School Counselor: Education Requirements in College

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What Does a School Counselor Do?

Being a school counselor, or a guidance counselor as they are called in some areas, is a challenging but rewarding profession. You get a chance to work with kids of all ages to help them overcome their difficulties and achieve their goals. At the same time, like all teaching jobs and careers in the helping professions school counselors have a high burn-out rate. They have a lot of responsibilities, though their particular role depends somewhat on the school, the grade levels they work with, and their personal specialties.

School counselors help kids decide which courses to take and majors to pursue, teach struggling students how to make goals and plans for improvement, and work with children with special needs and learning disabilities. Often school counselors are involved with anti-drug and similar campaigns and programs, as well as programs to help students deal with stress and resolve conflicts. They communicate closely with both parents and teachers, working as part of a team to improve the lives of the students in the schools they serve.

Getting the Right Bachelor’s Degree

So what are a school counselor’s education requirements? Almost all states require that school counselors have a master’s degree, and many counselors go on to get a PhD as well. The specialized training takes place in those programs, then, since few schools have designated bachelor’s degrees for school counseling or even simply counseling. It is possible to become a school counselor with just about any four-year degree, but it is recommended that anyone wanting to pursue this career should major in either psychology or education. These two majors are the most closely related to school counseling, and do the best job of preparing students for the field.

So which major should you choose? It depends largely on what you would like your other career options to be. If you decide in grad school or after a few years on the job that you don’t like school counseling, a bachelor’s degree in education means you can get a job teaching or in another similar field. A bachelor’s degree in psychology means you could try your hand at another type of counseling, such as vocational, mental health, or family counseling.

If you choose to major in psychology, focus on classes about child and adolescent development. Also look for courses in educational psychology, social psychology, and personality theory. Finally, you’ll want to take at least one course in psychopathology and therapies, since school counselors need a working knowledge of the various disorders and developmental disabilities commonly seen in school children. If you choose to major in education, you’ll have a lot less choice about what classes to take—education programs tend to be very specific. But you’ll need to choose whether to major in elementary education, secondary education, or K-12 education. This will be an important factor in determining what kind of school you’ll be able to work for.

Both majors involve coursework that will start training you in the skills you’ll need as a school counselor, and will give you the opportunity to participate in student teaching or an internship that will give you invaluable experience. Ideally, it would be wise to major in one field and minor in the other. This would provide the most solid post-secondary education for the future school counselor, and gives you a strong competitive edge when apply for grad school.

Choosing a School

Many schools, both large and small, have excellent programs in psychology and education. Look for a college that fits your budget and other needs, of course, but don’t forget to assess the programs themselves. Take a look at the course listings in the department you intend to major in, keeping an eye out for classes that relate to counseling, adolescent development, mental health, and educational psychology. Check out these schools—they’ve been rated the top ten colleges for bachelor’s degrees in psychology and education respectively.


  1. Stanford University
  2. Yale University
  3. University of Pennsylvania
  4. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
  5. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities
  6. University of California in Berkeley
  7. Harvard University
  8. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  9. University of Chicago
  10. Columbia University


  1. Vanderbilt University
  2. Columbia University
  3. Harvard University
  4. Stanford University
  5. University of Oregon
  6. Johns Hopkins University
  7. University of California, Los Angeles
  8. Northwestern University
  9. University of Wisconsin, Madison
  10. University of California in Berkeley

Other Requirements

There aren’t any other education requirements to become a school counselor, at least not during your first four years of college. The certifications you’ll need will be taken care of while you pursue your master’s degree, as will the specific training and practicums. Getting a bachelor’s degree in psychology or education and completing an internship in something at least loosely related to school and/or counseling will be enough for now.

But think ahead, and start researching potential schools for your master’s degree early. And be aware of the requirements for school counselors in your state or the state where you intend to live and work after college. The American School Counselor Association has a list of state certification requirements on their website, and is a useful resource for students interested in the field. If you decide to major in education, also check out the teacher education requirements for your state, and consider getting certified in as many grade levels as possible to leave your options open.