Guidance Counselors


Education and Training Requirements

High School

Enroll in a college preparatory curriculum to prepare for the college degrees required of guidance counselors. You should take courses in humanities, social studies, and psychology. Courses in mathematics are important, because mathematical and statistical theory underlie much of the standardized testing program. Computer science and Internet research courses will help you manage student records and easily access information on the Internet. You should take English and speech courses because both written and spoken communication with students, parents, and administrators are key components to this occupation. Taking a foreign language, such as Spanish, will help you to work with students who do not speak English as a first language.

Postsecondary Training

The basic requirement for a school counselor in many states is a bachelor's degree and certain stipulated courses at the graduate level. Most guidance counselors earn a master's degree in counseling in order to be eligible for professional certification and to meet the licensing requirements of many states. As an undergraduate, you'll probably major in education so that you'll have the course work necessary for teacher certification. The American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American School Counselor Association provide information to students when selecting graduate programs in counselor education.

To get accepted into a graduate program, you'll have to have a bachelor's degree and possibly a teaching certificate and a few years teaching experience. These programs usually require at least two years of additional study, as well as an internship. Course subjects include career development, group counseling, substance abuse counseling, art therapy, and grief and loss counseling.

Other Education or Training

Participating in continuing education (CE) classes is an excellent way to keep your skills up to date and become a more attractive job candidate. National and state-level counseling associations often provide these educational opportunities. For example, the American Counseling Association offers online CE classes that cover topics such as best practices, ethics and legal issues, technology, and management issues. The American School Counselor Association provides workshops, webinars, conferences, and other opportunities. Recent webinars included Explore Teen Brain Development and The Power to Motivate. The National Association for College Admission Counseling offers webinars and other educational opportunities. Contact these organizations to learn more.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

You must be certified by your state to work as a counselor; the requirements for certification vary from state to state. Most state licensure standards require that counselors have teaching experience. This experience may be as short as one year or as long as two to three years. Some states also require that counselors have work experience outside of the teaching field.

The National Board for Certified Counselors and Affiliates offers the national certified counselor (NCC) designation, the national certified school counselor (NCSC) designation, and other designations. In order to apply for the NCC, you must have earned a master's degree with a major study in counseling, have at least 3,000 hours of postgraduate counseling work experience over a minimum 24-month period, pass the National Counselor Examination, and provide documentation of post-graduate counseling experience and supervision. NCCs are certified for a period of five years. In order to be recertified, they must complete 100 contact clock hours of continuing education (time spent training with students or with learning new materials) or pass the examination again. In order to apply for the NCSC credential, you must hold the NCC credential, have received graduate credit in the fundamentals of school counseling, have at least two years of full-time experience as a school counselor, obtain an endorsement from a professional colleague who holds a master’s degree or higher in a mental health field, document at least 100 hours of post-graduate school counseling supervision, and pass the National Counselor Examination, including practical simulation problems that assess your problem-solving abilities. 

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Guidance counseling students can gain valuable practical experience by participating in college internships and also by working as teachers for several years after graduation.

Your most important asset will be your ability to relate easily and well to others. To achieve a sound relationship with other adults and with children, you must have a sincere interest in other people and their welfare. You must be able to relate to all kinds of people and situations, and to be sensitive to issues of race, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. Empathy, patience, and listening skills are some of the personal qualities that make a good counselor. Guidance counselors must have the ability to work independently or as part of a team.