Career Pathway: School Counseling

School counseling, formerly referred to as guidance counseling, rests at the intersection of mental health and education. These school-based mental health professionals focus on supporting the academic, social, emotional, and career needs of students in the K-12 system. They create comprehensive school counseling programs that include one-on-one counseling, group counseling, core curriculum lessons, and large-scale initiatives. School counselors provide solution-focused, short-term counseling and refer students to other mental health professionals for long-term counseling if necessary. Additionally, they work with students, classroom teachers, administrators, parents, school psychologists, special education teachers, and other school staff to coordinate care and help students on their academic journeys. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counseling is expected to grow about 8% between 2019-2029, faster than the job-market average. School counselors are credentialed by state departments of education; though, many apply for clinical counseling licensure if they graduate from a master’s program that meets state requirements. 

The American School Counseling Association (ASCA) is an active professional association that provides professional development opportunities and liability insurance for its members, as well as advocates for the profession. The ASCA national model is the gold standard for comprehensive school counseling programs. ASCA advocates that school counselors are uniquely positioned to be social justice change agents within the school building and aim to close gaps in equity.

What can I do with school counseling skills?

Types of organizations where school counselors may work:

  • K-12 public schools
  • Charter schools
  • College or private school counseling departments
  • Administrative agencies that partner with local schools/agencies with school-based programs

Entry-level Job Title Examples: Elementary School Counselor, Middle School Counselor, High School Counselor, Professional School Counselor, College and Career Readiness Counselor

Future Roles: Director of School Counseling, Counseling Supervisor

Relevant Licenses: School Counseling Credentials Issued By the State

Relevant Professional Association: American School Counseling Association (ASCA)

Types of organizations where clinical counselors may work:

  • Private practices
  • Mental health outpatient centers
  • Private nonprofit agencies

Job Title Examples: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Mental Health Counselor, Clinician

Future Roles: Program Supervisor, Clinical Supervisor, Director of Counseling

Relevant Licenses: Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) 

Relevant Professional Associations: American Counseling Association (ACA)

Types of organizations where career counselors or advisors may work:

  • Private practices
  • K-12 schools
  • Universities or colleges
  • Nonprofit organizations

Job Title Examples: Career Counselor, Career Coach, Career Advisor, Career Design Consultant 

Future Roles: Associate Director of Career Counseling, Director of Career Services

Relevant Licenses: LPC, LPCC

Relevant Professional Association: National Career Development Association (NCDA), National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)

Types of organizations where student affairs/higher education professionals may work:

  • State universities 
  • Private colleges
  • Community colleges 
  • Online educational programs

Job Title Examples: Academic Advisor, Admissions Counselor, Career Advisor

Future Roles: Director of Admissions, Director of Career Services

Relevant Licenses: N/A

Relevant Professional Associations: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA)

In-Demand Skills

Landing a specific role depends on experience and educational background, as well as proficiency in the skills below.

Transferable Skills and Qualities

  • Empathetic
  • Solution-focused
  • Attentive
  • Collaborative
  • Diplomatic
  • Conflict-resolution oriented
  • Communicative
  • Objective
  • Flexible
  • Time-management focused

Clinical Skill (Field-Specific)

  • Counseling/therapy techniques
  • Cognitive-behavioral techniques
  • Solution-focused techniques
  • Behavior assessments
  • Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504s
  • Rapport-building skills
  • Group-facilitation skills
  • Counseling ethics
  • Self-care skills
  • Multicultural awareness

Certifications and Licenses

To become a school counselor at a public school, you must be licensed and credentialed by the state where you are employed. This process is often governed by the state’s department of education. The school counseling state credential process more closely resembles the teaching credential process than the licensed counseling process for the LPC or LPCC certifications. In addition to school counseling credentials, many school counselors pursue additional certifications or licenses. To practice therapy outside of the school setting, they must obtain a state counseling license (LPC/LPCC).

Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC) To become an LPC or LPCC, you must have a master’s degree or higher in counseling from a CACREP-accredited school and the required number of supervised post-graduate hours mandated by the state counseling board. (For example, North Carolina requires 3,000 hours of supervised professional practice, 2,000 of which must be in direct counseling settings for the LPC.)

Certified School Counselor (ASCA) — To become an ACSC, you must be a practicing school counselor, pass the Professional School Counselor Praxis exam, and submit an ASCA portfolio for peer review.

What could my career look like with a school counseling skill set?

Note: This is a basic guide to kick-start exploration, not a complete list of all paths. See specific job descriptions for more details.

School counselors support students with academic achievement, social and emotional development, and career and college readiness. They create comprehensive school counseling plans that include one-on-one counseling, group counseling, core curriculum lessons, and large-scale initiatives aimed at closing academic achievement gaps. School counselors often collaborate with special education departments and may be expected to help develop Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans.

Elementary school counselors work with students in grades Pre-K-5. Public schools usually designate one school counselor per elementary school, but occasionally a school counselor may be assigned to multiple schools. They spend significant time conducting core curriculum lessons, managing classroom behavior, and focusing on social/emotional concerns. Some schools incorporate counseling into their “specials” rotations, similar to art or physical education (PE), so an elementary school counselor may spend up to 50% of their time teaching in the classroom. Elementary school counselors also usually help with daily elementary school routines, such as lunch and carpool duty.

Middle school counselors work with students in grades 6-8. There are often multiple school counselors designated for each public middle school. Students are usually assigned to a specific counselor, designated by grade level or alphabetical order. Middle school counselors often focus on academic concerns, like study habits, attendance, and grade advancement, as well as social/emotional concerns like anxiety and depression.

High school counselors work with students in grades 9-12. Large public high schools often have counseling departments with anywhere from 6 to 14 school counselors, and the student population may be assigned to a counselor by grade and/or alphabet. School counselors in high school spend their time focused on graduation rates and college readiness. High school counselors often are heavily involved in course scheduling, ensuring students have the required courses and grades to graduate. High school counselors also help students with the college admissions process by helping students explore which colleges they are interested in and writing college recommendation letters.

Counselors licensed with their LPC/LPCC offer psychotherapy to clients with mental health concerns in clinics and private practices. Counselors in these settings provide assessments and diagnoses, treatment planning, evidence-based therapeutic modalities, and crisis management or intervention.

Career counselors (licensed clinical counselors—LPC or LPCC) provide therapy to clients focused on finding meaning and satisfaction in their careers. Career counselors often utilize career assessments that evaluate a client’s values, interests, personality, and strengths to help them develop insights that may lead to career decisions.  

In the field of career development, career coaching and advising are popular paths that do not require a counseling license. They utilize similar career assessments, but instead of providing therapy services, they provide action-oriented coaching or advising. 

Professionals who work in higher education or student affairs help students during their time in college or university. Counseling related positions in higher education include academic advising, admissions, counseling services, and more. Student affairs encompasses a wide range of functional areas, including residential life, career services, student organizations, health and wellness services, multicultural services, and other student support services. These wide-ranging functions focus on different areas of the student experience, but all are student-focused and utilize many skill sets taught within master’s counseling programs. 

For many positions in student affairs or higher education—particularly to advance in those fields—you must hold a master’s level degree in a related field, like school counseling.

What are my next steps?

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