The years an individual spend in school often shape their future. The school years are marked by academic, social and personal growth. But whether a person is in elementary, high school or college, school can also be a stressful period in a person’s life.
In addition to academic concerns, such as passing classes and completing assignments, there are also social pressures and personal issues, which students may be facing. It’s easy to understand why school is not always smooth sailing.
School counselors can play an important role in helping students of all ages navigate through their education. They work alongside instructors as part of the educational team to provide assistance to students and their families. School counselors evaluate a student’s needs and implement a comprehensive counseling program that addresses academic, career, social and personal issues, which may interfere with a student’s academic success.
Counselors may use various tools, such as aptitude tests to help students determine career goals. Although they are not therapists, they may also provide direct one on one counseling to students and their parents.
It’s important to understand, school counselors work with all types of students, not just the top students or the students in trouble. They also provide support to parents and teachers.
What is a School Counseling Degree?
A school counseling degree is designed to prepare graduates to counselor and support students throughout their academic career. Students in a school counseling degree program develop the skills needed to assist students with concerns including career planning, academic problems and social development needs.
School counseling degree programs combine classes in education, psychology and counseling to have a broad understating of the social and emotional issues that may get in the way of a student’s academic performance. There are a few different types of degrees for those who want to become school counselors including a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and a doctorate.
A bachelor’s degree is the first step to becoming a school counselor. In the United States, there are no undergrad programs specifically for school counseling. Instead, students should major in education, counseling or psychology to develop the foundation needed to work as a school counselor.
Students who earn a bachelor’s degree in an area, such as psychology or education are not usually eligible to work as a licensed school counselor in a K-through 12th grade setting. But they may find employment in schools in other capacities. In addition, a bachelor’s degree provides the educational requirements and background to prepare students for a master’s or doctorate school counseling program. Common courses may include:
- Interpersonal Communications: This class focuses on how to effectively communicate in a variety of contexts. It includes the verbal and nonverbal elements of listening and conflict management, which is essential for school counselors.
- Developmental Psychology: Coursework in developmental psychology provides students a foundation in the psychological development of individuals from birth through death. Consideration is given to the social, cognitive and emotional development.
- Educational Psychology: Education psychology provides an overview of the roles and functions of a school counselor. Credentialing, ethics and national standards are included.
- Foundations of Education: This entry level class provides an overview of the education profession. Historical and sociological influences on educational theories are explored.
Credit Requirements: Whether an individual chooses a bachelor’s degree in psychology or education to prepare for a school counseling career, most programs take four years of full-time study to complete. Credit requirements may vary slightly, but 120 credits are often needed to graduate. In addition to general education classes, about half of the required classes are related to the chosen major.
Admission Requirements: Bachelor degree admission requirements typically include a high school diploma or GED. Depending on the program, an above average grade point average may be needed to gain admission. Most four-year schools also require applicants take the SAT.
A master’s degree is usually the minimum required by most states to work as a school counselor, especially for those interested in becoming licensed.
Students in a master’s in school counseling will learn the theories of effective guidance counseling as well as practical strategies for helping students through problems. In addition to classroom work, most master’s in school counseling programs require students to complete a supervised practicum in a school setting. Common courses in a master’s program may include:
- Introduction to School Counseling: This course provides an introduction to the history, operation and function of school counselors in various settings. It may include the changing role of a counselor as students move through their academic years.
- Career Development and Counseling: Theories of career choice and standardized methods for assessing career interests and aptitudes are covered in this course.
- Multicultural Counseling in Schools: In this course, the ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic concerns and issues in counseling and education are explored. Issues related to gender identity and sexual harassment in a school setting are also discussed.
- Intervention Techniques in Guidance and Counseling: Students in this class will focus on planning, organizing and implementing guidance counseling programs. Special consideration will be given to diverse issues that may face certain student populations.
Credit Requirements: Although the specific number of credits needed to earn a master’s in school counseling may vary, most programs require 36 to 48 credits. Full and part-time master’s in school counseling programs are options. Programs can often be completed in two to three years of full-time study.
Admission Requirements: Admission to master’s degree school counseling programs may be competitive. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, education or counseling is often required. Some programs also require students to have a teaching credential. Many programs require an undergrad GPA of at least 3.0. The Graduate Record Exam may also be required for admission to a master’s in school counseling program.
A doctorate is the highest degree, which can be earned in school counseling. Earning a doctorate will provide a student with the most diverse career options in a school setting. Graduates of a doctorate can also work as advanced practitioners in school and clinical settings. Opportunities in research and academia as a professor in a school counseling program are also available. Common courses may include:
- Psychology of At-Risk Children: This class covers the characteristics and etiology of children at risk for dropping out of school, delinquency and poor academic performance. The role of a school counselor in intervening and assessing the student’s needs is also discussed.
- Vocational and Aptitude Assessment: School counselors often help students explore career choices. In a vocational and aptitude assessment class, students learn how to utilize assessment tests and help students with career planning.
- Advanced Principles of School Counseling: During this class, students will learn how to effectively develop a school guidance and counseling program. Elements of a program, such as crisis intervention and response, student advocacy and ethics will be covered.
- Child and Adolescent Counseling in Schools: A large number of school counselors work with children in grades K through 12th. This class examines various counseling theories as they apply to adolescents and children in a school setting.
Credit Requirements: The exact number of credits required to earn a doctorate in school counseling can vary. Some programs combine a master’s degree with a doctorate. Doctorate programs in school counseling often involve less time spent in the classroom than at the master’s degree level. But many programs require a few hundred hours of practical work as a school counselor. Doctorate programs in school counseling often take three to five years to complete.
Admission Requirements: Standards for admission into a doctorate in school counseling are often high. Students must have a master’s degree in school counseling or a closely related field. Three letters of recommendation are often required. A professional resume, a statement of purpose and a personal interview may also be part of the admission process.
What is an Online School Counseling Degree?
Online school counseling degree programs offer students added flexibility while still providing the necessary curriculum and training. For example, students who are working full-time may prefer to attend an online school counseling program over a campus-based program.
Both online master’s degrees and doctorate programs in school counseling are available. Some online school counseling programs allow students to enroll in an accelerated track and complete their degrees faster.
The American Counseling Association recommends students considering an online school counseling program evaluate online programs similar to traditional programs. For instance, online school counseling programs should be evaluated based on accreditation, curriculum and faculty qualifications.
An online school counseling program often combines the best of both worlds. Students complete online classes, but in most cases, they are also required to complete an in-person practicum in school counseling. A specific number of hours working in a school under the supervisor of a licensed school counselor is usually required.
What Does it Take to Get a School Counseling Degree?
Since many school counselors work with children and teens, it’s important counselors are at ease working with people of all ages. There are also additional traits needed to be an effective school counselor.
- An Appreciation of Diversity: Students are diverse. They learn at different levels and have different issues that may play a role in their academic performance. School counselors must not take a one size fits all approach to counseling.
- Good Assessment Skills: Assessing a student’s obstacles in learning is part of what a school counselor does. Counselors also assess aptitude and vocational interests.
- The Ability to Work Well as Part of a Team: School counselors collaborate with parents, teachers and community agencies to understand and address student needs. They have to work well with other professionals to provide effective strategies for optimizing their student’s success.
- Resourceful: It is essential school counselors can develop different ways to help students overcome their difficulties. Counselors need to research and access appropriate community services as needed for students. They also need to develop individualized plans to help students overcome varied issues.
What Can You Do With a Degree in School Counseling?
School counselors’ work in both private and public schools. Many work at the elementary, middle school or high school level. In order to work in a public school, counselors must be licensed. Licensing requirements for school counselors vary by state. But requirements often include a minimum of a master’s degree in school counseling and a criminal background check.
Although most school counselors work with children and adolescents, jobs may also be found in colleges and universities. Some school counselors may also find employment in government agencies.
In addition to working in schools, individuals with a degree in school counseling may also find employment as a career counselor in state career offices, prisons and private practice.
Employment opportunities for those with a school counseling degree may vary based on the type of degree an individual holds and whether they are licensed.
What Degrees are Similar to School Counseling?
Child Psychology: Child psychologists work with children of all ages to diagnose and treat social, emotional, developmental and cognitive issues. They may work together with school counselors to help children overcome academic obstacles.
Education Degrees: Education degrees prepare students to teach and work in various capacities in an educational setting. The exact nature of the work can vary based on the specific degree concentration. For example, areas of concentration may include special education and child development. Bachelor’s, master’s and doctorates in education are available.
Career Management and Counseling Degree: Career counselors are part coach, part advisor and part counselor. They help clients examine their aptitudes and interests in order to find a career that is a good fit. A career management and counseling degree prepares graduates to work with adults in various settings including career centers, vocational rehabilitation offices and private practice.