Inside School Counselor Careers

Things you need to know, but nobody tells you

Biggest Surprises

"Importance Of Data...
What surprised me the most is how much gathering, analyzing, and desegregating data is part of the job. what surprised me the most is how many cases of child abuse I end up reporting. Much more than I ever anticipated." (School Guidance Counselor; 2014)

Career: 7 years of experience, currently based in Washington, female
School: Studied Guidance Counselor at SPU in Washington; completed Master degree in 2007

"Parental Apathy...
I guess I was most surprised at how little interest parents took in their children's future and college career choices. Most of the parents could not be bothered to come for a visit and get an insight to what their children were considering for a career." (Guidance Counselor; 2013)

Career: 26 years of experience, currently based in Florida, male
School: Studied Guidance Counseling at University Of Wisconsin in Wisconsin; completed Master degree in 1981

"Wide Range Of Activities And Work - Life Balance...
I was surprised that work-life balance was still difficult while working as an advisor for college students. I was also surprised at the amount of additional work I was asked to do. Examples of this include talking to prospective students and parents, recruitment fairs, creating policies and procedures, and more." (Academic Advisor; 2014)

Career: 2 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, female
School: Studied College Student Personnel Administration (Higher Education) at Illinois State University in Illinois; completed Master degree in 2012

"Flexibility Of My Position...
I was surprised at how much I learned in school, I was able to apply at my actual profession. Classes I took on things like assessment and consulting are things I am required to do each day at my job." (School Psychologist; 2014)

Career: 1 years of experience, currently based in Illinois, female
School: Studied School Psychology at The Chicago School Of Professional Psychology in Illinois; completed Master degree in 2012

Best & Worst Things About This Career

Guidance Counselor: "The best part of my job is being about to interact constantly with my students in a variety of settings. I have many opportunities to get to know my students through both formal and informal meetings/interactions. I also enjoy being able to act as a role model for my students and demonstrate positive behavior for them. In addition, I feel as though my job keeps me young. I also enjoy working with a diverse and dynamic guidance department and a terrific staff at the high school. In a nutshell, I have a lot of fun working with students and a great staff on a daily basis. The worst part of the job is that as a guidance counselor, we are asked to take on an increasing amount of administrative tasks (i.e., paperwork). This reduces the amount of time spent with the students. Direct service to the students is why I became a guidance counselor, and since the time with students is being reduced gradually, I am not happy about this part of the job." (2011)

School Counselor - Middle School: "I would say the worst parts of my job can come in a few forms. The first way is that sometimes I have to do boring paperwork that can feel meaningless. Also, we are in charge of changing student's schedules but most of the scheduling is done over the summer. For two years in a row we have come back to school with the schedule not completed or completed incorrectly. In both cases the teachers think that it is the school counselors fault when in reality it is the principal and the summer scheduler's fault. This is very frustrating." (2011)

School Guidance Counselor: "The best part of my job is when I can help students achieve goals. I also like helping students solve personal problems. The worst part of the job is all the paperwork. I have to collect a lot of data and go to a lot of meetings when I'd rather be working with students! Also, it is frustrating when I try to help students and they don't want to try to make things better for themselves." (2011)

College Counselor: "The best part about my career is that I know that I am helping students get through the college application process with less stress. There are a lot of students who come into my office frustrated because they do not understand terms or certain requirements, and I can see the look of relief when I explain. The worst part is that sometimes I cannot spend as much time as I want to with each student because I advise so many." (2011)

Elementary School Counselor: "I enjoy my job tremendously and I never know what my day will be like. Yes, I have a schedule that I follow, but on any given day the schedule can "go out the window" in a second because of an emergency. That is when I see the best and worst in other people, from parents to teachers and other staff members to other students." (2010)

Academic Advisor: "The best parts of the job are working with students and seeing them grow from 18-year-olds who may or may not think they know what they want to do with their lives, into fully independent and confident adults who are on a good career path. The worst parts of the job are the paperwork and feeling like sometimes you just can help a student see what great opportunities they are throwing away by not working hard in school. There are also some days when work is very slow and students are so busy with classes that I don't see anyone. Those can get a little lonely!" (2010)

Elementary School Counselor: "The best part of the job is knowing you are making a difference in the lives of children, giving them the attention they crave, the high-five they need to make themselves feel proud or just the smile to remind them that someone cares about them. The worst part of the job is taking the difficult days or events home with you. There are days when I suspect neglect or abuse when I need to get the Department of Children and Families involved. Those are hard days to deal with." (2010)

School Counselor: "The best aspect of being a high school counselor is helping students plan, implement and achieve academic and career goals. Helping others achieve success is very fulfilling. In my schools, I have also been allowed to coach soccer and lacrosse, and those have both been fun because of the relationships I built with my players. Having a very large caseload of more than 400 students is most frustrating. There is not enough time to give each student the quality contact he deserves. At the end of the day, there is always more to do. Conflict with other educators is stressful and discouraging." (2010)

Academic Advisor: "The best part of my job is helping students reach their goal of completing their educations and graduating from college. Many times students will come back and thank us for the help we provided them along the way and this is a great feeling. I also really enjoy the variety in my job. It does not get boring because each student is individual and the situation can vary so much from one to another. One minute I will be on the phone with a student, the next minute I will be answering an instructor's question at the front desk or doing paperwork for graduation. The variety keeps things lively. The worst part of the job is trying to get answers to specific questions from academic departments. We may have a specific situation and need to inquire about a student and end up waiting several weeks for an answer. This can be frustrating at times because we strive to respond to students in a timely manner and to offer good customer service. The other part of my job that can be difficult is telling a student that a class he needs is full, which can really put a roadblock in the way of his goals." (2010)

School Adjustment Counselor: "The best part of my job is the one-on-one work that I do with students. I like establishing relationships with students over time and addressing issues that they're struggling with. I also like how the school year has a beginning and an end. No matter how tough a school year is, it comes to an end and you have a fresh start the following school year. I have found that the worst part of my job is servicing the growing number of students needing counseling support." (2010)

School Psychologist: "I like that I do different things every day (i.e., test, consult, work on teams, observe students, etc.). I don't like that right now my job is not very flexible and I don't have the opportunity to work part-time. At some points I feel a bit isolated in my job. I am the only person in the school who does this kind of work and there are times when I miss having colleagues to bounce ideas off of or ask questions to." (2010)

Academic Advisor: "The best part of my job is meeting with students and watching them progress through their college careers. It is very inspiring to see freshmen mature and graduate. There are hurdles along the way sometimes, but students usually overcome those and use them as life lessons. Another rewarding part of my job is watching a student who is not sure what path to take find his way and then excel. Although this is a rewarding job, it can sometimes become monotonous. Sometimes I will say the same thing over and over again. This is where I get creative in explaining things to students in different ways to avoid the monotony." (2009)

Career Background

School Counselor

  Job Tasks
  Work Environment
  How to Prepare for the Job
  Job Outlook

Career Tips

"Importance Of Cultural Competency...
If you want to be a successful advisor, you need to take cultural competency seriously. Take the time to learn about other cultures, religions, sexual orientations, and ways of thinking. This will help you when working with a wide variety of students." (Academic Advisor; 2014)

"Actively Engage In School...
If you want to be a successful school psychology, study and really try to understand the class concepts as they will be very helpful when you are in the field. It is also important to gain as much professional experience as you can to be better prepared." (School Psychologist; 2014)

"Observations Are An Important Part Of Guidance Counseling...
If you want to have a successful career in guidance counseling, observe counselors in title one schools where most students and families come from poverty." (School Guidance Counselor; 2014)

"Set Realistic Expectations...
I would suggest you go into the career with your eyes wide open and don't get discouraged when you do not get the cooperation from students, parents and other school faculty you would probably be expecting." (Guidance Counselor; 2013)

"Lead Extracurriculars...
1. Being a guidance counselor is a fun and rewarding job. Consider pursuing this career. The hours and schedule are great, and you can work other part time or summer jobs as well. The pay is not great, but is improving as well. 2. Make sure you have a lot of patience since working with adolescents takes quite a bit of it. 3. Be prepared to take on other roles to supplement A) your professional growth and B) your income. These roles could include club advisors, coaches, group leaders, etc." (Guidance Counselor; 2011)

"Learn Power School Software...
It would be great if you learned a scheduling software program "power school" before you came to work. If you don't have a familiarity with the program your school is using it will be very tough. Once you get a job be sure to ask them about training on the software or at least what they use so that you can be prepared before school starts. Be sure that you are ready to stay after school, engage in study groups as soon as you start a new job. Don't be afraid to ask advice of your fellow counselors. I do it all the time." (School Counselor - Middle School; 2011)

"Presentation Skills Helpful...
You need to like to work with people and to help others. It is a job that has a lot of variety. Each day is different. You don't have to be a teacher first, although it does help to have some experience presenting lessons in front of people. It is good if you are organized and that you handle stress well. Some days can be very stressful. But it is nice having summers off like the teachers do!" (School Guidance Counselor; 2011)

"Volunteer As A Tutor...
It is a very good idea to volunteer at a school, possibly as a tutor so that you can practice explaining concepts and become a bit more patient. It is also a good idea to take some classes like sociology or education policy so that you are aware of what is happening in education, and what the students may have to deal with so that you can be a bit more sensitive to their individual needs." (College Counselor; 2011)

"Build Positive Relationships To Succeed...
You have to have a passion for children to do this job. You really have to love them and let them know that you care. If you don't, they will know it immediately and you will never be able to build a relationship with any of them. And it is all about being able to build and maintain relationships with people. Learn those skills and you'll be set for this career. You also ought to be flexible and able to accommodate many individuals at the same time." (Elementary School Counselor; 2010)

"Ed Degree Helps...
Take courses in psychology, educational psychology, and college student development. Work on your interpersonal communication skills. A degree in education definitely helps. It also is important to have a background in the field in which you are advising. Having some knowledge of the courses based on first-hand experience makes a huge difference." (Academic Advisor; 2010)

"Guidance Or Adjustment Counselor...
1. You need to have your master's in order to be hired as a school counselor. My suggestion is to enter grad school as soon as you can after undergrad. 2. Take as many education and teaching courses as you can so you have classroom management experience. This will help you when you are asked to address a classroom. 3. Seriously consider whether you want to be a guidance counselor or an adjustment counselor. Many districts look at the role differently and will not hire you unless you have the specific certification they are looking for." (Elementary School Counselor; 2010)

"Key Skills For School Counselors...
People interested in becoming high school counselors need to be able to interact with and have respect for all types of people. They also need to be good students because of the requirement in most school districts for school counselors to complete graduate level programs. Prospective counselors need to be able to listen well, to solve problems, to work as part of a team, to plan and organize, to manage multiple tasks and to work with computers. Last but not least, potential school counselors need to have a good sense of humor." (School Counselor; 2010)

"Master's Makes You More Marketable...
Get your master's degree in either Counseling or Higher Education Administration. A master's degree would make you more marketable in this field. I would also encourage you to do an internship in an academic setting. The more exposure you can get to college and academic settings, the more prepared you will feel to do this kind of work. I find that participating in an internship and the "world of work" is a great way for students to take that step from the classroom to real life and real world experience." (Academic Advisor; 2010)

"Take A Class Management Course...
1. During your internship, try to experience all the different levels (elementary, middle and high school) so that you can figure out which level best suits you. 2. If it is not part of your requirements, it would be advantageous to take a class that has to do with teaching or classroom management skills since you may be asked to teach classroom lessons on various social or emotional issues. 3. Research what schools' expectations are for your job and what you want to do. Some schools have adjustment counselors work with students and in others they serve as facilitators and run meetings." (School Adjustment Counselor; 2010)

"Take Stats...
It is helpful to volunteer or work with children or adults with special needs. Look for summer opportunities such as working at a camp for children with special needs. I would also recommend working on a research study to get experience with data management and statistics. Take statistics as an undergraduate." (School Psychologist; 2010)

"Master's Preferred...
Pay attention to academic procedures while you are a college student. This will be helpful if you become an academic advisor. A position in higher education such as this requires at least an undergraduate degree. But a master's degree is preferable." (Academic Advisor; 2009)