Professional school counselors enjoy rewarding careers in schools across the U.S. But to achieve your career goals and become a guidance counselor, you'll need to know about guidance counselor requirements. We've summarized the requirements for guidance counselor certification and degree options to help you get started.

Guidance Counselor Requirements: Certification

There are both state and federal certification options for school guidance counselors. Continue reading to learn the difference between the two.

State-Specific Certification

School guidance counselors must have a bachelor's degree, but the vast majority of states also require a master's degree in school counseling or a closely related field. Many states' guidance counselor requirements also include completion of a teaching examination such as the Praxis II ® School Guidance and Counseling. Some even require you to hold a regular teaching certificate in addition to a counseling license before you can practice in public schools. Make sure you know your state's certification requirements when you choose your bachelor's or master's degree program.

If you plan to work in a single state or move between states with reciprocal certification agreements, completing your state-specific certification process will fulfill your guidance counselor requirements. Once certified, you will be qualified to work in a public elementary school, middle school or high school setting in your state.

National Certification

Pursuing national certification is a great idea if you plan to move around the country during your career. National certifying bodies for professional school counselors have more stringent requirements than states, so achieving one of the following certifications will help you stand out as a candidate as you apply for school counselor jobs.

Note, however, that while national counselor certification proves that a counselor has met the national standards set by the counseling profession, it is not a license to practice. Counselors who wish to practice in a particular state must still comply with all state laws regulating the practice of counseling. This will usually mean that they must obtain the state license in order to be in private practice.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides the most popular national certification for school guidance counselors. You can become nationally certified by earning its National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential, with the following guidance counselor requirements:

  • Complete a master's degree in a mental health field from a regionally accredited college
  • Complete three years of post-graduate counseling supervision
  • Complete three years of work as a school counselor
  • Receive a professional colleague endorsement
  • Pass the National Certified School Counselor Examination (NCSCE)

The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) also certifies guidance counselors. Their guidance counselor requirements include a computer-based assessment and portfolio review. Other standards are determined based on your state's certification criteria.

Guidance Counselor Requirements: College Degrees

Once you know which certification you're aiming for, you can choose a program that meets as many of its requirements as possible. You'll find it easier if you are studying in the state where you plan to work, because local programs often conform to their state certification standards. But if you plan to get your school counseling degree online, requesting information directly from a school is a great way to ask any questions you may have about credentialing, course work or other specific guidance counselor requirements.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Getting your bachelor's degree is a prerequisite to becoming a guidance counselor. In states that do not require school counselors to hold master's degrees, this will be the only degree you need. But make sure you pay attention to any specific course work you'll need to complete for certification. You may find that completing the number of graduate courses necessary for certification will get you most of the way toward your master's degree anyway, so being aware of master's degree options will help you make a wise choice for your future.

Few states limit your baccalaureate focus, but you can prepare yourself for a graduate-level school counseling program by majoring in education, psychology or another counseling-related field.

Master's Degree: A Common Guidance Counselor Requirement

School counseling programs are graduate-level programs that typically take about two years to complete. They are rigorous and challenging, but you will receive highly specialized training in lifespan development, learning and therapy, in addition to a specific focus on your role as a school guidance counselor.

Capella University offers a Master's of Science in School Counseling (with online options) that 72 credits, a residency, a practicum and an internship.* If you enroll in a program like this, you'll take classes such as "Research in Human Development and Behavior," "Developmental School Counseling," and "Cultural Awareness."

Your classroom and practical experience will prepare you for the challenging but rewarding role that professional school counselors play in the development of the nation's students. Learn about guidance counselor salaries and employment outlook. Then locate a school below and start working toward your guidance counselor requirements today. Or read our guidance counselor career article to find answers to all of your questions on being a school counselor.


Top Online Degrees for School Guidance Counselors

Capella University

  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision

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Walden University

  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision - General
  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision - Counseling and
    Social Change
  • PhD in Counselor Education & Supervision - Trauma and Crisis

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