How to Become a School Counselor in California

With over 30,000 education, guidance, school, and vocational counselors in California, the state employs more school counselors than anywhere else in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The California counseling system requires aspiring professionals to earn a pupil personnel services (PPS) credential with a specialization in school counseling. PPS candidates must meet specific education, practicum, and examination requirements. This guide outlines how to become a school counselor in California.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in California

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in California here

Education and Experience Requirements

School counselors can earn the PPS credential by fulfilling California's education and experience requirements. The state dictates the education level, type of degree, and examinations individuals need to apply for the credential. PPS education and experience requirements are detailed below.

Education and Coursework

To become a school guidance counselor in California, candidates need a master's degree. The graduate program must comprise at least 48 credits and hold regional accreditation. The candidate's college or university must also formally recommend them for school counseling certification.

California does not require specific classes; however, counseling coursework commonly covers topics like cross-cultural counseling, career counseling for high school students, and legal and ethical issues with regard to school counseling. Applicants must also complete a counseling practicum with school-age children.

Additionally, candidates must pass the basic skills requirement. Those who apply with a credential in early childhood to young adulthood - school counseling from the National Board for Professional Training Standards (NBPTS) may bypass the basic skills requirement.

Prospective counselors can learn more about degrees in counseling through this resource.

Interested in pursuing an education in school counseling? Check out the following pages to explore available academic programs by level:

Practicum and Internship

California requires school counseling candidates to complete a practicum as part of their professional preparation. Master's programs usually include 100 practicum hours, and practicum experiences generally last one semester. Many master's programs include additional field work courses, which allow students to gain more real-world experience.

Application and Exam Requirements for California School Counselors

Prospective school counselors can apply for the PPS credential through California's Commission on Teacher Credentialing. This agency licenses all professionals who work in schools, including teachers, counselors, and social workers.

Applicants do not need to take a state-sponsored exam for school counseling; however, California sets a basic skills requirement

Candidates must complete a background check through the Live Scan fingerprint process. Applicants do not need to take a state-sponsored exam for school counseling; however, California sets a basic skills requirement. Applicants can fulfill this requirement through the California Basic Educational Skills Test, California Subject Examinations for Teachers, California State University Early Assessment Program, or several other options.

Individuals qualify to apply without the basic skills requirement if they hold a NBPTS credential in early childhood to young adulthood – school counseling.

Out-of-State School Counselor Candidates

Out-of-state school counselors may apply for California PPS credentials. They need a bachelor's degree in addition to at least a 30-credit post-baccalaureate degree in school counseling accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. The program must include supervised field experience with school-age children. Candidates must submit an official letter from their university verifying their field experience.

Applicants must also send in a photocopy of their out-of-state school counseling credential. If the commission determines that this credential does not satisfy California law, then candidates must undergo an evaluation from a California university with a commission-approved school counseling program. Candidates must also fulfill California's basic skills requirement.

School Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

School counselors need to renew their PPS credentials every five years. Since the PPS counts as a "clear" credential, professionals do not need to complete any additional coursework, continuing education credits, or service requirements. School counselors renew their PPS credential online through the commission's website. The renewal process typically takes 10 days.

School counselors need to renew their PPS credentials every five years

Resources and Organizations for School Counselors in California

The resources below include courses, organizations, publications, and websites that help guidance counselors in California navigate the credentialing process and access professional development and networking opportunities.

  • American School Counselor Association The ASCA hosts national conferences and professional development opportunities. Members also receive subscriptions to a magazine and an academic journal.
  • ASCA Legal and Ethical Training This course prepares counselors to approach ethical challenges in an empathetic and informed manner. ASCA members receive a discount on the course.
  • California Association of School Counselors, Inc. This association connects school counselors in California through conferences, advocacy, and networking events. The group also awards scholarships for counseling students and allows members to access job postings.
  • California Commission on Teacher Credentialing The website offers guidelines and FAQs about how to apply for the PPS credential. The commission also publishes data reports that provide information about counseling in the state.
  • H.B. McDaniel Foundation This foundation hosts workshops and professional development opportunities for northern California counselors. The foundation also issues awards to professionals and offers scholarships for up to $2,000 to students.
  • Jason Foundation Materials The Jason Foundation dedicates its mission to preventing suicides among at-risk youth. Counselors can order materials and kits that provide blueprints for discussing sensitive topics, like self harm and suicide, with students.
  • Professional School Counseling Journal Published by the ASCA, this journal covers the latest theories and research in school counseling. Counselors can also learn about new techniques, materials, and ideas.
  • School Counselor Toolkit In partnership with the online master's program in school counseling at New York University - Steinhardt, this program offers information about professional development opportunities. It also links to free online resources for guidance counselors.
  • SCOPE SCOPE offers an online space for school counselors to participate in virtual discussions and share their experiences. The organization also publishes podcasts where guidance counselors converse about their profession.
  • Run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this website publishes resources for guidance counselors and others on how to prevent bullying and cyberbullying among children.

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