Help Students With Present Needs and Future Plans

Do you like the idea of working in a K-12 academic setting, but you're not sure that you want to be a classroom teacher? School guidance counselors interact with students individually and in groups, providing support in a variety of ways. Professionals in the field report high job satisfaction and say that every day is different. Guidance counselors generally work during regular school hours nine months of the year, making this a well-paying profession that allows them to keep the same schedule as their children.

Job Description

Guidance counselors help students set academic goals and may assist with social and behavioral issues. They evaluate students' needs through interviews, counseling sessions and aptitude tests. At the high school level, guidance counselors play an important role in post-12 planning, helping students navigate choices for college, vocational training and careers. Counselors often work with students individually, but they also may assist students in groups, such as a group formed to help build social or study skills. Guidance counselors may also teach classes related to school, community and personal wellness, such as anti-bullying and the dangers of substance abuse.

Guidance counselors typically work full-time on the same schedule as teachers. You also may work some late afternoon or evening hours, depending on the need to meet with families or other professionals. As a rule, guidance counselors have summers and school vacation weeks free to pursue professional and personal interests.

Education Requirements

The minimum requirement for a guidance counselor is a bachelor's degree, usually in education, psychology, social work or counseling. Coursework should include mathematics, statistics, social studies and child development. In many states, a master's degree is required. Licensure as a guidance counselor is required to work in the public schools, and a license to teach may also be required. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) can provide information about education and licensing requirements in your area.

Graduate studies include a practicum and internship component. The practicum is typically 300–500 hours of supervised work in a school setting. An internship is generally 1,000–1,200 hours of supervised work with increasing responsibility. While it's possible to earn some graduate credits online toward the master's in counseling, the required work in schools means that the degree cannot be obtained through online coursework alone.

Guidance counselors can become certified through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). Both organizations sponsor conferences and workshops through which professionals can meet requirements for continuing education. At a minimum, school counselors are encouraged to complete 40 hours of continuing education annually. More hours may be required, depending on the type of certification and license held.

Work Environment

Guidance counselors work in public and private schools, generally serving the K-12 population. They may work as part of a team that includes other guidance counselors, teachers, administrators, families and mental health professionals. Guidance counselors with advanced degrees may find opportunities teaching at the college level.

Years of Experience

Salaries vary from state to state and even from district to district. The average annual salary for a school guidance counselor is $52,233. With years of experience, you can expect to earn more. Here's the breakdown, based on national averages:

  • 0–1 year experience: $43,637
  • 4–6 years' experience: $49,161
  • 10–14 years' experience: $56,443
  • 15+ years' experience: $63,601

Job Growth Trend

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth over the next decade should be about 11 percent, which is faster than average for all jobs. Increasing school enrollments should create more job opportunities, though budget cuts could mean fewer opportunities in some districts.

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