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School Counselor Salary with a Master's: Key Compensation Factors

22 Nov
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No one goes into school counseling for the money. School counselors work at demanding jobs that require at least a master's degree just to get hired. However, they do important, fulfilling work that significantly affects their students’ lives, and most of them are happier than average with their jobs.1

The median salary for school counselors is $60,150. However, there’s a wide range between the top quartile and the bottom quartile. The best-paid 25% make $77,210, while the bottom 25% earn $47,390.2 This article will cover the factors that affect compensation for school counselors to help explain the disparity.

Factors That Affect a School Counselor’s Salary

As with most other fields, several factors can affect the total compensation for a school counselor. The salary number isn’t always the biggest consideration in this career path. The earning potential may be higher if you live in an expensive area, for instance, but the additional costs associated with living there may more than offset the difference, leaving you with less spending power. A few of the most significant influences on compensation follow here.

Job Location

Where you live can have a major impact on what you earn and what you spend. In general, schools in wealthy cities and suburbs pay more than schools in less monied areas. However, there’s not a direct correlation. The highest-paying city for school counselors is Riverside, California, where they earn an average salary of $91,540.2 Just east of Los Angeles, Riverside is an expensive city to live in, with an average cost of living that’s 31.2% higher than the national average and 12.5% higher than the California average.3

While Riverside is pricey, it’s not nearly as expensive as New York City, where the cost of living is 72.5% higher than the national average.4 Despite this, school counselors in New York City earn a much lower average annual salary of $76,050.5

Experience Level

School counselors are licensed at the state level and most states require graduate degrees for licensure.6 Although all counselors must pass rigorous licensing requirements, more experienced counselors usually have higher salaries. According to the national employment site Glassdoor, school counselors with less than one year of experience are paid an average annual salary of $57,517, while those with over 15 years on the job make an average of $87,265 annually. Mid-career counselors with seven to nine years of experience earn a yearly average of $67,583.7

Work Setting

Another factor influencing school counselors’ salary potential is the educational setting in which they work. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), counselors who work in elementary and secondary schools earn the most, averaging $72,190 annually. Counselors at colleges, universities and professional schools earn significantly less, averaging $54,430 annually. Junior college counselors earn an average of $64,410 yearly and counselors working in educational support earn a similar average salary of $62,330. School counselors working in vocational rehabilitation services earn an average of $42,480 each year.8

Benefits and Perks

In addition to the base compensation, school counselors often receive benefits and perks that can significantly affect their quality of life and financial standing.

Health, vision and dental insurance are often included in a school counselor’s compensation package. Since the quality of employer-provided insurance can vary greatly, it may make more financial sense to accept a position with excellent health insurance even if the salary is lower.9

Schools may also provide retirement plans to their counselors. In public schools, these can either be pension plans, with a set payout, or defined contribution plans, such as 403(b) or 457(b) plans.10 The National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) offers multiple retirement and investment plans11 for employees of nonprofit, private schools “that are self-determining in mission and program and are governed by independent boards.”12

Retirement considerations are particularly important for public school counselors since not all public school employees are eligible for social security. In 33 states, public school employees opt into social security, while the rest either opt out or have a mixed policy.13

Advancement and Career Development Opportunities

School counselors who are looking for job growth have many options available. They can move into more specialized areas of counseling, such as mental health, where the average annual salary of a counselor is $67,101.14 If they want to stay in the school setting, they can move into leadership roles in the guidance department or move into school administration.

Some school counselors opt to get an advanced degree, such as a doctorate in counselor education. This qualification makes them eligible to join the faculty at a program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).15 The average annual salary for those with a Ph.D in counselor education is $73,000.16

Salary Negotiation Strategies

Salary negotiation in school counseling is not always as straightforward as it is in other fields. Many public schools have set salaries for employees, including counselors.17 In others, unions collectively negotiate salaries for teachers, counselors and other school professionals.18

If you're interviewing for a position at a private school or other setting, you'll have more room to negotiate. To conduct effective salary negotiation, include these steps in your preparation and presentation:19

  • Gather as much information as possible about school counselor salaries in your area
  • Understand how your skills and experience compare to those of school counselors in similar positions
  • Highlight your achievements, including skills, certifications and programs you've implemented—and their results
  • Practice negotiating with another professional until you feel confident having the conversation with a potential employer

With this master’s degree, you can change lives.

Prepare for career-boosting professional certification from the American School Counselor Association. Earn William & Mary’s Online Master of Education in Counseling with a concentration in School Counseling.

This is one of the elite few online programs that’s CACREP-accredited. In addition to assuring that the program meets high educational standards, the accreditation helps you qualify for federally backed student loans.

Gain the skills and knowledge that empower you to make a profound difference for the students you serve. Enjoy a dynamic, collaborative learning environment in W&M’s tradition of forward-thinking excellence. Led by world-class experts, this robust, innovative curriculum combines with intimately sized class cohorts to give you a renowned “Public Ivy” educational experience.

Don’t wait to take action. Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.

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