What Makes a Great School Counselor
For many of us, there’s no better feeling than having a positive impact on a kid. Growing up can be tough, and school and what lies beyond can feel like a maze. You’ve been through it yourself, and if you were lucky, you had a school counselor who helped set you on the right path.
If you’ve been teaching and want to switch gears, or if working with elementary, middle school, or high school students feels right and you know you have a lot to offer, a career in school counseling may be a perfect fit for you. You can even keep your current job while you get a Masters of Education in School Counseling at one of the country’s best colleges for counseling.
With a bachelors degree (in any field) from an accredited university, and taking only two classes per semester, most online degree programs can be completed in eight semesters and will qualify you for Licensed Professional Counseling Certification. There’s usually even financial aid available.
Being a school counselor means becoming personally involved with young students of all ages and helping them along the way to becoming productive and successful adults. School counselors work as a team with administrators and families to meet challenges students might be facing at school or at home, and serve as mentors on the journey to high school graduation and beyond.
At every level, what makes a great counselor is compassion and the ability to understand a student’s needs, interests, talents, and desires, and relate them to real-world options. Maybe above all is skill at listening to both what the student says and doesn’t say, and knowing how to channel his or her strengths and overcome his or her weaknesses.
The specific scope of the work varies with the age of the children:
Working with young children in elementary school, counselors are often involved with students who have behavioral issues or learning disorders. Their work can involve assessing those problems and conferring with parents and teachers as to recommended ways to resolve them, sometimes bringing in other professionals like psychologists and therapists. The earlier these kinds of difficulties are dealt with, the smoother the road a child has to academic success.
It’s in middle school that students who may have had childhood dreams about being ballerinas or cowboys begin thinking in earnest about what they want to be when they grow up. A school counselor at this point can be an invaluable aid in guiding middle-school students toward other opportunities they may not even have known existed.
Working with students at both ends of the academic spectrum — from those with learning disorders to those in advanced placement classes — a counselor is called upon to adapt thoughtfully to each child’s needs and be a sounding board for their concerns.
In high school, students begin wrestling with the very real choices that lie before them. College is a goal for many, but which college and why? Technical training instead of a traditional university is another option, and students who might be inclined in that direction need help in evaluating those choices and the careers they may lead to.
High school counselors are often involved in helping students select classes and electives that will bolster their chances of acceptance, and assist them in applying to schools and finding financial aid. At the same time, high school counselors are sometimes called upon to help kids through difficulties in the social realm that can derail even the best students. Often a student finds a counselor easier to take a problem to than a parent, and it’s a fortunate teenager who has a counselor he or she can really talk to.
Counselors at the college level work with students to plan courses of study and maximize the benefits of their degrees. They may help direct them to graduate studies that fit their career goals, and counsel them on available internships and entry-level jobs. Some may even offer assistance with writing resumes and learning how to interview. It’s a great counselor who sends a new graduate off into the working world with the confidence and skills to succeed.
For more information, and lists of each state’s licensing requirements for school counselors, visit the American School Counselor Association.