How to Become a High School Guidance Counselor
Love kids? Have tons of patience? Want to make a difference in young adults' lives? If you answered yes to these questions, a high school guidance counselor job might be in your future.
As a school guidance counselor, you'll need to know the educational system front and back. You'll also be your students' strongest advocate. You must be willing to help them navigate through difficult issues while guiding them in achieving their goals. Here are steps you need to take to build a career as a high school guidance counselor:
1. Observe a counselor in action
Wondering how to become a high school guidance counselor? Lindsay Morris, a school counselor in South Carolina, recommends shadowing a professional first. "Take advantage of all the shadowing opportunities you can get. Don't be afraid to call up a counselor," she says.
While shadowing has certain restrictions, such as confidential meetings with students, this process allows you a better idea of what the role entails and if it's right for you. Morris adds, "We want really good people in the profession with us, so reach out."
Morris also strongly encourages aspiring guidance counselors to take stock of what the position requires. Elementary school guidance counselors typically deal with early childhood behavior issues. High school counselors, on the other hand, must navigate the college application process, NCAA regulations for potential college athletes, and other challenges students face as they enter the real world.
"If you're not good with paperwork and struggle with organization," Morris adds, "counseling may not be right for you."
So, what do guidance counselors do in a high school? Besides assisting students with their course load and preparing them for life after high school, a guidance counselor wears many hats. Working with students in an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and 504 Plan — customized accommodations for students with disabilities — plays a significant role as well. An effective high school guidance counselor is able and willing to bring sensitivity and a strong understanding of the law to this role.
"If you're afraid of legal stuff, you shouldn't do it," says Morris. "It's a part of the job that people don't talk about as much. You end up dealing with it a lot." Whether it's dealing with the Department of Social Services to protect a child or ensuring the safety of a high school campus by working with resource officers, a solid understanding of the law is essential.
2. Prepare to handle the tough issues
Another aspect of the high school guidance counselor job description Morris says people often overlook is the need to deal with and resolve one's own traumas or emotional hardships.
"I would encourage anyone interested in counseling to go to therapy because you have to deal with your own stuff first," she says. "If you don't, it's going to bias you. You won't be as open to certain subjects if you haven't dealt with your own past issues or trauma." Morris says that the best counselors are the ones who can own their personal issues. They'll be more open with their students, which will encourage the students to open up to them.
You also need to be prepared to tackle the equally stressful everyday duties and responsibilities of a high school guidance counselor, such as interpreting standardized test scores, maintaining records, and providing students with school-to-career guidance and scholarship information. What may seem like the easy part of the job can be just as challenging as dealing with conflict resolution.
"You have to be a people person," says Morris. "If you're an introvert, it's not going to be the easiest job." Morris says that, more often than not, it's a guidance counselor's job to deal with awkward situations between students and their families. You must be prepared to handle tough conversations on a daily basis.
3. Consider volunteering or interning
Morris encourages anyone considering a career in school counseling to volunteer or intern at a school. Consider an organization that advocates for children and teens or handles behavioral situations. Morris volunteered at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline before entering graduate school. "That 100 percent prepared me for my job," she says. "I have to talk about self-harm daily. If you're not comfortable with sexual issues or taboo topics, it's going to be difficult to do this job. What's taboo to most cannot be taboo to you."
4. Complete your education and internship
The education, internship and licensing requirements for high school guidance counselor jobs vary by state. Some states allow you to work in the field with a bachelor's degree, while others require a master's degree in school counseling. Don't let the lack of an undergraduate degree in psychology prevent you from pursuing a career in counseling. According to Morris, most school guidance counselors don't have a degree in psychology, which can even be a plus.
"Psychology majors often focus more on testing but haven't necessarily spent a lot of time with kids," she says. That's often more important to hiring managers. When creating your resume, highlight past jobs where you worked with children. Tutoring, coaching, volunteering in a classroom, or working as a camp counselor–these roles all show you have experience working with kids and will be valuable as you start applying for school counselor positions.
Morris says that, despite the challenges of the job, the rewards are worth it. "It's the hugs," she adds. When she witnesses a student overcome an obstacle and succeed, that's the big payoff.
5. Apply to guidance counselor jobs
Once you've completed the requirements for your state, begin pulling your application materials together. Craft a well-written resume that can be easily customized, and make sure it emphasizes your education, certifications and time spent working with children. Write a cover letter that can be easily customized as well, and make sure it demonstrates your enthusiasm and willingness to guide students through difficult situations.
Here's a valuable tip: many education employers use applicant tracking systems (ATS) to review resumes. These systems automatically scan resumes to find relevant keywords. When updating your resume and cover letter for a particular job, include keywords from the job ad whenever possible.
To hit the ground running, why not use our Resume Builder? It has more than 20 eye-catching templates, plus pre-written bullet points and easy editing tools. Altogether, you'll be on the fast-track to writing a resume that will land you the guidance counselor job you want. You may also want to follow our Guidance Counselor Resume Sample to get ideas on how to write yours. This sample can also be customized to jump start your resume writing process.