School Counselor Certification in Washington

Washington State school counselors are under the jurisdiction of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). They are classified as Educational Staff Associates, or ESAs.

Educational Requirements for Residency School Counselor Certification

School counselors must have education at the master's level; degrees are to be earned through regionally accredited institutions ( OSPI notes that while the major area of study should be counseling, individuals with master's or doctoral degrees in other fields can achieve certification if they have completed equivalent coursework.

The student will need to complete an approved program in school counseling, either in conjunction with the master's or separately.

Examination Requirements for Residency Certification

Washington school counselors are certified on the basis of examination. In many cases, the assessment will be a comprehensive examination required by the counseling program.

Washington will also accept the National Counselor Examination (NCE) administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). This same examination is used in the licensing process for professional counselors; students in qualifying counseling programs may take the examination as early as their final semester. Individuals will find registration information on the NBCC website (

Candidates who have completed their master’s programs without taking qualifying examinations will take the Professional School Counselor Examination, a multiple choice assessment offered by Educational Testing Service as part of the Praxis Series for Educators ( The examination is computer-delivered and is available during monthly testing windows at sites around the nation. ETS offers study guides in PDF format ( Candidates can register through the ETS website. They should be prepared to remit $115.

The minimum passing score on the current version of the Professional School Counselor Examination is 156. OSPI notes that individuals who took the assessment prior to January 17, 2013 may have taken test #0420; in this instance, the threshold score is 600.

The National Certified School Counselor Examination (NCSCE) is also accepted for certification purposes. However, this is a specialty certification exam typically taken by experienced school counselors. Like the NCE, it is under the banner of the NBCC.

There are multiple levels of ESA certification. School counselors progress from residency to professional certification after accruing work experience and completing the statewide professional development program. National certification is an alternate route to higher credentialing.

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The Application Process

Applicants are required to have fingerprint-based background checks. OSPI notes that this is a separate process and ideally, it should be carried out before application submission. Individuals can have their fingerprints captured electronically at the state’s Educational Service District Offices. There are nine ESDs (

Out-of-state candidates may request fingerprint cards.

School counselors will use the ESA application packet; they can select “download and print” from the ESA requirements page (

The applicant will need to fill out the top portion of the “Institutional Verification of Program Completion and Character” form; the school will complete the form and return it to the applicant to be included in the application package. Also required are official transcripts indicating conferral of a master’s degree.

The applicant will also fill out the “Verification of Good Standing for Certificates Held in Other States” form, but is directed not to send it to any out-of-state licensing agency; OSPI will carry out any required verification.

Application and certification fees total $68.

Out-of-State School Counselors

School counselors can achieve certification on the basis of school counseling programs completed in other states. Current certificate holders who did not complete approved school counseling programs can be certified if they have had three years of experience in the school counseling role ( They must have accrued the experience while working under state certification (except in cases where the other state did not require certification).

An experience verification form is included in the ESA application package.

The out-of-state school counselor will also include a notarized copy of the certificate.

Achieving Professional Certification

Professional certification requires completion of a professional development program; this must be pursued in conjunction with employment.

School counselors can achieve this goal by completing the statewide ProCert program. They are eligible to enroll when they are entering their third year of employment. ProCert candidates take an introductory seminar, develop and implement a professional growth plan, and complete an action research project.

School counselors may enroll in ProCert through any of four state schools. The ProCert process generally takes one to two years. Information is available on the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) website (

The other option is National Board Certification. PESB notes that the ProCert and National Board processes are similar, at least theoretically, but that professionals generally opt for National Board Certification when they are at a more advanced stage in their careers. Although professionals may begin the process after accruing as little as three years of full-time experience, the typical professional has more. Candidates should be aware that many individuals who seek certification do not achieve it. OSPI has provided statistics; the page also provides information about state incentives, as well as a link to begin the certification process (

The National Board Certification process is undergoing revision and will be unavailable for a period of time. The Washington Professional Educator Standards Board issued an advisory and offered renewal options to school counselors whose certification would be expiring during the interim period (

Beginning July 1, 2015, school counselors must also pursue suicide prevention training before they can earn their professional certification. PESB has provided a list of resources (

Emergency Certificates

In cases where a school is unable to staff a counseling position with a fully qualified professional, an individual who has completed school counseling coursework but who has not yet met the internship requirement may be issued an emergency certificate (

Additional Information

The Washington Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction can be reached at (360) 725-6400; office hours are weekdays from 9:00 to 12:00 in the morning and 1:00 to 4:30 in the afternoon. OSPI can be reached by email at ‘cert at’.

The Washington School Counselor Association is an additional professional resource (

You may also be interested in the Washington Counselor license requirements.

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