Become a College Counselor – Education & Licensure Guide

“If you’re considering a career as a college counselor, it’s essential to equip yourself with relevant experience. This can be acquired through counseling or advising, such as participating in peer counseling programs during your college years. Another avenue is to seek out a practicum in higher education as part of your counseling graduate program.”

Grace Huntley, Licensed Mental Health Counselor

College counselors are essential in preparing students for their college career and post-college work lives. Counselors can do many types of work within the broad career field of college counseling.

The term “college counselor” can refer to professionals who work in admissions, college career services, or academic advising within a particular college or school of the university. This type of college counselor works with students who have mostly decided on a career path and need help ensuring that they are making good decisions to complete their degree effectively and on time.

College counselors can also work in placement counseling, which helps students navigate the college selection, admissions, and readiness process. They sometimes travel to high schools to recruit prospective students or represent the school at career fairs or educational events.

The term “college” is broad, including four-year colleges and universities, two-year colleges, technical and vocational schools, apprenticeships, and even military service. Advising on any sort of job training, whether a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, PhD, or license or certificate, could be considered part of college counseling. In whichever role they play, a college counselor helps prospective students or current students through some of the most important decisions they will make regarding their careers and future earning potential.

College enrollment has increased considerably over the past 20 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, full-time college enrollment increased by 45 percent, and part-time enrollment increased by 27 percent between 2000 and 2010. Between 2010 and 2021, full-time and part-time enrollments decreased by 17 and 10 percent, respectively. However, between 2021 and 2031, enrollments are expected to increase again by 8 and 10 percent, respectively. This continued increase in students will sustain the demand for college counselors.

College counselors and guidance counselors have significant overlap but some distinct differences in their job expectations. A college counselor’s responsibilities focus primarily on preparing students for the academic side of the school experience and the next steps leading to and successfully finishing a degree or job training program. A guidance counselor can help with academics, but their time is also spent supporting the students through emotional difficulties to help them achieve a foundation for success in their general life.

Discover how to become a college counselor, including guides to the typical education, professional licensure, and salaries in this growing career.

Meet the Expert: Grace Huntley, LMHC

Grace Huntley is a transracial, transnational adoptee, therapist, and private practice owner. She provides telehealth counseling services in NY, CA, WA, and FL to BIPOC individuals in their twenties and thirties who identify as overachievers, people-pleasers, conflict avoiders, and anxious attachers. 

Huntley has a professional background in higher education, communications, and nonprofits. She enjoys checking out up-and-coming restaurants, reading or re-reading YA novels, or binge-watching shows in her free time. What is something many people don’t know about the college counselor profession?

Huntley: When I embarked on my journey as a career counselor for several universities in NYC, I was captivated by the diverse range of functions my role entailed. The world of higher education demands a versatile skill set encompassing event management, communications, administration, and programming. This often translates to a flexible work schedule, with the potential for evening or weekend commitments. The dynamic nature of this profession, while challenging, is also incredibly rewarding.

Additionally, unlike in a private practice, where you usually settle into a niche demographic, working in a university means you need to be adept at pivoting to support a diverse array of needs, personalities, and learning styles. What is one piece of advice you would give to a prospective college counselor?

Huntley: If you’re considering a career as a college counselor, it’s essential to equip yourself with relevant experience. This can be acquired through counseling or advising, such as participating in peer counseling programs during your college years. Another avenue is to seek out a practicum in higher education as part of your counseling graduate program. Lastly, gaining experience working with teens or young adults can significantly enhance your candidacy. These experiences not only make you a more attractive candidate but also instill in you the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in this profession, leaving you feeling prepared and confident.

During the interview process, it’s crucial to remember that higher education interviews often involve providing a writing sample, giving a presentation, and interviewing with multiple individuals. To truly stand out, you should be able to articulate why you are interested in working at that specific university or college, or why you believe you are well-suited to work with that particular population. This showcases your understanding of the institution’s values and needs and positions you as a valuable and integral part of the team, making you feel appreciated and valued.

How to Become a College Counselor

Education & Training to Become a College Counselor

The crux of becoming a successful college counselor lies within the title “counselor.” While the job is not the same as that of a therapist or other mental health professional, it does involve understanding things about the human condition such as decision-making, difficulties in overcoming obstacles, the need to “fit in,” basic adolescent or developmental issues, and determinants of success such as like long-term planning. The prospective college counselor will benefit most from entering the job market with at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, business, or education.

Most educational environments want college counselors to complete a master’s degree in school counseling from a university accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)—especially for those who want to work in the public school system. Within many schools’ college counseling programs is the option to specialize. A student could pursue a master’s degree in college counseling while also achieving a specialization toward working with a specific population, such as bilingual or multicultural students, LGBTQ youth, or those with addiction issues.

Some professionals with counseling experience could also earn a certificate in college counseling. For instance, the University of California, San Diego offers an online college counseling certificate designed to be completed in six to nine months. Three required courses cover the topics of college counseling principles and strategies and a hands-on practicum. Elective courses cover issues related to navigating the admissions process, working with international students, admissions essay advising, and financial aid.

Earning a master’s degree in school counseling means committing to a school with a specific postsecondary or graduate counseling program just for college admissions counselors. Schools have their own requirements, which may or may not include a minimum GPA or graduate entrance examination scores. Preparing for graduate school exams takes time, which should ideally be factored into a student’s plan.

According to the Princeton Review, properly preparing for a GRE takes between four and 12 weeks. Most schools have an application process that requires letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and an outline of related work or volunteer experience. Notably, after the pandemic in 2020, several schools have completely waived the GRE requirement.

If the prospective student wants to work in a particular state, research the counseling requirements in that state, as each state has its own requirements for approved schools and experience. After completing the master’s program, the prospective college counselor must attain the proper licenses and credentials to practice in their state.

To meet state licensing requirements, most states require the student to have graduated from a master’s degree program approved by the state’s board of education. Other accreditations to look for when considering school counseling degree programs are those through the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Many states require graduates seeking licensure to have graduated from an accredited program, as do doctoral programs for those who wish to continue for further graduate-level education.

Supervised Hour Requirements for College Counselors

At the most basic level, a college counselor helps individuals think about and prepare for their academic majors and future careers. A college counselor will help students organize their priorities to prepare for admission into a college of their choice and help them achieve their goals once they are admitted.

To become board-certified as a National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), the graduates must have completed six semester-hours (or ten quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience. Becoming board certified is not a requirement for employment; however, having voluntary achievement ensures schools and other employers that the graduates have met the highest education and practice standards. Alternatives to six semester hours of supervised school field experience are:

  • Three semester-hours (or five quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience and ten continuous years as a fully state-licensed school counselor
  • Three semester- hours (or five quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience and an additional 120 hours of direct supervision

The supervised hour requirements vary by state. All require a master’s degree, experiential hours, and a period of supervision. North Carolina State University, for example, offers an online master of education in college counseling and student development that prepares students for working in higher education counseling and advising positions. The program takes two and a half to three years to complete, and students are eligible to take North Carolina state licensing exams in their field during the final semester of the program. Students complete a 600-hour supervised internship during the last year of study.

Most high-quality education-related programs are certified by CACREP, the highest level of accreditation for counselor education. This organization accredits programs in which students complete supervised counseling practicums of a minimum of 100 clock hours over a full academic term that is a minimum of ten weeks.

Practicum students must complete at least 40 clock-hours of direct client work that develops their counseling skills. Supervisors must interact with the students weekly for at least one hour. Additionally, practicum students must join in 1.5 hours of group supervision weekly. During an internship, students must complete 600 clock hours of supervised work with clients within their specialty area. Internship students complete at least 240 clock hours of direct service. During the internship, students must again interact weekly with supervisors and their groups.

Licensure and Certification for College Counselors

Different states confer different titles on licensed counselors. Most college counselors have a general counseling degree and have then undertaken a specialization for working in schools. The most common title for a college counselor would be Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC). Each state’s regulatory board issues each title, and state licensure application processes vary.

There is a distinct difference between counselors pursuing a school or guidance counselor credential for pre-K through 12 schools and an individual following a college counselor career. There is also a difference between seeking employment with a state school versus a private or online school.

Pre-K through 12 school counselors are subject to each state’s requirements per their board of education credentials for professionals working in public schools. Renewing or continuing a school or guidance counselor license would also be contingent upon each state’s renewing requirements. Some states have very different requirements.

Check out the varying state requirements on the main school counselor career page.

What Do College Counselors Do?

At the most basic level, a college counselor helps individual students think about and prepare for their academic majors and future careers. A college counselor will help students organize their priorities to qualify for admission into a college of their choice and help them achieve their goals once they are admitted.

A college counselor who works for a specific school will meet with incoming or existing students to determine if they are a good fit for the college. They can help the students prepare for and meet the entrance requirements. These counselors will also likely travel to high schools or represent the college at job fairs or educational events as a representative of the school.

A college counselor who works in advising for a specific department or school within the college or university will help students prioritize their coursework and plan ahead to complete their specific degree field. These counselors will also spend a significant amount of time identifying and securing internship opportunities and will develop relationships with nearby employers to help their students find job placement once they have completed their degrees.

College counselors in high school settings will educate themselves about various schools to talk to the students about the differences between individual colleges and universities. They may visit colleges and lead trips to nearby colleges and universities so their students can get to know their in-state options. A college counselor will help students narrow their list of options and help them prepare for their greatest chance of success.

Independent College Counselors

Families or students may hire independent college counselors to work alongside their school counselor to enhance their help. These counselors may have independent careers as freelance advisors or work as independent contractors for companies or organizations that provide recruitment, educational support, or rehabilitation services.

An independent college counselor can help in a more personalized way than a school counselor can. Since they are hired to work with each student, they can invest more time and attention to the needs of the individual. Additionally, school counselors have other responsibilities to the school administration and the general student body. In contrast, an independent college counselor is only responsible for serving the student they are hired for.

An independent college counselor works to find students a list of schools that best fit their goals based on personal interviews with their families. They will compare and contrast schools based on size and location, campus culture, quality of life, and financial investment versus the salary return potential.

Some of the things that college counselors will do for individual students include:

  • Refining the list of potential schools to focus on
  • Crafting a personalized admission strategy for the chosen schools
  • Advising on how to prepare and present applications in the best light
  • Advising on each step of the college admissions process to keep tensions low
  • Choosing courses of study and preparations that will enhance the student’s strengths
  • Deciding which offer of admission or financial aid package to accept

Applying to college can be an overwhelming experience. College counselors can lower overall stress related to college because they are helping their students at each step along the way and ensure that the colleges that students are applying to will be a good fit.

From finding the best study aids for standardized test-taking, helping bring out a student’s personality on application essays, and asking teachers for letters of recommendation, to researching financial aid options, a college counselor can help in many ways before and during a university experience.

How Much Do College Counselors Make?

These numbers represent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2023) on “educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors” in the United States—the latest figures available as of August 2024:

United States
Number employed in the U.S.327,660
Average Annual Salary$66,990
10th Percentile$40,140
25th Percentile$48,760
50th Percentile (Median)$61,710
75th Percentile$78,780
90th Percentile$100,050

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the occupational outlook for school and career counselors is growing at 5 percent nationally (2022-2032), which is faster than the national average for all occupations, which is 3 percent (BLS 2024).

College Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC)
  • Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA)
  • Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA)
  • Western Association for College Admission Counseling (WACAC)
  • American College Counseling Association (ACCA)
  • American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • American Association of Blacks in Higher Education (AABHE)
  • American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO)
  • American Association of University Women (AAUW)
  • American College Personnel Association (ACPA)
  • Association of College Administration Professionals (ACAP)
  • Association of Fraternity Advisors (AFA)
  • Association of Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
  • Association for Orientation, Transition, Retention in Higher Education (NODA)
  • Association for Student Conduct Administration (ASCA)
  • Atlantic Association of College and University Student Services (AACUSS)
  • Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association (ANZSSA)
  • Canadian Association of College and University Student Services (CACUSS)
  • Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education (CAS)
  • Council of Higher Education Management Associations (CHEMA)
  • Council on International Educational Exchange (CIEE)
  • Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association (CIVSA)
  • Institute of International Education (IIE)
  • Jesuit Association of Student Personnel Administrators (JASPA)
  • National Academic Advising Association (NACADA)
  • National Association for Campus Activities (NACA)
  • National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
  • National Association of Graduate Admissions Professionals (NAGAP)
  • Association of International Educators (NAFSA)
  • National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators (NASFAA)
  • National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA)
  • National Association of Veterans’ Program Administrators (NAVPA)
  • National Career Development Association (NCDA)
  • Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (PACRAO)
  • Southern Association of College Student Affairs (SACSA)
  • University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA)
Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond, MEd


Rachel Drummond has used her expertise in education and mindfulness to guide aspiring counselors since 2020. Her work emphasizes the importance of integrating reflective mindfulness into counseling techniques, helping readers understand how mental and physical well-being can enhance their professional practice and personal development in counseling.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.

Vanessa Salvia

Vanessa Salvia


Vanessa Salvia is an Oregon-based freelance writer and editor with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. As fun as rigorous studies in math and science were, Vanessa took an independent path and developed a prolific career covering lifestyle and healthcare topics for magazines and newspapers, important industries such as concrete construction and building waterproofing, and even hard science. You can get in touch at Sage Media and Marketing.