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Guidance Counselor: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a guidance counselor. Learn about education requirements, job duties, average wages and job outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

What Is a Guidance Counselor?

Guidance counselors help children and adolescents reach their academic and personal potential. They assist students with both personal and academic problems, such as challenges in a particular class or bullying. They may also address issues of class attendance, behavioral problems, organizational and time management skills and planning for life after graduation. Guidance counselors often give students various assessments to identify their strengths, weaknesses and interests. This can help them identify skills to improve in the classroom, as well as help select a potential future career or educational goal. These professionals stay in communication with teachers, parents and administrators about a student's progress. See the table below for more information about this career:

Degree RequiredMaster's degree
Certificate program for certified teachers
Doctoral degree
Education Field of StudyGuidance counseling
School counseling
Key ResponsibilitiesOffer support and assistance to students experiencing difficulties
Collaborate with teachers, administration, and parents
Coordinate services for students with special needs
Advise students on college and vocational school options and requirements
Maintain student records in compliance with laws and regulations
Licensure/CertificationLicensure required in all states
Certification optional
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8%*
Mean Salary (2018)$56,490*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Types of Programs Are Available for Guidance Counselors?

A number of schools offer guidance counseling master's degree programs with varying names; some might be referred to as being in school counseling, while others are in counseling and guidance. Advanced certificate programs are also available if you already have a master's degree and are certified as a teacher. Doctoral programs are available if you want to advance to executive leadership positions in counseling education.

Master's degree programs build up your knowledge base of counseling theory, provide opportunities to apply it in real settings and develop your advising, assessment and interviewing skills. They aim to impart an attitude of flexibility towards individuals based on an understanding of individuals as unique beings. Course topics might include education psychology, developmental psychology, counseling methods and multiculturalism. Master's degree programs are typically completed in 2-3 years.

Where Do Professionals Work?

Elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and colleges are your primary employment options. A smaller number of opportunities are available with healthcare providers, social assistance organizations and government agencies. You could also consider self-employment. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 285,460 educational, vocational, and school counselors worked in the U.S. as of 2018 (www.bls.gov). By 2028, the BLS projected that jobs in this category will grow by 8%, increasing the numbers by an additional 27,200. The increased responsibility of school counselors to help students with substance abuse and other personal issues is expected to be one factor driving growth.

What Will I Do When I'm at Work?

Your duties will revolve around helping students improve their academic performance and set goals for their education. Meeting with students individually and in groups will take up a significant share of your time, as will consulting with the parents of students who are falling behind or exhibiting behavioral problems. You'll also conduct student assessments, write reports and track each student's progress towards fulfilling grade level or graduation requirements. The job is likely to place demands on your emotional stability, because not all students will follow your advice or be interested in thinking ahead.

If you work in an elementary school, you might spend part of your day observing children in class and at play to learn their strengths, weaknesses and needs. Along with administrators and teachers, you'll contribute to discussions on curricula that foster child development and academic success.

If you work in a high school, providing career assistance becomes a larger component of your job. You'll advise students on trade school and 4-year school options, appraise them of college admission requirements and connect them with sources of financial aid. As a high school or college counselor, you'd help them write resumes, develop interviewing skills and search for jobs.

What Salary Could I Earn?

As of November 2019, guidance counselors earned a median annual salary of $50,546 according to Payscale.com. Salaries ranged from a low of $37,000 to a high of $80,000.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Rehabilitation counselors, mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists are some related alternative careers that also require a master's degree. Rehabilitation counselors work with people that have various types of disabilities. Their goal is to help these people live independently by overcoming or managing the effects of the disability. Mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists work with individuals and groups of people on relationship issues, emotional disorders and mental disorders. They discuss their clients' issues and help them find ways to lead normal, healthy lives.