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How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for high school guidance counselors. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you.

What is a High School Guidance Counselor?

As a high school guidance counselor, you will typically have to help students develop academically and socially, while also encouraging them to prepare for life after high school. This profession requires you to conduct interviews, identify negative social/behavioral influences, assist students in academic success, and help them create a career plan. High school guidance counselors usually focus on guiding students through planning and applying for college, financial aid, internships, and job prospects.

The following chart provides an overview about the career of high school guidance counselor.

Degree Required Master's degree
Field of Study School counseling or related field, education
Licensing or CertificationPublic school counselors have a state-issued license or certification, depending on the state.
Key Responsibilities Counsel students about social, behavioral or academic issues; address school issues such as bullying, drug abuse, child abuse or neglect, or academic issues; assist students with higher education or career decisions
Mean Salary (2018) $66,910 (for elementary and secondary schools)*
Job Growth (2018-2028) 8% (for school and career counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Does a High School Guidance Counselor Do?

As a high school guidance counselor, you'll aid students in planning for their college career or employment upon graduation from high school. Through college brochures and websites, practice SAT guides and aptitude tests, you'll help students determine their career goals. Along with students, you'll work with teachers, school officials, parents and even law enforcement to address students' career development.

Other responsibilities will be to plan and conduct surveys, arrange college visits and speak at assemblies on topics such as domestic violence, substance abuse and sexuality. You will also counsel students through emotional or social problems, and provide the appropriate intervention when needed.

Step 1: Visit Your High School Counselor

If you've decided to work as a guidance counselor at high school level, you may want to speak with your high school counselor to learn about the job. Ask about the job duties, likes and dislikes about the career and about the education and licensing needed to become a counselor. You may also be allowed to shadow your counselor to see if this is really the career you want to pursue.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

You'll need a bachelor's degree in a major such as education or counseling. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), many states prefer guidance counselors to have a background in both counseling and education (www.bls.gov). These programs may offer you courses on counseling techniques, career planning, curriculum building, adolescent development, leadership and psychology.

Step 3: Earn a Master's Degree in School Counseling

Once you're nearing completion of your undergraduate degree, start researching and applying to accredited master's degree programs. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) credentials various master's degree programs in counseling, including college counseling, school counseling and career counseling.

To work as a high school counselor, your graduate degree should be in school and guidance counseling. You'll want to study topics such as assessment, group and guidance counseling, counseling theories, administration principles, counseling ethics, special needs students and career counseling. A supervised internship, as well as a thesis or research paper, may be required to graduate.

Step 4: Obtain Your Teaching License

Obtaining your state teacher's license will depend on the state where you will be employed. Along with a master's degree, some states require that you obtain a school counseling certification. Other states require school counselors obtain licensing through continuing education. And there are states that require you to have both a teaching license and counseling certification, according to the BLS. Clinical experience is also required. You'll need to check with your state's licensing board for additional requirements.

Step 5: Earn Your National Counseling Certification

The American School Counselor Association or your state's department of education can provide information on specific requirements for your counseling certification (www.schoolcounselor.org). The National Board for Certified Counselors offers a national certification that requires an advanced degree, experience in a school setting and passing a multiple choice examination (www.nbcc.org).

Also, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards provides voluntary national certification. This 10-year certification is good for guidance counselors from early childhood to high school (www.nbpts.org).

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Similar careers that also require a master's degree include mental health counselor and rehabilitation counselor. Both career fields involve working with people who have mental or emotional disorders and sometimes physically disabled clients. Mental health counselors, including marriage and family therapists, usually help people prevail over and cope with relationship problems and difficult life changes. As of 2018, the median salary for these professionals was $44,630 a year. Rehabilitation counselors teach disabled clients how to live independently and how to cope with the results that being disabled has on having a job and self-reliance. In 2018, rehabilitation counselors made a median salary of $35,630 per year.