Government Job Profile: School Guidance Counselor

Student talking to guidance counselor
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School counselors help students see the big picture when it comes to their education and future. They help students deal effectively with the day’s problems with an eye toward the student’s academic and social future.

Individuals are drawn to the counseling profession by the desire to help people. People rarely go into the field for financial reasons; however, counselors often earn a decent salary which is often more than the teachers they interact with on a daily basis.

The Selection Process

The hiring process for counselors is similar to the hiring process for teachers. Those individuals seeking employment submit their applications and other required documents to the school district’s human resources office for screening. Applications that meet the minimum requirements are forwarded to the school principal for further consideration.

Once finalists are selected, the principal or an interview panel selected by the principal meet the finalists for interviews. The selected candidate then receives a job offer.

The Education You'll Need

Most states require that school counselors hold a master’s degree. Some states also require school counselors to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state.

The Experience You Need

The experience required to land a school counselor job varies by state, school district and job market. Job postings may not require experience, but a more experienced candidate will certainly have a leg up on less experienced candidates.

Those new to the field may have to take less desirable assignments than those who have put their time into the profession. There is stiffer competition for jobs in high performing and affluent schools.

What You'll Do

Counselors must be trusted by their students. Without trust, students will not provide counselors with the information they need to appropriately apply their professional knowledge.

Part of inspiring trust from students is maintaining confidentiality of the conversations held between the counselor and the student. Counselors must know when it is necessary to violate this confidentiality. When students report crimes, abuse or neglect, counselors have an obligation to report this information to the appropriate authorities. Counselors should also report their suspicions of crimes, abuse and neglect when their professional judgment leads them to believe that these events have occurred or are ongoing.

Counselors conduct much of their work in an office. They need a private space to meet with students and those adults who have a hand in each student’s development. Counselors venture outside the office to observe students in the classroom. Teachers may report certain behaviors to the counselor, and the counselor may want to make his or her own observations as part of assessing the student’s counseling needs.

Counselors in both elementary and secondary schools assist students in overcoming obstacles that inhibit their learning. Students come into a school with a wide range of problems and challenges. They may have learning disabilities, come from a low income family, experienced abuse or neglect or have an addiction.

School counselors work in collaboration with parents, teachers, principals, medical professionals and social workers to identify and address these problems.

Counselors in secondary schools help students map out their career paths. Counselors use a variety of tools such as academic assessments, personality assessments and career profiles to aid students in discovering what they want to do professionally and what it will take to achieve their career goals. Counselors offer realism that other people in students’ lives often do not provide.

What You'll Earn

The median salary for school counselors is about $53,610, according to 2012 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary range for school counselors is between about $30,000 and $80,000. School counselors earn more than counselors with other specialties, such as vocational, substance abuse and marriage counselors.