How to become a School Counselor

Interested in pursuing a career in school counseling?

become a school counselor

If you’re interested in learning how to pursue a career as a school counselor, continue reading this article to learn important information that may help you plan for your future career. If you want to pursue a career as a school counselor you will likely be required meet the licensure requirements set by the state in which you wish to practice. Most states require school counselors to earn a master’s degree in school counseling or related fieldi. Accredited masters programs in school counseling exist, and are ideal if you already know you’re dedicated to this career path, however; you might also qualify for licensure as a school counselor by earning a master’s of social work (MSW) or a master’s of counseling degree. A Psy.D or Ph.D. in psychology may also be acceptable degrees for individuals interested in becoming a school counselor.


Each school and school district differs in its requirements and qualifications for the position. If you have your sights set on pursuing your career in a specific district or region it might make sense to become familiar with the educational and licensure requirements at those locations.

School Counselor Educational Requirements

The first step in pursuing a career as a school counselor is to ensure that you participate in the proper training. Each school counselor program is unique, and it’s important to research your prospective schools to determine which program may best fit your needs. That said, the following topics are commonly included in the educational requirements for those pursuing a master’s in school counseling:

  • Counseling theory and practice
  • Testing and assessment
  • Counseling children
  • Counseling adolescents
  • Research and program evaluation
  • Foundations in school counseling
  • School counseling ethics
  • Cultural diversity
  • Group therapy in school settings
  • Family therapy
  • Human development

The majority of school counseling programs require students to complete a supervised internship (sometimes known as a practicum). This internship is a crucial part of the academic process, as it enables students to put theory into practice.

School Counselor Licensure Requirements

After completing your educational requirements, the next step in becoming a school counselor is obtaining appropriate certification to become qualified to practice in the state in which you wish to work. Certification requirements for school counselors vary by state. According to the American School Counselor Association, most states require prospective school counselors to earn master’s degree from an accredited school, pass a standardized licensure exam, and pay membership fees. They must also have completed certain courses, such as Human Growth and Development, Individual Counseling, Group Counseling, and Research Methods. Most states require a background check, and some offer certification reciprocity with other statesii.

Some states, such as Alaska, do not require school counselors to earn a master’s degree – school counselors qualify for certification upon graduation from a bachelors program. Other states require one to two years of school counseling experience in combination with earning a bachelor’s degree.

The American School Counselor Association is the primary professional organization for school counselors. The ASCA provides education, research, advocacy, professional development and publications, as well as liability insurance. The National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) is a nationally recognized certification. In order to qualify, applicants must hold a master’s degree in counseling with coursework in school counseling, and pass an application and exam process. It is a joint effort of the American Counseling Association, the American School Counselor Association, and the National Board for Certified Counselorsiii.

School Counselor Skills & Qualities

Individuals interested in becoming a school counselor are likely to encounter many challenges in their daily work lives. Facing these challenges requires school counselors to be able to think on their feet and communicate effectively with their clients. Ideally, school counselors possess the following qualities and skills:

  • Empathic
  • Good listener
  • Approachable
  • Able to multi-task and prioritize
  • Able to document carefully and complete paperwork punctually
  • Skilled at building inter-departmental relationships
  • Knowledgeable about community resources

As a school counselor you will likely be presented with opportunities to work with many different types of people. Your clients will include both students and the parents of those students. You are likely to be working within the educational system which may require you to collaborate with teachers and school administrators to work to ensure the best possible outcomes for the student population you serve. If you are interested in becoming a school counselor you are planning to pursue a career that is both challenging and exciting.

View School Counseling Graduate Programs

  • Accredited online university.
  • Capella University offers doctoral programs designed to take you to the forefront of your profession.
  • Competency-based curriculum delivers both foundation knowledge and real-world skills, so that what you’re learning in your courses is immediately applicable to your career goals.
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