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How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor

Majors Overview January 25, 2013

High school guidance counselors assist students by assessing their interests and skills; they also play a critical role in developing the students’ career and academic goals. Students are typically evaluated by these professionals through aptitude tests, interviews and counseling sessions. Students are also helped by counselors with behavioral and social problems. A graduate degree is the minimum requirement alongside state level licensure and certification for an aspiring high school guidance counselor. The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed by students planning a career in this field.

Stage One: Earning a Bachelor Degree

Prospective high school guidance counselors typically complete four-year bachelor degree programs in education, counseling or psychology. Subject areas such as personality theory, cognitive psychology and adolescent and child development are covered with foundational programs. Statistical methods employed in research and studies about psychological testing are also included in the coursework. Specialized courses are taken by students after they have reached an advanced stage in their area of specialization. For instance, classes in abnormal psychology could be preferred by psychology majors while curriculum development could be the area of focus for education majors. Taking communications and liberal arts classes will benefit aspiring counselors who require to interact with students frequently during the course of their duties.

Stage Two: Completing a Master Degree

Typically, a high school guidance counselor is expected to hold a master degree (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). A student can opt for a master degree program in education or secondary school counseling. Such programs focus on developing the techniques and skills young adults need in order to be able to identify how their problems originated and to find a way to cope with them. Coursework covers subject areas such as family therapy and cultural diversity. Completing an internship will help a prospective counselor record the required number of practicum hours needed to get credential while earning hands on experience counseling students in a school environment. Some schools or programs make internship a mandatory component of a master degree program.

Stage Three: Obtaining School Counseling Credential

High school guidance counselors are required in many states to acquire school counseling credentials, which are known as an endorsement, certification or license. While credential requirements differ from state to state, applicants are expected to complete a master degree program alongside an internship, and take a state examination.

Stage Four: Acquiring a Teaching License

Counselors in a few states are required to hold teaching credentials, if they want to work in schools. In some of these states, this may involve garnering many years of experience as a teacher, or completing a teacher education course, or getting certification via an alternative program. Many resources for professional development are provided to counselors by American School Counselor Association including details of state-wise licensure norms.

Step Five: Continuing Education

Credential needs to be renewed by high school guidance counselors; they can accomplish this through continued education credits earned. Continued education will help a counselor stay abreast of trends in the industry along with trends and changes in methods of counseling. Online coursework, seminars, workshops and classes can help a guidance counselor complete their continued education requirements. Membership to the American School Counselors Association (ASCA) or other similar professional organizations will help counselors gain access to various continuing education resources. They can obtain certification from National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) by taking a certification examination administered by the organization. In many states, a candidate with NCC certification is not required to take a state licensing examination. The qualification requirements for NCC certification include the completion of a master degree program followed by three thousand hours of counseling work and one hundred hours of supervision within two years of earning the graduate degree.

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