You will need a combination of education and professional certifications to become a school guidance counselor. Education and certification requirements vary from state to state. The American School Counselor Association is a good source to find out exactly which education and certification will best-qualify you for school guidance counselor jobs in your state. Educational and work experience, which often includes unpaid internships and practicums, also varies depending upon your specialty. School guidance counselors can work at the elementary, middle and high school levels in K-12 school districts. They can also work for two- and four-year colleges and universities, and vocational schools or training programs.

Educational Paths for Guidance Counselors

A master’s degree in educational counseling is normally a requirement for public school counselors. Some states require only a bachelor’s degree for other types of guidance counselor, for example, vocational schools or counselors that recommend college financial aid programs. Any counselor whose position incorporates psychological services, whether group or individual counseling or professional referrals, must at a minimum, have a master’s degree and professional certification as a therapist. Coursework for all counseling degrees includes developmental theory, learning theory, multicultural theory and education in providing group and individual counseling. Be sure your program is accredited. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) evaluates counseling programs at all levels and grants accreditation.

Internships, Practicums and Certification

Nearly all counseling degrees include internships or practicums. The National Board for Certified Counselors reports that internships or practicums average 3,000 supervised hours of on-the-job training under the direction of a qualified supervising therapist or counselor. Most states require a minimum number of hours of supervised experience before they will grant a license to work as a school guidance counselor. You will also be asked to prove you completed your degree and specific counseling program in order to obtain a state license, and a criminal background check, sometimes called a “LiveScan.”

Choosing the Right Job Fit

School guidance counselor jobs have varying duties, depending upon which level of student you are counseling and the location and type of school you are working in. The profession is closely linked to teaching, and many public school teachers seek additional education and become school counselors. You probably already know whether or not you prefer working with young children and parents as an elementary school counselor, or whether you work better with adults. One benefit of an internship or practicum is gaining knowledge what you enjoy as a counselor, which will help you choose the best job fit. Practicums also give you an opportunity to find a school counseling mentor, who will help throughout your training and job search.

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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that this career is anticipated to grow at an average pace over the next ten years. The American School Counselor Association says that growth projections may change, because the current average is one counselor for every 471 students, but the recommended average is one counselor for every 250 students. If you become a school guidance counselor, you can choose from many different work environments and age levels of student in public, private, or vocational schools.