For those who enjoy working with children or adolescents and helping people, a career as a school counselor can be fulfilling in many ways. It’s never too early to begin preparing for this occupation. Even when you are still a high school student yourself, you can start getting ready for your future vocation. Figuring out your intended career path (starting with your undergraduate major), volunteering your time to work with children and peers and developing a rapport, and potentially a mentoring relationship, with counselors at your high school are all ways to improve your future career prospects.
Choose an Undergraduate Major
Although you know that school counseling is your ultimate career goal, there still may be a lot of stepping stones along the way. School counseling degree programs are found at the master’s level and above, according to the American School Counselor Association. Before you can pursue this advanced degree, you must earn a bachelor’s degree.
If you can’t major in school counseling as an undergraduate, what field of study should you choose as your major? The answer is more complex than simply following your own interests or academic strengths. Making this choice requires research into your state’s regulations.
Some states require school counselors to have a teaching license and years of teaching experience. To achieve this goal, you may need a degree in education. Students who pursue a teaching degree study learning theory, assessment and classroom management techniques. They often have to choose an age group, such as early childhood education, elementary school or high school. A semester-long student teaching experience is part of the degree program. At the end of their undergraduate studies, aspiring teachers must meet all other requirements, including passing certification exams, to attain their teaching license or certification.
In states that don’t require classroom experience, psychology or sociology are among the most popular choices for aspiring school counselors. Psychology majors often take classes in developmental psychology, cognitive psychology, social psychology, biopsychology, abnormal psychology, personality, perception, industrial and organizational psychology, psychotherapy and learning and behavior.
Some schools offer undergraduate psychology programs with a concentration in child or adolescent development. For aspiring school counselors, a program that covers human thinking and behavior along with a focus on working with children is a great option.
Find Ways to Gain Experience
As important as education in the classroom is, students can learn a great deal from their experiences outside the classroom, too. For aspiring school counselors, gaining experience working with children, helping their peers and volunteering at mental health clinics and organizations is valuable in many ways. This experience helps you cultivate qualities that you won’t necessarily learn in school, such as compassion, listening skills and interpersonal communication skills.
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Volunteering or working with young people during high school can also allow you to get a firsthand look at what life would be like in a school counseling career. This early exposure can help you determine if the profession is the right choice for you and decide what your interests within the field are.
Students can gain experience in different ways. Whether as a paid part-time job or an unpaid volunteer position, any role that involves working with children and teenagers, counseling peers or assisting professionals in mental health clinics is valuable.
Look to Your Own High School Counselors for Guidance
During high school, you don’t have to look far to find a school counselor who could serve as a mentor or simply answer your questions about the career field. If you aspire to work as a school counselor someday, the guidance counselors already working at your high school can be valuable sources of information, inspiration and networking connections. Since these professionals, too, were drawn to the career by a desire to help young people, you can feel confident that they will welcome your questions. They may be able to recommend books for you to read, put you in touch with acquaintances who have jobs or volunteer opportunities open and assist you with your college search.
If you are more interested in working with younger students than in a high school, your school counselor may still be able to connect you with a colleague who works in the lower grade levels.