How to Become a Guidance Counselor

Overview

The work of a guidance counselor can be both challenging and rewarding. Helping students to discover their path in life as they navigate the educational and vocational goals during their formative and early adult years. As a guidance counselor, you will do many things, such as helping students to choose a career or even assist students who are experiencing personal challenges at home. The field of guidance counseling has evolved from when it started, nearly a century ago, which began with teachers filling the role, and grew into a specialized job, now filled by educated professionals who have gained valuable experience and skills through education and personal enrichment activities.

What is Guidance Counseling?

Guidance counseling is a school-based counseling career in which workers undertake a wide variety of duties. Guidance counseling most often entails meeting with individual students to discuss academic topics, such as grades, class schedules, testing, and scholarship opportunities. Counselors in this field also assist college-bound students in acquiring information about their colleges of interest and help students that wish to enter the workforce obtain information about potential careers as well.

Another important aspect of guidance counseling is meeting with classes or groups of students to discuss various issues of importance. Guidance counselors might meet with students to discuss upcoming school events to encourage student participation, or they might work with a class of students to teach them about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. In some schools, guidance counselors will also meet with individual students to provide one-on-one counseling services, although this function is less common.

Guidance counseling often involves observation of students in their classrooms, especially those students that are struggling academically and/or socially. Counselors will consult with teachers to help them provide the most supportive environment for students, and will meet with parents or guardians as well to ensure all stakeholders are abreast of the child’s progress.

What is the Role of a Guidance Counselor?

Guidance counselors fulfill a variety of roles depending on the grade level with which they work and the staffing needs of their particular school building. In fact, guidance counselors likely have the widest range of responsibilities of any staff member in a school setting.

Some guidance counselors work exclusively with students to help them register for classes, schedule ACT or SAT testing, and work with administrators to develop the course schedule for each academic year. Career guidance is also often a primary duty of guidance counselors, as is working with students to determine post-secondary educational options, to include applying to colleges, procuring financial aid applications, and sending transcripts and other documentation to colleges on the student’s behalf.

Related: Elementary School Counseling Careers

Sometimes guidance counselors work with students in a more traditional counseling setting. They might help resolve issues between students, help kids work through problems at home, or provide skills development for students that are struggling academically. These services are typically provided in a one-on-one setting in the counselor’s private office. Other times, guidance counselors will go into classrooms to work with an entire group of children. The focus of these group activities might be to improve the classroom climate, teach children academic-related skills, provide information to students about colleges or careers, or address an issue of concern, such as bullying.

Another primary role of guidance counselors is to work closely with parents to support students that are struggling academically, emotionally, or socially. Guidance counselors are usually the point of contact for parents whose children are struggling in school. In that regard, guidance counselors will often act as a parent liaison in order to keep parents abreast of any changes regarding their child. They will also often act an advocate for students and their families, representing them in situations in which the student is facing suspension, expulsion, or some other serious issue at school.

Where Does a Guidance Counselor Work?

Guidance counselor have a variety of places to work at, from the grammar school setting, to even the university level. At the elementary school level, guidance counselors can work with students who are going through the sensitive developmental stages and learning needs that may arise.

Additionally, they could also work with students in the gifted learning program to aid them in finding appropriate educational materials that will help to keep them interested in learning. At times guidance counselors may work as a team, with the school principal, social worker, and parents in finding the best possible outcome for all involved. Guidance counselors generally work full time, with summers off.

What are the Requirements to Become a Guidance Counselor?

Education

The pathway to becoming a guidance counselor begins with undergraduate studies. While there is no bachelor’s degree program in guidance counseling, students can major in a human services field, such as psychology, in order to prepare for more advanced studies in graduate school. These programs help students develop a basic understanding of human behavior, human development, and educational principles. Statistics and mathematics are also an important part, as you may be responsible for interpreting results from standardized tests that may be used in the school environment to assess learning disabilities.

Graduate school for guidance counselors typically involves a master’s degree program in school counseling. These programs offer specific instruction on the application of counseling and psychological principles in a school setting. Coursework may include the usual studies of human behavior, counseling techniques, and counseling theories, however, there is also a significant amount of studies with regard to the K-12 educational system and the roles of guidance counselors within that system.

Graduate programs also include a practicum and internship component in which prospective guidance counselors get real-world experience in applying their knowledge in a school setting. Practicum experiences typically involve approximately 300-500 hours of supervised activities in a school setting, which may include shadowing a veteran school counselor, observing them taking on their various roles within the school, and assisting them with their day-to-day duties. Internships are usually in the 1,000-2,000 hour range of supervised practice in which the prospective guidance counselor takes on an active role in providing counseling services to students at his or her assigned school.

Licensing

As a whole, the licensure and certification requirements for guidance counselors vary from state to state. However, most states require at least a master’s degree in counseling that includes practicum and internship experiences in which applicants work directly in a school setting. Because guidance counselors work with minors, most states also require a full background check as part of their licensing and certification processes. Because there is such a strong educational component to the guidance counselor’s job, some states require guidance counselors to have experience in the classroom as a teacher and certification as a teacher. Some states only require a certification from the teaching certification body in that state, while others additionally require licensure from the state’s mental health licensing board or similar entity.

Certification

Guidance counselors can become state certified through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Some states have additional requirements and credentials in order to work as a guidance counselor, so it would be important to check with your state to find out the important information regarding licensing requirements. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is a useful resource for finding out such requirements.

What is an Online Guidance Counseling Degree?

An online guidance counseling degree program prepares graduates to work with students in a school setting. While teachers deal with academics, graduates of a guidance counselor degree program help students in several ways from developing career goals to dealing with social, personal, and behavior issues. Online guidance counseling programs are typically offered at the master’s degree level. The exact number of units required to earn an online master of arts degree in guidance counseling may vary by school. Typically, about 60 units or credits are required.

Students enrolled in an online program are expected to complete classroom seminars and supervised practicum experience. Online programs may be set up differently. For example, some programs may have students access lectures at their convenience. In other cases, students may attend online classes in real time as lectures are occurring.  Programs often include classes in career development, testing and assessment, and education research. Additional classes and topics studied may include multicultural counseling, group counseling, and theories of counseling.

Internship and practicum experience is also required. Most programs require students to locate their own internship. Practicum experience should be arranged and completed at either private or public elementary, middle and high schools.

What Skills are Needed for a Guidance Counselor?

One of the most important qualities guidance counselors should possess is passion about helping others. The profession is quite taxing, and if you don’t have the passion to help, you may find yourself among the nearly 60 percent of guidance counselors who leave the profession within the first two years. In addition, you should possess good analytical skills, as about 25 percent of your day involves the administration and interpretation of tests that assess student performance and teacher evaluations.

Due to the variety of your day, guidance counselors should be very adaptable to working with changes that may arise during the day. Effective communication within different environments is also an essential skill, as are negotiation skills, as you may be called upon to convince a teacher to admit a student to a closed course.

What is the Salary for a Guidance Counselor?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for guidance counselors in May 2016 was $57,620, or $27.70 per hour. However, your salary may vary depending on the setting, such as working in an elementary versus a post-secondary school setting. Additionally, the private school setting and possible specialization areas may affect the salary range. The best-paid guidance counselors can be found working in the elementary and secondary school settings.

What is the Job Outlook for Guidance Counselors?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the need for guidance counselors is expected to increase 11% through 2026, adding an estimated 33,000 jobs, which is about as fast as the average in the economy. With the growing population, more students will be entering the school system, which may keep a need present for guidance counselors in the future. The high rate of job turnover, combined with an increased demand for school and career counselors may allow for job security within the profession. Effective networking within the counseling field may help guidance counselors to have employment opportunities available into their future.

What are the Benefits of Being a Guidance Counselor?

Children and teens are faced with all types of issues from family problems to substance abuse and bullying. Without appropriate support, some kids may struggle and develop issues that continue into adulthood. That’s where a guidance counselor can play an important role. Working as a guidance counselor can be a great career with several benefits including the following:

Rewarding Work

  • Guidance counselors help children deal with tough issues, such as domestic violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues, which can be a very rewarding aspect of the job.
  • Without guidance counselors, some children would slip through the cracks and not get the help they need.
  • Guidance counselors often encourage students to work towards their goals and reach their full potential.

Collaborative Work Environment

  • Guidance counselors work as part of a team.
  • Counselors collaborate with teachers, parents, and support staff to provide a comprehensive plan to help students.
  • Working as part of a team in a school setting provides guidance counselors with the support they need to do their job well.

Diverse Responsibilities

  • Guidance counselors may provide testing to determine academic strengths and weaknesses.
  • They may advise students on career paths and job interviewing skills.
  • Guidance counselors also may meet with students to discuss personal or academic concerns and provide assistance and support.

Great Work Schedule

  • During the school year, guidance counselors typically work during school hours. Evening and weekend work in often limited.
  • Guidance counselors also usually follow the school calendar and do not work when school is not in session.
  • The work schedule often allows for ample time off including holiday breaks and summer vacation.

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