There are a number of really rewarding reasons to become a school counselor, especially those with an innate desire to help their local communities. Professionals who take up jobs as school counselors will help students overcome their academic challenges, giving them the hope and access to tutoring that’s needed to achieve at a higher level. Counselors will also be essential when helping students who experience bullying at school, a turbulent home environment when they leave school, or personal issues that cause them a great deal of difficulty on a daily basis. The stakes for this job are high, especially since most school counselors deal with delicate and developing age groups in elementary, middle and high schools. Accordingly, the requirements for those looking to enter this profession are quite intense and require a great deal of coursework.
A Graduate Degree is the Beginning of the Process
While many students view a graduate degree as the conclusion of their studies and their ticket to more advanced positions, those who are looking to become guidance counselors should understand that graduate work is actually just the beginning of their journey. To become a school counselor, most states require professionals to be enrolled specifically in a graduate-level program that focuses on school counseling. Programs in areas like mental health or family counseling are not considered sufficient in most cases.
Coursework for graduate students will include everything from child development and psychology classes to dispute resolution, family mediation, student conflict resolution and more. Most programs require between 42 and 48 credits of classroom theory before a student can be moved from degree candidacy to graduation.
Also Required: Professional Experience with Extensive Supervision
Virtually every school counseling degree requires students to take part in professional counseling work under the supervision of a seasoned counselor in a nearby school. More than just a school requirement, such practical work and observation is typically required by state and national certification boards. Students should think of this period as a required internship, and they should be able to show up every single day ready to help students with any problem that might be causing them problems. This supervised practical work will continue for between 50 and 300 hours, depending on state requirements or the requirements of a national certification board.
Professional Certification is the Final Step for School Counselors
With a graduate degree completed and a state’s professional observation requirements met, its time to become certified. Certification must be pursued in order to grant the counselor the authority to practice in private and public schools. This certification might be offered at the state level, or graduates might be required to obtain it through the National Certificate School Counselor program offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.
In either case, students must arrange a time to sit for the exam. Typically, the exam is held on a weekend and takes either one or two 8-hour days of testing. Topics covered include everything from the general counseling core to school-specific issues and scenarios. Scores will be issued several weeks after the test and, if the aspiring counselor passes the exam with the needed score, they’ll receive an official, professional certification.
Related Resource: Specializing an Education Degree
Extensive Requirements are Necessary for School Counselors
Though it might seem like a needlessly long process, the truth is that the many hurdles placed in front of today’s aspiring school counselors were put in place to protect the profession as well as the students who seek its help. With a better understanding of today’s students, schools, and most common counseling issues, those who land a job in the field will have an easier time helping and relating to students in a variety of settings.