How to Become a Vocational Counselor – Degrees and Schooling Guide

Last Updated: June 23, 2024

Vocational counselor  help individuals find a job of their own. Clients may include students, recent graduates, people changing careers and first-time job seekers. Through interviewing, testing and questionnaires vocational counselors are able to help the client choose a position or career type that will work for them.

Vocational counselors sometimes work with non-profit organizations, schools, or other community based organizations. If you like to work with people, enjoy working indoors and have a passion for solving problems, then you may enjoy working as a vocational counselor.

What Does a Vocational Counselor Do?

Choosing a profession is an important decision that is likely to affect person’s whole life. For some people, this decision comes easily while others may need the help of a vocational counselor or psychologist in helping to steer them towards a career.

Vocational counselors, or career counselors, help their clients by doing various assessment tests that aim to find out what weaknesses and strengths their clients have. For example, finding out early that someone has lackluster abilities in mathematics can make it easier for them to give up their dreams of becoming an engineer instead of wasting time and money pursuing a field of study they were poorly suited for.

Vocational counselors also do various personality tests to find out whether their clients would enjoy working in a group or alone, whether they are born leaders or would rather follow instructions, and so on.

Vocational counselors do not work exclusively with young people. In fact, it is becoming more and more common for middle-aged people to change their career nowadays. Over time, certain professions become less important as technology progresses.

It is also possible for someone to be involved in an accident and thus lose their ability to perform his or her old job. In such cases, a vocational counselor can access the abilities of the client and suggest some professions that might be of interest to the.

Sometimes it is not necessary for a person to change his or her profession after an injury as small modification at work may be all that the client needs to continue performing at work. Vocational counselors are trained in recognizing such needs and advising how to overcome challenges related to things such as weakened vision or impaired memory.

Vocational counselors may also work as part of a rehabilitation team to improve a person’s skills and abilities.

Some vocational counselors may recommend additional education or training programs that will help their clients become more appealing to the employers. For example, if a client would like to become a nurse, the counselor will explain the education opportunities and licensures necessary.

Why Do We Need Vocational Counselors?

Vocational counselors are an extremely important group of professionals. They give vocational guidance to people at a time when it is most needed and their professional knowledge is invaluable.

For people struggling to know what they want to do next in their career, the tools and expertise a vocational counselor brings can give people suggestions based an assessment of previous work history and aptitude scoring. This specialist advice is tailored so specifically to the individual that it is invaluable when considering a change.

The variety of knowledge from these counselors means that someone could find out about a position that they hadn’t previously known about and which would suit them ideally.

If people have a good idea about what they want to do, the vocational counselor still has a lot to offer. Firstly, they can assess suitability and manage expectations – if someone is entirely wrong for a position, they may be able to find out now before wasting any time or expense in following through on their idea. If they are suitable, a vocational counselor will be able to guide them on how best to make that move, again ensuring best use of time and resource.

Ultimately, vocational counselors provide an excellent service to individuals – they match skill sets to jobs and ensure people are on a vocation path that is the most appropriate for them. When someone finds themselves in a job that ideally matches their motivations, their goals and their abilities, they can truly succeed. This has a wider benefit, if a workforce is full of people appropriately matched to their jobs and performing well, not only will individuals flourish, businesses and industries will too.

What are the Requirements to Become a Vocational Counselor?


Not all vocational counselors are licensed counselors. Many organizations do not require licensing to work with clients in the area of vocational counseling. It will be important to have some knowledge of counseling and the interest inventory tests used to help people figure out the types of jobs that their personality is most suited to. Counselors in private practice generally must be licensed.

Most employers prefer a master’s degree in counseling, organizational psychology or another social field. Each job in this field will vary in the education, work experience and licensing they require so it is important to pay close attention to the job description before submitting your application.

Licensing Requirements

Many states require counselors who provide mental health counseling to be licensed. If you choose to work towards becoming a licensed counselor it will be necessary to finish a graduate degree program. Research the programs in your area and ensure the one you choose has the ability to lead to licensure in your state.

It will be necessary for you to apply directly through the state for your license and you can contact your state licensing board at anytime to clarify what their requirements are.

Becoming a licensed counselor will also require internship hours, which allow you to learn the job while finishing your graduate degree program.

After graduating most states will require additional hours of supervised counseling work before you will be able to become fully licensed.

What Do You Learn in a Vocational Counseling Degree?

Vocational counseling degree programs are offered at many universities. Depending on the educational institution you choose to attend, courses offered might include: rehabilitation, vocational counseling, vocational psychology, career development, assessment, counseling, and methods of conducting research.

These courses can equip you to assist clients ranging from adolescents, to middle-aged individuals who desire a career change for some reason. Some of the skills a person may learn in a vocational counseling degree program include:

  • How to assist and guide clients in developing their careers
  • How to identify and help individuals tap into their best qualities
  • Learning how to narrow one’s focus and hone in on objectives that are most likely to bring clients to a place of success in their career
  • How to help individuals through significant life and career changes, what in their lives could be obstructing their ability to achieve success, and helping individuals to re-evaluate ways in which they define “success”.

What Skills are Required for a Vocational Counselor?

  • Vocational counselors work with a variety of clients, from those fresh out of high school to those who have lost a long-time job. As a result, they must be able to communicate well with a wide range of people of differing ages, educational backgrounds, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Vocational counselors need effective verbal communication skills in order to take in lots of information and do so in an active and supportive manner.
  • Written communication skills are also a must, as many vocational counselors assist clients in drafting cover letters, resumes, and the like.
  • Like all counselors, vocational counselors must exude empathy for their clients and work to establish trust with them as well.
  • Vocational counselors are most busy in times of economic distress, so being able to be flexible, tolerant, and cool under pressure are essential skills.
  • In times of great need, the ability to work long hours, including evenings and weekends, may be necessary.
  • The ability to provide comfort as well as practical solutions to clients that are angry or in great distress is an absolute must.
  • Vocational counselors must also be able to provide insight to their clients. Being able to effectively evaluate clients’ strengths and weaknesses in order to devise an actionable employment plan is certainly one of the most important skills a vocational counselor can have.

What are the Qualities of a Vocational Counselor?

Vocational counselors are required to have many qualities if they are to be successful at their job. There are both general counseling qualities needed as well as those that are specific to vocational counseling. Among the general qualities needed are:

Patience – All counselors must exude patience if they are to develop a strong relationship with their clients. In vocational counseling, patience is critical as counselors are often working with individuals that either don’t know what they want to do for a career or can’t maintain employment for some reason. Helping clients overcome these obstacles necessitates much patience.

Non-Judgmental – Counseling is a process that requires practitioners to be non-judgmental. Clients will not always make decisions or express attitudes or beliefs that align with a counselor’s personal beliefs, but that doesn’t make the client’s choices wrong. Vocational counselors must be able to support their clients regardless of the employment decisions they make, while offering non-biased information to help their client make the best decisions for their life.

Encouraging – Clients of any type of counselor are likely struggling with a major life issue that can beat them down and cause them to lose hope. Having the capacity to remain encouraging and hopeful is one of the most important counseling qualities. For vocational counselors, this means finding positives to celebrate, even in the face of many obstacles. For example, a vocational counselor must be able to lift the spirits of a client that has tried and failed many times to obtain a job interview.

There are many qualities that vocational counselors need that are specific to this particular field of work. These job-specific qualities include:

Well-Informed About Career Practices – Vocational counselors must have a deep understanding of how business is conducted. This includes developing an understanding of the hiring procedures businesses use, the information clients need to include on resumes and cover letters, and having the occupational resources clients need to make informed employment decisions.

Understanding of Career Development Theory – Vocational counselors should possess competencies regarding models and theories of career development, and understand how to utilize those models and theories to better serve the occupational needs of their clients. This includes the ability to apply career development theory to the individual situation of each client.

Ability to Administer Career Assessments – Clients often are unsure of what they want to do for a career. Vocational counselors must be able to administer and interpret the results from a variety of career-related assessments, including interest inventories and aptitude tests that can provide direction for a client towards a career that best suits their abilities.

Where Does a Vocational Counselor Work?

Jobs for vocational counselors are available in many school settings, such as; high school, community college and universities. Non-profit organizations that work with single parents, laid off employees and low income families are all the type of employer who is looking for a counselor with specific vocational experience.

Even the United States government hires vocational counselors, often to work with veterans or individuals on welfare.

The work opportunities are not limited to non-profits, schools and the government. Vocational counselors can work as consultants and run their own business which allows them to contract with specific groups or organizations on a needed basis.

Working as a vocational counselor is a rewarding job that offers the daily enjoyment of helping others find the job of their dreams. Individuals who seek out this line of work often enjoy talking to other people and learning about them.

As a vocational counselor you may spend much of your day sitting at a desk and interviewing clients, so it is important that you like the idea of working in such an environment.

Helping individuals find the job that fits, for their personality, is a rewarding career with a wide variety of required skills and working environments.

What is the Salary for a Vocational Counselor?

As of May 2023, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a vocational counselor is $64,200. The average salary for top ten-percent and the bottom ten-percent is $98,530 and $38,280 respectively. Vocational counselors in California earn the highest annual mean wage at $81,590 with New Jersey following close behind at $76,040.

Salary for vocational counselors will depend on if an individual is licensed counselor or a non-licensed counselor. Salary may also be influenced by the type of employer a vocational counselor is working for as non-profit organizations may pay less than a corporation or government employer.

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