How to Become a School Counselor in Illinois

School counseling is an evolving field. What began as vocational guidance now incorporates supporting students academically, socially, and psychologically. School counselors also provide support for stakeholders who influence student well-being, including parents, educators, and administrators. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that demand for school counselors should increase by 13% between 2016-2026, which is faster than the national average.

Students exploring how to become school counselors in Illinois should begin by examining pertinent qualities, which include compassion, empathy, and interpersonal skills. This profession also requires an advanced degree in school counseling or a related field. Our guide contains specific educational requirements, licensing information, and resources for aspiring school guidance counselors in Illinois.

Counseling License and Career Requirements in Illinois

Explore more pathways to becoming a counselor in Illinois here

Education and Experience Requirements

The following section includes information about the types of degrees counseling students should consider at the bachelor's and master's degree levels. While this profession offers opportunities for doctoral degrees, a master's degree is the minimum to become licensed. This section also explores coursework, credit requirements, and licensure requirements.

Education and Coursework

The Illinois school counselor board requires a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and a master's degree in counseling. Course content must cover personal and academic growth, social and emotional growth, educational and career decision-making, and interpersonal relationship development.

The Illinois school counselor board requires a bachelor's degree in a relevant field and a master's degree in counseling

The Illinois school counselor board does not require an applicant to hold a specific bachelor's degree, but ideal majors include counseling, psychology, or sociology. These bachelor's programs typically require 120 credits. Common courses include counseling methods, sociological theories, probability and statistics, developmental psychology, theories of personality, and social science research methods.

To qualify for licensure, each professional must earn a master's degree in counseling. These programs typically require 60 credits, with core courses in law and ethics, group counseling, career guidance, leadership and advocacy, social justice practices, and intervention methods.

While students must obtain master's degrees to practice with a license, earning a doctorate in counseling allows professionals to stand out as subject matter experts. Additionally, students should consider programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Accreditation indicates that the program covers pertinent knowledge and skills that professionals need.


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


Practicum and Internship

Each student must complete an internship experience, which requires 600 clock hours, including 240 direct service hours in a K-12 school setting. However, professionals with two years of experience teaching only need to complete 400 clock hours, including 240 direct service hours. Illinois also requires 100 supervised hours with 40 hours of direct service work.

Application and Exam Requirements for Illinois School Counselors

The Illinois Department of Education requires each professional counselor applicant to hold a master's degree from an accredited institution approved by the Illinois counselor board. While CACREP-accredited programs are held in high esteem, the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) also approves APA-accredited schools.

The Illinois counselor board requires completion of a state-approved program, a standards verification form, official transcripts, an ED form, and examination results. Acceptable exams include the ISBE examination for school counseling or the national counselor examination (NCE). Each student should also plan to complete an FBI background check.

The NCE exam consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and requires just under four hours to complete. This exam is not graded on a curve, so student scores do not alter based on other learners taking the exam. The exam assesses pertinent knowledge and skills related to topics like:

  • Human Growth and Development

  • Social and Cultural Diversity

  • Counseling and Helping Relationships

  • Group Counseling and Group Work

  • Career Counseling

  • Assessment and Testing

  • Research and Program Evaluation

  • Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethical Practice

Illinois counselor applicants should note that the testing process may vary by specialization.

Out-of-State School Counselor Candidates

The Illinois counselor board welcomes qualified out-of-state counselors. Each applicant must provide proof of a master's degree in counseling from an accredited institution, internship hours, examination results, and a valid school counseling license or an educator license with school counseling endorsements. Educator applicants also need to provide evidence of full-time counselor work.

Illinois offers reciprocity to each applicant who possesses a teaching certificate or a minimum two years of experience as a counselor. Candidates must also pass the ISBE examination for school counselors. Other requirements may include:

  • Official transcripts
  • Professional reference forms
  • BCI/FBI background check

Out-of-state applicants should note that the board may request additional information to determine eligibility.

School Counselor License Maintenance and Renewal Requirements

Illinois guidance counselors must accumulate 120 clock hours of continuing education every five years to renew their licenses. The Illinois School Counselor Association (ISCA) requires licensed professional counselors and licensed clinical professional counselors to earn 30 continuing education hours every two years.

Illinois guidance counselors must accumulate 120 clock hours of continuing education every five years to renew their licenses

Contrastingly, counselors who hold a professional educator license with a school counseling endorsement from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation do not need to complete any continuing education hours. Instead, these counselors need to each earn 120 clock hours of professional development every five years.

Resources and Organizations for School Counselors in Illinois

Licensed guidance counselors in Illinois can tap into an international network that promotes and shares new research and innovative practices in counseling. The resources below can also assist counseling students and practicing counselors to advance their knowledge in the field.

  • American Counseling Association ACA advocates for ethical, culturally diverse practices that assist individuals who use counseling services. Members can gain access to publications, professional development, and annual conferences.
  • American School Counselor Association ASCA strives to support students and professionals in the field by providing resources, statistical data, publications, access to conferences, and professional development.
  • Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development AMCD provides resources that help counselors promote ethnic and racial empathy. AMCD offers a leadership academy, growth workshops, mentorships, and a 25-state division network.
  • Center for School Counseling Outcome Research and Evaluation CSCORE provides educational opportunities for aspiring guidance counselors. The center also offers professional development for practitioners who wish to acquire skills in data-driven decision-making, survey development, and program implementation.
  • Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International Established in 1985, this international honor society promotes professional excellence in counseling. Student members gain access to annual conventions, mentorship, practical experience, leadership development, research opportunities, and fellowships.
  • Illinois Counseling Association ICA helps counselors reach their maximum potential. Members gain access to professional development, job listings, advocacy, and a network of local professionals.
  • Journal of School Counseling JSC provides articles that discuss best practices for professional school counselors. Content focuses on innovation, theory and research, professional development, emerging issues, and current dilemmas.
  • The National Association of College Admission Counseling NACAC strives to connect students and professionals. Members can receive access to webinars, workshops, job fairs, national conferences, and micro-communities that focus on specific areas of the counseling field.
  • The National Board for Certified Counselors NBCC is a grassroots network where certified counselors can join a network of professionals who are passionate about developing innovative solutions to modern problems in the field.
  • The National Education Association NEA has over three million members with roles in education. Membership includes access to discussion forums, innovative field techniques, news, online resources, and webinars.

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