How to Become a Guidance Counselor

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4 Steps to Becoming Licensed as a School Counselor

Step 1 Earn a bachelor’s degree

The minimum requirement to become a guidance counselor is to have a bachelor’s degree. Many guidance counselors have a bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology or education.

Step 2 Earn a master’s degree in school counseling

While not every state requires counselors to have a master’s degree, the vast majority of guidance counselors have earned their master’s in school counseling. Students who have not yet earned their bachelor’s degree may want to look for programs designed specifically for future guidance counselors. Accelerated programs may be offered, saving time and money.

Step 3 Gain experience as a counselor

You’ll likely gain some or all of the experience you need as a guidance counselor while earning your master’s degree. Because states have different requirements, you may be required to gain additional experience as a counselor. Expect to spend about 300 hours on the clock, or have experience teaching in a professional setting. Check here to learn each state’s specific requirements.

Step 4 Become certified to be a guidance counselor in your state

To become certified in your state, you’ll have to meet the minimum requirements and pass any required exams. Also, you’ll have to apply for your counselor’s license which is legally required to work as a guidance counselor. After that, you’re ready to find a position as a guidance counselor.

FAQ on Earning Your School Counseling Degree

  • While the majority of guidance counselors work in schools, not all do. Some guidance counselors are employed by public or private education services, and others are self-employed.

  • Yes, so are other education professionals. There are continuing education options available online, saving you the trouble of having to travel.

  • It depends on the school, county and state you work in. When applying to work in schools, be sure to find out what their expectations are.

  • Yes. Some states even require that guidance counselors have 1-2 years of professional teaching experience before they can become certified.

  • Yes. School counselors provide short-term assistance with particular issues that may be getting in the way of a child’s education. Therapists treat mental health issues on a regularly scheduled basis. If a child is having problems in school or has questions about their educational path, a guidance counselor can help. If an issue is more serious or involves mental health, a therapist might be more appropriate.

Guidance Counselor Salary & Job Growth

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median wage for guidance counselors in 2017 was $55,410. Employment for guidance counselors is expected to grow faster than most positions. Total enrollment in schools is expected to increase, so the demand for guidance counselors should increase as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that approximately 36,700 more guidance counselor jobs will be created between 2016 and 2026.

Salaries can increase depending on state and level. For example, elementary and secondary school guidance counselors made a median salary of $62,990. Also, the more experience you have as a guidance counselor, the more you can earn each year. Guidance counselors with a lot of experience earned 30% more than new guidance counselors, according to Payscale.

Alabama Mean wage annual: $52,830
Currently Employed: 3,540
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.70%
Alaska Mean wage annual: $69,820
Currently Employed: 640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 2%
Arizona Mean wage annual: $53,160
Currently Employed: 7,760
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Arkansas Mean wage annual: $53,340
Currently Employed: 2,060
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13%
California Mean wage annual: $68,000
Currently Employed: 30,050
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Colorado Mean wage annual: $52,100
Currently Employed: 4,340
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 23%
Connecticut Mean wage annual: $64,910
Currently Employed: 4,780
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Delaware Mean wage annual: $62,910
Currently Employed: 1,030
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%
Florida Mean wage annual: $49,300
Currently Employed: 14,820
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18%
Georgia Mean wage annual: $55,450
Currently Employed: 10,770
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 19%
Hawaii Mean wage annual: $56,750
Currently Employed: 1,590
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10%
Idaho Mean wage annual: $41,660
Currently Employed: 1,430
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16%
Illinois Mean wage annual: $56,550
Currently Employed: 11,180
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
Indiana Mean wage annual: $50,930
Currently Employed: 4,020
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%
Iowa Mean wage annual: $52,530
Currently Employed: 2,570
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13%
Kansas Mean wage annual: $49,080
Currently Employed: 2,480
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9.30%
Kentucky Mean wage annual: $58,740
Currently Employed: 3,210
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.90%
Louisiana Mean wage annual: $54,610
Currently Employed: 4,070
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
Maine Mean wage annual: $50,410
Currently Employed: 1,240
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 2.50%
Maryland Mean wage annual: $63,840
Currently Employed: 6,170
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9%
Massachusetts Mean wage annual: $66,640
Currently Employed: 7,410
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 13.70%
Michigan Mean wage annual: $55,030
Currently Employed: 6,340
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Minnesota Mean wage annual: $56,310
Currently Employed: 4,440
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
Mississippi Mean wage annual: $50,140
Currently Employed: 2,060
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12.80%
Missouri Mean wage annual: $49,610
Currently Employed: 6,640
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
Montana Mean wage annual: $47,070
Currently Employed: 650
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Nebraska Mean wage annual: $59,160
Currently Employed: 1,540
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Nevada Mean wage annual: $53,580
Currently Employed: 1,850
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 16.30%
New Hampshire Mean wage annual: $58,090
Currently Employed: 1,230
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6%
New Jersey Mean wage annual: $72,190
Currently Employed: 6,960
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
New Mexico Mean wage annual: $57,790
Currently Employed: 1,570
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 10.30%
New York Mean wage annual: $67,100
Currently Employed: 22,430
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 15%
North Carolina Mean wage annual: $49,550
Currently Employed: 6,480
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12.50%
North Dakota Mean wage annual: $56,260
Currently Employed: 770
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%
Ohio Mean wage annual: $57,240
Currently Employed: 10,330
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 11%
Oklahoma Mean wage annual: $42,270
Currently Employed: 3,750
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 9.90%
Oregon Mean wage annual: $61,370
Currently Employed: 2,620
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
Pennsylvania Mean wage annual: $60,810
Currently Employed: 8,310
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 8%
Rhode Island Mean wage annual: $61,410
Currently Employed: 1,110
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4%
South Carolina Mean wage annual: $52,790
Currently Employed: 4,420
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 14.50%
South Dakota Mean wage annual: $41,680
Currently Employed: 790
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12.80%
Tennessee Mean wage annual: $49,540
Currently Employed: 4,340
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
Texas Mean wage annual: $60,210
Currently Employed: 24,380
Change in Employment (2016-2026): N/A
Utah Mean wage annual: $48,100
Currently Employed: 2,890
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 38.20%
Vermont Mean wage annual: $53,770
Currently Employed: 940
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 4.30%
Virginia Mean wage annual: $66,310
Currently Employed: 6,830
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 18%
Washington Mean wage annual: $61,810
Currently Employed: 4,860
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 21%
West Virginia Mean wage annual: $45,790
Currently Employed: 1,490
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 12%
Wisconsin Mean wage annual: $52,000
Currently Employed: 3,890
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 7%
Wyoming Mean wage annual: $54,580
Currently Employed: 650
Change in Employment (2016-2026): 6.50%
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Finding a Guidance Counselor Program

There are many things students should consider when looking for a guidance counselor program. Students should always make sure their program is accredited, as well as consider cost, delivery method, and program length. Also, programs in specific states may offer the prerequisites required to get certified, but might not satisfy requirements in another state. Search tools like the one below can help students narrow down their options and find a program that meets their needs.

Professional Counselor Associations & Groups

Guidance and school counselors never stop learning, and they need to continue their education regularly to retain certification. To keep up with any changes in requirements, many guidance counselors join organizations or groups to network, learn new skills and specialize. Here are some of the top groups for guidance counselors:

  • American School Counselor Association

    The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is a network of guidance counselors at all academic levels. With over 33,000 members, it is an excellent resource to network and connect with other professionals.

  • American Counseling Association

    The world’s largest organization for counselors, the ACA appeals to all counselors, including guidance counselors.

  • National Education Association

    With over 3 million members, the NEA is by far the largest organization for educators at all levels. This is an excellent organization for networking and meeting other education professionals.

  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling

    Guidance counselors who plan on working at the elementary level will be interested in the Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling (ACAC). They provide professional development and education for child counselors.

  • International School Counselor Association

    Any school counselors that are considering an international career will want to look at the ISCA. They provide any resources you would need to begin a career in an international school.

  • National Association for College Admission Counseling

    Guidance counselors at the secondary education level would find the NACAC useful. The NACAC is designed for counselors who help students find the right options for postsecondary education.

Resources for Guidance Counselors

Current and future guidance counselors have plenty of professional organizations and networks to access. Here are some of the top resources for guidance counselors:

  • Elementary School Counseling

    Elementary School Counseling is an organization that has a variety of tools for elementary school counselors. This is a great place to find ideas on counseling groups and entire classrooms.

  • Teachers Pay Teachers

    An open marketplace for all educators, Teachers Pay Teachers connects educators across the nation. Tools and resources found here are created by other guidance counselors, and many of them are free.

  • School Counselor Resources

    Looking for new ways to engage with students? School Counselor Resources has a collection of tools that can help with any situation.

  • SCOPE

    SCOPE was created to introduce guidance counselors to new technology. The site is free, and it’s an excellent way to keep up-to-date with tech trends.

  • Stop Bullying

    A government organization dedicated specifically to preventing all forms of bullying, Stop Bullying has resources and training that can help guidance counselors.