Whether you are leaving school and deciding what to do next or considering a career change, it can be hard to know which career path to take. Committing to study is a big deal and no one wants to spend time and money on a course (and ultimately a career) which isn’t right for them. The difficulty lies in the fact it can be hard to know if a job is right for you until you are doing it every day. However, by researching what the role entails you can get a good idea of whether it’s something you would enjoy and if it would suit your interests and skillset. Putting in the time now can save disappointment and despondency later.
Working within the education field is always popular, possibly because we all have some working knowledge of what being in a school environment is like, and there are many important roles other than just teaching. If you are interested in becoming a school counselor you might wonder which skills you need, how long it takes to train and whether it would suit your personality. This article will help you decide if this rewarding career is the one for you.
What is a School Counselor?
Put simply, school counselors support students. They work with other educational staff to ensure young people are given the opportunity to thrive and promote the importance of a happy and positive school environment. They usually work during the academic year and have the summer off, which is why it is a job that may appeal to parents.
But What Do They Do?
The role of a school counselor is varied, and no two days are the same. Each school works differently but they all have the same ultimate goal – to help every child succeed. School counselors play an important part in supporting students through their years in education. They are an advocate, ensuring students know they are valued, and often a first port of call for a child who is struggling. From elementary school right through to graduation, a school counselor is there to help young people overcome any barriers to learning so they can reach their full potential.
School counselors work alongside other education and health professionals to meet the needs of the children they support. Some issues may be dealt with swiftly by a counselor, but there are others which need more specialist support. In these cases, a counselor may refer the student to another professional such as a mental health specialist or psychologist to ensure they are getting the help they need. This can also work the other way, where a student who has worked with a health professional is referred to a school counselor who will then assist by following through on any interventions that have been prescribed.
Although each school utilizes their counselors in different ways, anyone employed in the role will likely be carrying out small group and individual counseling sessions to support vulnerable students and those with challenging behaviors. School counselors also teach lessons around time management and preparation, supporting young people as they apply to college or to enter the workforce and drugs and alcohol. Working alongside teachers and other school support staff they are also responsible for the safety of the students in their care and report any cases of neglect or abuse to the appropriate people. The American School Counselor Association can provide you with further information about the specifics of the job from a national viewpoint.
The Place of a School Counselor within a School
A school counselor may teach lessons to a class, particularly in areas relating to personal, social, health and emotional topics (such as bullying or careers). They will also offer targeted small group interventions to benefit students who need additional support as well as one-to-one sessions. A school counselor also works alongside teachers and health professionals such as psychologists and mental health specialists to provide a holistic support system for the students in their care.
What Are Barriers to Learning?
Our lived experience affects our outcomes and anything that negatively impacts us can bring challenges that can stop us achieving – these are barriers to learning and are what school counselors aim to help students overcome. School counselors work with students who have been bullied, are going through trauma, have low self-esteem, or have learning difficulties. They support students with health issues, poor academic results, depression and anxiety, and much more besides.
What Type of Person Makes a Good School Counselor?
First and foremost, a school counselor needs to like being around young people and genuinely care about helping them. As a large part of the job involves listening to students talk about their problems and offering advice, being a good communicator is essential. Patience is a useful attribute to have and the ability to remain calm in a crisis is a must as the role involves working with people at their most vulnerable moments.
Empathy is a must, but a school counselor needs to be able to remain professional at all times so they must be able to control their emotions. It is vital that anyone working as a school counselor is friendly and approachable, as well as trustworthy; students need to feel they can share their worries without judgement. The best school counselors are also fun and innovative, finding different ways to support each individual and often have strong leadership skills.
Is Being a School Counselor a Rewarding Job?
Many people who work as a school counselor have a high level of job satisfaction. School counselors work closely with students and their families and can, over time, build strong relationships. It is a valued position and generally highly thought of within the wider community. It is a rewarding career as school counselors are able to see the difference their role makes to the lives of the students they support. If you are a social person who enjoys helping others, it could be the right role for you.
What Are the Challenges of Being a School Counselor?
Working in a school environment doesn’t suit everyone as they can be noisy places! Being a school counselor can also be a demanding job because of the responsibility that accompanies it, and although the hours mainly coincide with school times, there will be meetings and appointments that fall outside these set hours. Some counselors find it hard to switch off after a day at work, especially if they have been working with a student who has suffered trauma or is in danger.
All counselors are also bound to a code of ethics and need to be aware of the legal and ethical implications of their actions. For example, if a student says they want to tell you something but ‘it is a secret’, you must inform them that you are glad they feel they can talk openly with you, but you cannot guarantee that what they tell you will remain confidential. School counselors have a duty of care to the students they work with and if they believe the student is in danger, they need to share the information with the appropriate authorities.
Sometimes, the line between a professional relationship with a student and that of a friend can become blurred to the young person, especially if they feel the counselor is the only person who understands them and listens to their problems. It is vital that the school counselor sets firm boundaries to maintain an appropriate relationship.
What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a School Counselor?
To be a school counselor you need to complete both a bachelors and master’s degree. Psychology and social work are common areas of study for anyone planning to work as a school counselor. After completing university, the next is then a period of internship to gain experience of working within the role and working towards a counseling accreditation. It can be a competitive field to break into; however, following the coronavirus pandemic and the impact this has had on young people’s mental health, it is a growing sector. There is particular demand in Jersey City and Wilmington; if you have set your sights on working in Pennsylvania, you can find out how to become a school counselor in PA here.
How Much Do School Counselors Get Paid?
The salary for school counselors varies, but a study by Career Explorer found the average to be $61,000 a year.
I’m Interested! What Should I Do Next?
If you are interested in finding out more about how to become a school counselor in PA and training to be a school counselor, consider applying to train as a school counselor. As well as good grades and passion for the role, it can also be helpful to your application if you have experience in a caring role, whether that is volunteering with your local scout unit or helping out at a local school.
Whether or not you decide school counselling is for you, taking the time to research career paths is never time wasted. Good luck for the future, and remember the famous quote, ‘if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life!’.