As the education landscape changes, school counselors are tasked with the important responsibility of helping students adapt and advance in school.
The need for these professionals is growing as the number of students enrolled in schools, at all levels, continues to rise. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the job growth for school and career counselors nationwide will be 13% through 2026.
School counselors may work with teachers, school staff and parents to help students do well academically and become productive adults outside of school, according to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Among their duties:
- Evaluate students’ abilities and readiness for college.
- Assist in career planning.
- Help students navigate challenges that can affect performance, such as bullying and substance abuse.
- Identify cases of student neglect or abuse and alert authorities when such cases are suspected.
- Address attendance issues such as tardiness or absenteeism.
At an elementary school, a counselor may focus on developing students’ decision-making and study skills, while in middle school the focus is on achieving academic goals. In high school, counselors guide students making academic and career plans by providing information about college application processes, training programs and financial aid options.
ASCA recommends a ratio of one counselor to 250 students. However, as of 2014-2015 (the most recent academic year for which figures available), the average ratio nationwide was one counselor for every 482 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.’
School counselors earned an average wage of $58,620 as of May 2017, according to the BLS. If a career as a school counselor interests you, conducting independent research is a wise choice, as salary potential and employment opportunities may vary depending on factors such as education, experience and regional market conditions.
How to Become a School Counselor
A bachelor’s degree in psychology can be a first step to a career as a school counselor. Most states require a master’s degree to work in the field, according to the BLS. Counselors working in public schools are required to have a state-issued license, certification or endorsement. In some states, counselors also must have classroom teaching experience. ASCA and the National Board for Certified Counselors have resources available for professional development and continuing education.
Successful counselors possess strong interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to demonstrate compassion and empathy when dealing with students, parents, teachers and administrators.