High School Counselor & College Prep Counselor – Career, Salary & Licensure

The outlook for job growth for high school counselors is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020) predicts a job growth rate between 2019 and 2029 of 8 percent, which is considered faster than the national average for all occupations over the same period (4 percent).

Counselors who work in schools are called school counselors or guidance counselors. At younger grades, they are called school counselors, and typically help new students develop confidence, aligning young people’s behavior at school with society’s expectations. In high school, school counselors are called “college prep counselors” or “guidance counselors.” At this stage, counselors often help students make successful career choices and make sure their education is on track to prepare them for college.

School counselors can work with students at any age, from preschool to the K through 12 school grades. The American School Counselor Association says the perception that guidance counselors simply hang out in their office waiting for troublemakers is far from the truth. School guidance professionals are vital members of the educational team who spend most of their time in direct contact with students.

In younger grades, school counselors may connect families in need with social services, and provide education, prevention, and intervention activities to support an individual student or all students’ healthy development. In higher grades, high school counselors and college prep counselors help students stay on track for graduation. All the work of counselors in schools at any grade is designed to help students become productive, well-adjusted adults.

Discover what to expect from a job as a high school or college prep counselor, including the requisite education, licensing, and salary information.

How to Become a High School Counselor

Schools offer varying degree programs for becoming a high school counselor.

Some institutions require a school counselor to have a master’s degree in a counseling field. Degrees can be either a master of arts in counseling, a master of science in counseling, or a master of education in counseling. Students can also study psychology and minor in counseling. Often, the degree holder has taken education requirements at the master’s level for a general counseling degree, with a specialization in working in schools.

While most colleges do not have restrictions on the type of undergraduate degree that prospective students can hold, most prefer the degree to be in something related to counseling or education. Social work or sociology would be an effective and appropriate undergraduate degree for someone who is interested in a school counseling career. Psychology, education, or something similar would also be a good preparatory undergraduate degree.

The National Association of School Psychologists issues a Nationally Certified School Psychologist (NCSP) credential. This credential recognizes school psychologists who meet rigorous national standards for graduate preparation and continuing professional development. Many states and school districts accept this credential when deciding on who to hire for their positions. In order to achieve this credential, seek out NASP-approved graduate programs.

In order to become a high school counselor, the prospective student will decide on their educational path. Earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school or program is the first and foundational step toward a career in school counseling. Then, they should decide if they want to pursue a master’s degree from a school that requires graduate entrance exam (GRE) scores as part of its admission requirements. It takes time to prepare for these exams, so that should ideally be factored in to a student’s plan. According to the Princeton Review, it takes between four and 12 weeks to properly prepare for a GRE.

During the student’s master’s education, they decide on the specializations they want to take. For instance, they may choose to focus on bilingual or multicultural counseling or primary or secondary school counseling.

In order to meet licensing requirements, most states require the student to have graduated with a master’s degree from a state-approved program. This typically means the state’s board of education has approved the school counseling program. Other accreditations to look for when considering school counseling degree programs are those from 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 on for further graduate-level education.

School counselor degrees are available in traditional on-campus, online, and hybrid formats. While some school administrators and educators may continue on and achieve a doctorate in school counseling, psychology, or education with an emphasis on school counseling, most of these programs are master’s level.

In Florida, for instance, the University of Florida’s Counseling Education Program offers a master of education (MEd) and education specialist (EdS) dual degree. Students who complete a master thesis are awarded a master of arts in education (MAE) rather than the master of education. The dual degree requires 72 credits, which is completed in an average of 2.5 to three years. Students complete one practicum (an observational learning experience) and one clinical internship (supervised work experience that typically follows a practicum).

Students in the University of Florida program can choose to specialize in school counseling. That requires passing scores on the Florida Teacher Certification Examination (for practice in Florida), the Professional Education examination, and the Subject Area Examination in Guidance and Counseling K-12 prior to graduation from the program.

When students apply to the program, they should know which specialization track they want to pursue, because the application is specialization-specific. This program says GRE scores are given strong consideration although they are not required, but there are many colleges and universities with in-person and online counseling degree programs that do not require them at all.

Supervised Hour Requirements for High School Counselors

To become board-certified as a National Certified School Counselor (NCSC), the graduates must have completed six semester- or ten quarter-hours of supervised school field experience. Becoming board-certified is voluntary, but goes a step further to ensure that the graduates achieved the highest standard of education and practice. If the graduates have not completed six semester-hours of supervised school field experience, alternative options are:

  • Three semester- or five quarter-hours of supervised school field experience and ten continuous years as a fully state-licensed school counselor
  • Three semester- 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. Florida, for example, requires 600 clock hours of supervised internship, according to the Florida Department of Education.

CACREP, the highest level of accreditation for counselor education, 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 at a minimum of one hour per week. 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 undergo weekly interaction with supervisors and their groups.

Credentialing & State Licensure for High School Counselors

Different states confer different titles on licensed counselors. The most common titles are Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC), and Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). Each title is issued by each state’s regulatory board.

State licensure application processes vary. States may specifically require the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Some states require both examinations or allow you to choose between the two.

According to the American Counseling Association, state licensure requirements for professional counselors typically include possession of a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling from an accredited institution, completion of a minimum of 3,000 hours of post-master’s degree supervised clinical experience (performed within two years), and periodic completion of continuing education credits or hours, passing a state-recognized exam.

In order to be a practicing school counselor in Florida, for example, the student must become certified by the State of Florida Department of Education (DOE) Division of Certification. Certification by the state is different from state licensure by the state and from national certifications.

For licensure, the Florida DOE requires either a master’s or higher degree with a major in guidance and counseling or school counseling that includes a minimum of 600 hours of supervised internship serving school-aged students in a pre-kindergarten, an elementary or a secondary school setting. Non-counseling majors must have a minimum of 600 clock hours of supervised internship with school-aged children and their families with at least nine semester-hours of graduate credit in certain defined career and school counseling-related endeavors.

Licensure Renewal Requirements

All states require some sort of continuing education in order for a school counselor to renew their license. State licensure renewal requirements vary by area. The period of renewal can be from two to seven years, with five being the most common.

Requirements vary as well but typically include either a number of clock hours of professional development or semester-hours or credits of additional education. Arizona, for instance, requires 180 clock hours of professional development or 12 semester-hours of education or a combination of the two. Florida, though, requires six semester-hours of college credit to include at least one semester-hour in teaching students with disabilities.

What Do High School or College Prep Counselors Do?

No matter what grade they are working with, school counselors are essential. At all grade levels, school counselors are expected to help students develop the academic and social skills that lead to success in school and in their career path. That could mean helping students explore possible careers by connecting students to exploratory programs or internships. High school counselors also help students choose an educational program that will lead to a career.

A prospective high school counselor should have a strong desire to interact directly with students. Because of the nature of a school’s learning environment, a school counselor will work directly with administrators and with parents, and will sometimes serve as a bridge between the two, to help parents understand the school’s policies and positions and to help the administrators understand parental concerns. A counselor should have some natural empathy, have good interpersonal communication and listening skills, and be committed to upholding societal standards and the profession’s ethical standards.

High school counselors can work in public schools, in defined low-income areas (which also may qualify the counselor for income-based loan forgiveness programs or public service loan-forgiveness programs), private schools, youth program agencies, or career counseling centers.

According to the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), appropriate activities for a high school counselor include:

  • Orientation and advising for new students
  • Interpreting test results
  • Disciplinary counseling
  • Short-term and small-group counseling for students
  • Consulting with teachers on effective classroom management
  • Identifying student issues, needs, and problems
  • Advocating for students as needed

At the high school level, counselors help all students develop interpersonal skills, manage emotions, and plan for options out of high school, such as higher education, the military, or joining the workforce. The ASCA says researchers found graduating 12th graders attending schools with lower student-to-school-counselor ratios were more engaged in higher-quality college counseling learning activities, which helped students make more informed college decisions.

According to research by the National Association for College Admission Counseling and the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), the two groups recommend a student-to-counselor ratio of 250 to 1. The latest data, which is from a ten-year period from 2004-05 to 2014-15, shows that only two states hit this mark: New Hampshire and Vermont. The national average ratio is 430 to 1.

How Much Do High School Counselors Make?

These numbers represent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from May 2019. The average annual salary for these professionals was $61,000.

Educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisorsin the U.S.: 296,460

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

High School Counselor – College Prep Counselor Professional Associations & Resources

  • American School Counselors Association
  • National Career Development Association
  • National Board for Certified Counselors
  • American Counseling Association
  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling
  • National Education Association
  • International School Counseling Association
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association
  • American College Counseling Association
  • Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development
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.