School Counseling Advice: Earning an Online Master's Degree while Working
School counselors play a pivotal role in and out of the classroom, but how can they balance the needs of their students while also elevating their own careers by earning a Master of Science in Education (MSED) in School Counseling? School counselors are invaluable as sources of support for the students in the schools they serve, particularly when it comes to mental health resources and assisting students in identifying and charting a course to their goals.
For many school counselors, though, it can be a challenge to balance the needs of their students with the pursuit of their own career aspirations in the form of an online master’s degree.
In this article, we offer some tips for school counselors who want to pursue their online MSED in School Counseling while working. We’ll highlight some key strategies to balance a school counseling professional’s accountability to their students when they are advancing their educational credentials with graduate work.
What Do School Counselors Do?
While many look to their teachers as a source of support, school counselors are also an invaluable resource for students because their main goal is to offer the support that students need to thrive and succeed in their school work. They can offer encouragement and guidance both inside and outside of the classroom, help students with issues that go beyond school, and foster the essential skills in school-age children for future academic, professional, and personal success.
This is one of the reasons why the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) positions school counselors as “vital members to the education team.”
A Typical Day for a School Counselor
While the day might look different for school counselors depending on whether they are working in an elementary or secondary setting, generally speaking, their days will be filled with two primary activities as outlined by the ASCA:
The biggest component of a counseling professional’s day within a school setting is to offer support for the students in the school.
This can take several forms, including:
- Individual Meetings, where the counselor hosts a one-on-one session with students to help them with a component of their school experience
- Classroom Teaching, in which a counselor leads the entire class in a session on informational topics like standardized test preparation or college applications or in support areas like coping strategies for stress or organizational strategies
- Classroom Observations, where a counseling professional sits in on a class to observe student behavior to assess any unique needs that a child might have
Counseling professionals in schools can also be an asset for parents who are seeking insights into how to relate to their children. For example, parents might turn to their child’s school counselor for insights into how to handle the emotions their child is expressing at home or might ask for strategies to navigate challenging scenarios (such as the death of a family member or a college rejection).
What Is the Counseling Job Outlook and How Much Do Counselors Make?
Given the crucial work that school counselors perform daily, it should come as no surprise that the demand for qualified counseling professionals within schools is on the rise. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (USBLS), projections forecast the growth in school counseling jobs by 8% by the year 2028 – this translates to more than 27,000 additional school counseling jobs over the decade.
Wages for school counselors are also impressive. The USBLS also reports that the median wage for school counselors in 2019 was $57,040. This combination of salary and rising demand can make the field even more attractive for those who are preparing to enter it. For many of those who pursue their online MSED in School Counseling, however, the real appeal of the role of a school counselor is the impact they can have on the lives of young students.
What Are Some Advantages and Disadvantages of School Counseling?
Like any profession, school counselors can enjoy many benefits but can also face substantial challenges. These peaks and valleys can be arduous, but at the end of the day, they leave many school counselors feeling even more committed to their field.
Many school counselors will share their immense pleasure for their professional counseling role. Indeed, a 2011 article published in The Journal of Counselor Preparation and Supervision noted school counselors reported a high level of job satisfaction across all education levels, in part thanks to the realization of the opportunities for professional development across various stages in one’s career. At the same time, counselors can find fulfillment in the fact that they are making a tangible effect on the lives of children who need them.
This opportunity to make a direct difference in someone else's life is one that few other professionals have the chance to experience.
At the same time, though, being a school counselor is difficult. Long hours with overcrowded schools mean counseling professionals are often accountable for numerous students who may need guidance on an array of issues, including:
- Helping students whose families are struggling with poverty at home
- Observing students who might show signs of mental health issues, which according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression
- Grappling with students who exhibit bullying behavior or need to recover from a bully’s actions
- Serving as a liaison between parents and students who might have different expectations for educational goals and outcomes
Juggling all of these scenarios across a large student population can be emotionally and physically draining, and sometimes counseling professionals face burnout from the demands of their role. The ASCA has noted, for example, that somewhere between 30 percent and 60 percent of school counselors experience some form of burnout given the requirements the role places on them.
Learn more about SBU's Online Master's in School Counseling
Real World Counseling Stories
Serving as a school counselor can be grueling at times, but the rewards of working with students often outweigh those stressors at the end of the day. Here are some real-world stories from school counseling professionals who shared with The Princeton Review the enduring connection they have with their students and how that relationship makes the role of school counselor all the more personally satisfying:
Nikki Hostnik, the Associate Director of College Counseling at Saint Louis Priory School in St. Louis, MO, noted:
“A student came to me last year and proudly announced that he would be my ‘most difficult case ever.’ He told me that he had no idea what he wanted to do or where he wanted to look, had no inspiration for a grand essay, didn’t agree with his parents on much, and wasn’t sure I could help him. I didn’t flinch. After multiple conversations casually getting to know him and how his brain works and doing a lot of brainstorming that resulted in amazing essay writing, he is now a senior having great success in the college admission process—and coming to my office to let me know which honors programs he is applying to and which scholarship applications he needs a rec for. He is owning his college process and succeeding. It’s amazing having the privilege to help students find the path and stay on it.”
Theresa Long, a College Counselor at St. Francis High School in La Cañada, CA, shared:
“I once had a student who really wanted to play college football. Nobody—including him—thought he would meet the NCAA criteria. But we worked together, and he retook classes, went to summer school and night school, and then went on to play football at the University of Colorado. He is now 24 and a Seattle Seahawk. We are still very close because of our journey together.”
Dian Repp, Educator and College Counselor, Concordia High School in Round Rock, TX offered:
“One of my former students, who graduated two years ago, just told me that she woke up this morning thinking about where she was in life—and she’s in a much better place than she was a few years ago! She said she thought of our conversations and how I always empowered her with encouragement, which is the best part of my job. Then and there she decided to come see me today to tell me how much that had meant to her and to share that she is studying psychology to become a social worker who counsels people and saves them like she was saved at Concordia High School. Very touching!”
As these anecdotes reveal, these counseling professionals clearly made a lasting impact on the lives of the students with whom they worked. Whether it was surviving a specific course or offering guidance for the big-picture challenges facing young students, school counselors truly perform wonders.
So, to return to our central question: how can school counselors balance the joys of the job with the potential challenges that come with them, particularly when a counselor wants to pursue an online MSED degree in School Counseling? The good news is that there are some simple strategies to balance all aspects of your life.
These will allow you to take time for yourself and maintain a healthy professional outlook even with the increased responsibilities associated with roles for those who complete their master’s degree.
What Academic/Professional Backgrounds do School Counselors Come From?
School counselors can take these roles from other professions. For example, sometimes teachers transition from their classrooms to roles within the counseling realm. Anyone who chooses to pursue a career as a school counselor, though, is sure to benefit from completing an online MSED in School Counseling. This graduate training offers you the opportunity to dive deeper into the history of the field and to understand the central theories to the counseling profession.
Master’s degrees in school counseling can also offer specialized training in facets of counseling practice, such as crisis counseling, or present opportunities for students to develop their leadership skills so graduates can pursue more managerial roles in the schools in which they practice.
In short, pursuing an online master’s degree in school counseling can be the next best step in your career development as a school counselor. It can open doors to new opportunities, greater responsibilities, and a deeper impact on the students themselves.
How Can I Balance Work and Life Expectations While Completing My Online School Counseling MSED?
School counselors are often driven to make a difference, which is often a key rationale for those who decide to complete their online MSED in School Counseling. That being said, school counselors also need to take good care of themselves. Accordingly, it’s best if school counselors who are considering their master’s degree work to implement strategies to keep a healthy balance between your professional goals and your personal life.
Set Realistic Expectations
Enrolling in a master’s program means you are committing to meeting a set of rigorous academic requirements. You’ll need to keep in mind that, in addition to coursework, you will need to complete internships and might also need to study for and pass a licensure exam depending on the nature of your professional counseling practice and the state in which you plan to work.
This means you need to enter a graduate program with the expectation that it will be essential to devote adequate time to your studies. This might mean less time with your family or friends in the short term, but you can remind yourself that your efforts now to complete your master’s in school counseling can pay off down the road with greater career success and personal intrinsic reward.
Speak with your family and friends and share these goals so that they will understand and support your aims (and lessen your stress).
Tap Into Time Management
Another key means to balance your personal and professional life with the requirements of an online MSED in School Counseling is to master your time management skills. If you use your time effectively, you can maximize your schedule while also feeling organized and in control of the tasks you need to accomplish. Some essential ways a counseling professional can maximize time management and keep stress low include:
Set a schedule that establishes a weekly routine and allots the necessary time for work, study, and personal time. Having a routine in place can allow you to hone in on your task at hand without worrying that you will run out of time for your other obligations.
Make lists of the landmarks you need to reach each week so that you can stay on target with your goals. With a list, you can always be aware of what you need to work on next, but such a list can also give you a sense of accomplishment as you check off those that you complete.
Let technology be your friend: today’s technology offers an amazing array of resources for counseling graduate students to optimize their studies. From applications like Evernote, a note-taking platform that allows you to compile your course notes, study materials, and class recordings electronically, to those like StudyBlue that can quiz you on essential material before big exams, you can put technology to use for you so that you can use your time as best as you can.
By taking steps to use your time to your fullest, you can substantially diminish the stressors that can come with working full-time as a school counselor. You can also remain accountable for the requirements of your master’s program as well as the demands of your personal life.
Take Time for Self-Care
The ASCA advocates for the incredible value of self-care among school counselors to avoid burnout. This self-care is particularly influential when it comes to counseling professionals juggling work and a master’s degree. You can work hard, but you also need to give yourself time to relax and disconnect. These pauses help you restore your body and mind, and they can also aid in your retention of new concepts and theories (as you give your mind the chance to process and digest new material).
Carve out some time just for you: whether it is reading a book, getting a massage, or engaging in mindful meditation, even just a momentary pause can be beneficial.
Seek Out A Support Network
School counselors devote their career to supporting students as they grow and learn, but it is equally important that counseling professionals themselves have a support network as well. Even the most carefully planned schedule can have hiccups – sick children, weather disruptions, and many other unexpected emergencies can be looming – so make sure you have a support network in place to help you when such issues arise. Having such support can go a long way to motivate you to keep working hard every day.
The same can be said of taking advantage of the support and resources available to you in your master’s program. Make sure the program you select includes resources such as dedicated enrollment advisors and internship placement assistance, not only to maximize your educational opportunities and preparation, but also to ensure you feel supported when facing hurdles.
Pursue a Career With an MSED in School Counseling
Pursuing a career as a school counselor means giving a lot of yourself every day. Add in the demands of your personal life, and it might seem the work of a master’s degree is too much to accomplish. Finding a balance between these components can be difficult, but with the right approach, it can be accomplished, particularly when you employ these discussed strategies and when you pursue your graduate work online with programs like St. Bonaventure University’s online MSED in School Counseling.
When you enroll in SBU’s online MSED in School Counseling, you are taking an important step in accelerating your career.
In particular, this program offers you a space to:
- Prepare in the foundational theories and practices of the field that can provide pivotal preparation for later licensure exams
- Garner key insights into the various counseling competencies, from crisis intervention to issues of diversity and advocacy for various populations
- Foster a philosophy of service and a desire to make a difference in the larger world
- Cultivate your abilities to make interpersonal connections and build trust in future professional relationships
St. Bonaventure’s online MSED in School Counseling also comes with the flexibility of online learning that works within your personal and professional schedule. It also offers the benefit of expert faculty and internal support to ensure you gain the practicum that can help you excel following graduation.
This combination has helped St. Bonaventure University to earn national recognition: U.S. News and World Report named us #19 Best Regional University and #3 Best Value in New York State for 2021.
Learn more about SBU's Online Master's in School Counseling
Read more of SBU online's top school counseling blogs below:
1. Transitioning From School Teacher to School Counselor: Trading Your Classroom for a Counseling Office
2. School Counselor: What Does the Future Hold?
3. Multicultural Counseling: the Ultimate Guide
4. School Counselors: Overcoming 9 Key Challenges to a Rewarding Career
5. Successful Online Student: 20 Tips for Hitting Your Goals