School Counselor

In a simpler time, society’s conception of School Counselor or a “guidance counselor” was probably fairly standard and uniform across the country. Nowadays, while counselors still offer academic guidance, their purview has expanded considerably. To this end, a school counselor must have a master’s degree in school counseling at an absolute minimum requirement. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) believes that the master’s degree makes those who have earned it “uniquely qualified to address all students’ academic, career, and social/emotional development needs” through the implementation of a comprehensive counseling programs promoting students’ success.

Professional Development as a School Counselor

School counselors focus on building programs that aim to create and continually improve positive student outcomes. These programs are rooted in a program focus that is governed by a vision statement, a mission statement, and defined and measurable program goals. The vision statement illustrates the ideal outcomes as they pertain to student development and advancement. The mission statement in turn connects that vision statement to the school’s mission. As with any ecosystem, school counselors must develop good working relationships with their counterparts in teachers and administrators in order to both model positive relationships and drive the achievement of student outcomes.

As one may expect, school counselors are expected to follow guidelines and requirements designed to ensure the greatest levels of leadership, professionalism, and integrity. This makes sense as no community would ever ask for anything less from the individuals entrusted to guide their children as they seek to maximize their potential.

As they do with students, school counselors follow professional standards that require them to develop certain competencies and model certain behaviors. School counselors must uphold the following behavioral standards:

Professional Foundation:

School counselors must possess and prove proficiency in the skills that form a school counselor’s professional orientation.

Direct & Indirect Student Services:

School counselors must demonstrate proficiency in both direct and indirect interactions with students, collaborating simultaneously with families, teachers, administrators, other school staff, and education stakeholders.

Planning & Evaluation:

School counselors are also required to show they are knowledgeable and skilled in executing the activities needed for designing, implementing, evaluating, and iterating a comprehensive school counseling program

Just as well, school counselors must approach their work with a certain mindset. These mindset “standards” reinforce the kind of belief system that is absolutely vital for school counselors to have.

  1. Every student can learn, and every student can succeed.
  2. Every student should have access to and opportunity for a high-quality education.
  3. Every student should graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary opportunities.
  4. Every student should have access to a comprehensive school counseling program.
  5. Effective school counseling is a collaborative process involving school counselors, students, families, teachers, administrators, other school staff, and education stakeholders
  6. School counselors are leaders in the school, district, state, and nation.
  7. Comprehensive school counseling programs promote and enhance student academic, career, and social/emotional outcomes.

These standards are the fundamental guide to good practice for school counselors. In the midst of the less-than-desirable circumstances those working at schools sometimes encounter, these beliefs are essential to ensure that school counselors understand their role in the community. Additional details about the required competencies school counselors must study and develop proficiency in may be found here.

School Counselors & Student Development

School counselors also follow the ASCA Mindset & Behaviors for Student Success (a collection of standards that define college and career readiness for students K-12) for developing effective counseling programs for their students.

The standards that compose this guide are categorized either as Mindset Standards or Behavior Standards. Mindset Standards are those which are related to students’ beliefs about themselves as they pertain to academic work. Behavior Standards generally refer to the behaviors exhibited by successful and well-adjusted students. These behaviors in turn fall into three subcategories: Learning Strategies, Self-management Skills, and Social Skills. The ASCA defines these subcategories like so:

Learning Strategies:

Processes and tactics students employ to aid in the cognitive work of thinking, remembering or learning.

Self-management Skills:

Continued focus on a goal despite obstacles (grit or persistence) and avoidance of distractions or temptations to prioritize higher pursuits over lower pleasures (delayed gratification, self-discipline, self-control).

Social Skills:

Acceptable behaviors that improve social interactions, such as those between peers or between students and adults.

Comprehensively assessing these skills involves a review of resources like standardized test results and other student academic data to effectively map out and manage a student’s development path. Likewise, as success as a school counselor is in large part predicated on student outcomes, relationships with faculty, staff, educational administrators, and parents are crucial to any school counselor. Whether providing their observations or active assistance in inculcating the right behaviors, school counselors must make allies in their pursuit of student success.  

The Mindset and Behavior standards that school counselors are looking to develop with their programming then fall into three broad domains in which school counselors operate: Academic Development, Career Development, and Social/Emotional Development. They are outlined below:

Academic Development:

Standards guiding school counseling programs to implement strategies and activities to support and maximize each student’s ability to learn. School counselors play an important role in ensuring that a student is putting his or her best foot forward and that the student is operating in an environment conducive to learning.

Career Development:

Standards guiding school counseling programs to help students 1) understand the connection between school and the world of work and 2) plan for and make successful transitions from school to post-secondary education and/or the world of work and from job to job across their lives. School counselors help students make informed decisions on their next steps both during and after school.

Social/Emotional Development:

Standards guiding school counseling programs to help students manage emotions and learn and apply interpersonal skills. School counselors work to enable students to express themselves in healthy ways that will allow them to overcome adversity and be successful.

What’s Next?

There are numerous opportunities for professional development available to school counselors. The links below provide additional information on impactful resources that can help you on your journey to a rich, fulfilling, and impactful career as a school counselor.

For anyone interested in becoming a school counselor, the path to helping students achieve their goals begins with a Master’s in School Counseling.

School Counselor Resources

ASCA Professional Development
School Counseling Mandates & Legislation by State
American Counseling Association Journals
Tools for School Counselors