How to Become a
School Counselor 

Advice for those interested in the career of a
school counselor.

Many people have written to me and asked what they need to do to become a school counselor in America today. I start with my own story on how I had to "work the ropes" to become a school counselor.

I started out with a dream to become a teacher. I loved kids and truly wanted to make a difference in their lives. I thought teaching was the best way to reach out to children. In the back of my head I had always wanted to be a school counselor.

Years ago one had to teach for seven years before they could enroll in a school counselor graduate program. More on this reason and topic will be discussed later.

I graduated from Portland State University with a degree in General Studies that had an emphasis on "education classes". You see, at Portland State University back in the early 1990's there was no degree in education. They wanted us to be "well rounded" and take a lot of courses.

I ended up taking half education classes and half psychology classes. Then I took what we called "a fifth year" study of education classes to get a teacher certification.

I moved to Georgia and immediately started graduate classes in early childhood education. I got a master's degree in this area. During my student teaching I got hired to teach second grade.

I took over a classroom in November at an inner city, high risk, high needs school. I cried my way through the first year!

The most difficult thing for me as a new teacher was "classroom management". What they teach you in teacher graduate school is not always what is needed in the real world of the "classroom". It took me three years to learn how to successfully control my little darlings!

I ended up teaching for seven years. I taught second grade, first grade, P.E., and Special Education. I am so grateful for this experience in the classroom, especially Special Education! You see, I learned what it felt like to be a teacher and how to utilize classroom management. I can now understand why there used to be a rule stating that you must teach for several years before you can actually become a school counselor.


I have watched many Licensed Professional Counselors (Who are excellent private practice counselors) become school counselors and struggle with the position. What I have found is that they are not comfortable in the classroom setting and classroom management, especially when they are doing guidance lessons (a requirement of the job).

What is also very important is that you understand what it feels like to be a teacher, especially nowadays. When teachers come to me to tell me that they have students who are not behaving and disrupting the classroom learning I can truly understand what they are going through. This motivates me to try to help them find solutions to make sure all students are a success in the area of behavior and academics.

If you want to become a school counselor I want to first ask you, "Do you like children? Adolescents? Teens?" If you don't please do not become a school counselor! Please just stop here and find another profession! Yes, I have met some school counselors who do not really like children!

If you truly do like children and want to make a difference in their lives then this could be a career path for you. But this is only the beginning...

I recommend that if you are interested in becoming a school counselor that you get some type of teaching experience. Teach at a daycare, sub, or get a teaching certificate. Then, move on to graduate school programs that offer a school counseling certificate. You must have a master's degree in school counseling and pass a test to become a school counselor.

You can also become a school counselor if you are already a licensed professional counselor. You will also need to take a school counselor test. If this is the path you are choosing then I highly recommend that you get some training in classroom management. School counseling is very different from private practice counseling.

To be a school counselor you need to be able to work with individual students, small groups, and large groups. You also might have to run conferences and understand R.T.I. (Response to Intervention) and help teachers with data collection. Sometimes, you must be in charge of attendance protocols, or assist your school social worker with this.

There are also times when you must contact your local Department of Family and Children Services if you suspect a child is at risk of neglect, abuse, etc. You must be able to risk the relationship of the parent / school in order to protect the child if need be. There are times when you have to be able to confront angry parents in order to protect children.

I am glad that I also got the experience of teaching Special Education. I taught kids who had emotional behavioral disorder, autism, and learning disorders. I also got the chance to sub for a teacher who taught the M.I. classes.

I so appreciate the time I spent teaching Special Education. As a school counselor, I work so closely with my Special Education teachers. With Response to Intervention it is imperative that I understand data collection and special education.  

Once you become qualified as a school counselor you may want to start out at a private school. I am so grateful that I did this. I worked as a school counselor for two years before going back into a very large school system as a school counselor. I got to warm up slowly and get my feet wet as a school counselor. 

Also, school counselors´╗┐ should have some training in play therapy. We cannot do "therapy" in the schools, but we can be trained in play therapy and modify it to meet the school setting and student needs. This training, along with sand tray therapy, has been invaluable to me as a school counselor. 

I wear many hats as a school counselor. If you are really interested in becoming a school counselor why don't you check out the link below:


A Year in the Life of a School Counselor

Month of June & July:

A Year in the Life of a School Counselor June & July

Learn About Play Therapy Here:

Learn About Play Therapy

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