Everything you need to know about having a career as a school counselor 

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Do you want to help young people during some of the most influential years of their life? Do you want to make a real difference in students’ lives, not just academically but personally? Then studying for a Masters in School Counseling could be the perfect choice for you.

In response to the turbulence caused by the current COVID-19 pandemic, many people have been reconsidering their jobs and wondering if there is a way that they could do more to help others. Of course, becoming a medical professional is one option, but that’s not a career that suits everyone. Nor is it the only way to make a difference. The impact the pandemic has had on students in terms of disrupted studies and canceled social activities has been tremendous, and so the role of a school counselor has arguably never been more critical than it is now. 

Therefore, if you’re looking to make a career change, becoming a school counselor is well worth considering. If you enjoy working with young people and want to help them make the best of their school years, it can be an extremely rewarding position to work in. It’s also a growing field, meaning it can offer excellent job prospects and a good level of financial security. 

In this article, you can find out more about working as a school counselor, why a Master’s in School Counseling is a great qualification to have, and what a career in the field might look like for you.

What does a school counselor do?

The role of a school counselor is very varied, with several different tasks and responsibilities. Essentially, however, you will be providing all the students in your care with support and guidance in order to help them to reach their full potential.

The precise nuances of the job will depend on exactly where you are working, and you’ll learn more about this when studying for a Master’s in School Counseling. For example, you could be working with children under the age of 10 in an elementary school, all the way up to young adults who are studying at college or university. Therefore, the type of guidance you provide will have to be tailored appropriately to the students’ age and specific needs.

Having said that, there are many common threads that run through the job wherever you’re working and whoever you’re supporting. The main aspects of the job include:

  • Helping students to figure out their interests and strengths, set realistic academic goals, and develop a plan for achieving them
  • Working with students to develop key life skills, including time management, organization, and study techniques
  • Evaluating students’ abilities, skills, strengths, and weaknesses – as well as their goals and interests – to help them choose which classes to take or activities to participate in
  • Being available for students to come and talk to and listening to their worries and concerns about a range of academic, emotional, and social issues
  • Supporting students who are struggling academically, being bullied, or have issues with drugs or alcohol
  • Watching out for and reporting signs of abuse, neglect, or other concerns
  • Assisting students with applications for college, jobs, or scholarships
  • Counseling students on their future career options and how best to achieve them
  • Mediating difficult situations that may arise between students and teachers
  • Liaising with parents where necessary about their child’s progress, and perhaps also giving them advice on how to help their son or daughter succeed
  • Maintaining student records
  • Teaching classes on issues that may be affecting students, such as bullying, low self-esteem, misuse of drugs, and life after graduation
  • Referring students and parents to other resources where appropriate
  • Having input on the creation or alteration of school policies

Generally, you will have a private office to work from, as your meetings with students will be confidential. You may also have access to larger rooms for group counseling and meetings with families.

Is being a school counselor a good field to work in?

The short answer to this question is yes! When it comes to job satisfaction, working as a school counselor can be highly rewarding, as you watch the students you work with grow and develop into successful young adults. Of course, there will be many challenges along the way, but your Master’s in School Counseling will prepare you well to deal with those.

In terms of job prospects, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the employment of school counselors will grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029. This is much faster than the average across all occupations, which indicates that school counseling is a stable field to move into and offers good levels of job security and employability. In 2019 the median annual salary for school and career counselors was $57,040, although of course, this will vary depending on where you work and in what type of institution. Suffice to say, the position does bring with it a reasonable level of financial stability, and so a Master’s in School Counseling can be well worth the investment.

At the end of the day, a school counselor fulfills a vital role in the education system. They guide students and help them develop into well-rounded adults and productive future members of society. Without them, many children and young people might make poor life decisions or slip through the cracks and fail to achieve their potential. It’s hard to argue that school counseling is not a good field to be working in!

What skills do I need to be a good school counselor?

A wide variety of skills plus specific personality traits are required in order to be a great school counselor and someone your students can look up to and rely on. Firstly, the job involves a lot of communication and interaction with different people – including not only children but teachers, parents, and administrators. Therefore, strong interpersonal skills and the ability to relate to people from a wide range of backgrounds are both necessary. 

Similarly, a large part of the job revolves around listening to students and giving the appropriate advice. As such, excellent listening and observation skills are imperative, and also the ability to read body language and other unspoken cues. Not only that, you will need compassion and empathy in order to relate to your students and what they are going through. Building a relationship with the students in your care is a vital part of the job, which will require patience, boundary setting, and honesty.

In addition to these soft skills, some level of leadership will put you in good stead for taking control of what can sometimes be difficult or emotional situations. Strong organizational ability is also important, as you’ll be dealing with a large number of students and providing a wide range of services to them. Flexibility is another useful trait. You will have to be available at a moment’s notice if a student needs to see you or if a situation arises that needs your input.

Beyond this, a keen understanding of the ethical and legal responsibilities of the role is vital. You’ll learn more about this while studying for your Masters in School Counseling, as well as key counseling techniques for both group and individual sessions. You can read more about the sort of topics you will study in the program below.

How do I get qualified to work as a school counselor?

If, after having read this far, you are interested in the job role and think you would be a good fit, it’s time to find out how to get qualified! The first step is to make sure that you have a Bachelor’s degree. This can be in almost any discipline, but some of the most useful subjects are psychology, counseling, sociology, and education. Then the next step is to get a Master’s in School Counseling. For most states, this is a requirement in order to be fully licensed and employed as a school counselor.

A Master’s in School Counseling will give you the specialized knowledge and training you need to succeed in the role. They generally take two or three years to complete on a full-time basis or three or four on a part-time basis. Some are traditional on-campus programs, whereas others can be taken mostly online. Whichever type of program you choose, be sure to check that it’s accredited by the relevant bodies.

There are three broad types of Master’s in School Counseling programs to choose between: a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MS), and Master of Education (MEd). There is a large amount of overlap between the three, but they have slightly different focuses and often slightly different entry requirements. For example, an MEd Master’s in School Counseling might focus more on educational theory, an MS might involve more research, and an MA might welcome students with a more diverse range of Bachelor’s degrees.

After completing your Master’s in School Counseling, you will then need to undertake a number of supervised internship hours. Usually, this will be done in a school setting, under the guidance of a certified school counselor. Once you have done the necessary amount of hours, you will then need to pass certain state-specific requirements in order to get a job as a school counselor. Commonly this involves passing an exam and having a background check.

What will I study in a Master’s in School Counseling program?

A Master’s in School Counseling program generally consists of a series of modules plus some in-person residencies where you can get hands-on experience in a real-life situation. You’ll cover a wide variety of topics related to the job role, including psychology, counseling techniques, and theories, plus ethical and legal issues. The exact courses you’ll take will vary depending on the institution you attend, but you can expect to study at least some of the following:

  • Principles of School Counseling
  • Roles and Responsibilities of the School Counselor
  • Group Counseling
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Educational Assessment and Intervention
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Counseling Theory
  • Counseling Techniques
  • Play Therapy
  • Introduction to Special Education and Learning Disabilities
  • Biological Bases of Behavior
  • Theories of Personality
  • Issues and Standards in Professional Counseling
  • Introduction to Educational Research
  • Clinical Skills
  • Management of School Counseling Programs
  • School Counseling Program Development and Evaluation
  • Counseling for College and Career Readiness
  • Child and Adolescent Psychopathology
  • Mental Health and Substance Use
  • Crisis Intervention, Trauma Response, and Emergency Management

There will be reading lists to help you along the way and regular assignments to complete. You will also most likely take part in a number of mock counseling sessions to gain valuable experience and feedback.

Should I study an on-campus Masters in School Counseling or an online program?

When it comes to deciding how and where to study for your Master’s in School Counseling, it’s a very personal choice. Have a think about how you like to study, the type of lifestyle you lead, and the other commitments you have before making up your mind.

For many people, online study is preferable due to the flexibility it offers. An online program enables you to study at a time and place that suits you and often allows you to continue working while doing the course (particularly if you choose a part-time program). It can also be more convenient for those with families, as it enables you to study at an institution anywhere in the country without having to move. You may need to travel to campus a couple of times for residencies, but aside from that, you can study from home.

One factor to keep in mind with online courses is that you will have to be very disciplined and ensure that you show up at your desk and do the required work without missing any deadlines. You may also have to make more of an effort to connect with your fellow students. Having said that, the quality of education you receive during an online Master’s in School Counseling will be just as high as that of a traditional degree. In fact, it might even be more cutting edge thanks to having better technology, meaning there’s no reason not to enroll!