Middle School Counselor – Education & Licensure

For children aged 11 to 13, middle school is where children transition from early childhood into adolescence. It is a time of enormous socioemotional and educational growth. Many middle schools organize class time by subject and children must learn time management, study skills, health relationships with peers, and organization. This structure helps prepare children for high school and college and navigate the real world. Middle school counselors work alongside teachers and administrators to help children develop the socio-emotional skills and support needed to manage school, family, friends, and other relationships and situations.

Middle school counselors develop and implement age-appropriate and evidence-based counseling programs that provide children the tools, resources, and skills they need to succeed. They also may provide mental health support to children and their families. Middle school counselors are required to obtain a license to practice and complete graduate-level coursework. Most states require Middle school counselors to hold a master’s degree in counseling or a valid teacher’s license. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for school counselors will grow faster than the average for other careers. Openings for school counselors are expected to grow by 5 percent, or roughly 26,600 positions a year, from 2022 to 2032.

Interested in helping students and families succeed? Look no further than an exciting career as a Middle school counselor. Read on to learn more about education requirements, the path to licensure, and a day in the life of a Middle school counselor.

Ask an Expert: Anne Tomlanovich, MSC

Anne Tomlanovich is the director of student life at Odyssey School where she brings a wealth of experience and a deep-rooted passion for fostering a supportive learning environment. With a background in sociology from the University of Michigan and a master’s degree in school counseling, she has dedicated herself to creating a sense of safety and community within educational settings. Her belief in the fundamental importance of love and belonging as the bedrock of learning is reflected in her approach to supporting students, staff, and families. Before her role at Odyssey School, she worked as a middle school counselor in Oregon for many years.  

Tomlanovich’s expertise lies in centering student strengths and guiding them through challenges by helping them access their inner resources. She is adept at nurturing emotional regulation, peer relationships, and academic independence, recognizing that students thrive when they feel a sense of safety and belonging in their educational journey. As an advocate and ally for her students, their families, and colleagues, she is committed to promoting holistic well-being and personalized growth to her students and families. 

Counseling Schools: What is something you wish the public understood about middle school counselors?

Tomlanovich: Middle school counselors support every aspect of a student’s life, including their social-emotional learning, academic learning, health, and well-being. They’re supporting students in their relationships with their friends, teachers, and parents and that can be so thorny at this age. These people are in the process of becoming adults right before you. 

As opposed to an elementary counselor, who is often very focused on developmental stages, or high school counselors, who are more focused on who the students want to be and on graduation requirements, middle school counselors are in the thick of everything and have to juggle many roles and responsibilities with typically only one counselor for many students.

Counseling Schools: What advice would you give aspiring counseling students seeking to become middle school counselors?

Tomlanovich: Make yourself indispensable. And by that I mean know your staff, your administration, your families, and the ins and outs of your school. Of course have that deep understanding of your students and their needs, but to just be that glue—the link that ties everything together. By doing that, you will be able to influence the culture and nature of your school to such an extent that your school becomes a place molded by a counselor where kids are seen as whole humans and not just their test scores. 

How to Become a Middle School Counselor

Education & Training to Become a Middle School Counselor

Middle school counselors play an important role in the socioemotional learning of students, as well as help guide parents and guardians in navigating children through their pre-teen and adolescent years. 

As middle school counselors play an important role in both educational and emotional learning, most states require a master’s degree and a certain number of supervised experience hours. They must also hold a license (also known as a credential or endorsement) through the state licensing board. 

First, those interested in becoming middle school counselors should complete a four-year undergraduate degree in counseling or a similar major such as social work, education, or psychology

The next step is to apply and enroll in a graduate program that meets certification or licensing standards for the state where they want to practice. Each state has different standards and may require graduation from an accredited master’s program. Middle school counseling programs are 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). 

Graduate programs for aspiring middle school counselors are typically 48 semester-hours or 72 quarter-hours. Coursework can be completed online or in-person with a hybrid residency option offered to meet supervised experience requirements.

For example, the master of science in counseling at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida offers a hybrid program that is fully accredited by CACREP and recognized by the ASCA. Their 48-credit program provides an online format with an in-person three-day residency program available in Fort Lauderdale, Florida or Orlando, Florida, where students can meet professors and classmates face-to-face. Students can also meet supervised experience requirements at a school or clinical setting near their home.

Note that many schools require successful passage of a comprehensive exam relevant to school counseling, such as the National Counselor Exam or the Praxis Professional School Counselor Exam (5421). Options vary by graduate school and state. 

After completing education, internship, supervised experience requirements, and exam requirements, middle school counselors are ready to apply for a license to practice in their state. It is important to contact the appropriate state board for licensing to ensure all requirements are met prior to applying. Note that some states may have additional coursework and experience requirements for mental health counseling in school settings. 

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

Supervised Hour Requirements for Middle School Counselors

Aspiring middle school counselors must complete a practicum or internship to graduate. Practicums typically involve at least 100 hours of supervised work experience, while internships consist of 600 hours or more. Middle school counselors will often complete these hours in a school setting, although sometimes these hours can be completed in clinics working with children. 

Examples of work in a practicum or internship include shadowing and observing school counselors or conducting basic intake with students. Many schools require additional direct contact hours with students to ensure candidates are experiencing real-world scenarios. 

Licensure and Certification for Middle School Counselors

Middle school counselors are required to get a license to practice in all 50 states. Licensing requirements vary depending on the state and typically include education, testing, background checks, a licensing fee, and a completed application. States may refer to middle school counselors as Licensed Professional Counselors, Professional Educators with a counseling endorsement, School Counselors, or Guidance Counselors. 

In Washington, for example, middle school counselors are licensed as School Counselors by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).  Requirements to earn this certificate in Washington are:

  • Master’s degree in counseling
  • Completion of any state’s approved program for purpose of certification to serve in a K-12 setting
  • Completion of a comprehensive examination relevant to the role (typically the National Counselor Examination (NCE)
  • Successful completion of a background check 

Many states have additional licensing tiers, or levels, to work as a middle school counselor. This includes additional supervision requirements, certifications, and completion of additional professional coursework such as substance abuse prevention.

Additional certificates are also available to future middle school counselors to demonstrate their proficiency within the field and set them apart from other candidates. Earning a certification can help with employment opportunities, career advancement, and maintenance of professional and ethical standards. 

For example, the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) administers the National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification, which shows a mastery of counseling skills and the ability to meet ethical and professional standards. Successful passage of the NCE is included in the NCC certification process. 

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

  • Pass either the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE)
  • 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

The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) also administers the Certified School Counselor (CSC) certification, demonstrating the ability to design, implement, and evaluate a school counseling program. 

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

Licensure Renewal Requirements

Each state has different requirements for middle school counselors to renew their licenses. Generally, middle school counselors must complete continuing education requirements, submit an application, and pay a renewal fee. Most states permit them to renew their licenses every five years. 

For example, middle school counselors in Arkansas must renew their licenses every five years. They must also complete 36 continuing education hours for each year their license covers—typically 180 hours for a standard five-year license. They must also complete a profile and application through the Arkansas Educator Licensure System and undergo a new criminal background check. Last, they must submit a $75 renewal application fee. 

Continuing education may include coursework on trauma-informed care, anxiety and stress management, cultural competency, bullying prevention, career development, and more. Many states require middle school counselors to take a certain number of credits on new laws and ongoing professional ethics related to counseling.

What Do Middle School Counselors Do?

Middle school counselors work with children aged 11-13 to address their needs and help them succeed both emotionally and academically. They work one-on-one with students to understand their issues and work with teachers or parents to ensure students are properly supported. Middle school counselors commonly work with children from different backgrounds, developing and implementing counseling programs that lead with cultural competency and trauma-informed care. 

According to the American School Counselor Association, the recommended caseload for a middle school counselor is 1:250 students. Middle school counselors typically spend 80 percent of their time meeting with students, while the remaining 20 percent is dedicated to administrative tasks. They may also attend meetings with other teachers, administrators, and parents. Most middle school counselors work in a school setting, although some may work in a clinical setting. Counselors may be assigned to one or more schools for those working for a school district. 

A typical day for a middle school counselor may include:

  • Support students in identifying and overcoming social, behavioral, or academic situations in one-on-one and group settings
  • Analyze student needs based on data, observation, and one-on-one conversations
  • Work with teachers, administrators, families, and guardians to help students meet social and academic goals, including progress toward any goals mandated through a Section 504 Plan or an Individualized Education Plan (IEP)
  • Maintain detailed records and notes
  • Conduct required mandated reporting activities

How Much Do Middle School Counselors Make?

The average wage for school and career counselors was $64,200 (BLS May 2022)—the latest data available as of March 2024. Middle school counselors employed by school districts made an average of $65,930, while those in other clinical or education settings earned below $52,390. 

The BLS estimates that there are 308,000 school and career counselors nationally making the following salary percentiles (BLS May 2022): 

  • 10th percentile: $38,280
  • 25th percentile: $47,380
  • 50th percentile (median): $60,140
  • 75th percentile: $76,590
  • 90th percentile: $98,530
Bree Nicolello

Bree Nicolello


Bree Nicolello is an urban planner and freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She has worked on land use and housing policy issues throughout the Pacific Northwest. She previously led Run Oregon Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Oregonians run for office and apply to boards and commissions. When not writing, she is lovingly tending to her cast iron

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson


At CounselingSchools.com, Kimmy Gustafson’s expertly crafted articles delve into the world of counseling and mental health, providing valuable insights and guidance to readers since 2020. In addition to feature pieces and interviews, she keeps the state licensing tables current. Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.