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Guidance and school counselors help students work through emotional turmoil, navigate social conflicts, and make decisions about possible career and educational tracks. While some college counselors work at colleges and universities, guidance and school counselors work in public, private, vocational, charter, and special-education schools at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels. Counselors meet one-on-one and with groups of students and parents to work out solutions to problems and provide students with life skills, such as resume writing and college-application completion, necessary to succeed academically and in the world.

Some guidance and school counselors have social work backgrounds, though most study in guidance and school counseling programs offered through universities’ education and psychology departments. As with social work programs, field work and supervised practicum are large parts of guidance and school counseling programs.

Degree Information

The most common degree for guidance counselors is a master’s in education (M.Ed.) or master of arts in counseling (M.A.). Programs provide a combination of classwork and fieldwork (which, in this case, often happens to be in school settings. Programs vary from one to three years and, almost without exception, prepare students for certification within that state; make sure the program you’re looking at is certified by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Education Related Programs (CACREP). Note that some institutions offer post-master’s certificate programs and, for those interested in teaching counseling at the post-secondary level and/or attaining high-level administrative positions at boards of education or universities, many offer Ph.D. programs as well.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • In what state do you want to work? Certification for guidance counselors is different in most states; in some, it even requires a teaching certificate.
  • Do you want to work with a certain population (i.e. people with special needs)?
  • Do you want to work at the elementary, middle, or secondary levels?
  • What fieldwork placements does the school offer?

Career Overview

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, due to increasing school enrollment, employment of educational counselors (school, guidance, and college) is expected to grow faster than the national average through 2012. Students at all ages and settings are also coping with more pressure than ever before, from drugs and fears of terrorism to issues of diversity and identity. While most counselors work in educational settings, some opt for positions at youth care facilities, social service and educational nonprofits, and government bodies such as state boards of education.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Most states have their own required accreditation, which can require up to two years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience beyond the master’s degree level. Many programs, however, provide some of that experience through practicum and fieldwork, as well as prepare student to pass state-recognized exams and adhere to ethical codes and standards. Annual continuing education requirements are often required to maintain licensure.

Salary Information

Median annual earnings of educational, vocational, and school counselors in 2002 were $44,100. The middle 50 percent earned between $33,160 and $56,770. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $24,930, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $70,320. School counselors can earn additional income working summers in the school system or in other jobs.

Related Links

National Board for Certified Counselors
Replete with information and links about certification, state exams, professional ethics, and graduate programs.

American College Counseling Association
Career and education resources for professionals and students.

American Counseling Association
Great suggestions about how to approach graduate work, as well as a listserv that could come in handy.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Education Related Programs
Provides useful information about the accreditation of programs.


  • Methods Of Educational Research

  • Career Development And Counseling

  • Counseling Appraisal Instruments

  • Counseling Practicum

  • Ethics In Counseling

  • Group Facilitation/Dynamics

  • Internship In Elementary/Secondary School Counseling

  • Introduction To Research Methodology

  • Learning And Education

  • Lifestyle, Career Development, And Decision-Making

  • Personal Growth Experience

  • Theories And Techniques In Human Development

  • Theories And Techniques Of Counseling

  • Theory And Practice In Multicultural Counseling