Complete Guide to Becoming a School Counselor

Becoming a school counselor will allow you to help students and have a positive impact on their lives. You will support young people with a wide range of academic and emotional challenges and play a crucial role in the educational leadership team. For that reason, school counseling is considered a highly rewarding and fulfilling field. There are various routes to get into counseling and many people are unsure of how to become a school counselor. If you are considering this career, then you must do thorough research and gain an understanding of how to become a school counselor, what the role involves, and how to secure employment in the field. To get you started, here is a complete guide on how to become a school counselor. 

Learn about the role 

The very first step should be to research the role and gain an understanding of what a school counselor does on a day-to-day basis. Training to become a school counselor is a large investment, both in terms of time and finances. You will be required to complete several years of formal education and training before you can practice counseling in a school setting. With that in mind, you must be truly passionate about the field and determine whether the role is right for you before you start exploring how to become a school counselor. 

You can learn about the role and seek information on how to become a school counselor by searching on career advice websites or referring to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA). Here, you will find plenty of useful information on what the job role entails, salary expectations, working conditions, how to become a school counselor, and so on. To give you an idea, here are some of the key duties of a school counselor: 

    • Discussing students’ interests and exploring different career options.
    • Helping students write college applications and prepare for interviews. 
    • Supporting students with a wide range of social and emotional needs. 
    • Identifying any issues affecting student performance. 
    • Counseling individual students and small groups on various topics including suicide prevention, mental health, substance abuse, family neglect, and so on. 
    • Creating action plans to help students achieve their academic and personal goals.
    • Helping students develop the essential skills needed for success in later life. 
    • Working alongside teachers and parents to improve classroom performance. 
    • Referring students to outside organizations such as mental health facilities, etc. 

Take the time to research the role and gain a thorough understanding of what the job entails. This will help you determine whether a career in school counseling will suit your skills and provide you with long-term job satisfaction. 

Understand what qualifications are required

Training to become a school counselor requires several years of formal education. According to advice on Online Counseling Degrees, school counselors must first obtain a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a relevant field followed by a master’s degree in school counseling. They must then earn internship experience and may be required to pass an examination before applying for state licensure. Specific qualifications and information on how to become a school counselor will be discussed in more detail later in this article. Intensive training and assessments are necessary to equip student counselors with the skills, knowledge, and expertise needed to support students effectively. You must research how to become a school counselor and gain an understanding of the qualifications and certifications required. Make sure you are prepared to put in the time and effort to earn the required qualifications. 

Enroll in a counseling program 

As mentioned, the first step to becoming a school counselor is to complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a relevant topic such as education or psychology. Most bachelor degrees require four years of full-time study, although you may be able to complete the program part-time. This is typically the preferred option for those in employment or people considering a career change in later life. Keep in mind that your degree may take several years to complete if you choose to study part-time. 

A counseling degree will teach you the basic skills and knowledge needed to provide advice and practice counseling in a clinical setting. You will also be provided with career advice on how to become a school counselor, how to find internship experience, and so on. You can choose to specialize in school counseling once you have successfully completed your bachelor’s degree. A master’s degree in school counseling will teach you the specialist skills needed to provide counseling services to children and young people. It is possible to pursue a career in counseling with any degree, although you may be required to complete a conversion course or relevant modules before starting your master’s program. 

Earn a master’s degree

Once you have successfully earned your bachelor’s degree, you will need to enroll in a master’s program. The majority of students hoping to become school counselors complete a master’s degree in school counseling. This program is specifically designed to prepare you to provide counseling in a school setting. The course will involve a combination of engaging coursework and hands-on experience. Your degree tutor can also provide you with further advice on how to become a school counselor and tips to help you secure employment after graduation. It is possible to earn a master’s in a related topic, so long as you have enough work experience to meet the requirements for licensure. 

According to ASCA, most state schools and educational facilities require counselors to have completed an advanced degree program that includes the following topics; ‘individual counseling, group counseling, career development, theories, and supervised internship and practicum.’ It is therefore a good idea to check that your master’s program covers these elements, or you risk having to complete additional training before being granted state licensure. 

Build relevant work experience  

When seeking information on how to become a school counselor, you will notice that work experience is crucial to securing employment after graduation. Most states require a certain level of internship experience before granting licensure to school counselors. Various guides on how to become a school counselor recommend that students start building their work experience at the earliest opportunity. Ideally, you should try to gain some relevant experience before you start your degree program. You can build some school-based experience by volunteering as a teacher’s assistant or classroom reader in a school. Most high-schoolers are allocated a week or more to do work experience. Use this opportunity to try and gain some experience within an educational setting. 

Once you have started your degree, look for work experience opportunities such as internships or placements. Internships are a fantastic way to gain real-world experience, build valuable connections with people in the industry, and make your resume more attractive to potential employers. There is high competition for the best school counseling jobs and any additional work experience will put you at a strong advantage when seeking employment. Best Counseling Degrees explain how some master’s programs will require you to complete an internship as part of the course. This means that your master’s program may take two years to complete instead of one. However, many interns are fortunate enough to be offered a job at the end of the placement. This means they can begin their career and start earning money as soon as they finish school. You can search online or speak with your own school counselor for further guidance on how to become a school counselor and gain relevant experience in the field. 

Apply for a state license

Once you have done all of the above, you will need to apply for a state license. This is required before you are able to practice counseling in a school setting. Each state sets its own standards for licensure so make sure you review your state’s requirements for more information on what you need to do. Keep in mind that some states require graduates to pass an examination before granting licensure. 

The National Counselor Examination (NCE) involves 200 multiple-choice exam questions. These are designed to assess a graduate’s skills and knowledge and check that they have the ability to provide effective counseling services. If your state requires you to complete the NCE, then you will need to achieve a successful pass rate before being issued with a license to practice. If you fail the exam, then you can resit the test a second and third time under the same application. If you fail the exam three times then it is possible to take it again, but you will need to submit a new application at a cost of $195. 

The NCE exam is offered twice a year, in April and October. If you fail the exam, then it may be a good idea to take a break, try a new learning approach, or develop your skills and experience before attempting the test again. Career guides on how to become a school counselor recommend completing NCE practice questions online. These will help you prepare for the exam and teach you how to become a school counselor.

Seek employment in schools

Once you have been awarded state licensure, you can start looking for employment within schools. School counselors can choose to work within various educational settings including elementary schools, middle school, high schools, and colleges. You can also choose to work within a public or private school setting. The best type of school will depend on your skills, interests, and preferences. Some school counselors prefer working with younger children in elementary schools whereas others prefer assisting high school students with college applications and want to provide teenagers with emotional support, for example. When you are exploring how to become a school counselor, make sure that you keep an open mind, and consider different school settings. Work placements and internships will give you valuable insight into the field and help you determine which type of school setting would be best suited to you. It is possible to change to a new setting later in your career, i.e. to move from a high school to an elementary school. However, you may be required to complete additional training to prepare you for the transition. Career guides on how to become a school counselor can offer further advice on the pros and cons of different school settings. 

Write a standout resume 

There is an increasing demand for school counselors and the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that job opportunities in the sector will grow by 8% in the next 10 years. This is much higher than the average seen across all other occupations. That being said, there is still strong competition for the top counseling jobs and school counseling is an extremely popular field with graduates. 

For that reason, you must have a clear understanding of how to become a school counselor and write an impressive resume that will make you stand out from your peers. Make sure that you include any relevant experience and highlight your key achievements. Remember that most employers will not read the rest of your resume if they are not hooked within the first minute or so. Take the time to write a short engaging introduction that emphasizes your achievements and passion for the field. If possible, ask a school counselor to read your resume and provide tips on how it can be improved. An experienced school counselor may also be able to offer valuable guidance on how to become a school counselor and break into the industry.  


School counselors perform an important role in educational facilities and play a crucial role in supporting children and young people. Working as a school counselor can offer several great perks and many school counselors enjoy a long and satisfying career. Learning how to become a school counselor can be a challenge and the route to qualification is not easy. However, anyone with the required skills and passion has the potential to become a successful school counselor. Use the advice above to guide you on how to become a school counselor and start working towards your dream counseling role today!