How Do I Become a School Counselor?

If you enjoy working with young people and have excellent communication skills, you might wonder how to become a school counselor. School counselors help students succeed in school by offering academic, behavioral, social and emotional support. These professionals find employment opportunities in both public and private schools at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

School counselors’ primary responsibilities are to help students perform well in school, academically, behaviorally and socially. When students struggle academically, counselors assess their strengths and weaknesses and develop strategies to help students understand the material and get better grades. Counselors teach students study skills as well as methods of organization and working more efficiently. They often work with teachers and even parents to help students make the most of their education. Counselors also provide support and education about problems such as drug use and bullying.

A school counselor’s job responsibilities depend on what grade levels he or she works with primarily. High school counselors may spend much of their time assisting students with preparations for life after high school by offering advice about applying to colleges, finding sources of financial aid and making career decisions. While middle school counselors may address career plans, they typically spend more time working with students to succeed academically in their current classes rather than focusing on future educational options. Elementary school counselors, who work with young children, are more likely to deal with developmental and behavioral concerns and monitor students’ behavior in the classroom.

To begin preparing for a career as a school counselor, candidates must pursue a formal college education. While the exact requirements for entering this occupation differ by state, this career requires advanced study in a majority of states. Undergraduate work in psychology, sociology, social work or education can provide students with the educational background they need to begin pursuing a graduate-level degree.

The next step is to earn a master’s degree in school counseling. These graduate programs include strategies for helping students achieve their academic potential, counseling students one-on-one or in a group and collaborating with parents and teachers to assist students in meeting academic goals and improving behavior. While classroom instruction is important, school counseling programs typically require internship experience so that aspiring school counselors have real-world experience helping students. Upon graduating from a master’s degree program, aspiring school counselors must obtain an endorsement, license or certification as required by the state in which they intend to practice.

School and career counselors earn a median annual salary of $53,380, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Counselors at public and private elementary, middle and high schools earn even more, with a median salary of $60,000 per year, the BLS said. If you enjoy working with people and are a good listener, knowing how to become a school counselor could be your first step toward a rewarding new career that will allow you to make a real difference in the lives of children and adolescents.

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