What Is a Guidance Counselor?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 4, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Working in the counseling field can be highly rewarding for those who enjoy helping others. This is especially true for those who become counselors in a school setting. Also known as guidance counselors, these professionals are valuable assets to school districts across the country. In this article, we discuss what guidance counselors do, their common traits and steps you need to take to become a guidance counselor.

What is a guidance counselor?

Guidance counselors are advisors who help students develop the skills necessary to succeed in both their personal and professional lives. They regularly meet with students, parents, teachers and other members of the faculty to provide them with much-needed services and resources. They also help students discover their talents and interests in order to create career goals. Additionally, they help students cope with mental health issues that could affect their learning processes.

Guidance counselors work with students in elementary, middle and high schools. They may work exclusively with students or as part of an educational team to help students progress in their academic careers.

What does a guidance counselor do?

Here are some common duties that a guidance counselor performs:

  • Helps uncover and diagnose issues: Guidance counselors can be vital in differentiating between behavioral and mental health issues to ensure each student receives proper attention and services.

  • Individual and group counseling: Guidance counselors facilitate individual and group counseling sessions with students, parents and teachers.

  • Helps evaluate students: Guidance counselors evaluate students' unique talents and aptitudes in order to help them create career goals.

  • Drug and alcohol prevention: A guidance counselor may educate students on how to manage stress and maintain healthy lifestyles.

  • Internship planning: Counselors may set up internships that allow students to earn class credit while gaining practical experience.

  • Training workshops: Guidance counselors may be required to organize and facilitate certain training workshops that enable teachers to be more effective educators.

  • Job searches: Counselors can help perform job searches and set up interviews for those who are interested in entering the workforce directly after high school.

  • College preparation: Counselors help students find their best college options, fill out applications, set up college tours and write letters of recommendation if needed.

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Average salary of guidance counselors

Guidance counselors make on average $49,136 per year in the United States, as of November 2019, though salaries vary from $17,000 to $98,000 per year. A guidance counselor's education and experience could have a factor in earning potential. Those with a higher degree and more years of experience are likely to earn more. The size, type and location of the school where they work can also have an effect on their wages.

Skills needed to be a guidance counselor

The following is a list of the most common traits guidance counselors usually need:

  • Active listening: Guidance counselors should be capable of active listening in order to determine the challenges affecting their students.

  • Interpersonal skills: Guidance counselors work with the same students, parents and professionals for years at a time. They should be skilled in establishing long-lasting relationships in order to provide excellent counseling services to their students.

  • Organization: Counselors can provide services to several students per day. Staying organized can help them keep accurate records and meet the needs of the students they work with.

  • Confidentiality: Guidance counselors need to keep sensitive information confidential to follow regulations. Maintaining confidentiality can also help build trust in relationships with students.

  • Empathy: Guidance counselors collaborate with a wide variety of people and professionals. This requires a high level of empathy, which enables them to be more understanding and compassionate, even when they do not necessarily relate to or agree with the individual's perspective.

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How to become a guidance counselor

If you are interested in becoming a guidance counselor, you can do so by completing the following steps:

  1. Earn a degree

  2. Complete a counseling internship

  3. Pass your state's licensing exam

  4. Earn a license and certifications

  5. Apply for jobs

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1. Earn a degree

Guidance counselors need at least a master's degree, meaning they start by earning a bachelor's degree. You can earn a bachelor's degree in psychology, education or counseling if your school offers it. Once you get your bachelor's degree, you can pursue a master's degree in education or counseling. You can earn a Ph.D., though this degree is not required to become a guidance counselor.

2. Complete a counseling internship

While earning your master's degree, you will undergo an internship with a licensed counselor. Completing an internship allows you to earn practical experience under the supervision of a counseling professional.

3. Pass your state's licensing exam

Some states may require you to pass a licensing exam in order to become a guidance counselor. Review your state's guidelines to make sure you meet the requirements to complete the exam if needed.

4. Earn a license and certifications

Depending on your state, you may need to apply for a counseling license. Applications could include educational transcripts and your licensing exam score. Additionally, some states also require guidance counselors to have teaching certificates.

Though certifications are not required for all positions, you can apply for one from organizations such as the American School Counselor Association. You can earn certifications such as:

  • Anxiety and Stress Management Specialist

  • Bullying Prevention Specialist

  • College Admissions Specialist

  • Students With Special Needs Specialist

Each certification can show your proficiency in different subjects that many schools value.

5. Apply for jobs

Once you meet all of the requirements, you can apply for guidance counselor jobs. Create a resume that reflects your education, internship experience and any licenses or certifications you have. You should also consider writing a cover letter that reflects your interest in any specific counseling topics and what you could contribute to a school. Tailor your cover letter and resume to each job you apply for in order to appeal more to hiring managers.

FAQs about being a guidance counselor

Here are some common questions and answers about becoming a guidance counselor:

  • How is a guidance counselor different from a therapist?

  • What does a typical day look like for a guidance counselor?

  • Where can guidance counselors work?

  • Should I get a doctorate to become a guidance counselor?

How is a guidance counselor different from a therapist?

Guidance counselors provide short-term assistance for students, while therapists provide treatment plans and work with a variety of people and issues. Additionally, although guidance counselors may be required to help address various mental health or behavioral issues, the goal of a guidance counselor is to help students advance academically and professionally, whereas a therapist is primarily concerned with mental health.

What does a typical day look like for a guidance counselor?

The typical day of a guidance counselor can vary depending on the students and the school environment they work in. They may be tasked with teaching counseling lessons to classrooms, giving one-on-one guidance to students, completing administrative work, and meeting with parents and professionals to formulate plans for students.

Where can guidance counselors work?

A guidance counselor can work at any school or university. Additionally, they may also work in alternative school programs or with homeschooled students.

Should I get a doctorate to become a guidance counselor?

Getting a doctorate is always helpful to those who want to be optimally effective, but it's not typically required. Either way, doing so could help expand job opportunities and increase your earning potential as a guidance counselor.

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