How to Become a School Counselor: Top Degrees & Programs

How to become a school counselorAccording to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), employment in school counseling is expected to grow by 8% from 2019 to 2029, with 33,100 openings for school and career counselors opening each year.

School counselors may have one of the most multifunctional and gratifying roles within the school setting.

So how do you obtain the coveted position of a school counselor?

What qualifies someone to counsel and guide students in the school setting?

What are the requirements to enter the school counseling profession?

The search for these answers can be downright confusing. In this article, we explore the qualifications, requirements, degrees, and certifications for this transformative occupation.

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free. These science-based exercises explore fundamental aspects of positive psychology, including strengths, values, and self-compassion, and will give you the tools to enhance the wellbeing of your clients, students, or employees.

School Counseling: Qualifications & Requirements

Like many other professions, school counseling requires a varying amount of training and education between countries and regions. Some areas require candidates to pass state or national comprehensive tests or complete a practicum or internship. Sometimes these qualifications are mandated at the state or school level.

For example, the school systems in Bulgaria, Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia are considered centralized. In Croatia, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, job requirements, professional activities, and the duties of the school counselor are directed by the national or ministerial level (American School Counselor Association, n.d.).

Countries such as Austria, Denmark, Ireland, Malta, and Russia have a decentralized school system governance and centralized regulation of school counseling. School counseling in Austria, Malta, and Russia is regulated by the ministries of education (American School Counselor Association, n.d.; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

Denmark, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and United States have decentralized school governance and decentralized regulation of school counseling. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) and the United Kingdom and European Association for Psychotherapeutic Counselling offer training and accreditation for school counselors in the United Kingdom (McCarthy, 2011; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

The National Centre for Guidance in Education grants the same opportunities for individuals in Ireland. The American School Counselor Association mandates the training and accreditation for school counselors in the United States.

Countries that do not require school counselors to obtain licensure/certification include (American School Counselor Association, n.d.; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • North Macedonia
  • Malta
  • Russia
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia

Countries that do require school counselors to obtain licensure/certification include (American School Counselor Association, n.d.; Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Ireland
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

Austria, Ireland, Malta, and the United States require school counselors to hold a degree in education or pedagogy, and a psychology degree is required for school counselors in Russia and the United Kingdom. In Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia, a school counseling candidate may have a degree in either education or psychology (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

Countries that require school counselors to hold only a bachelor’s degree include (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Austria
  • Bulgaria
  • Denmark
  • North Macedonia
  • Russia

Countries that require school counselors to hold a master’s degree include (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Croatia
  • Ireland
  • Malta
  • Serbia
  • Slovenia
  • United States (five states)

Many individuals learn best by doing. In fact, 63% of counselors indicated an interest in being supervised and ranked developing skills and techniques as being their number one goal (Page, Pietrzak, & Sutton, 2001).

Some locations require a school counselor to complete a supervised internship or field placement. This real-world experience is an important element in a counselor training program, as it helps counselors develop their professional identity and become effective school counselors (Brott, 2006).

An experienced school counselor or an individual certified for counselor education oversees this type of practicum. Throughout the fieldwork, supervisors schedule “periodic formal evaluative sessions,” document these observations, and provide ongoing performance feedback (American Counseling Association, 2014, p. 13).

These opportunities allow future school counselors to put their learning into practice, with the guidance of an experienced school counselor.

Countries that require school counselors to hold additional qualifications, such as specializations or in-service training programs, include (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020):

  • Austria
  • Denmark
  • Ireland
  • Malta
  • United Kingdom
  • United States

 

5+ Best Courses and Programs

Nearly every country requires school counselors to hold a degree in education or psychology. Higher education systems rarely offer an undergraduate degree in school counseling; however, counseling students have the option to specialize or later pursue a master’s degree in school counseling specifically.

For qualification requirements in the United States, you can visit the American Counseling Association to view each state’s educational requirements. The association also breaks down the requirements for the number of credits, hours of supervision, minimum grade point average, tests and minimum scores, and background checks needed to apply. The site also includes information about reciprocity between states.

Someone interested in beginning the school counseling journey can take a look at the following undergraduate counseling programs.

 

BSEd in Counseling and Student Services – Indiana, U.S.

Indiana University received an overall ranking of “A” from Niche. They offer a Bachelor of Science degree in Education in Counseling and Student Services.

This program combines the fields of education, counseling psychology, and student affairs to prepare students for professions in those and related fields.

 

BS in Counseling and Applied Psychological Science – Arizona, U.S.

Arizona State University was listed as having the sixth-best online bachelor’s degree programs in the United States by U.S. News & World Report and offers students a bachelor’s degree in Counseling and Applied Psychological Science.

Students can attend in person or online.

 

BA/BS in Psychology – Alabama, U.S.

The University of West Alabama (UWA) offers a 100%-online bachelor’s degree in psychology to prepare students for a career in school counseling. UWA prides itself on its competitive tuition and generous credit transfer policy.

 

Honours Bachelor of Counselling Psychology – Georgian College, Canada

The Keystone Bachelor Studies website recognizes Georgian College in Canada as a top undergraduate program in counseling, and they offer an Honours Bachelor of Counselling Psychology.

This four-year program also includes an internship and field placement for students to put their learning into practice.

 

BA(Hons) Counselling – U.K.

West Suffolk College offers a three-year program for a bachelor’s degree in counseling.

Supervision hours are embedded within the program and begin in the first year. All lecturing staff are counselors or psychotherapists certified by the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy and/or the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy. This program focuses on an integrative approach to counseling.

 

Various Counseling Courses – Australia

ACAP Counseling CoursesThe Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) offers a two-year graduate diploma and a two-year master’s degree in counseling and psychotherapy.

ACAP’s psychology degrees are accredited by the Australian Psychology Accreditation Council, and their higher education counseling degrees are accredited by the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

 

6 Master’s Degrees to Consider

In some areas, someone who already holds a degree in education, psychology, or counseling may be a candidate for a master’s degree program. You may be interested in one of the following programs if you are interested in changing fields.

 

Master of Education in School Counseling – California, U.S.

The University of Southern California offers an online Master of Education in School Counseling. This program takes less than two years to complete and prepares future counselors to assist students with career and college readiness, restorative justice, and trauma, while helping students meet their academic, social, and emotional needs.

Best of all, this program will help school counselor candidates to apply for the school counseling credential.

 

MS Educational Counseling/Pupil Personnel Services Credential – California, U.S.

National University offers an MS in Educational Counseling along with a Pupil Personnel Services Credential (for applicants in California). Their four-week online or on-site classes are tailored to working adults who would like to get started as soon as possible and finish faster. Moreover, National University is military friendly and veteran founded.

 

MS in School Counseling – Online, various locations

Capella University’s Master of Science in School Counseling is accredited by both the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation.

This degree program will also help students to obtain their school counseling credential. Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and extends a FlexPath option with a 14-month duration.

 

School Counseling (MA) – Iowa, U.S.

The University of Iowa offers a Master of Arts Degree in School Counseling. This program is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. This degree is offered with or without a thesis.

 

Master of Education (MEd) – Pennsylvania, U.S.

The Master of Education in Counselor Education from Penn State University prepares potential school counselors.

This program also requires extensive practicum fieldwork and is one of the largest graduate schools in the nation.

 

MSc Counselling and Positive Psychology – U.K.

The MSc in Counselling and Positive Psychology offered by the University of Bolton is an 18-month degree program that prepares candidates for professional registration with the BACP.

It is a dual qualification that allows for many career options. Further, this program also prepares students to find a supervisory placement and take the BACP Certificate of Proficiency exam.

 

Top 5 Online Certification Options

Similar to social work, clinical psychology, and education, school counseling also includes certificate options for those with graduate degrees in counseling.

While it isn’t always possible to obtain the entire school counseling certification online because of the necessary supervision hours, there are several certification options to pursue once you obtain your school counseling credential.

 

American School Counselor Association – Virginia, U.S.

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) offers numerous opportunities. Webinars and professional conferences are listed on the ASCA site. The ASCA U Specialist Training also offers graduate credits and continuing education units.

 

Capella University – Online, various locations

Capella offers a hybrid online and in-person experience for a graduate certificate program in Counseling, Contemporary Theory in School-Based Services.

Capella is a private for-profit, online university. They offer 52 degree programs.

 

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy – U.K.

The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy provides various opportunities for growth and is a continuing professional development (CPD) hub for practitioners to remain current in their practice. Further, school counselors can record their CPD hours.

 

Edith Cowan University – Australia

Edith Cowan University’s Graduate Certificate of Counselling is ideal for working professionals who wish to develop a counseling role within their position.

This one-year online course may be relevant for health professionals, social workers, personnel officers, pastors, human service workers, psychologists, and counselors.

 

National Board for Certified Counselors – North Carolina, U.S.

Once you are a school counselor, it may be beneficial to apply to the National Certified School Counselors Program.

Education, supervision hours, work experience, and exam scores on the National Counselor Examination or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examinations are required.

This program would demonstrate that the counselor has met high standards through a rigorous program and ultimately makes a school counselor more marketable.

 

PositivePsychology.com’s Tools

To gain a clearer understanding of school counseling, its history, and its direction, you may want to check out What Is School Psychology? Job Description of the Field. This article provides several fascinating facts and research studies within the field of school counseling.

If you are searching for the best books related to counseling, the Top 28 Counseling Books for Practitioners and Beginners is an excellent place to begin. This resource will guide your exploration of books relevant to the field of school counseling.

Beginning counselors may wish to review the “Best Books for Beginners” section, and experienced school counselors would benefit by investigating the “For Counseling Children” section, which includes three excellent sources for using with students.

10 Self-Care Tips for Psychologists, Therapists, and Counselors is an excellent resource to prevent job stress and burnout. School counselors, like other helping professionals, may experience emotional strain and, in some cases, secondary trauma.

Using the Self-Care Check-In worksheet can help school counselors combat the negative effects of stress. As we become immersed in our work, we may lose track of time and ourselves; the My Self-Care Promise worksheet may be an ideal starting place. After all, you first need to take care of yourself before being able to care for others.

17 Positive Psychology Exercises – If you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

 

A Take-Home Message

School counselors are multifunctional. They must be positive, objective, supportive, communicative, understanding, loyal, and flexible, among many other qualities (Popov & Spasenovic, 2020).

They must be able to motivate, be patient, and remain discreet, all while having a friendly demeanor and respecting the appropriate ethics code. With such prerequisites, it is understandable that a degree in counseling or psychology would be necessary. It is important to remember to check your local requirements for becoming a school counselor, as they vary so much from place to place.

Guided supervision under an experienced school counselor will enhance your journey. An opportunity to practice while receiving frequent feedback will help you develop your professional identity and apply the code of ethics. Therefore, it may be advantageous to choose a program that includes this.

If you think you have what it takes, consider pursuing this fascinating profession. If you already have a career in education or psychology, a master’s degree would be your next step. If you are fresh out of high school or new to higher education, you may want to begin with one of the undergraduate counseling degree options.

Remember to check with your local education agency regarding the best path to become a school counselor, as many countries and states have varying requirements. Reviewing the accreditation applicable to your area will be most helpful.

Regardless of the program you choose, your future as a school counselor will undoubtedly be fulfilling as you work with students and prepare them for the future.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Positive Psychology Exercises for free.

  • American Counseling Association. (2014). ACA code of ethics. Retrieved May 28, 2021, from http://www.counseling.org/docs/ethics/2014-aca-code-of-ethics.pdf?sfvrsn=4
  • American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). State certification requirements. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://www.schoolcounselor.org/About-School-Counseling/State-Requirements-Programs/State-Licensure-Requirements
  • Brott, P. E. (2006). Counselor education accountability: Training the effective professional school counselor. Professional School Counseling, 10(2).
  • McCarthy, J. (2011). Counselor preparation in England and Ireland: A look at six programs. Professional Counselor, 1(3), 176–190.
  • Page, B. J., Pietrzak, D. R., & Sutton J. M. (2001). National survey of school counselor supervision. Counselor Education and Supervision, 41(2), 142–150.
  • Popov, N., & Spasenovic, V. (2020). School counseling: A comparative study in 12 countries. Bulgarian Comparative Education Society, 18, 34–41.
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2021). Occupational outlook handbook: School and career counselors and advisors. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved June 1, 2021, from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/school-and-career-counselors.htm

About the Author

Tiffany Sauber Millacci, Ph.D., is an educator for both university students and elementary-aged students. She is a continuous learner who seeks facts through research and is beginning her professional career in writing.

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