School Counselor Degrees

School counseling isn't for the faint of heart. A position that used to involve mainly making schedule changes and disseminating college information has evolved into a complex job that entails guiding students through a myriad of complex personal and academic experiences.

School Counselor Job Description

School counselors are employed at every educational level from elementary through postsecondary. They may work in schools, in district supervisory positions, or for the state department of education. Whatever their title, they are part of an educational team that also includes students, parents, classroom teachers, and school administrators.

School counselors help guide the academic, social, personal, and career development of students, so they can be successful inside and outside the classroom. School counselors typically have an office but also work in classrooms. They counsel students in individual, small group, and large group settings, and they use a variety of methods such as interviews, educational testing, and parent consultations to develop appropriate recommendations. School counselors often work with students who have academic, social or emotional problems. School counselors also plan and coordinate what the American School Counselor Association calls "responsive services." These are programs or activities precipitated by an event or condition within the school. For example, school counselors may arrange school-wide grief counseling in the wake of a student or teacher death.

What Degree Do You Need To Be a School Counselor?

While colleges and universities offer counseling degree programs through their education, psychology, or human services departments, school counselors typically earn a degree in elementary or secondary school counseling through their university's education department. Students working towards earning school counselor degrees study topics such as human growth and development, individual and group counseling, testing, and career development. All 50 states require school counselors to be licensed. Exact requirements vary from state to state, but most require a master's degree. You also will have to complete a school internship and pass a competency test. Although it is not required, many school counselors boost their credentials by earning a specialty certification in school counseling from the National Board for Certified Counselors. School counselors in any state should expect to engage in regular professional development to keep their skills and their certification up-to-date.

Featured Online Programs:

Online programs may not be available in all states

How Much do School Counselors Make

Prospective school counselors can expect a healthy job market, particularly in rural areas. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment of school counselors to grow by 14 percent through 2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations.

The median annual salary for school counselors was $54,560 in 2016 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The middle 50 percent of school counselors made between $39,000 and $65,000. School counselors can increase their income by moving into supervisory or administrative positions within a school district.

School Counselor Trends

The scope of responsibilities for school counselors continues to widen according to the American School Counselor Association. From drug and alcohol addiction to bullying and suicide, school counselors must address a growing list of social issues that interfere with student success. The association reports that school counselors now spend more than half of their time addressing students' mental health issues.

Online School Counseling Programs

Individuals who have already earned a bachelor's degree and are currently certified teachers may pursue an online master's or doctorate degree in school counseling while still maintaining their current classroom positions.

Online School Counseling programs are generally broken into units, and each unit is assessed individually. Once all units have been completed, the program culminates in a capstone project and/or internship. How quickly these degrees can be attained depends on the schedule and work ethic of the student. Some degrees take as little as 18 months to complete; most take two years. Online courses in school counseling cover topics such as research methodology, assessment, human development, ethics, individual and group counseling, career development, cultural awareness and crisis intervention.

Online degree programs are ideal for individuals who wish to maintain their current employment while pursuing an advanced degree, and who are proficient at self-direction. Students who need daily or weekly motivation may instead wish to enroll in on-campus courses.

School Counseling Programs Online

Three schools that offer school counseling programs online are Lamar University, Liberty University and Capella University.

The Master of Education in school counseling offered by Lamar University is 36 credit hours, in addition to an internship, and prepares students to focus on positive student development, especially high expectations, achievement motivation and school engagement. Courses include individual counseling, group counseling and cross-cultural counseling.

Liberty University offers a Master of Education in school counseling, which is open to current teachers only. This program is designed for individuals who already have a bachelor's degree and two years of successful teaching experience. While the majority of the curriculum is offered online, this program also includes on-campus intensives in addition to a supervised internship.

Capella University's Master of Science in school counseling is built on the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model and seeks to prepare students for real-world scenarios through course work, field training and residencies.

Useful Resources

Lori DeKruyf is the director of the school counseling program at George Fox University.