How To Become a College Counselor (With FAQ)

Updated June 30, 2023

Throughout many students' educational careers, they need guidance and support when making big life decisions. If you're interested in being that person students go to for advice, you may want to go into a career as a college counselor. This profession gives you a chance to help people overcome challenges and plan for their futures. In this article, we discuss everything this career entails and share how to become a college counselor.

Key takeaways:

  • A college counselor offers advice to students so they can make educated decisions on their current studies and future careers.

  • To become a college counselor, you'll complete a master's degree in a subject like counseling or social work. You can pursue additional licensing if you want to provide psychological services.

  • A college counselor uses skills like written and verbal communication, social awareness and critical thinking to succeed in their work.

What is a college counselor?

A college counselor is a professional who assists students with their educational and professional goals. In this role, you help students navigate what they want to do with their lives after college. You may also lend support to students who are going through personal or familial challenges.

During your meetings, you may offer them a source of advice for various pressures they experience. As a college counselor, it's your job to help students with all facets of their academic, personal and professional lives.

Related: 9 Types of Counseling Jobs to Consider

What does a college counselor do?

A college counselor is responsible for the following tasks:

  • Answering incoming students' questions about your college or university

  • Providing counseling sessions for students coping with other personal challenges

  • Holding student support groups for students coping with similar challenges

  • Assisting students in creating and achieving their personal, academic and professional goals

  • Conducting outreach activities

  • Completing relevant paperwork and other administrative duties

  • Directing students to social services or additional resources

Related: The New Graduate's Guide To Job Search

What is the average salary for a college counselor?

The national average salary for a college counselor, also called a "college advisor," is $40,168 per year. Compensation and benefits can also vary by institution, geographical location and level of experience. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for this type of career is expected to grow 8% from 2018 to 2028 which is faster than the average rate of growth for all occupations.

How to become a college counselor

Follow these steps to become a qualified college counselor:

  1. Choose your career focus.

  2. Earn a bachelor's degree.

  3. Complete a graduate program.

  4. Obtain an applicable license.

  5. Get on-the-job training.

1. Choose your career focus

A college counselor can focus on career services, academic counseling, admissions, or more therapeutic-oriented services. Before starting this career, you need to decide which area of this profession you are interested in pursuing. Although some roles may require you to do a little bit of everything, it's a good idea to direct your main focus to a select area.

2. Earn a bachelor's degree

Most college counselors earn a Bachelor's Degree in Behavioral or Social Science. You could also choose to major in education, psychology, communication or another related area of study. Try to choose classes where you learn about communication techniques, higher education trends, career counseling and human behavior.

During your time in college, gain experience in this field by working in your school's admissions office. This can give you a better idea of what this profession looks like, and you can get used to a student-oriented work environment. Since a lot of this career involves paperwork, getting an administrative job can help you prepare for these kinds of tasks.

3. Complete a graduate program

Although every college counselor position may not require a master's degree, getting one can deepen your knowledge and help you stand out among other job candidates. Many college counselors chose a master's degree in social work, psychology or counseling. Throughout your program, you are likely to learn about counseling research, current trends in the field, theoretical approaches, counseling techniques and human development.

Read more: Master's Degree: Definition, Elements and Benefits

4. Obtain an applicable license

If you choose a career path that doesn't include providing psychological care, then it is unlikely that you need any kind of professional certification or license as a college counselor. If you find that you do want to provide these services, you may need to get a license through the National Association of School Psychologists or the National Board for Certified Counselors.

The requirements depend on where you want to work and vary by state. Many licenses require you to complete clinical hours and pass an examination.

5. Get on-the-job training

Once you get your first college counselor job, try to learn as much as you can on the job. Throughout your orientation period, you learn about your job duties and what your employer expects of you in this role.

As you grow in your career, you may choose to take on additional responsibilities or go back to school to be able to provide therapeutic services. Over time, you may even become interested in applying for an administrative or supervisory position at an institution.

Frequently asked questions about becoming a college counselor

Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about becoming a college counselor:

  • What is the work environment of a college counselor?

  • What occupations are similar to a college counselor?

  • What kinds of questions do students ask college counselors?

  • What skills does a college counselor need?

What is the work environment of a college counselor?

A college counselor may work in the following work environments:

Most college counselors work full-time in an office setting. They typically work at two or four-year colleges and universities. You are likely to work in the student affairs, career center or admissions department. At larger universities, you may work at a specific school within the institution. For example, a large university may have separate schools for its humanities, business, engineering and medical majors.

Some college counselors may work in high school settings. In this kind of work environment, you are likely to help high school students with the college application process and offer advice as they make big life decisions. A private practice or parent may also hire you to meet with students who need extra guidance and support throughout their education.

What occupations are similar to a college counselor?

These job titles are quite similar to a college counselor:

  • Academic adviser

  • College adviser

  • Financial adviser

  • Guidance counselor

  • Social and human service assistant

  • Training and development specialist

Related: Learn About Being a Guidance Counselor

What kinds of questions do students ask college counselors?

As a college counselor, you may need to answer the following questions from students:

  • What kinds of jobs can I get with my major?

  • What clubs and other extracurricular activities help boost my resume?

  • How do I know which major is the right choice for me?

  • How can I cope with this past trauma?

  • How can I get along better with my roommate?

  • What are some strategies to decrease my stress levels?

  • When is it time for me to drop out of this course?

  • Can you help me solve this conflict with my peers?

What skills does a college counselor need?

A college counselor needs to have the following skills to succeed in this profession:

Critical thinking

You need to think of solutions or advice for your students' challenges or concerns. Oftentimes, you need to diagnose their issues while thinking of ways to speak compassionately.

Desire to help others

Students may come to you during some of their most challenging times. You need to have the urge to give them the best advice possible and make them feel better about their situation.


A lot of your work includes administrative duties. You need to keep paperwork organized and neat. This work may also be time-sensitive, so you need to keep your deadlines and priorities in order.


College counselors need to have outgoing personalities and a sense of confidence. It's your job to create a comfortable environment where students feel like they can share personal information with you.

Social awareness

You need to be aware of common problems affecting certain demographics of students. Things like gender, race, social inequality and mental illness are all topics you need to be well-versed in.

Written and verbal communication

Your written communication skills help you when corresponding with students and other faculty via email. It's also helpful when completing paperwork. Verbal communication is a crucial part of connecting with students and being able to deliver clear messages.

Related Articles

FAQ: What Is an Educational Counselor? (Plus Salary)

Explore more articles

  • Use Cases: What They Are and a List of Examples
  • 13 Effective Ways To Persuade Others in the Workplace
  • Excuse Letter for Work Absence: 3 Examples and Writing Guide
  • How To Write an Employee Relocation Letter (With Template and Examples)
  • 7 Work Goals for Receptionists (With Examples)
  • What Are Business Ethics? Definition, Types and Examples
  • Tactical vs. Technical Skills: Definition and Differences
  • The Do's and Don'ts of Taking a Sick Day
  • How to Calculate Relative Standard Deviation (With Formula)
  • Benefits of Volunteering: 10 Reasons To Volunteer
  • 12 Investigative Skills That Are Helpful To Develop (With Tips)
  • 5 Trade School Programs To Pursue Without a High School Diploma