School Counselor – Career, Salary & State Licensure

The role of school counselors has grown to include teaching socio-emotional development, developing school-wide plans for academic achievement, assisting students with navigating how to pay for college, and conducting workshops for students and educators on pertinent issues such as bullying or substance abuse. Their entire purpose in a school is to help students succeed.

Not to be confused with college admissions counselors (who help students gain admission to a college or university and are not licensed), school counselors are licensed through state boards of education and have met stringent education and testing requirements. Graduate-level coursework is required in all states and many states require school counselors to have earned a master’s degree. Required tests can include the Praxis II School Counseling and Guidance exams, state content exams, or state jurisprudence exams.

Job prospects for school counselors are on an upward trend, with an estimated 8 percent increase in jobs in this field nationally between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019). The average annual salary for a school counselor is $61,000 per year.

Continue reading to learn what it takes to join this rewarding career, as well as to discover state licensure or certification requirements.

How to Become a School Counselor

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Obtain a GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or obtaining a GED is the first step towards becoming a school counselor. Students who wish to pursue this career should focus on classes such as psychology, child development, leadership, English, and social science.

If there are opportunities to volunteer in school counseling centers, students should take advantage of them to gain valuable insight into this career.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelors’ Degree (Four Years)

Earning a bachelor’s degree is the next step to becoming a school counselor. Typical majors for prospective school counselors include education, counseling, psychology, social work, and sociology. Many states require students to complete approved or accredited programs, so students should research their state standards early on to make sure their program meets the requirements.

Step 3: Obtain a Graduate Credits or an Advanced Degree (One to Three years)

Most states require prospective school counselors to complete a master’s degree or obtain some graduate-level credits. It is typical for states to require students to complete approved school counselor programs in order to obtain certification or licensure, so students should check that their program meets the requirements.

Often. a practicum or internship is included as part of a program, which gives students valuable work experience. Students should ensure the program they attend is at least regionally accredited, as that is a requirement in most states.

Step 4: Pass Required Examinations (Timeline Varies)

Passing an exam for a school counselor certification or licenses is common in most states. The most common exam required is the Praxis II School Counseling and Guidance. Each state has its own cut-off score for the exam Some states require applicants to pass basic knowledge exams, state-issued subject matter exams, or a jurisprudence exam, as well.

Step 5: Apply for a Certification or License (Timeline Varies)

Once testing and education requirements are met, prospective school counselors can apply for a license or certification from their state board of education. Typically there are extensive documentation requirements, including official transcripts, notarized applications, letters of recommendation, and official test scores. Many states charge application, licensing, or certification fees. It can take several weeks to a month or more to process an application, so prospective counselors should plan accordingly when it comes to seeking employment.

Step 6: Maintain (or Advance) Professional Certification or License (Ongoing)

Most school counselor licenses or certifications issued are initial, interim, or provisional. Some of these licenses may be renewed, although there are many that require school counselors to advance to a professional or permanent credential prior to expiration. Advancing a certification or license often requires proof of work experience. Sometimes advancement requires testing or obtaining a national certification. There are continuing education requirements for license and certificate renewal in most states.

The steps toward becoming a school counselor vary by state. All state school counselor license and certification requirements are listed below.

What Do School Counselors Do?

School counselors work predominantly in public or private schools and are employed at all grade levels. Some school counselors are self-employed and act as consultants to families and schools. Others might work at government agencies or in district offices.

While job duties vary based on place of employment, typical day to day responsibilities include:

  • Providing lessons, guidance, and counseling to help students develop socio-emotional skills
  • Offering workshops to teachers, administrators, and students about bullying, planning for college, substance abuse, choosing a career, or other topics
  • Assembling resources for students, including social services, scholarships, vocational training, and more
  • Teaching skills such as study habits, organization, and time management
  • Developing a comprehensive school-wide program that addresses the unique school’s population needs
  • Evaluating issues that affect student’s school performance and developing plans to help students succeed such as improving attendance or providing access to basic necessities such as food, laundry, and showers
  • Helping students set college or career goals
  • Acting as a mandatory reporter
  • Referring students to outside resources if they need additional support
  • Maintaining student records

How Much Do School Counselors Make?

Wages for school counselors vary based on education completed, employer, and location of employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019), education, guidance, and career counselors earn $61,000 per year on average. The percentiles for wages were:

  • 10th percentile: $34,380
  • 25th percentile: $44,010
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,040
  • 75th percentile: $74,430
  • 90th percentile: $96,090

School Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA)
  • The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC)
  • National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
  • The College Board
  • International School Counselor Association (ISCA)
  • School Counselor Connection from the American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Center for School Counseling Outcome Research & Evaluation (CSCORE)

Licensing & Certification Requirements By State for School Counselors

State Licensing Authority Eligibility & Details Renewal Requirements
Alabama Alabama State Department of Education

There are three primary methods of obtaining certification as a school counselor in Alabama.

The first is through an Interim Employment Certificate (IEC). Prospective counselors who hold an Alabama Professional Educator or Professional Leadership Certificate may apply through this route. The IEC eligibility requirements of this pathway include:

  • An FBI background check
  • Unconditional enrollment in a CACREP-accredited program
  • A work assignment and a mentor
  • A completed application
  • $30 application fee
  • Passing score on relevant Praxis exams

Once the degree program has been completed while holding an IEC and the candidate has passed the NEC exam, they will be issued a certification as a school counselor.

The second path is for those who already hold a degree from a CACREP-accredited program. These candidates must:

  • Submit a complete application
  • Pay $30 application fee
  • Provide official transcripts demonstrating a master’s degree or higher in school counseling from a CACREP-accredited program
  • Pass an FBI background check
  • Pass the NCE exam
  • Pass the relevant Praxis exams

The third path is for candidates who hold a School Counseling National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) certificate. These applicants must:

  • Hold the Early Childhood through Young Adulthood School Counseling certificate and provide verification
  • Submit a complete application
  • Pay $30 application fee
  • Provide official transcripts demonstrating a master’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited institution
  • Pass an FBI background check
  • Two years of full-time work experience as a school counselor
  • Pass the relevant Praxis exams

IECs are valid for one year. To renew candidates must provide proof of working towards degree completion, submit an application, and pay a $30 renewal fee.

All other teaching licenses issued in Alabama are valid for five years. To renew, counselors must complete a renewal application, pay a $30 application fee, and meet one of the following requirements:

  • Three years of full-time professional educational work experience and 50 hours of allowable professional development
  • Three years of full-time professional educational work experience and three semester hours of allowable credit
  • Three semester hours of allowable credit and 50 hours of allowable professional development
  • Six semester hours of allowable credit
  • 100 hours of allowable professional development
  • Earn a Certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about counseling careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.