How Do I Become a School Counselor?

School CounselorFor those professionals considering becoming a school counselor, the academic programs offered are some of the most rigorous and extensive of any graduate-level education. That’s because school counseling is considered a high-stakes profession, with direct involvement that typically concerns everything from student grades to issues in the home, bullying at school, and beyond. The requirements for full graduation and certification in this field are extensive, but they’ll prove to be absolutely useful as new counselors encounter challenging programs among the broader student body.

The First Step is a Master’s Degree in the Field

Those aspiring to become a school counselor should understand that the profession almost always requires a master’s degree that is specifically focused on school counseling. Some universities even split their school counseling programs into those that target elementary or secondary school counseling more specifically. These programs are typically quite a bit longer than the average graduate coursework, requiring anywhere form 40 to 50 classroom credits before students will be moved from candidacy to graduation.

In addition to the coursework requirements that are part of any school counseling education, virtually all of today’s accredited counseling degrees require students to obtain extensive, supervised experience in the field. This requirement typically enforces a 50-hour minimum at the lower end of the spectrum and up to 350 hours of supervised experience for the most demanding counseling degrees currently available. These requirements may also vary by state, based on that state’s own certification requirements.

A Certification Examination May Be Required for Full Licensure

While some states don’t actually require school counselors to sit for a certification examination, this process is becoming more common throughout the country, according  an article in the US News and World Report, A large number of states do require that students take a certification test after they have completed both their graduate degree and that state’s required number of supervised internship hours. Typically, this exam can be taken on a weekend and it may take either one or two days to complete fully. Most states and universities do not require this exam to be taken prior to graduation, though this is a scenario that degree candidates will want to research prior to scheduling the exam or petitioning for graduation with their master’s degree in school counseling.

Professional Recommendations and Transcripts are Typically Required

Though a passing score on the state’s certification exam gives graduates the legal right to practice in the school counseling profession, finding a job often requires overcoming a few more hurdles. Most states require that their counseling applicants submit their full graduate transcript at the time of interview or hiring. Counselors will also have to pass state and federal criminal background checks and they’ll need to pass a child abuse clearance as well. Most schools will require professional and academic letters of recommendation in order to grant any new school counselor the position that they’ve been offered after the interview process.

Related Resource: What is a School Counselor?

A Rewarding Profession that Makes a Real Difference in Students’ Lives

School counseling has long been a cornerstone of the academic world, thanks to its profound impact on student behavior and achievement. Accordingly, the stakes for schools are very high and every new counselor hire is viewed as both a potential boon and a potentially serious risk. In order to prove to schools that a new applicant is sufficiently skilled and experienced, it’s important to follow each state-required step in becoming a school counselor.