Counseling Home Blog Switching Careers: From Teacher to School Counselor

Switching Careers: From Teacher to School Counselor

08 May
Seated at a laptop in an office, a woman wearing glasses takes notes as she types.

“School counselors play an essential role in creating an equitable, inclusive school culture, promoting success for all.”1 The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) follows this statement by noting that counselors help all students:

  • Apply academic achievement strategies
  • Manage emotions and apply interpersonal skills
  • Plan for postsecondary options (higher education, military, workforce)1

Employed at all educational levels from early elementary through high school, as well as in supervisory and school counselor education positions, these certified, licensed educators improve student success. Studies published in Professional School Counseling and other literature cite school counselors’ impact on improved ACT and SAT scores, more informed college decision-making, reduced disciplinary action, improved attendance and other areas of student achievement.2 Further, school counselors help level the playing field for students from underserved communities. For example, studies published in the last fifteen years have found that:

  • School counselors can affect the achievement gap by examining and using school-wide data to deliver effective group intervention3
  • A school counseling intervention designed to be culturally and language-appropriate can make a significant difference in reducing the achievement gap with Latinx students with limited English proficiency4
  • Students who have greater access to school counselors and comprehensive school counseling programs are more likely to succeed academically and behaviorally in school; this is particularly true for students in high-poverty schools5
  • Intentional efforts by school counselors can help reduce the racial disparities in proportions of students taking Advanced Placement courses6

Ideally, as a school counselor, you would work with 250 students each year. Your responsibilities would include providing:1

  • Academic planning and goal-setting for individual students
  • School counseling classroom lessons based on student success standards
  • Short-term counseling to students
  • Referrals for long-term support
  • Collaboration with families, teachers, administrators and community, in support of student success
  • Advocacy for students at individual education plan meetings and other student-focused meetings
  • Data analysis to identify student issues, needs and challenges

If you’re a teacher considering making a move out of the classroom and into the counselor’s office, you’re not alone. More than 55% of the students enrolled in William & Mary’s Online Master of School Counseling program, for example, report that their industry background is in education.7 Keep reading to explore reasons to become a school counselor, the teacher’s skills that will help you succeed in your new position, and the credentials you need to make the career switch.

Why go from teaching to counseling?

You have a passion for education and mentorship, you want your students to thrive mentally, emotionally and academically, and the idea of working with them one-on-one holds strong appeal for you. Congratulations: You are in a prime position to embark on a new phase of your career, and it’s one with a bright future. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for school counselors is expected to grow by 10%—faster than average—between 2021-2031. In 2021, the BLS predicted an average of 32,000 employment openings each year in that time, largely created by career shifts and retirement.8

There are other important reasons why the need for counselors continues to grow. As published in Education Finance and Policy in 2022, “Rising inequality in the United States has raised concerns about potentially widening gaps in educational achievement by socioeconomic status (SES) … At the current pace of closure, the achievement gap would not be eliminated until the second half of the 22nd century.”9 Further, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as reported in The New York Times:10

  • In 2019, 13% of adolescents reported having a major depressive episode; a 60% increase from 2007
  • Emergency room visits by children and adolescents—for anxiety, mood disorders and self-harm—also rose sharply in that period
  • For people ages 10-24, suicide rates, which had been stable from 2000-2007, leaped nearly 60% by 2018

Those CDC numbers were gathered before the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, CNN reported that anxiety and depression in young people doubled during the pandemic’s early months.11 Fallout from the pandemic and varied types of social upheaval has put school-aged students in particular need of support. A February 2023 article on BusinessWire noted that, “mass shootings, unjustified brutality, fentanyl overdoses and hate speech on social media can trigger emotions of past traumas for young people and create a school environment of acting out, withdrawal and falling behind on academics.”12

Why do teachers make good counselors?

As an educator, you live your commitment to helping students become self-assured, proficient adults. As a counselor, you’ll be out of the classroom, working with individual students and the adults in their lives, and using different paths in pursuit of the same overarching goal. The intermediary goals will vary as your students mature.

Elementary school students need counselors to help them become adept at studying and making decisions. When necessary, their counselors also address behavioral issues and special needs. In collaboration with students, parents and school administrators, they develop strategies to foster the students’ social and academic success.13

As detailed in What it Takes to be a School Counselor on this site,[Middle school] counselors serve a critical role in helping students begin to connect their education with practical, real-world applications. Middle school students are developing a strong sense of self, and are very reliant on their peers for affirmation and approval. At the same time, they're beginning to express more autonomy in their lives, and counselors will work with students to develop study plans, and to help identify key issues that could impede learning in the future.”

High school counselors help their teenaged students with the many personal issues that may affect their academic performance. They work in partnership with students to plan for life after graduation: supporting job pursuits, assisting with the application processes for college, scholarships and financial aid, and helping them prepare to live successfully after the last class bell has rung.6

As a school counselor, in addition to helping students thrive academically, you’ll play an essential role in helping them and their families navigate the challenging journey toward maturity. You know from your classroom experience that students’ social and emotional needs change significantly from one year to the next and within each school year individually. According to the CDC, social-emotional development markers in the pre-K-12 years often include:

Children ages 3-5 might:14

  • Become more independent
  • Begin to focus more on adults and children outside of the family
  • Want to explore
  • Ask about the things around them

Children ages 6-8 might:15

  • Show more independence from parents and family
  • Start to think about the future
  • Understand more about their places in the world
  • Pay more attention to friendships and teamwork
  • Want to be liked and accepted by friends

Children ages 9-11 might:16

  • Start to form stronger, more complex friendships and peer relationships It becomes more emotionally important to have friends, especially of the same sex
  • Experience more peer pressure
  • Become more aware of their bodies as puberty approaches
  • Start developing body image and eating problems

Adolescents ages 12-14 might:17

  • Show more concern about body image, looks, and clothes
  • Focus on themselves, alternating between high expectations and lack of confidence
  • Experience more moodiness
  • Show more interest in and influence by peer group
  • Express less affection toward parents; sometimes might seem rude or short-tempered
  • Feel stress from more challenging schoolwork
  • Develop eating problems
  • Feel a lot of sadness or depression, which can lead to poor grades at school, alcohol or drug use, unsafe sex, and other problems

Teens ages 15-17 might:18

  • Have more interest in romantic relationships and sexuality
  • Go through less conflict with parents
  • Show more independence from parents
  • Have a deeper capacity for caring and sharing and for developing more intimate relationships
  • Spend less time with parents and more time with friends
  • Feel a lot of sadness or depression, which can lead to poor grades at school, alcohol or drug use, unsafe sex, and other problems

You already have essential counseling skills.

Clearly, a career as a school counselor holds the promise of life-changing, gratifying work. It also requires particular skills that you, as an educator, already possess. They include:


"The important thing about our counselor is that she listens. I do know that lots of other people listen, but she listens the most.”19 This young student’s tribute gets to the heart of a school counselor’s skill. In the classroom, you rely on your ability to listen to your students and respond to them thoughtfully and effectively. That proficiency will serve you well in your new career.


While listening and making your student feel heard are not the same thing, they are deeply connected. The link between them is empathy: the respectful perception of what a person feels, from that person’s frame of reference, and the ability to communicate it back in a way that makes the person feel heard and understood.20 Successful teachers and counselors use empathy every day.


In your teaching career, how many times have you helped students accomplish these tasks?

  • Identify a problem
  • Define the problem in a helpful way
  • Understand the problem more deeply
  • Set goals related to it
  • Generate alternative, creative solutions
  • Choose the best course of action
  • Implement the choice they have made
  • Evaluate the outcome to determine next steps

In all likelihood, more times than you can count. That bodes well for your career as a counselor, in which you will help your students learn to see problems as solvable challenges and to recognize which actions will effectively resolve them.


Whether you’re in charge of class rosters or caseloads, assignment files or resource files, reminders about deadlines or about upcoming appointments, your work with students requires strong organizational ability. Fortunately, your time in the classroom has strengthened those skills and prepared you to use them in a new context.

How does a teacher become a school counselor?

According to the ASCA,1 school counselors must:

Make a Move That Makes a Powerful Difference

As a school counselor, you’ll have the opportunity to help students thrive in and beyond the academic setting. William & Mary can help you meet this challenge.

Led by world-class faculty, the Online M.Ed. in Counseling program with a concentration in School Counseling will develop your ability to guide the mental, emotional and physical development of students of all ages. With emphasis on social justice, cultural responsiveness, program planning and evaluation practices, our robust curriculum provides the knowledge you need to become a transformative influence in students’ lives. Prepare to help them maximize their ability to learn, engage with peers, navigate early-life decisions and become more resilient.

Your supervised two-semester internship is part of the final year of coursework. In the six-credit-hour internship, you will expand and reinforce the practical learnings gained during the second-year practicum. Together, the practicum and internship help develop your professional network and give you a solid base of experience on which to build your career.

Don’t wait. For more information and to begin this important next step in your career, reach out to an Admissions Advisor today.

  1. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from
  2. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from
  3. Bruce, A. M., Getch, Y. Q., & Ziomek-Daigle, J. (2009). Closing the gap: A group counseling approach to improve test performance of African-American students. Professional School Counseling, 12 (6), 450-457. doi: 10.1177/2156759X0901200603
  4. Leon, A., Villares, E., Brigman, G., Webb, L, & Peluso, P. (2011). Closing the achievement gap of Latina/Latino students: A school counseling response. Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation, 2 (1), 73-86. doi: 10.1177/2150137811400731
  5. Lapan, R. T., Gysbers, N. C., Bragg, S., & Pierce, M. E. (2012). Missouri professional school counselors: Ratios matter, especially in high-poverty schools. Professional School Counseling, 16 (2), 108-116. doi: 10.1177/2156759X0001600207
  6. Davis, P., Davis, M. P., & Mobley, J. A. (2013). The school counselor’s role in addressing the Advanced Placement equity and excellence gap for African American students. Professional School Counseling, 17 (1), 32-39. doi: 10.1177/2156759X0001700104
  7. Based on self-reported data from students enrolled in the WM Online Master of School Counseling program, in graduating cohorts from 2018 - 2023.
  8. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from
  9. Eric A. Hanushek, Jacob D. Light, Paul E. Peterson, Laura M. Talpey, Ludger Woessmann; Long-run Trends in the U.S. SES—Achievement Gap. Education Finance and Policy 2022; 17 (4): 608–640.
  10. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from
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