School counselors work in public and private schools to assist students academically and socially. They guide students through social and behavioral issues, evaluate abilities and interests for college and career planning, and collaborate with teachers and parents to help students set and accomplish individual goals.
School counselors may work in classrooms, discussing relevant topics such as bullying and career planning. They stay up-to-date with outside resources and refer students to helpful sources for additional support.
School counselors also help identify cases of student neglect or abuse and alert authorities when such cases are suspected.
Elementary school counselors generally focus on aiding students with decision-making and study skills. Middle school counselors collaborate with students, parents and teachers to help youngsters develop and achieve academic goals.
High school counselors guide students in making academic and career plans. They also help struggling students work to overcome personal problems that are causing their schoolwork to suffer. They help students choose classes that support their aspirations for post-graduation, and provide information about college application processes, training programs and financial aid options. They also may be called upon to present career workshops that teach students how to search and apply for jobs, write resumes and interview effectively.
Career Outlook and Salary Range for School Counselors
Student enrollments are on the rise at all academic levels, creating demand for school counselors, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor to 250 students. However, as of 2013-2014, the average ratio nationwide was one counselor for every 491 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
In 2013, President Barack Obama proposed an initiative that would provide federal funding to hire additional school counselors, in part, to boost campus safety by addressing mental health and discipline issues.
The BLS projects that employment of school and career counselors nationwide will increase by 8% from 2014 to 2024, with variations based on government funding levels. As of 2016, the more than 260,670 elementary and secondary school counselors across the country earned a median annual wage of $54,560.
Salary ranges and career opportunities for school counselors are affected by numerous factors, including a candidate’s work history and educational qualifications, as well as regional market conditions.
Education and Training for School Counselors
A bachelor’s degree in a discipline such as education or psychology can be a first step to a career as a school counselor. With an undergraduate degree, individuals may pursue a master’s degree in school counseling, which is a requirement for employment in many states, according to the BLS.
For counselors in the public school system, licensure, certification or another type of endorsement typically is necessary for employment. Additionally, teaching experience in a classroom setting may be required by some states.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics identifies a set of core competencies for school counselors, including strong interpersonal and communication skills, and the ability to demonstrate compassion and empathy when dealing with students and parents.
Professional development and continuing education resources are available from organizations such as the American School Counselor Association and the National Board for Certified Counselors.