School counseling is something you pursue at the graduate level. Some states require that school counselors have teaching experience and/or credentials prior to beginning their career in school counseling. The majority don’t. Still, having a background in education can be beneficial when it comes to getting into a graduate program and ultimately securing a job. In some instances, having an education background means not having to do a lengthy internship in school counseling. If you envision yourself as a school counselor, you may do well majoring or minoring in education. Here are some things to consider.
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The Education Major and Certification Tracks
A traditional education major that leads to certification or licensure will invariably have a student teaching component. At the undergraduate level, you won’t be doing your student teaching in a school counseling role. However, by picking the right degree or emphasis area, you may put yourself in a position to work with you target population, and in a setting where you feel comfortable. You can choose a standard elementary track, a secondary subject area (for, example, history and social sciences), special education, or even some other specialty like English as a second language.
One option to consider is special education. Some people envision students with severe, multiple handicaps and imagine this population as being a very small percentage of the young people they will ultimately serve. The vast majority of students in special education do not have severe impairments. They may have speech or communication impairments or learning disabilities that impair their ability to function in one or more academic areas. Some children receive special education services for emotional disturbances. And of course there are those with mild intellectual disability. These are youngsters you’ll ultimately be providing services for: helping with adjustment issues, offering counseling groups or special classes, preparing for college and the world beyond. Many special education students are served in resource rooms: an alternative to the traditional classroom setting. Your coursework in such a program may include home and school collaboration and behavior intervention.
It is important to keep in mind that there is typically an application process to the school’s College of Education; you can expect to write an essay or personal statement. While it is perfectly fine to have a vision of becoming a school counselor, you will want to demonstrate that you are a good candidate for the program you are currently applying for, and that the experience, including student teaching, will be positive for all involved. In other words, your vision should include contributing in some role besides just school counselor.
The Education Minor
Another option is an education minor, which includes substantial education coursework, but will not prepare you for licensure (at least at the lower grade levels). This is something to consider if you do not need classroom experience. Some schools will allow students from a wide variety of disciplines to minor in education. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst specifically mentions the education minor as being appropriate for future school counselors (and others who are interested in education, but want to leave their future options open).
What can a student expect from a minor in education? The minor will likely include six or seven courses. There will typically be at least a couple core courses that you will be required to take. There can be a wide range of electives, though, and they won’t necessarily all be related to academic teaching. Educational resilience, bilingual education, and service learning are among the interests you may explore.
You will want to look ahead. Your plan should be state-specific. Are there specific education classes (for example, classroom management) that will ultimately be required of school counselors who do not have a background in teaching? If so, you may have the opportunity to take them as an undergraduate. Remember that universities also have academic counselors and advisers – take advantage of their services. You may also look to the American School Counselor Association for resources.