How To Become a Guidance Counselor

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: November 8, 2021  •  8 min read  •  Education
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Are you interested in helping students figure out what the next step is for them? Then, when you learn how to become a guidance counselor, you can work with students to help them determine what to do next. Often, you will be working with high school students.

As a guidance counselor, you will do quite a bit for the students you help. From instructing students on college options to helping them choose a career, there are many ways you can help. Let’s look at the many duties of a guidance counselor and how to become one.

How To Become a Guidance Counselor

Job Duties of a Guidance Counselor

When you become a school guidance counselor, you will be assisting students. The main thing you will be doing is helping students figure out the path they want to take. Some of the common job duties include:

As a guidance counselor, you will work with students to help them achieve their potential. In addition, there are many job duties you may undertake.

How To Become a Guidance Counselor in 7 Steps

Step #1 – Complete High School

Before going to school to get your bachelor’s degree, you need to complete high school or equivalent. In addition, it’s necessary to have a high GPA and good SAT or ACT scores. This will help you get into a good college or university.

As you go through high school, you should consider if you want to become a guidance counselor. First, see if you can shadow a guidance counselor in your area. It can also be helpful to work with your school’s guidance counselor to get an idea of what they do.

Step #2 – Get your Bachelor’s Degree

You will need to take the proper courses and complete your bachelor’s degree at an accredited program. Your degree should be in counseling, behavioral science, or social science.

You want to take courses that focus on mental health foundations and student services. Your bachelor’s degree will also need to include courses in learning theory and educational systems.

Step #3 – Get Your Master’s Degree

It’s common for schools to require a guidance counselor to have a master’s degree. This will need to be in school counseling or a related field. You will likely study many different topics, including counseling ethics, counseling theories, human development, and learning and behavioral disorders.

Step #4 – Finish an Internship

As you go through your graduate education, you will need to complete an internship. This will give you some hands-on experience in school counseling. Your internship will need to be in a K-12 school setting with direct student contact.

Besides giving you some hands-on experience, you will also gain some connections and might land a job through your internship. However, it’s possible you may have to pay a fee to the school board to be placed into an internship.

Step #5 – Pass the Necessary Exams

Each state is slightly different, but you will likely need to pass the right examinations and certification tests. Check your state requirements to find out which tests you will need to pass to get your license.

Step #6 – Get More Certifications

As a guidance counselor, you can get more additional certifications. The American School Counselor Association offers many certifications. You can choose to gain the following options:

You will likely not need all the different certifications. However, the right certifications will help build your resume.

Step #7 – Keep Your License Current

Your state will likely have some type of state requirements for keeping your license current. For example, you will need to complete continuing education classes. It may also be necessary to pay a renewal fee every few years.

Guidance Counselor vs. School Counselor

There are many different types of counselor positions. It can be confusing when you see both guidance counselor and school counselor career options. A guidance counselor is a more commonly used term in schools. Typically, this person will assist students in their path from high school to college or into a career.

School counselors tend to work with students in a more holistic way. For example, they may work to help with college or career counseling. However, school counselors also work with mental health issues and more.

The Function of Guidance Counselors at Different Grade Levels

If you become a guidance counselor at the elementary school level, you will likely educate students and identify personal or social developmental issues. You will work with very young students at this level.

Middle school counselors will work with students going through fast development, change, and growth. They will help students to find a balance between academics and other interests. At this level, a guidance counselor will likely help students try different things and find their interests.

As a high school guidance counselor, you will fulfill the most common role. You will help students figure out the next step. Whether it’s a college degree, trade school, or career, you can help students set themselves up for success.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Guidance Counselor

What is the average salary of a guidance counselor?

If you decide to become a guidance counselor, you will likely earn between $35K and $60K per year. It will depend on your location and the age group you work with. Your experience will also play a factor in your salary. The average annual salary for a guidance counselor is about $52K.

Some employers will pay as high as about $81K for guidance counselors. Miami is the highest-paying location at an average of about $76K. New York City also pays more than $71K, on average.

What type of benefits do guidance counselors typically get?

It’s common for a guidance counselor to get many benefits, including health and life insurance. Parental leave is also common, along with loan forgiveness and paid time off.

What is a day like for a guidance counselor?

The common day for a guidance counselor will depend on the age group you work with. It’s common to work in a school and work with students. You will likely spend time communicating with the faculty daily and solving issues for students. Working with students on their class schedule and teaching students about abuse, bullying, and eating disorders is also common.

Where do guidance counselors work?

Guidance counselors work in schools. They are found in private, public, and charter schools. In addition, certified guidance counselors often work in high schools, elementary schools, and middle schools.

What type of hours do guidance counselors work?

Guidance counselors are full-time employees in most cases. Depending on the school’s hours, a guidance counselor will commonly work the school’s open hours. They will usually work about ten or eleven months out of the year.

Will I get summers off as a guidance counselor?

While teachers often get the summer off, guidance counselors don’t always get this same luxury. Again, it will depend on the school you work for. However, it’s common for guidance counselors to at least get a portion of the summer off.

Is the career of a guidance counselor growing?

The job outlook for this career is very strong. The position of the school and career counselors is expected to grow by about 8% over the next ten years.

How long does it take to become a guidance counselor?

You will likely need a master’s degree to become a guidance counselor. This will take around 6 to 7 years to complete, along with your bachelor’s degree. Depending on your state, you may also need to pass the right exams and become licensed. The entire process can take 6 to 8 years in total.

Will I perform any other type of counseling as a guidance counselor?

Guidance counselors work in a school setting. You won’t perform any type of long-term mental health counseling. Instead, you will use therapeutic models to provide support for students. This support may include academic, emotional, and other types of support, however.

What type of degree do I need to become a guidance counselor?

While it’s not always required, it’s best to get a master’s degree. About 26% of guidance counselors only have a bachelor’s degree. Around 64% have a master’s degree.

Can I transition from teaching to becoming a guidance counselor?

Yes. If you want to become a guidance counselor and you’re currently a teacher, you can make the transition. You may need to go through additional schooling or training to work as a guidance counselor, however.

Is Becoming a Guidance Counselor Right For You?

There are many reasons to become a guidance counselor. If you have a heart for helping people and you want to focus on younger people, this might be the perfect career for you. Guidance counselors often play a significant role in a student’s life. They might help them discern their career path and even pick the right classes to take.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.