If you love working with children and have a desire to help others, becoming a school counselor might be the right career choice for you. School counselors provide assistance to elementary, junior high and high school students to help remove or lessen barriers to learning, including stress, mental health problems, family issues and learning disabilities. If you already have a bachelor's degree in a non-counseling field, you can become a school counselor by completing additional education and training requirements.
Obtaining a bachelor's degree is the first step to becoming a school counselor. While the exact educational requirements vary by state, most school counselors have a minimum of a master's degree in school counseling, preferably from a school accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs or another regional accreditation program. However, to obtain initial certification, some states will accept a bachelor's degree if you have completed a state-approved teacher education program or another alternative teacher education program.
Coursework and Training
Most states require that school counselors complete certain mandatory courses and meet minimum experience requirements before they can apply for state certification. The specific requirements vary by state, but most states require coursework in relevant areas such as human growth and development, individual and group counseling techniques, social and cultural foundations of counseling and research and program evaluation, according to the American School Counselor Association. Additionally, many states require school counselors to complete a supervised internship that involves direct practice with elementary and secondary school students. If you do not have a master's degree, some states may require that counselors complete a certain number of years of paid work experience before they are eligible for permanent certification.
The exact steps you need to take to become a certified school counselor depends on your state. Many states require that you pass a written school counseling examination in addition to submitting proof of education and experience. Some states require counselors to pass one or several of the Praxis series of tests that are also used for teacher certification. Most states also require a criminal background check that may include fingerprinting. Some states require counselors to have a chest x-ray or tuberculin-skin test before eligible for hire.
School counselors need to have the right personality for the job. To be an effective school counselor, you will need to be friendly, engaging, able to relate well with children, be able to build trust with parents and students, and have excellent communication skills. Additionally, you should have excellent conflict resolution and crisis intervention skills and be able to work well with people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds.
Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.