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School Counselors

At a Glance

  • Help students with personal and emotional issues
  • Help students learn about schools and jobs
  • Regularly interact with people
  • May work nine months during the school year and have summers off
  • Have a master's degree and are certified

Career summary

School counselors help students learn about career and education choices. They also counsel students about personal problems.

Elementary, middle, and high school counselors help students deal with personal and social problems. They work with students individually or in small groups.

Counselors also advise students about:

School counselors meet with faculty and staff to explain available counseling services. They attend professional meetings, educational conferences, and teacher training workshops.

Counselors identify and report possible cases of neglect or abuse. They meet with parents, teachers, and school administrators. They counsel students and teach classes on dealing with anger and bullying. They also provide information on drug and alcohol prevention.

High school career counselors run career centers and provide information about colleges and training programs. They talk with students about their goals for the future. Sometimes they give students tests to get more information about their interests and abilities. Counselors review school records to make sure students are taking classes they need to graduate and meet their goals.

Related careers

This career is part of the Education and Training cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to school counselors.

Common work activities

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

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, school counselors:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

School counselors frequently:

It is important for school counselors to be able to:

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

Skills and abilities

School 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 directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a school counselor, you must:

Education after high school

Most school counselors have a master's degree in counseling, education, or a related field. You may specialize in college student affairs, school counseling, education, or career counseling. You typically take courses in human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, and relationships. Additional courses include working in groups, career development, and assessment.

Some colleges offer training in career and vocational counseling beyond the master's level. These advanced studies are often called Certificate of Advanced Study or Advanced Graduate Specialist programs.

Most graduate programs require completion of a supervised work experience or internship.

On-the-job training

Some employers train new counselors in testing and interviewing techniques.

School counselors attend classes and seminars each year to update their skills and knowledge. School counselors must complete a certain number of continuing education hours each year. This allows them to remain certified as a school counselor or maintain a professional license.

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

Most employers require a master's degree in counseling, education, or a related field. All states require school counselors to be certified as counselors. Some schools require counselors to have a teaching license.

Applicants must have good communication skills and a strong desire to help others. Some employers prefer applicants who are certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Some employers look for school counselors who speak languages other than English.

Additional requirements for school counselor positions vary according to each school district. One to three years of successful teaching experience is preferred by some. School districts often encourage their own teachers to go to school to obtain a counseling degree and then transfer to this occupation. Dual certification as a school psychologist and counselor is desired for some elementary school counselor's positions. Most community colleges look for applicants with a master's degree in an appropriate field and experience counseling at the college level. Employers look for evidence of good moral character and people with no convictions for crimes. They look for counselors who can work as part of a team, conduct classroom presentations, student activities, and work well with parents and community groups.

Counselors may take jobs as teachers in the school system where they are interested in working and later move into counseling positions. This entry route can also help counselors understand issues from a teacher's point of view. With additional education, a counselor in another counseling area may become a school counselor. Some employers hire workers who meet state certification requirements but have gained their counseling experience and skills outside the public school system.


Become a college dormitory director or assistant. Volunteer at a school, local mental health association, woman's shelter, programs for the disabled, hospital, or day care center. Join a peer-helper class or serve as a teacher's aide. Fluency in a second language, particularly Spanish or an Asian language, may improve chances in some districts. Vocational certification may be beneficial. Expertise in group work with parents or students is helpful. Be prepared to design your own counseling program that will best fit the needs of your employer and your students. Keep other areas of your life as stress free as possible.

Costs to workers

Workers may want to join a professional association, which may have annual dues.


School counselors who work in elementary and secondary schools must be certified by the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction as an Educational Staff Associate (ESA). There are two levels of certification. The first level is residency. Residency certification requirements include:

The residency certificate is undated when first issued. After two years of employment as a school counselor, the certificate becomes valid for five years.

The second or advanced level is professional certification. Requirements include:

Counselors who do not already have a valid Washington teaching certificate must go through a background check which includes digital fingerprinting. Digital fingerprints can be obtained at one of nine Educational Service District (ESD) offices. There is a main processing fee and each ESD may also charge a processing fee. Fingerprints can also be obtained from private fingerprinting services or law enforcement agencies for an additional fee and submitted to Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. The processing fee is the same. Employers may require an additional background check.

For information on state certification, contact:

Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction
Professional Education and Certification (external link)

PO Box 47200
Olympia, WA 98504-7200


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).


Salaries vary with Washington school districts, but full-time counselors in public schools are paid an average base salary of $57,834 per year.

#Updated OSPI info from 2011-12 rpt 4/30/13 cj. Updated from annual OSPI rpt 3/30/15 cj. 4/11/16 lh. 4/3/17, 3/18/19 cj.

Educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors (SOC 21-1012)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $21.16 $25.67 $30.53 $36.55 $41.23
Monthly $3,667 $4,449 $5,291 $6,334 $7,145
Yearly $44,010 $53,390 $63,500 $76,030 $85,750
    Bellingham Hourly $19.89 $23.58 $29.36 $35.43 $39.21
Monthly $3,447 $4,086 $5,088 $6,140 $6,795
Yearly $41,367 $49,052 $61,081 $73,676 $81,569
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $26.93 $31.05 $35.74 $40.26 $46.44
Monthly $4,667 $5,381 $6,194 $6,977 $8,048
Yearly $56,017 $64,595 $74,339 $83,731 $96,599
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $16.01 $16.69 $19.12 $28.71 $36.01
Monthly $2,775 $2,892 $3,313 $4,975 $6,241
Yearly $33,315 $34,701 $39,756 $59,715 $74,894
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $24.89 $28.20 $33.24 $38.22 $41.99
Monthly $4,313 $4,887 $5,760 $6,624 $7,277
Yearly $51,758 $58,669 $69,127 $79,506 $87,346
    Longview Hourly $25.99 $28.24 $32.47 $38.11 $44.18
Monthly $4,504 $4,894 $5,627 $6,604 $7,656
Yearly $54,071 $58,743 $67,525 $79,278 $91,891
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $25.58 $28.19 $32.42 $36.90 $39.59
Monthly $4,433 $4,885 $5,618 $6,395 $6,861
Yearly $53,204 $58,636 $67,443 $76,753 $82,338
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $21.73 $26.96 $31.79 $37.35 $41.06
Monthly $3,766 $4,672 $5,509 $6,473 $7,116
Yearly $45,202 $56,070 $66,142 $77,677 $85,402
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $21.42 $26.02 $30.70 $36.97 $41.97
Monthly $3,712 $4,509 $5,320 $6,407 $7,273
Yearly $44,539 $54,107 $63,852 $76,894 $87,286
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $24.09 $27.69 $32.68 $38.38 $43.99
Monthly $4,175 $4,799 $5,663 $6,651 $7,623
Yearly $50,102 $57,602 $67,963 $79,830 $91,497
    Vancouver Hourly $18.73 $23.01 $29.96 $39.01 $51.14
Monthly $3,246 $3,988 $5,192 $6,760 $8,863
Yearly $38,960 $47,875 $62,327 $81,139 $106,367
    Walla Walla Hourly $17.01 $20.55 $24.92 $34.10 $39.51
Monthly $2,948 $3,561 $4,319 $5,910 $6,847
Yearly $35,394 $42,743 $51,817 $70,930 $82,174
    Wenatchee Hourly $20.41 $23.63 $29.87 $36.22 $39.79
Monthly $3,537 $4,095 $5,176 $6,277 $6,896
Yearly $42,452 $49,167 $62,136 $75,332 $82,762
    Yakima Hourly $20.39 $24.57 $32.62 $38.69 $45.08
Monthly $3,534 $4,258 $5,653 $6,705 $7,812
Yearly $42,401 $51,106 $67,851 $80,483 $93,776
United States Hourly $16.16 $20.77 $27.07 $35.45 $45.52
Monthly $2,801 $3,599 $4,691 $6,143 $7,889
Yearly $33,610 $43,210 $56,310 $73,740 $94,690

School counselors can earn additional income by working summers in the school system or in other jobs.

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. Elementary and high school counselors generally earn higher wages than those who work at colleges and universities.

School counselors who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

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.

Educational, Vocational, and School Counselors (SOC 21-1012)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 5,879 18.9% 16.1% 879
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 215 19.1% 13.4% 32
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 351 6.0% 8.6% 41
    Benton and Franklin Counties 222 20.7% 15.0% 34
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 171 14.0% 11.9% 23
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 495 20.6% 15.2% 76
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 343 20.7% 14.1% 53
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 363 20.9% 14.6% 56
    King County 2,045 21.3% 19.6% 318
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 289 20.8% 13.8% 44
    Pierce County 595 19.5% 15.2% 90
    Snohomish County 334 21.9% 12.4% 53
    Spokane County 503 10.5% 13.9% 65
United States 324,500 8.4% 5.2% 37,300

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is growing steadily. The number of students in school is expected to increase. This will create a greater demand for counselors. In addition, the number of duties counselors have is growing. However, growth in this occupation will be limited by school budgets. Counseling programs are some of the first items that are reduced when budgets are cut.

Other resources

American Counseling Association (external link)
6101 Stevenson Avenue, Suite 600
Alexandria, VA 22304
American School Counselor Association (external link)
1101 King Street, Suite 310
Alexandria, VA 22314
National Career Development Association (external link)
305 North Beech Circle
Broken Arrow, OK 74012
Washington School Counselor Association (external link)
Women's Studies/Women's Issues Resource Sites (external link)
This site contains several different areas of women's studies. It also contains links to women's studies programs worldwide.


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational clusters