A Look at the College Counselor Career Path

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A college career counselor helps a student edit a resume.

College counselors work with prospective students, college students-in-residence or nontraditional students to help guide them through transitions and navigate the complexities of life in higher education and beyond. They also work with faculty, college staff, community partners and even parents to help counseling clients achieve academic, personal and professional goals.

A college counselor is qualified to provide these support services once they hold a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC) and proper state certification.

Unlike a high school counselor, who is expected to take a more holistic approach to school counseling, a college counselor is often responsible for a narrower scope of duties. For instance, a college counselor may support students with the admissions process, career preparation or mental health services. Job titles like admissions counselor, career counselor and mental health counselor reflect these focus areas in the field of college counseling.

Here’s a look into the college counseling job market — and the steps you can take to enter it.

A college counselor reviews transcripts with a student.What jobs are available in college counseling?

As a certified counselor, you can find employment at public state universities, private colleges and community colleges throughout the U.S. There are also some opportunities to branch out beyond the college setting.

As an admissions counselor, you’ll guide prospective students through the college admissions experience, from submitting applications to accepting a school’s offer and financial aid package. You’ll work in the admissions office in this type of role.

As a career counselor, you’ll help college students to identify and pursue career fields and jobs that align with their skills and interests. You might do this by administering aptitude tests, hosting mock interviews, leading resume-writing workshops and making connections across mentorship networks. This position is typically situated within a college career center.

As a mental health counselor, you’ll be responsible for helping students manage their mental and emotional health. This might be accomplished with one-on-one counseling appointments, crisis interventions, group counseling sessions, college-wide workshops and more. You may work at a college’s wellness center or health care center in such a capacity.

As an independent college counselor, you’ll be hired by parents or guardians of high school students. Your job will be to help these young clients locate the most suitable colleges and programs and navigate the college application process, much like an admissions counselor employed by a college.

These are just some of the opportunities available to certified counselors interested in working in higher education.

How much do college counselors make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school and career counselors earned a median salary of $56,310 in 2018. The top 10% earned an average of $94,690 per year. Skewing notably higher, ZipRecruiter’s data suggests that college counselor salaries ranged from $61,000 to $106,000 at the end of 2019. But according to Payscale, an entry-level college counselor can anticipate a salary closer to $40,000.

Naturally, a college counselor’s salary and lifetime earning potential depend on their experience level, credentials and location. Payscale notes that certain large metropolitan areas see between 16% and 25% higher salaries.

Are college counselors in high demand?

The field of college counseling is expanding. The BLS predicts an 8% increase in school and career counselor jobs between 2018 and 2028. This is faster than the national average for all jobs and over a 10-year period will result in around 27,200 new job openings.

The BLS cites rising school enrollment and the increasing popularity of on-campus career centers as the two primary reasons for this anticipated job growth.

How do I become a college counselor?

If you aspire to be a college counselor, you’ll need the right academic background and skill set. Most states and colleges throughout the U.S. will require you hold both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in a related field along with a professional certification.

Depending on your ultimate professional goals, you may work toward a master’s degree in counseling or a master’s degree in a related field like psychology. The right program will prepare you to work with students,  their parents, college faculty and staff, and to partner with community organizations — especially for career resources or student advocacy. You will also learn how to strategically develop and successfully deploy a college counseling program. As part of your education, you’ll participate in a counseling internship or another supervised experiential component for hands-on learning.

The majority of colleges require their counseling staff to be state-certified. The process to earn counseling certification typically involves completing the necessary coursework and passing an exam. In some cases, prospective college counselors may be required to hold a teaching license or a few years of teaching experience.

Certified counselors are eligible to join professional associations like the American School Counselor Association, the American College Counseling Association or the National Association for College Admission Counseling. This is an excellent way to find opportunities for continuing education, which is an essential component to staying certified and active in the profession.

Is Bradley University’s online MAC program right for me?

Bradley University’s online MAC program is designed to help busy students — even those employed full-time — to develop the necessary skills and competencies for a career in college counseling. Students who follow the Professional School Counseling or Clinical Mental Health Counseling tracks graduate with a direct path to licensure so they can enter the job market qualified, certified and highly employable.

To learn more about Bradley University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling curriculum, visit the program page or connect with an admissions counselor.

Recommended Readings:

Internship Opportunities Available to MAC Students

Bradley University’s Online Masters in Counseling Program

Online Master of Arts in Counseling — Professional School Counseling


Bureau of Labor Statistics — School and Career Counselors

Payscale — Average College Career Counselor Salary

ZipRecruiter — College Counselor Salary