School Counseling Degree Programs & Schools

Students in grade school, middle school and high school rely on school counselors to guide them through the stresses involved in any schooling experience. Getting good test scores, finishing homework, handling extracurricular activities, relating to peers and mastering social skills are all everyday aspects of schools that have a major effect on a student’s life.

A school counselor helps students deal with anxiety, make sense of rules and generally get the most out of this period in their lives. School counselors have an important role to play and are respected members of the faculty.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 250,000 professional school counselors employed across the country and by most metrics, it is still not nearly enough. As recently as 2013, the student-to-counselor ratio was not favorable and the White House was making plans to increase jobs in the profession. Licensing is done by the state and every state in the country requires that a student earn at least a Master’s degree in counseling before they can even be considered for employment. Students must also complete hundreds of hours of hands-on experience as part of the licensing requirement.

This type of work is especially suited to people who like to work with youngsters, can deal with technology and enjoy psychology. School counselors work at all educational levels, from elementary school to college. Much of the time a counselor works with both students and parents. Much of their job description involves administering tests and evaluating the results. They also work with special needs populations.

Bachelor’s Degree in School Counseling

There are no specific undergraduate degrees for School Counseling. Students who wish to become a counselor usually major in psychology, sociology or counseling. Other majors are possible, but those students will need some sort of strong background in the practical and theoretical underpinnings of counseling in order to successfully get into a Master’s program.

Typical courses for a Bachelor’s degree include:

  • Clinical counseling methods
  • Psychology and counseling
  • General psychology
  • Probability and statistics
  • Research methodology
  • Psychology and development
  • Biological foundations of psychology
  • Theories of personality
  • Abnormal psychology

Master’s Degree in School Counseling

Every state requires its school counselors to earn a Master’s degree in order to qualify for licensure. A Master’s program includes learning and practical experience in a classroom setting.

Typical core classes include:

  • Family and couples counseling and family-school collaboration
  • Career guidance for K-12 schools
  • Consultation, leadership and advocacy
  • Social justice in professional practice
  • Group counseling
  • Fundamental counseling skills
  • Counseling theories
  • Law and ethics for school counselors
  • Introduction to special education and learning disabilities
  • Introduction to behavior disorders and intervention

Featured School Counselor Master's Programs:

Most programs include lab work, an internship plus a graduate project. The student can take electives in several departments, including counseling, psychology and the College of Education.

Doctoral Degree in School Counseling

There are several doctoral level programs available, including a PhD in Counseling Psychology, EdD in Counseling Psychology, and PhD in Marriage and Family—General Family Therapy.

Typical classes include:

  • Counseling techniques
  • Mental health counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Educational foundations
  • Positive psychology
  • Growth and development

School Counseling Career Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth rate predicted for school counselors is 8 percent through 2024. The average pay is $53,660 a year. Those in state, local and private elementary and secondary schools averaged $61,260. Those in colleges, universities and professional schools averaged $36,970.

School counselors can specialize in areas like vocational or career counseling, substance abuse counseling or intervention programs, domestic abuse counseling and family counseling.

Learn more about becoming a school counselor.

Certifications and Licensing for School Counseling Graduates

School counselors need to be licensed in their state. This can include taking the National Counselor Examination for credentialing as a Licensed Professional Counselor. In some states, they also need teaching certification. In many states, two years of practical, hands-on experience in school counseling is necessary before you can become licensed.

A criminal background check is also necessary. For more information, check the American School Counselor Association website.

Two other important groups are:

  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards - you can get national board certification through the NBPTS. You can apply after you graduate from a Master’s program and get two years of experience. To become board certified, you must demonstrate your counseling ability with a portfolio and written assessment.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors - you can get National Certified School Counselor credentials through the NBCC.  Apply after you have a Master’s degree, are licensed by your state, have three years of experience under a licensed professional and pass the exam for certification.

Online School Counseling Degrees

There are numerous online Master’s in School Counseling degrees available online. These flexible programs make it easy for teachers and those already working to pursue a career as a school counselor. Each school has its own requirements and number of credits to graduate. Here are three examples of well-respected programs.

Seton Hall University has an online Master’s program that requires 48 credits. Nine of those credits must be done as a field internship.

The University of Texas at Tyler has a Master’s program that requires 36 credits to graduate.

Capella University in Minneapolis, MN, has a program that requires 72 credits to graduate.