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Become a School Counselor

Would you like to become a school counselor? This article has information about education and training for school counselors; including guidance counselors, academic school counselors, vocational counselors, and college counselors.

Although education may focus around students and teachers, a school counselor can have an enormous role in a child’s educational progress, not to mention in a child’s life. A school counselor may work in an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, or a school that combines two or more of these levels. Read on to learn more about the different kinds of school counselors and the road to becoming one.

School Counselor Specialties

An essential part of becoming a school counselor is figuring out exactly what you want to do. School counseling at the elementary level can be quite different than at the secondary level.

Another consideration is how broad or narrow you would like your practice to be. Some school counselors are generalists, addressing various areas of student need as necessary. Being a school counselor in a smaller high school may mean that you continually draw on different areas of the field.

Others develop specialties within the field. This may particularly be true at larger schools, where there is more than one school counselor on staff. Here are some of the ways a school counselor can focus in on one aspect of the field when a team of school counselors shares the workload:

• Guidance Counselor

A guidance counselor can either be the title for someone who handles all areas of counseling appropriate to the school level or for someone who focuses on non-academic elements of the school experience: emotional and social counseling. This specialization involves knowledge of human development and may focus on a student’s emotional development, interactions with other students and teachers, and family situation. For more about guidance counselors, see the article “Guidance Counselor.”

• Academic School Counselor

An academic school counselor helps a student plan his or her course of study, both for each school year and overall through the student’s tenure at the school. This specialty is unusual in elementary school when there are generally few course choices or electives. It is often a portion of the role of a guidance counselor with a broader focus in middle school, when there may be some choices such as foreign language and determining the appropriate level for certain classes, such as mathematics.

The academic school counselor is essential, however when the student reaches high school, when students’ schedules need to be adjusted to meet the high school graduation requirements, their own intellectual bent, and any demands made by their post-graduation plans, such as working in a particular field or going on to higher education.

• Vocational Counselor

Particularly if a high school has or is connected to a Career (and) Technical Education (CTE) center or offers courses in career and technical fields, a counselor who understands the requirements and sequence of courses that lead to vocational outcomes is important. In some locations, this may involve scheduling a student’s day in several different places, as he or she does general academic courses in a high school, his or her specialty courses at a CTE site, and possibly off-campus internships, apprenticeships, or other experiences as well. The vocational counselor looks ahead to the demands of employment in a student’s chosen field, and helps students prepare to meet those requirements.

• College Counselor

A college counselor both contributes to a student’s academic choices while in high school and looks ahead to the demands of the college(s) in which the student is interested. A college counselor also helps students with college entrance exams, college choices, financial aid information, the college admissions process, and writing college recommendations.

Education and Training for a School Counselor

School counselors, like other educational personnel, receive licensure or certification from state education departments, and must meet whatever requirements these agencies set. Degree programs are generally offered in Education and Psychology departments.

In general, at least some graduate work is required, and often a Master’s degree, and some may require a teaching degree as well. Supervised internship is another requirement, and states that offer a Pre-kindergarten through grade 12 license will likely require both elementary and secondary experience.


Bureau of Labor Statistics: Counselors -

Vermont Department of Education: Educator Licensing:

Career Voyages: Education - Counseling and Related Social Assistance:

The Princeton Review: School Counseling and Guidance Services -