If you want to become a counselor or psychologist, you should start exploring the field while you’re still in high school. Classes to take in high school for a career as a counselor include psychology, social sciences, biology, English and math. Taking a selection of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses is also advisable because they will help your college application stand out, and some of them will let you skip prerequisite courses in college and get right to the interesting stuff, like abnormal psychology.
While you’re brainstorming which classes to take, consider the duties of a school counselor or whatever kind of psychologist you want to be. Take the classes that will help you prepare best for those duties. For example, psychologists have to talk to people every day. If you’re shy, you might want to choose classes that will help you come out of your shell, like debate, speech or acting.
You also need to take into account psychology subjects in college, specifically the courses you might want to take. Look at the course catalogs for your prospective colleges to find interesting classes that will fit your future major. If they have prerequisites, see if there are any classes that you can take in high school to fulfill them before you get into college.
Recommended classes to take in high school for a career as a counselor include psychology, social sciences, biology, English and math.
What Are the Duties of a School Counselor?
School counselors are psychologists, confidantes and advisers. They help students cope with the rigors of high school and guide them in preparing for their futures in college, the workplace and beyond. However, the actual duties of a school counselor generally vary from school to school or district to district.
In general, counselors are there to provide guidance in multiple areas of a student’s life, including academics, health, family life, growing up and fitting in. School counselors’ duties may entail the following:
- Listening to students’ problems.
- Helping students plan ways to solve their problems.
- Connecting students with other forms of help, like mental health services or services for homeless youth.
- Mediating conflicts between students.
- Mediating conflicts between students and teachers.
- Facilitating better communication between parents and teachers.
- Helping students apply to colleges and for scholarships.
- Hooking students up with vocational training opportunities.
- Organizing addiction awareness and prevention programs.
- Facilitating peer counseling groups or sessions.
- Advocating for students with the school board or other higher powers.
Given this list, you should see the importance of communication, so taking classes that help you become a better communicator will make your future life as a school counselor much easier. Conflict resolution skills are also key. Improve your conflict resolution and negotiation skills by taking a business class if your school has one.
What Is it Like to Be a Licensed Mental Health Counselor?
What if you don’t want to be a school counselor? That’s OK, because there are plenty of other psychology careers that won’t take you back to high school. One common career path is to become a licensed mental health counselor, or LMHC.
The job of a licensed mental health counselor usually revolves around talking to patients one on one or in groups to help them work through issues that are preventing them from living full, vibrant lives. Some licensed mental health counselors work for community agencies or centers, while others work for hospitals, employee wellness initiatives or corporations. Others maintain their own practices and see patients independently.
If you’re thinking about becoming a licensed mental health counselor, the key skills you’ll need to develop are listening to and interacting with others. Although classes like psychology, biology and statistics are important in preparing for the academic side of your career, you can’t forget the human aspect of being a counselor. Classes like history, literature, art and drama will help you learn more about communicating and understanding the people with whom you work.
Psychology Subjects in College
Beyond general psychology, where you will learn the basics of psychological theories and their history, you will have a broad array of psychology subjects in college from which you can choose. The psychology classes available at your college will most likely include some if not all of the following:
- Behavioral Psychology
- Experimental Psychology
- Abnormal Psychology
- Cognitive Psychology
- Developmental Psychology
- Theory of Personality
- Social Psychology
- History of Psychology
However, course catalogs may vary, especially at the higher levels where courses depend on the expertise or specialty of the professors employed by the department. Specialized classes in psychology range from Neuropsychology to Drugs and Behavior.
The purpose of looking ahead in the course catalog isn’t just so you can daydream about all of the things you’ll learn in college. Make a list of the classes you want to take and see if they have prerequisites. If you can fulfill those prerequisites in high school, which may include biology, statistics and general psychology, you’ll make more room in your college schedule to take classes that interest you.
Ace Your General Education Classes
Before you dive headlong into classes to take for psychology in high school, make sure you don’t neglect your general education requirements. Most states have a set number of classes that you need to pass with a C or better in order to earn your high school diploma.
If you don’t do well enough in your general education classes to pass high school, then no matter how much you like psychology, all of your efforts will have been in vain. If you’re struggling, focus on your weak subjects and save the harder psychology and science classes for college or for after you finish your toughest general education classes.
Psychology is such a multifaceted subject that you really will use something from every class you take in high school. You will use math and statistics when you’re conducting psychological experiments. You’ll tap into skills from English, writing and speech while you’re talking to your patients. Even classes like history will inform your understanding of the world and help you interact with your patients in a more sensitive way.
Add Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate Classes
If you’re already doing a great job in your general education classes, consider adding more difficult classes to your high school schedule. Colleges are very selective. To get into the one you want, your resume will have to stand out from the crowd.
AP and IB classes will give your transcripts an edge. If you ace all of your AP or IB classes, it’s possible to earn a GPA that is well above 4.0. Even if a top GPA isn’t your highest goal, there is plenty to learn in AP and IB classes as well.
Many of these classes teach college-level curriculum at the high school level. Not only will you learn more in these classes, but you might also be able to skip general education and prerequisite requirements in college if you score high enough on your AP and IB tests.
Take AP Psychology
Of all the classes to take for psychology in high school, AP Psychology should be at the top of your list. AP Psychology will give you the foundation you’ll need to delve deeper into studying the human mind and our behavior. AP Psychology is also equivalent to the first course of college-level psychology. Depending on your college, scoring a 5 on the AP Psychology exam might allow you to test out of General Psychology and head straight into the classes you’re excited about in your major.
AP Psychology touches on all of the major aspects of psychology you might study at the college level. The standard AP Psychology course will cover the following:
- The history of psychology
- Methodology and practices for psychological research
- The biological basis of behavior
- The senses and perception
- Sleep, hypnosis and the effects of drugs
- Learning and conditioning
- Cognition, memory and thinking
- Motivation, emotion and need
- Developmental psychology
- Theories of personality
- Psychological testing and its standards and norms
- Abnormal psychology
- Social psychology
- Treatment of psychological disorders
Remember that being a psychologist is more than just knowing about psychology. Interpersonal communications skills are so important for the field that students who may not have excelled in school but who have high emotional intelligence will find that they thrive in a counseling career.
Focus on Communication Skills
So, what does it take to become a really good counselor? Knowledge of how the mind works is vital, but knowing how the mind and emotions affect behavior and how your behavior as a counselor affects the feelings of others will pave the way for a prosperous counseling career. For many of us, such interpersonal communication skills don't come naturally. Fortunately, they can be learned.
Starting in high school, load up on classes that encourage you to talk to your peers and create relationships with them. As a counselor, you'll learn that superficial niceness can only go so far in earning a patient's trust. Develop skills in listening and empathy while you're in high school, and you'll not only prepare yourself for your career, but you'll also end up with a lot of friends too.
Besides general socialization, you can take classes that will help you become a better communicator. English, speech and debate are the obvious choices, but have you considered taking acting or theater? Theater classes will help you learn how to speak in front of people and work with your peers. You will also have a chance to use your psychology knowledge while you're acting because you will have to think about your character's history and how it has affected his behavior.
Dive Into the Social Sciences
You may not think that history class will be useful for a career as a counselor, but in fact, the knowledge you gain in history and the other social sciences like government, economics, sociology and geography will help you form a more complete picture of your patients' backgrounds, and you will therefore better understand them. As you will learn in your psychology classes, the world in which we grow up has a strong influence on who we are and how we behave. So, it follows that you'll have to build up your understanding of the world before you study the behavior it influences.
AP Human Geography is one class that you should consider taking outside the realm of psychology. In AP Human Geography, you will learn about the background of nations and the forces that have shaped society. Add AP U.S. History to the mix, and you'll be able to form a more nuanced picture of the people and events that have changed civilization and made us all who we are today.
Humans are complex creatures, and so is our behavior. Going into your studies with a narrow focus will only cause you to miss many of the intricate puzzle pieces that make us all who we are. Pursue studies with balance in mind, and you will be surprised how much the humanities will change the way you think about how people work.
Rebecca Renner is a teacher and college professor from Florida. She loves teaching about literature, and she writes about books for Book Riot, Real Simple, Electric Literature and more.