Everything you need to know about getting your masters in school counseling

As we head further into 2021 and the COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins to show us that there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, you may well be thinking about your current career and whether you want to take the opportunity to retrain in a new area this year. These days going back to college to study something new is easier than ever thanks to the availability of online learning and flexible study options, plus the number of subjects we have to choose from is ever-growing. So if you already have an undergraduate degree, this year could be the perfect time to start studying for a masters program.

The next question, of course, is what field to study in. There are a wealth of fascinating subjects out there, but if you’re hoping to find a career that will enable you to help transform young people’s lives, then a masters in school counseling could be a perfect choice. Not only is it an interesting area to get qualified in, but it can also lead you to a stable and fulfilling job role.

In this article, we’ll cover what exactly the role of a school counselor involves and how to become one, as well as go into more detail about what studying for a masters in school counseling is like. Hopefully, this should help you decide whether this is the right career path for you. If you decide that it is, there’s also some information at the end about the next steps to take.

What is a school counselor?

A school counselor is a person who works closely with students of all ages, from elementary school all the way up to college level, to offer guidance and support through what can sometimes be a tricky time in their lives. This assistance can make a huge difference to the young people in your care and falls into a number of different areas that each have their own unique challenges.

For example:

Academic support

  • Working alongside students to help them find out what their particular strengths are, where their interests lie, and what their future aspirations are in order to assist them in picking the most appropriate classes to take
  • Evaluating students’ skills and abilities using a variety of assessment methods
  • Supporting those students who are struggling with their academic work, for instance, by working with them to develop better study habits
  • Talking with students about setting realistic academic goals and then developing a plan together to help them achieve those goals
  • Helping older students with college and scholarship applications and advice

Career guidance

  • Advising older students on what career options there are open to them, helping them to figure out what their job goals are, and offering suggestions on how best to achieve them
  • Assisting students as they write resumes and submit job applications
  • Working with students to develop important life skills for their future employment and life more generally, such as organization and time management

Emotional support

  • Supporting students who are experiencing difficulties with social issues at school, for example, bullying
  • Assisting students who are suffering from mental health issues, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and eating disorders
  • Having an open-door policy so that students can come and talk to you at any time about any worries, concerns, or problems they are having
  • Mediating conflicts between teachers and students
  • Always being vigilant for signs of neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol misuse, and other similar concerns, and reporting these where necessary

There is also a certain amount of administrative work involved in the job, such as:

  • Keeping student records and other types of paperwork accurate and up to date
  • Evaluating and offering suggestions on school services and policies
  • Liaising with the parents and guardians of the students you work with and giving them advice on how they can help their child to succeed
  • Referring students and families to other professionals or resources as and when appropriate

When studying for your masters in school counseling, you will learn about each of these areas in much more detail and other aspects of the role that we haven’t covered, but as you can see, the position is a very varied one. The exact responsibilities you have and tasks that you will undertake will be different depending on the age group you work with in order to match their specific needs at that stage of their life and academic development. Of course, working with elementary school children will be worlds apart from working with college students, but the role will always involve helping each individual in your care to achieve their full potential and have the best possible educational experience.

How do I become a school counselor?

In order to become a school counselor, you will first need a bachelor’s degree. It doesn’t matter which subject this is in, although you might find that fields such as psychology, sociology, education, and counseling are among the most useful in terms of their relevance to school counseling. After that, you will need to get your masters in school counseling, as, in most states, this is a necessary requirement if you wish to become a fully licensed school counselor.

A masters in school counseling will provide you with all the specialist training and knowledge required to do the job well (see below for more information on exactly what kind of topics you might cover). The program normally takes two or three years if you complete it on a full-time basis and three or four if you complete it on a part-time basis. Likewise, you also have the choice between traditional courses held on campus and those that can be taken mostly online. As long as the relevant organizations accredit the program you choose, it doesn’t matter which type of course you enroll on – neither is better than the other, so you can opt for the style of learning that best suits your preferences and personal circumstances.

Once you have graduated from your masters in school counseling, you will be required to undertake a certain number of supervised internship hours. This will be done in a real-world setting, under the tutelage of a certified school counselor. After that, there will be further requirements that are specific to each state that you will have to fulfill before you can take up employment. Usually, this will involve having a background check and passing an examination.

What does studying for a masters in school counseling involve?

The exact curriculum of your masters in school counseling will vary according to the institution that you study with but will always consist of a series of compulsory and optional modules that cover a broad range of relevant topics. Each one will likely involve regular reading and assignments to complete, and you’ll also take part in a number of mock counseling sessions with others in your cohort in order to gain experience and receive valuable feedback.

The following list gives you an idea of the sort of modules you can expect to take on your program:

  • Group counseling
  • Theories of counseling
  • Principles of school counseling
  • Roles and responsibilities of a school counselor
  • Counseling techniques
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Foundations of education
  • Child and adolescent counseling
  • Management of school counseling programs
  • Interventions for school counseling
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Psychological testing
  • Educational assessment and intervention
  • Developmental psychology
  • Theories of personality
  • Biological bases of behavior
  • Play therapy
  • Impact of psychosocial issues on learning
  • Ethical and legal issues in school counseling
  • Academic and career counseling
  • Crisis, trauma, and disaster response
  • Mental health and substance use
  • Counseling families
  • Introduction to special education and learning disabilities

In addition to these classroom-based modules, you will also complete residencies or internships in a real-world setting in order to get crucial hands-on experience in a school or college. If you take your masters in school counseling online, these can normally be arranged near to where you live rather than near to your college. For those who have existing career or family commitments, this can be a convenient choice as it enables you to study in a more flexible manner and with an institution anywhere in the country.

What are the next steps if I want to enroll in a masters in school counseling?

Hopefully, reading this article has sparked your interest in taking a masters in school counseling degree, and you’re now eager to find out how to get started. First, spend some time researching the many programs offered by different colleges to narrow it down to a few that you would be happiest to enroll on. Some of the factors to consider when doing so are:

  • The specific modules the program offers
  • Whether you want to study on a full time or part-time basis
  • Whether you want to study online or on-campus
  • If you want to study on campus, the location of the institution
  • What the entry requirements are and whether you need to do anything extra to meet them
  • The reputation of the course and the college more widely
  • Whether the program is accredited
  • The college culture and department culture

After you’ve made your choices, it will be time to start putting together your applications. Make sure to read all the information carefully and gather together all the materials that you will need before you begin. This could include academic or professional references, your resume, certificates and transcripts from your previous studies, and GRE or GMAT scores.

You might also be required to write a personal statement or essay about your reasons for wanting to do a masters in school counseling. This is a key part of your application and provides an opportunity for you to stand out and catch the attention of the admissions tutors. You want to show that you are passionate about both the course itself and the career it will lead to; in other words, show that you genuinely care about supporting and guiding students and advocating for their wellbeing. Another tip is to demonstrate that you are well suited to the academic challenges the course presents, so the college can be confident you won’t drop out if they offer you a place.

Make sure that you proofread everything carefully before submitting your applications, and keep a close eye on the deadlines for doing so. At this point, you’ll also want to be looking at financial aid options, if relevant, and any scholarships available that you might want to apply to. These often have early deadlines, so be sure to act quickly to maximize your chances of success.

How can I prepare for taking a masters in school counseling?

Once you’ve received the good news that you have been accepted into a masters in school counseling program, there are several actions you can take to help you to get ready for the start of the semester. Firstly you can ask your college for a copy of the introductory reading list in advance, or even just some article or book recommendations for an overview of the subject, so that you can have a head start on what you will be learning.

If it has been a while since you’ve been in formal education, you could try signing up to a relevant evening class close to home to get back in the swing of being in a classroom and completing assignments. Likewise, suppose you are planning to study for your masters in school counseling online. In that case, you could enroll in a short online course – many of which are free these days – in a relevant topic to get used to how online learning works and some of the technology you might be using.

Finally, if possible, try to make connections with some of the people you will be studying with. Some colleges set up Facebook groups or similar virtual spaces for students to get to know others in their cohort before the semester begins. That way your first day won’t seem quite so intimidating, because you will already have made some friends. Good luck!