapers and magazines. Various colleges post about the school counselor degree programs they offer in newspapers and magazines, both in print and online. By reading these sources, students can choose the best programs depending on the field they are interested in.

What are the Benefits of Getting a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

Are you wondering what to do after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in school counseling? There are numerous benefits to continuing with education to earn a master’s degree. The benefits of having a master’s degree in school counseling include:

  • Different Career Paths
    Graduates with a master’s degree in school counseling have various specialties to consider after they graduate. Thus, pursuing this course comes in handy with multiple career motivations. If they don’t have an interest in working specifically in schools, they can choose other types of patients to work with. Specializing in a specific field, such as child abuse guidance counseling, is also an option.
  • Employment
    Most school counselor graduates are concerned about securing a job after graduating. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there will be many opportunities in coming years for students graduating with a school counseling master’s degree. Thus, school counselors have high chances of getting employed in various schools at different levels due to increasing future job prospects.

School counselors help people live better lives physically, mentally, and emotionally. They help students deal with effects that accompany sexual, emotional, and physical abuse and have a better life. Without counseling programs, students could lack an opportunity to have significant adult relationships. Thus, we should never underestimate the work of school counselors. People in this profession should be happy with the choice they made and the difference that they make.

In Summary

The term guidance counselor was used to reference counselors working within the school system in the past, but the main duty of these counselors was to assist students in choosing a future career path and a college and help with college application requirements. They did this by writing their students letters of recommendation as well as sending out transcripts. To be a guidance counselor, you had to be good at talking to students, gathering information, and writing letters of recommendation.

In recent years, the role of guidance counselors has evolved. Today, many learning institutions prefer using the term school counselors to guidance counselors because they do so much more. School counselors perform various roles, much more than sending out transcripts and writing letters of recommendation. Given that they perform a more comprehensive role, to become a school counselor, you have to be a good listener, appreciate diversity, empathize with your students, and have a good understanding of diversity. You also have to be friendly and authoritative. If you possess these qualities, choosing to be a school counselor would be wise.

Although completing a four-year bachelor’s degree in school counseling is enough to land you an entry-level job in some schools, getting a master’s degree in the same field brings a good number of benefits. One of the key benefits you’ll enjoy upon completion of your master’s degree is that you’ll command a higher salary than before. Another benefit is that you’ll feel a sense of accomplishment because you will be among the elite few individuals who’ve been able to achieve this feat. Lastly, when you finish your master’s degree, you’ll be in more demand. School counselors with master’s degrees are often more knowledgeable and effective than those with bachelor’s degrees, which is why some employers require them.

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