How Do I Become a Certified Guidance Counselor?

Explore the career requirements for certified guidance counselors. Get the facts about education and licensure requirements, salary and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Counseling degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does A Guidance Counselor Do?

Certified guidance counselors help students with academic, career, and personal issues. For example, they provide information about college entrance requirements and about careers requiring vocational schooling. They may also discuss family and personal problems with students. Additional responsibilities include evaluating students with school teachers and staff, working with students in small group discussions, and teaching all students and faculty about sensitive topics such as bullying. See the table below for more information about this career:

Degree RequiredBachelor's degree
Master's degree
Education Field of StudyGuidance counseling
Elementary or high school education
Key ResponsibilitiesCollaborate with parents, teachers, and administrators to identify problems and needs;
Coordinate services for students with special needs;
Advise students on college admission requirements and vocational training programs;
Maintain student records as required
Licensure/CertificationMust obtain state teacher's license first;
Licensure requirements vary by state;
Certification requirements vary by state
Job Growth (2014-2024)8% for all school and career counselors*
Median Salary (2015)$53,660 for all school and career counselors*

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Degree Would I Need to Become a Guidance Counselor?

A bachelor's degree in education and a master's degree in school counseling provide you with the necessary academic credentials for school guidance counselor positions. You could choose undergraduate education programs that emphasize elementary or high school education. In a secondary education program, you might be able to further concentrate your studies in art, the natural sciences, social science, math or languages. Whichever option you choose, you'll learn classroom management, curriculum design, teaching methods and education theory. You'll also work a supervised teaching internship in a real classroom to meet graduation and licensure requirements.

Master's programs in guidance counseling develop your interviewing, assessment and advising skills. Courses expose you to the theories and practices of counseling children and adolescents though a combination of classroom study and direct experience providing counseling in a supervised setting. Graduate topics cover child development, testing and appraisal methods, career counseling, addiction counseling and professional ethics.

How Do I Become Certified?

To earn professional certification, you'll first need to obtain a state teaching license. States vary the requirements, though you'll usually need at least a bachelor's degree and some teaching experience to qualify to take the Praxis or National Teacher's Examination required for licensure. To become a guidance counselor, several states mandate that you earn a master's degree or at least receive some graduate education.

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards offers an optional school counselor certification. You need a minimum of a bachelor's degree, a teaching license and a portfolio detailing at least three years of your teaching or counseling experience. The exam tests your knowledge of human growth and development, cultural diversity, counseling theory, counseling practice, data analysis and counselor-student collaboration. Some states allow you to take the national certification exam in lieu of the state test, though licensure and certification must be obtained separately.

Where Could I Work and What Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 273,400 people worked as educational, vocational and school counselors in 2014. Your main sources of employment will likely be private and public elementary, middle and secondary schools. You can also find guidance counseling positions at nonprofit organizations and government agencies. The BLS projected employment of school counselors would increase 8% from 2014-2024. The median salary earned by guidance counselors in 2015 was $53,660, according to the BLS.

What Will My Duties Be?

Your work day will be directed toward helping students perform well academically, function socially and control their behavior. You'll hold advising sessions with students individually and in groups, consult with the parents of struggling students, conduct assessments and track student progress. In a high school setting, your duties could expand to include career counseling, which entails helping students evaluate postsecondary education options, write resumes and practice interviewing skills. In an elementary school setting, you're likely to spend time observing and evaluating students in class and on the playground to assess their needs.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you enjoy working in schools, you might consider becoming a teacher instead of a counselor. These professionals craft lesson plans, teach students of all ages and grade homework. A bachelor's degree with education coursework is the essential academic requirement for teachers, along with professional licensure. You might also consider working as a librarian, assisting students in navigating the library and conducting research. You must have a master's degree for this role. Mental health counselors help people manage mental and emotional disorders by listening and asking questions in order to better understand their problems. These individuals must have a master's degree as well, along with licensure.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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