School counselors fill many roles and wear many hats in public schools. They are expected to deliver character education to mass groups of elementary aged students or guide students through courses in high school to obtain the proper number and type of credits. School counselors often lead the efforts in student registration and scheduling, but also help with the emotional needs of students. The job often sees the aftermath of physical and emotional abuse in the home and at school and helps provide for stability in the lives of students. A counselor is a trusted adviser and a safe adult that is designed to listen to the needs of students. In many states, school counselors are responsible for the coordination of standardized testing. While there are many hats to wear, school counseling is a desired field by many that want to make a lasting and direct impact in every aspect of a student’s life beyond just a particular academic area.
The average salary for a school counselor, based upon 2021 statistics is approximately $60,500 per year. This is based upon data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The starting salary is much more difficult to calculate. A first year school counselor with no experience in education could start out in the lower ten percent of what the BLS reports for this profession, earning less than $37,550 per year.
First and foremost, the primary responsibility of a school counselor is to help guide students through school while helping to develop their personal skills and define their interests. In addition, high school counselors will spend a great deal of time helping students obtain the right credits for graduation. For this reason, counselors often have a very involved understanding of how the schedule matrix should work, and often contribute to the development of the master schedule. Elementary school counselors will often do character education programs in classrooms and help provide for the emotional and physical needs of disadvantaged students, similar to a social worker.
Counselors must be able to think practically and not emotionally. While they must be sympathetic to whatever a student is feeling or saying, it is important that they can react calmly and without emotion for the best interests of the child. Often this may involve reporting abuse, contacting police, or discussing academic difficulties with a student or their parents. In addition, counselors must be incredibly organized. They will be keeping track of a lot of student records and schedules, and must be able to access information quickly and efficiently.
Degree and Education Requirements
School counselors in many states require a teaching license first before a person can be admitted to a school counseling graduate degree program. In addition to this, many states require a Master’s Degree in school counseling which varies by state and institution. Many universities are beginning to cater to classroom teachers that want to obtain their graduate degree in school counseling by offering all online programs. In addition to a graduate degree, most state have a particular assessment that must be passed in order to obtain the credential for school counseling. School counselors in most states will also be required to obtain a certain number of hours annually in professional development. There are post-graduate programs such as Education Specialist and Doctoral degree programs in school counseling. With these advanced degrees comes a more well rounded understanding of the field and opportunity for leadership among counseling departments in schools.
Capella University offers an online CACREP-accredited and CAEP-accredited Master’s in School Counseling with concentrations in Addiction Treatment and Recovery, Child and Adolescent Counseling, and General School Counseling.
Pros and Cons of School Counseling
The benefits of school counseling are clearly the opportunity to make both an immediate and lasting impact upon the lives of students. For the students that are in physical or emotional distress, the counselor can provide immediate assistance. For the students that need help finding direction or focus, they can provide a lifelong impact. In addition, the opportunity to contribute to a successful school day and schedule that meets student and faculty needs is also a great reward. School counselors, like classroom teachers also get a substantial break during holidays and in the summer. The downside of this field is that the salary is not as high as other counseling or therapy services in the private sector. In addition, many have stated that school counselors feel weighed down by a lot of the paperwork, organizational needs and sheer volume of students in the school. While there are many teachers, there are much fewer counselors.
First and foremost, the education of children must be a passion of anyone interested in school counseling. The counselor must center all their services around the academic environment and academic success of students. In addition to the passion for education, a person should spend some time researching counseling in their particular state. Because education is different in each state, the roles and definitions of school counselors is also a bit different. Understand the demands that will be placed upon you right away. Anyone interested in school counseling should also speak at length with people currently serving in those positions. Find out how they view their job and what they perceive to be the challenges and rewards. Finally, determine if you are more suited to elementary aged students or older students on a junior or senior high school level. These are all important and necessary steps to take even before enrolling in a school counseling degree program.
With more placed on the shoulders of elementary and secondary schools by the state and federal government, the need for professionals to guide students through their academic requirements will always be present. Unfortunately, with increases in at-risk youth throughout the country, school counselors continue to have job security. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 10% increase in the number of jobs between 2021-2031, which is faster than average compared to all occupations. As school enrollments climb however, there will be a need for additional school counselors. Looking at the website for each state’s Department of Education will most often connect people to open positions in schools throughout that state.
The view of a child through the eyes of a school counselor is much different than a classroom teacher. They are both an advocate, a mentor, a role model and an adviser that must guide the student through childhood, into adolescence and then adulthood. It is a rewarding and exciting profession for those that have a kind heart and a passion for educating all children.
Related reading: Top 10 Online PhD in Special Education Degree Programs
2021 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary and job growth estimates for School and Career Counselors and Advisors are based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed April 2023.