School counselors operate at all levels of the education system, assisting students with their academic, personal and social challenges. They provide support and guidance to students dealing with difficulties involving family, education, mental health, or other problems.
In virtually all states, school counselors must be licensed in a counseling field in order to practice. A master’s degree is a prerequisite for obtaining this license. School counselors must also be certified by the state in which they work. Some states require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates, and to have had some prior teaching experience before receiving counseling certification.
The primary role of the school counselor is to treat the social, behavioral, and personal problems of their students. They might also deliver career and educational guidance to individual students and groups of students. Their responsibilities can vary widely, as can their techniques, depending on the level of school at which they are employed. Primary school counselors, for instance, concentrate more on developmental issues, while counselors at the high school level spend more time assisting students in handling personal and educational issues, such as choosing, applying to, and preparing for college.
School counselors help students uncover and understand their personalities, interests, and unique abilities, so the students can determine career goals which match their abilities and character traits. They consult and collaborate as needed with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, medical professionals, and social workers, among others, to develop and implement strategies in support of the students. One growing trend in schools at all levels is to have their counselors provide crisis counseling when appropriate.
To excel as a school counselor, an individual must first be an active listener; that is, the counselor must be able to give full attention to what other people are saying. The counselor needs to be patient, insightful, empathetic and intuitive, a creative problem solver, and sensitive to the emotional state of the student, taking time to understand points being made, and drawing out additional and unspoken information by asking relevant questions.
Although no exact figures are available for the number of counselors specifically employed as school counselors, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 248,000 people were employed as educational counselors, vocational counselors, or school counselors in 2004. This figure constitutes close to half of the 601,000 people employed in the field of counseling. In general, employment for these positions is expected to grow faster than other occupations well into the next decade.
Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average annual salary of educational, vocational, and school counselors was $45,570, with a range running from less than $26,260 to a high of more than $72,390.