Tips for Becoming a First-class High School Counselor

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One career path that graduates of Bradley University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program may wish to pursue is that of a professional school counselor — either at the elementary, middle or high school levels.

Career spotlight: School counselor

As explained in a U.S. News & World Report overview, school counselors carry out an array of duties, contingent on the educational level and the needs of the institution at which they are employed. At the high school level, school counselors are individuals whom students can go to for help on virtually any issue — both academic and personal. High school counselors also can offer students more tangible help by reviewing college applications, revising college application essays or arranging campus visits. High school counselors also can help students not bound for college by offering career counseling.

School counseling at the elementary and middle school levels is more focused on students’ development within the school setting. Elementary and middle school counselors typically will monitor the behavior and academic and extra-curricular activities of children, offering help to both students and parents when necessary. School counselors at this education level also will work closely with children who have special needs or who may need specific learning accommodations. Like high school counselors, middle and elementary school counselors are also there to provide counseling to students who need it.

Graduate students looking to enter this profession will be pleased to know that the number of job openings likely will rise in the coming years. Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that, in the next decade, employment in this profession likely will increase by 8 percent. Individuals interested in this profession also should note that the salary is reasonable. According to U.S. News & World Report, the nationwide average salary for this role stands at almost $54,000 per year, although salaries approaching $80,000 annually are not uncommon, particularly for counselors with extensive experience.

Tips for success in the field

While a master’s degree in counseling certainly can prepare candidates for a role in this challenging and rewarding field, it is useful to take a closer look at some tips that may help individuals excel in this profession. After all, as Lynne Shallcross explained, writing in Counseling Today, a publication of the American Counseling Association, a counselor’s education is never complete. Rather, professionals in this field should constantly be looking for ways to brush up on crucial skills and learn new things.

School counselor meeting with student

Below are some of the most effective tips for becoming a competent professional school counselor:

  1. Have a desire to learn
    Before new school counselors begin their first day, it is important that they research the school for which they will be working to understand the ethos of the institution and to get a feel for the kinds of students in that same district. As Maureen Nelson stated in an article for the National Career Development Association, it is important that new counselors also continue their education about the institution at which they work and the system within which they will be working long after their first day.
  2. Be flexible
    School counseling differs from more traditional counseling roles because duties likely will vary considerably from one day to the next. Education World quoted school counseling consultant Rich Downs, who explained that school counselors always should put the needs and priorities of students first, even if that approach sometimes conflicts with ready-established schedules. Situations such as this are why flexibility, an open mind and a relaxed attitude are key to success in a counseling role.Education World reporters interviewed Linda Lueckenhoff, another school counselor, who elaborated on the importance of a flexible attitude while working as a school counselor: “You just never know what is going to come up next. You might finish presenting a classroom lesson on friendship, and on the way back to your office, the school secretary gives you a message to return a call from a concerned parent. But before you have a chance to pick up the phone, the school nurse steps in to discuss concerns about a student who might have been physically abused. While you are talking with the nurse, the superintendent calls to invite you to a meeting on developing a district crisis response plan. … A rigid person just couldn’t survive very well in this type of setting. You must be able to switch gears and think fast.”
  3. Track down a mentor
    School counselor Rebecca M. Cordisco, writing in Counseling Today, suggested that new school counselors should find a colleague or trusted friend in the field to seek for consultation, particularly in the first year or so. After all, as Cordisco explained, while a master’s program offers training for the role, the job often will present surprising challenges or emotional hurdles that cannot be taught or explained in the classroom. With a mentor, new counselors can be sure that they are receiving the support they need to excel in the role and offer the best possible counseling to students.
  4. Take care of personal mental health
    To truly excel as a school counselor, new professionals in the field should ensure that they are in good mental health themselves. After all, as school counselor Crystal Asche told Education World, it can be easy for school counselors to overlook their own mental health because they dedicate so much time to helping others. Once a school counselor’s mental health begins to suffer, his or her ability to do the job effectively can be impacted. When this type of situation happens, counselors become “impaired” and are ethically obligated to stop their professional roles. Impaired counselors may be injurious to their clients. All counselors have a duty to protect their clients and their profession. As a result, when a counselor notices that a colleague is impaired, he or she must make that person aware and seek for remedy. If the impaired professional does not address the condition, a formal adjudication may be sought. An impaired counselor who does not seek for help may lose his or her credentials to practice. Hence, establishing one’s mental health is essential to the work counselors do for their clients.Another counselor interviewed was Tom Wiggins, who serves as president of the New York School Counselor Association. He explained that an important way for school counselors to maintain good mental health is to strike a healthy work-life balance.Cordisco also offered some insight into the necessity of a work-life balance. She explained that she sets aside time, specifically on a Saturday, to rest, relax and partake in activities that she enjoys.
  5. Build strong relationships
    Arguably, one of the most important components of counseling is the ability to connect with others in a meaningful way. School counselors should work hard to ensure that they develop meaningful working relationships with the students they encounter. As Cordisco explained, this process often necessitates going above and beyond the basic call of duty in terms of what is expected. She said that she makes an effort to “be more present” with the student body. Essentially, what she meant is interacting with students in both a formal and an informal way. For example, effective engagement strategies include striking up conversations about school work with children in the hallway, visiting classes and lectures, and building relationships with teachers, nurses and other faculty. Students will be more inclined to utilize counseling services when issues arise if they are able to see that school counselors are active members of the school community.

Apply to Bradley University

If a career as a professional school counselor appeals to you, consider taking the first step by applying to Bradley University’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program.


Recommended Reading

State-By-State Mandates for Professional School Counseling

The Positive Impact School Counselors Can Have on Students

Bradley University Online Counseling Program