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How to Become a School or Career Counselor

All school counselors must be credentialed, which most often requires a master’s degree. Many employers prefer that career counselors have a master’s degree. Those who work in private practice generally must be licensed.


In most states, school counselors must have a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field. Programs in school counseling teach students about fostering academic development, conducting group and individual counseling, and working with parents, teachers, and other school staff. These programs often require students to gain experience through an internship or practicum.

Most employers prefer that career counselors have a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on career development. Career counseling programs prepare students to teach career development techniques and assess clients’ skills and interests. Many programs require students to have a period of supervised experience, such as an internship.  


School counselors must have a state-issued credential to practice. This credential can be called a certification, a license, or an endorsement, depending on the state. Most states require a criminal background check as part of the credentialing process. Information about requirements for each state is available from the American School Counselors Association.

Although some employers prefer to hire licensed career counselors, a license is not required in many settings. Career counselors in private practice, however, generally must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education credits. Contact information for state regulating boards is available from the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients and students.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for school and career counselors. They need to give their full attention to their students and clients to understand their problems and values.

People skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for counselors. They spend most of their time working directly with clients and students or other professionals and need good working relationships.

Speaking skills. School and career counselors must communicate effectively with clients and students. They should express ideas and information in a way that their clients understand easily.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition