How to Become a School Counselor

How to Become a School Counselor

School Counselor One on One
School Counselor One on One

The years children and teens spend in school are some of the most formative of their entire lives. During these years, they will learn about many subjects, perhaps finding a passion they’ll pursue for the rest of their lives. They will develop friendships and find extracurricular hobbies. And they will face challenges, both relationally and academically, that they will learn how to overcome with the support of their educators.

One of the critical roles in any student’s life is that of a school counselor. School counseling is designed to help students develop academic success strategies, plan for their futures, and learn interpersonal skills to aid them throughout their lives. School counselors are critical to student success. 

What Does a School Counselor Do?

School counselors help their students strengthen their academic and social skills, serving in a supportive role throughout primary and secondary schooling. There are many careers that help children thrive during the school years, but they each serve specific purposes.

How School Counselors Compare to Similar Careers

  • Guidance counselors are sometimes considered synonymous with school counselors. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) views the term “guidance counselor” as outdated and recommends “school counselor” as an accurate reflection of the job instead. Traditionally, the role of guidance counselors involved giving vocational guidance to students before graduation. Now, the school counselor role is designed to help students thrive as whole individuals, including supporting their social-emotional, academic, and career development.  
  • Child and family therapists serve individuals and families as they work through relational issues or mental health diagnoses. School counselors do not diagnose or treat students for specific mental health issues, instead offering support to students regarding career, education, and social/emotional development.  
  • School social workers often work directly with students who are facing social, emotional, behavioral, or developmental disabilities, helping them to thrive in school as individuals. Although there is often overlap between school counselors and social workers’ roles, school counselors are unique in that they both support students individually and design and implement programs to support an entire grade or student body.  
  • School psychologists are licensed mental health professionals who focus primarily on evaluating and addressing mental health concerns in their student population, while liaising with teachers and families. They usually focus on a smaller subset of students and may travel throughout a district to work with students at different schools. School counselors typically work in one school and focus more broadly on helping all students with academic, career, and social-emotional challenges rather than solely mental health diagnoses.  

What Does a School Counselor Do?

What Qualities Should a School Counselor Possess?

School counselors are as diverse as the student populations they serve, but excellent school counselors have several traits in common.

Communication skills

To make the most of their time with students in both individual and group settings, school counselors must learn how to be effective communicators. They guide their students through confusing academic moments and interpersonal situations, helping them find a way to thrive on their educational journey.


Often, students come to their school counselors with difficult questions or heavy conversation topics. Being a student can be quite difficult at times, and school counselors should be able to empathize with what their students are going through. When the children and teens in their office feel understood, they are more likely to hear and heed the counselor’s guidance.


Keeping up with students across grades, interests, and individual challenges requires an organized mind. School counselors should have a detailed system of notes and files to help their students thrive until graduation and beyond.

Listening skills

Many students need a safe place to share how they feel and what they’re experiencing in their studies, friendships, and home lives. Effective school counselors know how to advise their students, but they also learn how to support them by simply listening.

Observational skills

Sometimes, the solution to a student’s problem lies in what remains unsaid. By observing the behaviors of their students, school counselors can learn how to best help the situation at hand, whatever it may be.


Even the best-laid plans must be put aside occasionally as a school counselor. Education is an ever-changing field, and new schedules and responsibilities often pop up with little or no notice. School counselors should learn how to adapt quickly to a varied environment to mitigate their stress and, in turn, the stress of their students.


School counselors are often friendly and approachable, which is an appropriate disposition for the role. However, certain situations call them to move from friend to authority figure, taking charge when drug use, abuse, neglect, harm or suicidal ideation occurs in the life of a student.

School counselor in a group setting

Why School Counselors are Needed More Than Ever

Anxiety, along with other mental health diagnoses and behavioral disorders, is on the rise in children and teens. According to the CDC, anxiety and depression affect many children in the United States, with 5.8 million anxiety diagnoses in children aged 3-17 from 2016 to 2019. During those same years, 4.4% of children aged 6-17 were diagnosed with depression, and those numbers continue to grow. Life reports an increase of 26.7% in anxiety and depression in children in the United States over the past several years.

The COVID-19 pandemic also brought significant changes to school culture and the educational workforce as a whole. Many teachers are making a career change as they wrestle with school policy changes, a lack of resources, and a desire for more flexibility. Becoming a school counselor is a much-needed option that appeals to many who have already earned a degree and begun a career in education. As a school counselor, they are not tied to a classroom, which allows them to work with even more students.

What is the Path to Becoming a School Counselor?

If you’re considering a career change, you may wonder, “How long does it take to become a school counselor?” This meaningful career allows you to impact the lives of children and teens as you prepare them for a bright future. The optimal path to becoming a school counselor involves earning your master’s degree in School Counseling, passing your certification exam, and gaining the necessary experience to lead and guide students in a counseling office instead of a classroom setting.


After earning your undergraduate degree, pursuing your Master’s in School Counseling is a logical next step in becoming a school counselor. At St. Bonaventure University, you can earn your degree through a CACREP-accredited online program without taking the GRE or GMAT exam. As you complete your graduate coursework, you’ll learn how to empower students to achieve their goals and overcome obstacles, helping them become successful and well-adjusted elementary, middle, and high school students.

Certification Exam

After graduation, you may be required to take a professional certification exam to become certified in your state as a school counselor. St. Bonaventure has consistently high examination pass rates and job placements, which can be credited to a focused curriculum, dedicated support from faculty and advisors, and excellent placements for internships to gain hands-on experience.


Before securing a job as a school counselor, you’ll gain practical experience by completing a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships. When you earn your degree at SBU, you’ll have a dedicated staff coordinator to help you find local internship sites. St. Bonaventure is located in New York, but we have secured internships for our online students as far away as Hawaii! The SBU staff is committed to finding a local placement for you.

Begin Your School Counseling Journey at St. Bonaventure University

There has never been a better time to start your career as a school counselor. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects this field to grow by 5% by 2032, faster than the national average. With 26,600 job openings projected annually, earning your MSED and sitting for your state certification exam gives you an advantage as you land a job in a elementary, middle, or high school.

At St. Bonaventure University, an Online Master’s in School Counseling will prepare you to counsel and equip students for their educational journeys. Whether you’re pursuing your first career or ready to make a change, SBU’s online degree program combines quality, flexibility, and affordability. With enrollments beginning in fall, spring, and summer, you can start your journey to becoming a school counselor when it works for you. Online coursework allows you to learn from anywhere, and internship placement support gives you the assistance you need to earn valuable hands-on experience in a qualified setting.;

Want to prepare tomorrow’s students for a balanced, happy, and well-adjusted educational experience? Talk to an SBU advisor about the MSED in School Counseling today. 

Learn more about SBU's Online Master's in School Counseling