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Master’s in Counseling Jobs: Exploring Career Paths for School Counselors

11 Apr
Young woman outside on a school campus

School counseling has evolved far beyond providing career and vocational guidance. Each day, school counselors work with teachers and administrators to help students and their families navigate diverse challenges that affect students’ abilities to learn, develop and thrive—from academics and socialization to food insecurity, language barriers and mental health struggles.

There’s a growing demand for skilled professionals to do this important work. For the decade from 2022-2032, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts strong growth in the job market for school counselors. The projected 5% growth rate is faster than the national average for all occupations.1

This post explores a variety of career options—in and out of educational settings—for which you’ll become eligible once you’ve earned a master’s degree in school counseling.

School Counselor Roles and Responsibilities

“The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) supports school counselors' efforts to help students focus on academic, career and social/emotional development so they achieve success in school and are prepared to lead fulfilling lives as responsible members of society.”2 This statement on the ASCA’s website gets to the heart of school counselors’ work. Whether you take your newly minted master’s degree in school counseling to an office in a public or private school, working with young people at any age from pre-K on up, your efforts in three key areas will focus on helping them grow to lead fulfilling, responsible lives.

Academic Development

To promote academic success, school counselors:3

  • Collaborate with school staff to foster a safe, inclusive school culture
  • Develop and assess counseling programs based on student data
  • Encourage rigorous coursework and remove barriers to access
  • Build positive relationships with students, families and the community

Career Development

In middle school and especially in high school settings, career counseling is a vital aspect of the school counselor’s role. You’ll help students with course selection, academic planning and college and career readiness. This involves: 4

  • Serving as a guide in identifying student interests, career clusters and postsecondary plans
  • Assisting in transitioning to postsecondary education or employment
  • Advising on diverse postsecondary pathways, including apprenticeships, military programs and college options
  • Collaborating with administrators, teachers and other stakeholders to create a college-going culture

Social/Emotional Growth

School counselors address students’ social and emotional needs through counseling services, crisis intervention, mental health support and referrals when needed. To that end, you’ll need to:5

  • Use evidence-based, inclusive, trauma-informed interventions for social and emotional development
  • Collaborate with teachers to deliver counseling lessons, direct instruction, team-teaching and other methods
  • Provide multi-tiered, targeted support for individuals and small groups
  • Employ effective counseling theories for direct and indirect student services to support social/emotional development

Career Options in School Counseling

Elementary School Counseling

At every age, students need adult help. In elementary school, children begin to:6

  • Develop their academic self-concept and feelings of competence and confidence as learners
  • Develop character values and decision-making, communication and life skills
  • Acquire and develop attitudes toward school, self, peers, social groups and family

As an elementary school counselor, you’ll likely be called on to:6

  • Develop and implement a proactive school counseling program that:
    • Engages students
    • Includes leadership, advocacy and collaboration with school staff, administration and community/family members in the delivery of programs and activities to help students succeed
  • Collaborate with teachers and parents on early identification and intervention of childrens’ academic, social and emotional needs, which is essential in:
    • Removing barriers to learning
    • Developing the skills and behaviors needed for academic achievement

Middle School Counseling

Are the middle school years easy for anyone? As young people make the transition from childhood into adolescence, with new hormones raging and pressure seeming to come from every direction, they often experience:7

  • A need to explore multiple diverse interests, connecting their classroom learning to its practical applications in life and work
  • A great deal of activity along with frequent fatigue due to rapid growth
  • A search for a distinct sense of identity as they begin looking to peers more than parents for ideas and validation
  • Acute sensitivity to comments from other people
  • Heavy reliance on friends for comfort, understanding and approval

As a middle school counselor, you'll serve your students in a wide breadth of ways, including by:8

  • Providing academic skills support
  • Helping with study habits and test-taking abilities
  • Discussing career options
  • Providing counseling that addresses drug use and sexual activity
  • Helping students develop:
    • Coping strategies in times of stress or loss
    • The ability to create positive relationships with their peers
    • Strong decision-making abilities
    • Self-confidence

High School Counseling

As the ASCA succinctly puts it, high schoolers are “deciding who they are, what they do well and what they will do when they graduate.”9 As they gauge their abilities and strengths, their peer group is the biggest influence on their lives. High school is often richly exciting and laden with stressors, such as:

  • The search for a place to belong
  • Heightened pressure regarding sex, alcohol and other drugs
  • Challenges regarding the safe, appropriate use of technology
  • Learning to make difficult decisions
  • Finding the boundaries of acceptable behavior and mature relationships
  • Parental pressure
  • High-stakes academic testing
  • Questions surrounding life after graduation:
    • Applying to college
    • Scholarship and financial aid issues
    • Preparation for employment
    • Entering the job market

As a high school counselor, you’ll be very busy. In addition to contributing to curriculum development, assessing individual students’ educational needs and providing intervention, counseling and crisis management when needed, you’ll have the crucial task of helping your charges develop effective social skills. Teenagers’ maturity in this regard varies widely. Wherever they go after high school, they’ll need the social and communication facilities to navigate in the adult world. Particularly for young people who don’t have positive role models close to them, your influence in incorporating social skills development into your counseling program will be essential.10

Specializations in School Counseling

School counselors may choose one or more areas of specialization, based on their interests and expertise. Specializations in school counseling can include gifted and talented education, behavioral and emotional disorders counseling and working with diverse communities. These specialized roles allow counselors to focus on specific student populations and tailor their interventions to meet their students’ unique needs.

Careers Beyond the School Campus

With a master’s degree in school counseling and an interest in working off-campus, you have a wealth of career possibilities. They include but are not limited to these:11

Social Work

As a child and family social worker, you’ll help children at risk of neglect, families needing help with housing or food, and children in need of foster care or adoption. As a school social worker, you’ll likely work in a school setting, meeting with students, parents and faculty to help further students’ academic and social development.

Substance Abuse Counseling

In individual and group settings, you’ll counsel clients who are struggling with addictions, as they develop the resources to cope and recover. With your degree, you could be ideally qualified to help teens or young adults with substance abuse issues.

Social and Community Services Management

Your proficiency in assessment and leadership will serve you well as you develop and manage social service programs and community organizations that work with a particular demographic, such as children or teens. You’ll determine these programs’ effectiveness, advocate for them and use data to improve them.

Expand your counseling career options.

Once you’ve earned William & Mary’s Online M.Ed. in Counseling with a concentration in School Counseling, you’ll be equipped to help students thrive in school and far beyond it.

Led by world-class faculty, this robust curriculum will develop your ability to guide the mental, emotional and physical development of students of all ages. With an emphasis on social justice, cultural responsiveness, program planning and evaluation practices, this flexible online program helps prepare you to meet state licensure requirements and provides the knowledge you need to become a transformative influence in young peoples’ lives.

Learn more to begin this important next step in your career. Schedule a call with an admissions outreach advisor today.