School guidance counselors help students identify which career they are interested in pursuing. The work entails testing, analyzing the results of testing, vocational guidance, structuring student experiences to facilitate career discovery, and understanding what interests students and motivates them in a career context. To become a school guidance counselor, you generally will need a college degree, a post-graduate degree, and internship experience.
It is necessary to get a college degree if you want to become a school guidance counselor. Of note, you do have some flexibility in what you major in as an undergraduate. Some people major in education and then pursue a school teaching career before they become a school guidance counselor. This can be done, but it is not a requirement. In most states, it is typically sufficient to pursue an undergraduate degree in any subject and then pursue a graduate degree specializing in guidance counseling.
You could apply to a graduate counseling program during the last semester of college. The Master of Science (MS) degree in counseling is generally recommended for anyone who hopes to become a school guidance counselor. If you did not major in education as an undergraduate, typically you will complete MS degree requirements and do a two-semester counseling internship in an elementary or secondary school setting as the final step in the guidance counseling program. By contrast, if you did major in education as an undergraduate and if you became a teacher as a result of that, after working as a teacher for at least one year, in some locales, you would be able to pursue a Master of Science (MS) degree in counseling with a potentially shorter counseling internship than those without an education undergraduate degree.
The MS degree in counseling will include courses such as intake, interviewing techniques, counseling theory, human development and statistics. These courses typically include a lot of reading but also include role play in classes which reinforce the concepts in counseling textbooks. Also, some counseling programs require a research project that students must do before graduating from the MS degree program.
Once you have completed the MS degree and internship, you are typically then eligible for certification as a school guidance counselor. You could work as an elementary school guidance counselor. Or, you could be a high school guidance counselor.
Counselors need to have excellent interpersonal skills, good listening skills, and open-mindedness. Even so, the job can be very stressful at times because of the sheer number of students counselors must work with in schools. In fact, 60 percent of guidance counselors experience burnout and leave the profession within the first two years on the job. Granted, for those who do not leave, guidance counseling often eventually results in a high level of job satisfaction.
After being a guidance counselor, people sometimes transition into other careers. For example, they may choose to go back to school to get a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Counseling so that they can teach college courses or go into private practice as counselors. They may become administrators who run community education programs. By contrast, they may choose to become career counselors in college career services departments. Or, they may choose to apply their well-developed communications skills to a new career in the business world such as the field of human resources recruiting.