School Counseling | Program Guide

School counseling is a specialization within the field of therapy or counseling. School counselors work in public and private schools, and they focus on the health of students. They evaluate learning disabilities and mental health issues, help solve behavioral or social problems, assist in career planning, and/or advise others on school policy.

This page looks at the profession of school counseling and offers details on degree programs for interested students. Information includes sample coursework, potential jobs and salaries, and degree program particulars. Students should always research specific programs to choose the best fit for their needs.

What is School Counseling?

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School counseling traces its formal beginning to the social reform movement of the 1890s. The outrage in the U.S. over widespread child labor led to the development of compulsory education and ultimately school counseling.

Early in the movement, teachers often served as guidance counselors in addition to their regular duties. It was not until 1938 that schools received legitimate funding for guidance counseling, which focused mostly on testing and career placement. By the 1970s, schools gave attention to the needs of students with disabilities, and by the early 2000s, standards-based education, along with legislation like the No Child Left Behind Act, required school counselors to research and create innovative ways to serve their students.

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Today's school counselors hold more responsibilities than their historical counterparts. In the past, counselors mostly focused on vocational guidance, or helping students determine the best path forward for their future schooling or career plans.

While these professionals still provide career and education advice, they also have duties pertaining to the psychological and social development of their students. Now, school counselors monitor behavioral, psychological, and social issues; mediate between students and parents; diagnose and provide aid for students with learning or physical disabilities; and shape school policy to benefit students' mental and physical health.

Differences Between a School Counseling Program and a General Counseling or Therapy Program

The jobs of general counseling and therapy professionals resemble that of school counselors. Both professions study mental and physical health while addressing behavioral, social, and psychological issues. Counselors of all kinds undergo training to help individuals and their communities at large.

School counseling is a specialized discipline within counseling and therapy. School counselors address similar issues as general counselors, but they do so in a school setting. They evaluate the mental and physical wellbeing of young people and watch for academic problems, such as learning disabilities.

Institutions of higher education offer graduate degrees in general counseling and school counseling. Students can find master's degree programs that tackle the general aspects of therapy or specific disciplines. Materials occasionally overlap, but a master's in school counseling delves deeper into topics particular to that profession.

Sample Coursework

A general counseling curriculum acts as a foundation for a school counseling curriculum. Students learn counseling principles and theories for both majors. However, a school counseling program examines issues and techniques unique to this profession.

Though school counselors may take many courses that fall under the category of general counseling, the reverse is not always true. The table below lists sample courses that students might find in a general counseling or therapy program versus courses specific to school counseling programs.

General Counseling or Therapy Program

  • Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories
  • Techniques in Counseling
  • Ethics in Counseling
  • Multicultural Counseling
  • Evaluation and Assessment
  • Research and Statistics
  • Group Counseling

School Counseling Program

  • School Counseling Program Development and Evaluation
  • Counseling for College and Career Readiness
  • Child and Adolescent Counseling in Schools
  • Current Trends and Legal Issues in Educating Special Populations
  • Prevention and Intervention within Public Schools

What Can You Do With a School Counseling Degree?

School counselors place the success of students in school as their priority. Consequently, they address psychological, emotional, or social issues to help students function at their highest level of potential in the classroom. School counselors give students a healthy outlet for their problems, help diagnose learning or behavioral issues, and provide guidance to children at crucial stages in their development.

School counselors assess students' abilities through aptitude tests and interviews; help solve behavioral issues like poor classroom attendance; create individualized plans for academic success; and educate parents and staff about topics like bullying, drug abuse, or college applications.

What Do School Counselors Help With?

School counseling has a positive impact on individuals, families, and communities as a whole. For the most part, school counselors work with individual students. However, some issues may need special attention from families or from the larger school community. It is the counselor's responsibility to educate and involve the community and to spread knowledge on mental, physical, and social health.

Where Do School Counselors Work?

The list below shows five typical work environments for school counselors. Professionals should note some overlap between jobs for school counselors and jobs for general counselors.

  • State, local, or private elementary and secondary schools
  • State, local, or private junior colleges, universities, and professional schools
  • Healthcare and social assistance
  • Other educational services
  • Self-employed workers

How Much Do School Counselors Make?

This table shows the average yearly salary for a school counselor based on experience. Typically, salaries increase with greater experience and education.

Discover Jobs You Can Get With a Degree in School Counseling

School Counseling Degree Programs

The table below summarizes levels of education for school counselors, including time to completion, career opportunities, and links to additional information. Different degree levels qualify professionals for different careers. While it is common to find master's and doctoral degrees for school counseling, most undergraduate programs only teach general counseling.

Online School Counseling Degree Programs

Online programs offer a level of flexibility that many on-campus programs do not. Students can manage their course schedules, take classes on a full- or part-time basis, and find accelerated learning programs to finish their degrees more quickly. Tuition rates may be lower for online learning as well.

This method of learning is particularly helpful for working professionals who want to advance their careers but who cannot take time off for more schooling. Online programs often let students personalize their course load and schedules so they may work while still earning an advanced degree.

Factors to Consider When Selecting a School Counseling Program

Students should consider their needs carefully before selecting a program. Not all school counseling programs offer the same courses, schedule, or tuition rate. These sections describe factors students should take into consideration when beginning their search.


Accreditation is a process of evaluation to determine if universities meet rigorous academic standards set by boards recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Regional accreditation is more prestigious than national accreditation. Regional boards serve specific geographic regions, while national boards look at the whole country. Typically, regionally accredited schools are academically oriented, while nationally accredited schools offer vocational programs.

These boards examine the overall mission of the school, its objectives and goals, the quality of education, and the reputation of the faculty. The main accrediting body for school counseling programs is the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP).


Students should always look at tuition costs when exploring school options, as many factors determine the price of a college education. In-state tuition typically costs less than out-of-state tuition. Similarly, public colleges usually cost less than private ones. In terms of programming, online degrees tend to cost less than on-campus degrees.

On-Campus vs. Online Programs

While many still consider on-campus programs more traditional, online programs offer many unique factors worth examining. Benefits of an online degree program can include flexibility of schedule, accelerated learning programs, and often lower tuition rates. Many students who work part- or full- time choose online learning over on-campus learning.

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