Guidance Counselor: Educational Requirements & Career Info

Guidance counselors, also referred to as school counselors, work in schools and assist students struggling with personal problems or making decisions about their futures. This position typically requires a master's degree and professional licensure.

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Educational Requirements for Guidance Counselors

Undergraduate Education

While there isn't an undergraduate degree specific to guidance counseling, students may consider majors in psychology, human development or related areas. The curricula in these programs include coursework in topics relevant to guidance counselors, such as cognition, behavior and child development. Some programs offer internships where students can gain practical experience.

Graduate Education

Students may consider programs that have earned the approval of the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This organization accredits several relevant graduate programs, including school counseling. According to the CACREP, accreditation ensures that a program meets professional standards (www.cacrep.org).

Most states require all forms of counselors to have at least master's degrees. These programs are typically completed in less than three years and involve learning through lectures and experience. Common course topics include counseling ethics and legal responsibilities, lifespan development, diversity counseling, research methods, career counseling and counseling theory. Students also learn counseling techniques, such as individual and group therapy, assessment and intervention.

In addition, many programs require practicums and internships, which allow students to practice their skills through simulations and actual counseling sessions. Students may spend their final years working in schools under the supervision of experienced counselors.

Licensing Requirements

Licensing requirements for school counselors vary by state, with most requiring a minimum of a master's degree. Some states require teaching experience and teaching certification in addition to counseling experience and certification. In addition, many states require background checks and certifying exams for new applicants. In some cases, individuals may be allowed to transfer a license that was earned in another state. Continuing education may be required to maintain licensure.

Professional Certifications

Practicing guidance counselors may consider earning voluntary professional certification. The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) offers the National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential. To be eligible for this specialty certification, applicants must have earned a master's degree and the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation, which is also offered by the NBCC. Candidates may earn the NCC prior to earning the NCSC, or they may earn the two certifications concurrently. Certification requires candidates to pass an examination and regularly earn continuing education credits.

Career and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 19% job growth for career and school counselors in the years 2010-2020. Vocational, school, guidance and educational counselors earned $53,610 as a median annual salary in May 2012, according to the BLS.

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