School counselors perform many important roles in educational communities. They support positive social, emotional, and mental health while also promoting academic excellence. Although students may be a school counselor’s primary focus, teachers, parents, administrators and other educational stakeholders rely on the expertise of school counselors to help facilitate positive and productive learning experiences.
Fulfilling all of these responsibilities requires a wide background in areas such as psychology, human development, behaviorism, learning theory, social work, ethics, and educational theory. As such, counselors typically must complete comprehensive training that will most often include a master’s degree in school counseling, supervised fieldwork, and/or passage of a state licensing exam.
Once certified, schools counselors must strive to uphold a commitment to continuing education and professional development. This ensures that students and school communities are served by professionals equipped with the latest in best practices and an awareness of the most pressing issues in the field. Many counselors are able to help satisfy this commitment by joining professional organizations like the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), which provide access to publications, courses, and support networks of peers and experts.
Ultimately, becoming a school counselor is less of a destination than it is a journey of perpetual growth and empowering service. It all starts with certification.
How to Become a Certified School Counselor
The path to school counselor certification will look differently depending upon your educational background, work history, and locale.
Typically, the sequence looks something like this:
An undergraduate degree in an education or a counseling related discipline. Since this is usually the step preceding an advanced degree, be sure to research the program entry requirements for any schools you are considering for post-baccalaureate work. You want to be sure your bachelor’s degree meets the admissions requirements.
Fieldwork in school counseling (often referred to as a practicum or an internship) is commonly included as part of a school counseling master’s degree program. However, the required number of supervised fieldwork hours can vary by both state and institution; you must be sure to complete and document enough of these hours to comply with the requirements of the state(s) where you wish to work.
Certification exams are a licensure requirement in many states. Some states have their own tests, while others rely on standardized exams like the PRAXIS or NTE.
Application for state licensure can only occur once all of your educational and practical experiences have been completed. While the route to a certification may vary, this will always be the final step before you can accept a school counseling position.
School Counselor Certification Requirements by State
Each state is free to set its own standards for school counselor licensure. This means the certification requirements you need to complete will vary depending upon where you want to work. Some states have a lengthy list of qualifications for school counselor certification while others do not. Several of the most common requirements nationwide include:
Completion of a master’s degree program
Holding a valid state teaching license/certificate
Completion of an internship/supervised fieldwork experience
Passage of a state, PRAXIS, CME, or NTE exam
Thankfully, many states offer multiple pathways to certification depending upon an applicant’s background. For example, many states accept full-time teaching experience as a way to reduce the required number of counseling fieldwork hours. Several states also allow for reciprocity, which means your certification in one state can be used to become credentialed in another.
Once certified, school counselors must demonstrate a commitment to continuing their education. For current school counselors or those interested in joining the field, the ASCA is an invaluable professional organization that provides members with resources, professional development, and community support to help members stay abreast of the latest best practices and developments in the field.
The ASCA also plays a large role in professional development by offering additional specialized counseling certifications in areas such as trauma, data, closing the achievement gap, career development, and anxiety management. These courses are approved by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) and some can even be completed for graduate credit.
For those with the passion and drive for helping improve the educational experiences of others, gaining a school counseling certification might be a worthwhile endeavor. All told, the responsibilities of a school counselor are great, but so are the opportunities to make a real difference in people’s lives while also pursuing perpetual professional growth.