School counselors play a vital role in the lives of students and the function of elementary and secondary schools. These specially trained community and social service professionals help students develop academic, social and life skills, cope with problems and stresses and plan for their futures. A master’s degree in school counseling typically is required to work in this role, for which pay rates are well above both the median wage for all occupations in America and the median salary for careers in the community and social service occupational group.
Median Salaries for School Counselors
Due to the similarities between the two career paths, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports combined salary data for school counselors and career counselors. The median, or midpoint, annual wage for this occupational grouping is $56,310. However, school counselor salaries fall on a wide spectrum. The 10 percent of school counselors who earn the most make more than $94,690, while the 10 percent who earn the least make less than $33,610 per year.
Median wages for school and career counselors are comparable to those for teachers. The BLS reports a $58,230 median wage for elementary school teachers, a $58,600 salary for middle school teachers and a $60,320 salary for high school teachers.
School Counselor Wages by Work Environment
You might expect all school and career counselors to work in schools, but in fact, just 44 percent of them do, the BLS reported. The elementary and secondary school work environment is the most lucrative, with a median salary of $63,280 per year. Among the 34 percent of school and career counselors who work in colleges and universities, including junior and community colleges, the median wage is $50,050. You might be surprised to learn that school counselors at junior colleges report earning several thousand dollars more than their counterparts at four-year colleges. Although just four percent of school and career counselors work in the industry classified as “other” educational services, they earn a median wage of $52,440, while the 10 percent working in the field of healthcare and social assistance make considerably less, with a median of $38,790.
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Another factor that influences your earning potential as a school counselor is the state in which you work. School counselors in New Jersey earn the highest salaries, with a mean wage of $72,190, according to the BLS. A $69,820 average wage makes the career path a profitable one in Alaska. California’s mean salary for school counselors is $68,000. In New York, this occupation comes with a $67,100 average wage, while in Massachusetts, the mean salary is $66,640. The distinction between high-paying and low-paying states can be considerable. The BLS reports that 11 states pay school and career counselors a mean wage below $50,000. The worst-paying states, Idaho and South Dakota, pay nearly identical average salaries, at $41,660 and $41,680, respectively.
Of the 291,700 school and career counselors working in the United States, three percent are self-employed. Some self-employed licensed counselors may work in a school setting but as an independent contractor, while others open career counseling private practices.
Comparing School Counseling Salaries to Other School Service Roles
In the related fields of community and social service and mental health, there is a lot of overlap. Many of the professionals working in this field work in schools or with children in other settings. How does the salary of a school counselor stack up to salaries in these related job roles?
School and career counselors salaries compare favorably to those of social workers in the specialties of school, child and family social work, for which the BLS reports a median wage of $46,270. Income potential for school counselors is also better than that of marriage and family counselors, who work with children as well as adult family members in group and individual counseling environments. However, school counselors tend to earn less than school psychologists. The median salary for psychologists working in school, counseling and clinical fields of psychology is $76,990, according to the BLS.
Salary isn’t the only distinction between these fields. While school counselors help students develop skills, school psychologists address learning and mental health disorders, school social workers address problem behaviors, and family therapists focus on relationships.