Become an Elementary School Counselor – Education & Licensure

Elementary school is a time of tremendous growth physically, mentally, and emotionally for kids. Much of the time spent in elementary school is less about what kids learn but rather about teaching them how to learn, interact with peers, and move through the school day, particularly in the first few years. While teachers are responsible for providing classroom structure, activities, and routine, the school counselors often step in to help students grow socio-emotional intelligence and skills to help kids become outstanding students and community members.

Because of the specialized nature of elementary school counselors’ work, they must have education and training in not only counseling but also in education, child development, and learning strategies. In order to be licensed, elementary school counselors must, at a minimum, complete some graduate-level coursework, and in many cases, they must earn a master’s. Many states require that elementary school counselors be licensed teachers in addition to earning a school counseling credential.

Elementary school counselors work closely with school administration, teachers, students, and parents to help students succeed. They do this by implementing evidence-based school counseling programs designed to teach social skills and emotional awareness, provide intervention for kids who are struggling and implement preventative programs to lay the foundation for future skill-building.

School counselors are in high demand, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020). Between 2019 and 2029, there will be an estimated 8 percent growth in jobs for educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors. On average, school counselors earn $61,000 per year.

Continue reading to learn more about this rewarding profession that can profoundly impact students’ lives, including education requirements, how to get licensed, and what elementary school counselors do.

How to Become an Elementary School Counselor

Education & Training to Become an Elementary School Counselor

Because elementary school counselors must have training in both education and counseling, it takes a significant amount of training and schooling to enter this profession. Depending on state licensing requirements, the qualifications needed for this job can vary.

The first step in becoming an elementary school counselor is to complete a bachelor’s degree. Most aspiring elementary school counselors complete their four-year undergraduate degree in counseling or a related field such as psychology, education, sociology, or social work.

The next education step elementary school counselor must take is to complete graduate-level coursework. All states require elementary school counselors to complete at least graduate-level classes in counseling or while others may require a master’s degree. Students should ensure the program they attend is accredited, as this may be required for certification or licensing.

Elementary school counseling programs can be programmatically accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or regionally accredited by an entity recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

Programs for elementary school counselors are usually at least 48 semester-hours or 72 quarter-hours in length. These programs can be completed on-campus, online, or in a hybrid format. With full-time and part-time options, working professionals can find a program that suits their needs.

At the College of William and Mary School of Education in Williamsburg, Virginia, for example, students can complete an online master’s in education in counseling in just three years. This CACREP-accredited program also includes an internship and practicum component that can be completed close to where the student lives. Aspiring elementary school counselors can earn their work experience hours in schools or work with children in a clinical mental health setting.

Once education, internship, and practicum requirements have been completed, elementary school counselors will need to apply for licensing to practice in their state. Each state has its own licensure qualifications, so aspiring elementary school counselors should contact their local board to ensure they have the necessary credentials, education, and work experience.

Check out our guide to master’s degree programs in school counseling for more information.

Supervised Hour Requirements for Elementary School Counselors

There are three categories where elementary school counselors may be required to complete supervised work experience hours.

The first set of hours are completed as part of a school counseling education program. Most programs include a practicum or internship component students must complete in order to graduate. Practicums are usually at least 100 hours of supervised work experience, while internships consist of 600 hours or more. Elementary school counselors will often complete these hours in a school setting, although sometimes these hours can be completed in clinics working with children.

The second set of hours that must be earned are supervised work experience hours required for certification. To be a board-certified as a National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), candidates must meet one of the following three requirements:

  • Six semester-hours (or ten quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience
  • 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

Lastly, many states require elementary school counselors to complete supervised work experience hours. For example, to earn an initial Special Services Endorsement through the Connecticut State Department of Education for school counselors in Connecticut, applicants must have 30 school months of experience teaching or complete ten months of full-time supervised experience as a school counselor, in addition to education and testing requirements. Hours completed as part of an education program or for certification may meet the supervised work hours requirements. 

Licensure and Certification for Elementary School Counselors

While certification is a voluntary step for elementary school counselors, licensing is mandatory in all 50 states. Earning a certification can help with employment opportunities, career advancement, and, in some states, may meet the requirements for licensure.

The primary certification elementary school counselors can choose to earn the National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential through the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). To earn this certification, candidates must:

  • Hold a National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification
  • Have either six semester-hours (or ten quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience or three semester-hours (or five quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience and ten continuous years as a fully state-licensed school counselor or three semester-hours (or five quarter-hours) of supervised school field experience and an additional 120 hours of direct supervision
  • Complete 100 hours of post-graduate school counseling supervision
  • Obtain an endorsement from a professional colleague who holds a master’s degree or higher in a mental health field
  • Have two years of full-time work experience as a school counselor or 3,000 hours over the past 20 months
  • Pass either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)

Licensing requirements vary by state but typically include education, testing, background checks, a licensing fee, and a completed application. Titles for elementary school counselors differ as well and can include Licensed Professional Counselor, Professional Educator with a counseling endorsement, School Counselor, and more.

In Texas, for example, elementary school counselors are licensed as Standard School Counselors by the Texas Education Agency.  Requirements to earn this endorsement in Texas are:

  • Pass the Texas Examinations of Educator Standards (TExES) School Counselor exam
  • Graduate from an approved Educator Preparation Program in school counseling 
  • Earn a master’s degree in counseling from a regionally accredited institution (at least 48 semester credit hours) 
  • Have two years of experience as a teacher 
  • Submit a complete online application
  • Pass a background check

Many states have two or more levels of licensing for elementary school counselors. In these states, elementary school counselors can earn a provisional, initial, or interim license. They must then complete work experience hours, testing, or education requirements to obtain a full license.

For more information, check out this full guide to state-by-state licensure requirements for school counselors.

Licensure Renewal Requirements

It is essential for elementary school counselors to maintain their state license. Requirements for renewals vary by state, but almost all states require elementary school counselors to complete continuing education hours, submit an application, and pay a renewal fee.

As an example, in Nevada, elementary school counselors’ licenses are valid for five years. To renew, candidates must complete an online application, pay a $150 licensing fee, and provide proof of 15 hours of continuing education per year.

Continuing education is a critical component of many professional careers, and elementary school counselors are no exception. There are innovations in counseling, new best practices, and ever-changing teaching techniques that elementary school counselors can learn about through continuing education courses in order to provide the best services possible to their students. Fulfilling continuing education requirements and maintaining licensure also demonstrates to employers that a counselor is continually learning and improving. Certain coursework can also help with career advancement or raises.

What Do Elementary School Counselors Do?

For many kids, elementary school is their first structured school experience. They have to learn how to be good students and how to operate in large groups, follow directions, interact with peers, and express their feelings in safe ways. Elementary school counselors have extensive mental health and child development training and experience to help students navigate school and grow into lifelong learners.

Some elementary school counselors are attached to one specific school where they work full time. In some school districts, elementary school counselors are assigned to several schools, dividing their time. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends one school counselor for every 250 students and that at least 80 percent of their time is spent working with or for students. However, the average is one school counselor for 464 students across the country, so school counselors are often stretched thin and overworked.

Key skills for elementary school counselors include empathy, patience, compassion, a keen ability to listen, and strong teaching skills. Elementary school counselors also need to have an acute level of cultural sensitivity as they often must work with students from varying backgrounds.

Day-to-day activities for elementary school counselors can vary. However, typical duties can include:

  • Teaching lessons on emotions, social interactions, and behavior to elementary students
  • Leading workshops for teachers, administrators, and other school staff on how to prevent bullying, teach emotional skills, or other pertinent topics
  • Running small groups for elementary students to develop friendship-making skills, model appropriate behavior, or role-play managing emotions
  • Meeting with parents to discuss children’s school needs and develop plans to help them be successful
  • Administering tests to determine a student’s abilities to make a plan to help them improve
  • Assisting with crisis situations in schools
  • Writing a school-wide counseling and emotional education program to address the specific needs of their school

How Much Do Elementary School Counselors Make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies elementary school counselors as educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors. Here are the number of professionals in this field and the percentages for wages based on the BLS data from May 2019.

  • Number employed in the U.S.: 296,460
  • Average annual salary (mean): $61,000
  • 10th percentile: $34,380
  • 25th percentile: $44,010
  • 50th percentile (median): $57,040
  • 75th percentile: $74,430
  • 90th percentile: $96,090

Elementary School Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • National Board for Certified Counselors
  • American School Counselors Association
  • American Counseling Association
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association
  • National Career Development Association
  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling
  • National Education Association
  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling
  • Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
  • International School Counseling Association
  • The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • School Counselor Connection from the American Counseling Association (ACA)
  • Center for School Counseling Outcome Research & Evaluation (CSCORE)
Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson

Writer

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.