School counselors help students develop social skills and succeed in school. Career counselors assist people with the process of making career decisions, by helping them choose a career or educational program.


School counselors typically do the following:

  • Help students understand and overcome social or behavioral problems through individual and group counseling
  • Provide individual and small group counseling based on student needs
  • Work with students to develop skills, such as organization, time management, and effective study habits
  • Help students set realistic academic and career goals and develop a plan to achieve them
  • Evaluate students’ abilities and interests through aptitude assessments, interviews, and individual planning
  • Collaborate with teachers, administrators, and parents to help students succeed
  • Deliver classroom guidance lessons on topics, such as bullying, drug abuse, and planning for college or careers after graduation
  • Identify and report possible cases of neglect or abuse
  • Refer students and parents to resources outside the school for additional support

The specific duties of school counselors vary with the ages of the students they work with.

Elementary school counselors focus on helping students develop skills, such as decision-making and study skills, that they need to be successful in their social and academic lives. They meet with parents or guardians to discuss their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and any possible special needs and behavioral issues. School counselors also work with teachers and administrators to ensure the curriculum addresses both the developmental and academic needs of students.

Middle school counselors work with students and parents to help students develop and achieve career and academic goals. They help students develop the skills and strategies necessary to succeed academically and socially.

High school counselors advise students in making academic and career plans. Many help students with personal problems that interfere with their education. They help students choose classes and plan for their lives after graduation. Counselors provide information about choosing and applying for colleges, training programs, financial aid, and apprenticeships. They may present career workshops to help students search and apply for jobs, write résumés, and improve interviewing skills.

Career counselors typically do the following:

  • Use aptitude and achievement assessments, to help clients evaluate their interests, skills, and abilities
  • Evaluate clients’ background, education, and training, to help them develop realistic goals
  • Guide clients through making decisions about their careers, such as choosing a new profession and the type of degree to pursue
  • Help clients learn job search skills, such as interviewing and networking
  • Assist clients in locating and applying for jobs, by teaching them strategies to find openings and how to write a résumé
  • Advise clients on how to resolve problems in the workplace, such as conflicts with bosses or coworkers
  • Help clients select and apply for educational programs, to obtain the necessary degrees, credentials, and skills

Career counselors work with clients at various stages in their careers. Some work in colleges to help students choose a major. They also help students determine what jobs they are qualified for with their degrees. These counselors also work with people who have already entered the workforce. Career counselors develop plans to improve their client’s current career and provide advice about entering a new profession. Some career counselors work in outplacement firms and assist laid-off workers with transitioning into new jobs or careers. Others work in corporate career centers to assist employees in making decisions about their career path within the company.

Some career counselors work in private practice. These counselors must spend time marketing their practice to prospective clients and working with clients to receive payments for their services.

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Work Environment

School and career counselors held about 262,300 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most school and career counselors in 2012 were as follows: 

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 47%
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional schools;
state, local, and private
Health care and social assistance 9
Government 4

School counselors work in private and public schools. They often have private offices so that they can have confidential conversations with students. Career counselors work in colleges, businesses, prisons, and state government career centers.

Work Schedules

Both school and career counselors generally work full time. Some school counselors have summers off when school is not in session.

Education and Training

Most school counselors must be credentialed, which most often requires a master’s degree. Many employers prefer that career counselors have a master’s degree. Career counselors who work in private practice may also need a license.


Most states require school counselors to have a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field. Programs in school counseling teach students about fostering academic development; conducting group and individual counseling; and working with parents, teachers, and other school staff. These programs often require students to gain experience through an internship or practicum.

Most employers prefer that career counselors have a master’s degree in counseling with a focus on career development. Career counseling programs prepare students to teach career development techniques and assess clients’ skills and interests. Many programs require students to have a period of supervised experience, such as an internship.  

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Public school counselors must have a state-issued credential to practice. This credential can be called a certification, a license, or an endorsement, depending on the state. Licensure or certification typically requires a master’s degree in school counseling and an internship or practicum completed under the supervision of a licensed professional school counselor.

Some states require applicants to have 1 to 2 years of classroom teaching experience or to hold a teaching license, prior to being certified. Other states allow full-time teaching experience to be substituted, in place of the internship requirement. 

Most states require a criminal background check, as part of the credentialing process.

Information about requirements for each state is available from the American School Counselor Association.

Although some employers prefer to hire licensed career counselors, a license is not required in many settings. Career counselors in private practice, however, generally must be licensed. Licensure requires a master’s degree and 2,000 to 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. In addition, counselors must pass a state-recognized exam and complete annual continuing education credits. Contact information for state regulating boards is available from the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Work Experience in a Related Occupation

Although most states do not require work experience in a related occupation, some states require school counselors to have 1 to 2 years of classroom teaching experience or to hold a teaching license, prior to being certified.

Personality and Interests

School and career counselors typically have an interest in the Helping interest area, according to the Holland Code framework. The Helping interest area indicates a focus on assisting, serving, counseling, or teaching other people.

If you are not sure whether you have a Helping interest which might fit with a career as a school and career counselor, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

School and career counselors should also possess the following specific qualities:

Compassion. Counselors often work with people who are dealing with stressful and difficult situations, so they must be compassionate and empathize with their clients and students.

Interpersonal skills. Being able to work with different types of people is essential for counselors. They spend most of their time working directly with clients and students or other professionals and need good working relationships.

Listening skills. Good listening skills are essential for school and career counselors. They need to give their full attention to their students and clients to understand their problems.

Speaking skills. School and career counselors must communicate effectively with clients and students. They should express ideas and information in a way that their clients and students understand easily.


The median annual wage for school and career counselors was $53,610 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The bottom 10 percent earned less than $31,920, and the top 10 percent earned more than $86,680.

In May 2012, the median annual wages for school and career counselors in the top four industries in which these counselors worked were as follows:

Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and
Government 50,710
Junior colleges, colleges, universities, and professional
schools; state, local, and private
Health care and social assistance 35,590

Both school and career counselors generally work full time. Some school counselors have summers off when school is not in session.

Job Outlook

Employment of school and career counselors is projected to grow 12 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. While overall employment growth is expected due to increasing school enrollments, hiring may be limited, due to slow growth—or decline—in education funding from state and local governments.

Rising student enrollments in elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as colleges and universities, are expected to increase demand for school counselors. As enrollments grow, schools will require more counselors to respond to the developmental and academic needs of their students. Colleges will need to hire additional counselors to meet the demand for career counseling services from their students.

Despite these projected increases in school enrollment, however, employment growth for school and career counselors will depend on state and local government budgets. When state and local governments experience budget deficits, they may lay off employees, including counselors. As a result, employment growth may be reduced by state and local government budget difficulties.

Demand for career counseling is projected to increase in vocational rehabilitation organizations and in private practice. Companies may expand their use of employment assistance programs and career counseling, to retain talent and increase the productivity and morale of their employees. Career counselors also will be needed to assist career changers and to help laid off workers find employment, as well as to help military personnel transition into the civilian job market.

For More Information

For more information about counseling and information about counseling specialties, visit

American Counseling Association

For more information about school counselors, visit

American School Counselors Association

For more information about career counselors, visit

National Career Developers Association

For more information about state credentialing, visit

National Board for Certified Counselors


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).