Home page

Residential Counselors

At a Glance

  • Work at boarding schools, college dorms, and care and treatment facilities
  • May work with residents who have physical, emotional, or mental problems
  • Are responsible for the health and safety of residents
  • May work evenings and weekends
  • Train on the job
  • Need to pass a background check

Career summary

Residential counselors care for the people who live in their building. They may also maintain the building.

Residential counselors may also be called residential advisors, residence life coordinators, or residence directors.

Residential counselors support residents. They help with personal problems or problems with other residents. They plan activities for residents, such as:

Residential counselors may work at:

Residential counselors may also work at care and treatment facilities. Most facilities specialize in one age group, such as adults or teenagers. Residential counselors may work with emotionally disturbed children or teenagers who have committed minor crimes or residents who have developmental disabilities.

Residential counselors work with health care staff and family members to understand residents' needs and background. They help set goals for clients to achieve. They help their clients to be as independent as possible. They teach skills in basic grooming and housekeeping.

Some counselors monitor the physical needs of residents. They make sure residents are taking their medications. They set up medical appointments and escort residents to them if they notice problems. They keep daily records of residents' activities.

Counselors may also have maintenance duties. They may hire and supervise people who clean the house. They may plan menus and do grocery shopping. Other duties include:

Related careers

This career is part of the Human Services cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to residential counselors.

Common work activities

Residential counselors perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, residential counselors:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Residential counselors frequently:

It is important for residential counselors to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for residential counselors to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Residential counselors need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study to consider


To work as a residential counselor, you typically need to:

Education after high school

The training required varies by type of facility and resident. Some counselors provide only basic supervision and do not need special training or qualifications. Others teach residents correct behaviors, supervise other workers, and prepare reports. These counselors need specialized training and qualifications.

While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement, many residential counselors have some college or a bachelor's degree. It is more common for residential counselors in certain settings to have master's degrees.

Recommended areas of study include social work, human services, psychology, and sociology. Community colleges and universities offer degrees in these areas.

Work experience

Experience as a camp counselor is good background for this occupation.

On-the-job training

New counselors receive training on the job. As a new counselor you learn to observe patients and record information. You also learn to conduct patient interviews, and follow treatment plans. In addition, you learn to perform crisis intervention and use proper case management methods. Training typically lasts up to one month.

Employers in this field tend to offer seminars and workshops for all employees to improve their skills.

Military training

The military trains people to work as caseworkers and counselors. This training lasts from eight to ten weeks. Further training occurs on the job and through advanced courses.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Many employers look for residential counselors who have related work experience or education beyond high school. A bachelor's degree is not required for this field. However, counselors who have more education are usually given more responsibility. Some employers now seek those with master's degrees.

Employers who hire counselors for group homes have more requirements. They may require applicants to pass a criminal background check and drug-screening test. They may also require applicants to have a driver's license.

Employers look for people who have good communication skills and a strong sense of responsibility. They also look for people who are able to manage time and complete multiple tasks. Residential counselors must be patient, understanding, and have a strong desire to help others.

Many employers require current CPR and first aid certification. Training or experience as a nursing assistant can be helpful for some jobs. Some counselor positions require workers to have a valid state driver's license.

#State juvenile rehabilitation counselor job requires driver's license, 4/11/11, cj.


Conduct an informational interview with a counselor at a group home to see if you would like this type of work.

Costs to workers

Residential counselors may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.


Some employers require workers to be registered with the State of Washington as an agency affiliated counselor. Affiliated counselors can only provide counseling for an approved agency such as a university or community college. To become registered, they are required to answer personal data questions and complete four hours of HIV/AIDS training. However, registration is not a state requirement.

For more information on registration, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Health Systems Quality Assurance
Agency Affiliated Counselor Program (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504

#Added statement regarding registration requirements & updated fees, 3/18/19 cj. 2/11/20

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


The minimum wage for Washington State as of January 1, 2020 is $13.50 per hour. Some areas of the state may have a higher minimum wage.

Residential advisors (SOC 39-9041)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $12.02 $13.03 $15.21 $18.15 $22.26
Monthly $2,083 $2,258 $2,636 $3,145 $3,858
Yearly $25,000 $27,110 $31,650 $37,740 $46,300
    Bellingham Hourly $13.21 $14.44 $16.98 $19.59 $22.90
Monthly $2,289 $2,502 $2,943 $3,395 $3,969
Yearly $27,485 $30,043 $35,305 $40,749 $47,634
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $12.03 $12.26 $12.63 $14.25 $16.94
Monthly $2,085 $2,125 $2,189 $2,470 $2,936
Yearly $25,027 $25,502 $26,270 $29,644 $35,223
    Longview Hourly $12.01 $12.40 $14.21 $17.20 $19.00
Monthly $2,081 $2,149 $2,463 $2,981 $3,293
Yearly $24,995 $25,786 $29,560 $35,780 $39,515
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $12.04 $14.03 $17.25 $21.38 $25.03
Monthly $2,087 $2,431 $2,989 $3,705 $4,338
Yearly $25,054 $29,184 $35,873 $44,480 $52,060
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $13.12 $14.51 $16.65 $19.37 $24.48
Monthly $2,274 $2,515 $2,885 $3,357 $4,242
Yearly $27,278 $30,191 $34,629 $40,299 $50,920
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $12.12 $12.49 $13.71 $16.12 $19.68
Monthly $2,100 $2,165 $2,376 $2,794 $3,411
Yearly $25,209 $25,984 $28,505 $33,524 $40,933
    Vancouver Hourly $11.90 $13.75 $16.97 $19.58 $22.98
Monthly $2,062 $2,383 $2,941 $3,393 $3,982
Yearly $24,745 $28,586 $35,286 $40,717 $47,804
    Wenatchee Hourly $12.10 $12.42 $12.96 $15.12 $18.04
Monthly $2,097 $2,152 $2,246 $2,620 $3,126
Yearly $25,158 $25,833 $26,957 $31,453 $37,535
    Yakima Hourly $13.32 $16.03 $18.95 $22.13 $24.25
Monthly $2,308 $2,778 $3,284 $3,835 $4,203
Yearly $27,725 $33,328 $39,417 $46,031 $50,450
United States Hourly $9.36 $10.96 $13.39 $16.79 $21.20
Monthly $1,622 $1,899 $2,320 $2,910 $3,674
Yearly $19,470 $22,800 $27,860 $34,930 $44,100

Pay varies by the counselor's level of experience and training. Pay also varies by employer. Private agencies tend to pay more than not-for-profit agencies.

Residential counselors who work full time usually receive benefits. Social service agencies may not be able to pay well, but they sometimes make up for it with benefits. Benefits may include tuition assistance and generous vacation plans. They also may include health and dental insurance, sick leave, and paid vacation. Some employers also provide retirement plans.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Residential Advisors (SOC 39-9041)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 1,661 22.4% 16.1% 380
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 19 21.1% 13.4% 4
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 58 20.7% 8.6% 12
    Benton and Franklin Counties 14 50.0% 15.0% 4
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 280 22.1% 11.9% 64
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 60 26.7% 15.2% 14
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 37 21.6% 14.1% 8
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 73 21.9% 14.6% 17
    King County 597 19.1% 19.6% 131
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 32 12.5% 13.8% 6
    Pierce County 212 21.2% 15.2% 48
    Snohomish County 79 27.8% 12.4% 19
    Spokane County 194 26.8% 13.9% 47
United States 115,800 11.9% 5.2% 20,000

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will remain strong. Factors such as the increase in the aging population mean that residential counselors will be needed for group homes and assisted-care centers. Increases in other types of treatment facilities such as drug and alcohol centers will also increase demand.

Job openings occur as people leave this occupation. The work can be emotionally draining and the pay is low. 

Other resources

American Counseling Association (external link)
6101 Stevenson Avenue, Suite 600
Alexandria, VA 22304
NASPA-Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (external link)
111 K Street NE, 10th Floor
Washington, DC 20002


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupation

Holland occupational cluster