How to Become a School Counsellor

Counsellor and teenager during a therapy session /

Do you enjoy helping others and making a positive impact on their lives? If the answer is ‘yes’, then becoming a school counsellor could be the ideal job for you!

Although it can be challenging working with children and confused teens, you’ll have a positive influence on their personal and educational advancements, shaping them into confident and motivated pupils – paving the path for a bright future.

So, if you’re up for the challenge and want to help students get on the right track, keep reading to find out how to go about becoming a school counsellor.

1. Research the Profession

To make sure this career path is right for you, you’ll need a good understanding of what the job entails, the type of salary you can expect to earn and what your working environment will be like. Here’s a brief overview.

Job Description

A school counsellor steers students onto the right path by analysing and implementing academic and personal development plans that tie in with their needs and goals.

Typical day-to-day duties include:

  • providing high-quality services when dealing with various problems, including emotional issues, academic difficulties and bullying
  • providing guidance and advice to students, parents and teachers
  • treating all discussions confidentially and supporting school policy
  • creating action plans and setting goals with your students, ensuring they are achievable
  • acting as a mediator when there is conflict between two students or a teacher and a student
  • aiding drug and alcohol prevention programmes
  • referring students to trusted psychologists if the problem is beyond your expertise
  • improving overall learning conditions.

Essential Skills and Qualities

It takes a special kind of person to work with troubled teenagers on a daily basis. And while patience is a necessity when dealing with different personalities and situations, you also need to possess the following skills and qualities:

  • communication and interpersonal skills
  • discretion and trustworthiness
  • problem-solving skills
  • a calming nature and the ability to comfort others
  • time management skills
  • a motivational nature to guide and assist students and colleagues
  • high tolerance and ability to understand different outlooks on situations.

Working Hours and Conditions

School counsellors tend to work the same hours as teachers, and although it’s usually 35 to 40 hours per week, it often does exceed that amount. Like teachers, counsellors will tend to get into work early and prepare for their day, then remain after hours to wrap up on their work and complete all their paperwork. They usually spend a lot of time out of working hours thinking about how to resolve an issue while conducting their own personal research.

As a school counsellor in the UK, you’ll typically work 39 weeks a year, split over 3 terms (with 13 weeks’ holiday).

In the US, school counsellors normally work over a 10-month period and have a 2-month break during the summer. They usually also enjoy short midwinter holidays.

Depending on whether you’re working in a public or private school, conditions may vary. Some areas are prone to higher crime rates, and this can typically be seen inside the school walls, as well. To handle the pressure, you’ll need a calm and strong character.

Salary Prospects

Starting salaries for schooling counsellors in the UK and the USA tend to be lower than that of a teacher, but there’s plenty of scope for advancement once you have a few years’ practice under your belt.

According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a school counsellor in the USA is $55,410 per year, while the National Careers Service in the UK reports that the average wage is £33,000.

If you choose to work in a private school, meanwhile, you’ll generally earn a higher salary.

Job Outlook

According to the BLS, employment of school and career counsellors has a projected growth rate of 13% from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations.

However, if you don’t find satisfaction as a school counsellor, you can consider opening your own private practice and offering guidance to people of all ages.


2. Get the Qualifications

In order to work as a counsellor in the UK, you’ll typically need a qualification in counselling and membership with an accredited register. You’ll also need relevant work experience in the field, which can usually be gained through volunteer work which can lead to full-time employment.

In the US, things are done a little differently. You’ll need to spend quite a few years studying to gain the necessary qualifications. First, you must obtain a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as psychology, counselling or education), followed by an MEd in counselling, before obtaining your state licence.


3. Land Your First Job

Where to Look

Generally speaking, it’s best to land a full-time position through an internship or an apprenticeship, but you can also apply directly to open positions on various job boards.

Popular sites in the UK include:

Popular sites in the US include:

You should also consider visiting your local educational centres and asking them if there are any openings, as well as checking their websites for new opportunities.

Applying for School Counselling Jobs

To successfully land a job as a school counsellor, you’ll need to ensure that your application grabs the hiring manager’s attention.

This means that you’ll need to craft a professional CV that highlights all your skills, achievements, experience and passion. Make sure to read the job description and incorporate keywords throughout your CV, and don’t forget to attach a well-structured cover letter when sending your application across.

Interviewing for School Counselling Jobs

Interviewing for any job is stressful, so it’s important to always come fully prepared and prepare a few answers to common interview questions.

These can include:

  • What is the role of the school counsellor in relation to teachers, parents, administrators and other counsellors?
  • What influenced you to be a school counsellor?
  • How do you see the word ‘leader’ fitting into your role as a counsellor?
  • What makes you want to work at this particular school?

Don’t forget to prepare your own list of questions, though make sure they are tailored to the educational establishment that you’re applying to work at.


4. Develop Your Career

As a school counsellor, you will typically work in a junior or high school, but if you do want to advance, you can proceed to gain your PhD in psychology and work as a school psychologist. Alternatively, you can work in healthcare, a private clinic or even offer your personal services through video chat.

If you do decide to branch out on your own, it’s best to have at least five years’ experience under your belt so that you’re fully equipped with handling any case that is thrown your way. You may also consider doing both at the same time (if your employer allows it, of course)!

Becoming a school counsellor involves a lot of hard work and dedication, but with the right mindset and passion, you’ll be able to enjoy a long and fulfilling career.

Are you considering pursuing this career? Join the conversation below and let us know what draws you to this exciting and rewarding profession.