Become a Youth Counselor: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a youth counselor. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in youth counseling.

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Do I Want to Be a Youth Counselor?

Youth counselors typically work with delinquents and troubled youth aged 10-21 in schools, social service organizations and the juvenile justice system. These counselors provide supervision and guidance to youth who have committed a crime or who have been identified as at-risk. Counselors maintain communication with multiple parties in the social services and court systems, and make decisions that can affect children, young adults and their families. Counselors should enjoy working with kids, be patient and be able to manage stress.

Job Requirements

A bachelor's degree in a field such as counseling, social work or criminal justice is often required to become a youth counselor. The following table contains the main qualifications that employers listed in job postings and position descriptions for youth counselors in July 2012:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree is typically required
Degree Field Social work, psychology, counseling, human services, criminal justice, corrections
Experience 1-4 years
Key Skills Strong verbal and written communication skills; Spanish proficiency often preferred
Computer Skills Basic computer and typing skills, Microsoft Office suite
Additional Requirements A valid driver's license, CPR and First Aid training, and criminal background check

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Although there are a few youth counseling jobs that only require an associate's degree, most entry-level jobs require a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's degree programs in behavioral science, human services, social services, counseling or psychology are often preferred.

Success Tips:

  • Take advantage of internship programs. Many 4-year degree programs in psychology, criminal justice and human services offer academic credit for completing an internship. Internships provide students the chance to gain hands-on experience in social service agencies while in school.
  • Volunteer or work with youth programs or at summer camps. Students can volunteer or work as camp counselors at summer camps or in youth organizations. These types of experience help students learn to communicate with youth and allow students to gain experience required for entry-level employment. Volunteering during college may also help students discover if youth counseling is a good career choice for them.
  • Learn another language. Many positions for youth counselors require or prefer to hire bilingual individuals. Some positions require proficiency in speaking and writing in Spanish. Therefore, learning Spanish or another language while in school may make students eligible for more job opportunities.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Youth counselors work in a variety of settings, including schools, private practices, correctional facilities, community centers and medical centers. Many organizations that hire youth counselors, especially those involving working with juvenile offenders, provide entry-level training in crisis management and safety procedures. Employment in these positions typically requires passing a background check, drug test and exams.

General youth counselor job duties include supervising and counseling children or young adults, developing and implementing treatment plans and attending court hearings. A youth counselor may also interact with families or teens who are at risk due to homelessness, learning deficiencies or domestic violence in their homes.

Success Tip:

  • Learn to manage stress. Youth counselor jobs can be stressful, and managing this stress can help youth counselors work more effectively. Professional organizations, such as the Youth Intervention Programs Association, offer stress management courses specifically for individuals who work with youth.

Step 3: Pursue Graduate Education

Supervisory positions in youth counseling often require graduate education and 2-3 years of experience. Graduate certificates or master's degree programs in youth development or human services provide training in youth development, counseling and youth program administration. Students planning to seek licensure as a professional counselor may need to complete a graduate degree program in psychology or counseling psychology.

Step 4: Obtain Licensure

Although licensure is not required to work as a youth counselor, it is required to work as a clinical or mental health counselor who diagnoses and treats mental and emotional disorders. Obtaining a counseling license might increase employment opportunities for working with youth. Counselor licensure requirements vary by state.

Step 5: Seek Promotion

Many government organizations that hire youth counselors have promotion schedules based on experience and education. Advanced job titles in the field include supervisor, manager and administrator. These positions may require several years of experience and a graduate degree in youth development, behavioral science, corrections, psychology or other relevant field.

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