What does a school counselor do? A closer look at this student-centric role
If you think back to your adolescence, you may recall a few interactions with school counselors. Or you might be the parent of a child who is working with one now. The role of school counselor is an important part of the education environment. They are responsible for guiding and supporting students through challenging situations like adjusting to a new school or applying for college.
You may be wondering, “What does a school counselor do?” The job title itself can be used to describe many kinds of professionals who work with children and young adults in various settings. But ultimately, any school counselor definition revolves around helping students develop the academic and social skills they need to succeed — whether that’s in school, on the playground or in college.
Interested in learning more about what a school counselor does in their day-to-day duties through all grade levels? We spoke with seasoned school counselors to reveal more about their lives and the rewarding impacts they have on students.
What does a school counselor do?
School counselors perform a wide variety of tasks. According to Brandi Lewis, M.Ed, LPC, counselor and owner of Reach Counseling Solutions, the duties can be summed up as follows:
School counselors serve the social and emotional needs of students so they can be prepared for academic rigor.
With so much hinging on academic success, the role of a school counselor is extremely important. Beyond supporting the social and emotional needs of students, they also help them explore interests and potential career options. Of course, these responsibilities vary depending on the ages of their students.
“School counselor duties can include anything from referring students to outside agencies for mental health concerns to doing lunch duty,” explains middle school counselor Felicia G. Meadows, M.Ed. “I do schedule changes, suicide prevention, meditations, individual counseling, referrals to outside services and classroom lessons — just to name a few.”
School counselors take on an array of responsibilities to help improve the lives of their students, both in and out of the classroom. The following are some common tasks you’ll find in a typical school counselor job description, as outlined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Identifying issues affecting school performance, such as absenteeism
- Addressing social or behavioral problems
- Helping students develop skills needed for academic success
- Counseling individuals and small groups
- Assessing students’ abilities and interests
- Helping students achieve academic or career goals
School counselors also work with teachers, administrators and parents to help students improve their classroom performance. They might suggest outside resources for additional support. Because these professionals are positioned to work closely with students, they’re also trained to detect and report possible cases of neglect or abuse.
What does a school counselor do at each grade level?
Now that you’re familiar with some of the basic school counselor duties, let’s dive into what these professionals do at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
What do elementary school counselors do?
A key part of an elementary school counselor’s job is to foster the foundational skills students need to excel in the classroom. Learning how to manage time and study effectively is critical to a child’s academic success. An elementary school counselor may collaborate with teachers and administrators to ensure the curriculum addresses students’ needs.
Elementary school counselors sometimes work with parents or guardians to discuss a child’s classroom performance, developmental needs or behavioral issues. By supporting students at an incredibly formative period of their young lives, elementary school counselors help children develop good habits both in and out of school.
What do middle school counselors do?
Middle school is a challenging stage of development. Kids are going through a lot of changes, turning to peers for affirmation instead of parents, and they are often underequipped to deal with increasingly grown-up problems.
Counselors are there to provide critical support during this transition from childhood to young adulthood. They act as a safe space where students can access resources and connect with teachers, parents and administrators to make sure needs are being met.
In addition to creating a caring learning environment that sets students up for academic and personal success, counselors also intervene to remove learning barriers. According to Meadows,
We are their voice when they don't feel like they have a voice. We provide academic support and social and emotional counseling.
Because the knowledge, attitudes and skills students acquire during these years build the foundation for future success, the role of a school counselor at this level is incredibly significant.
What do high school counselors do?
The high school counselor job description includes assisting students in making academic and career plans. They may work one-on-one with students experiencing personal problems. They might also work on a larger scale to educate students about drug abuse, bullying or other significant issues high schoolers face.
“Many people would be surprised to know that much of the time we are working with students who may have mental health or other personal concerns,” Lewis reflects. “We have to provide individual care for those students — whether it’s referring them to a school-based mental health counselor or providing community resources.” She adds that suicidal ideations are very real issues that she encounters while working with students at this age.
On top of this, high school counselors also help prepare students for life after graduation. Lewis explains that,
In high school, we often serve as one of the only contacts that students have related to college or career preparation.
With graduation on the horizon, this remains an integral part of a high school counselor’s role. They provide aptitude assessments and individual planning to help identify a student’s interests and abilities.
High school counselor job duties also include providing guidance on the college application process and other avenues, such as apprenticeships or training programs. They also help teenagers develop tactical skills critical to their future success, including applying for jobs, writing resumes and interviewing for positions.
How much do school counselors make?
Earning potential for this role will vary depending on location, type of school, education level and years of experience. That being said, the average school counselor salary in 2020 was $58,120, according to the BLS. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,910.
Fortunately, the market outlook for school counselor jobs is very promising. The BLS projects employment of school and career counselors and advisors to rise eight percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. As student enrollment continues to trend upwards, schools will require more counselors to respond to the developmental and academic needs of their students.
Make an impact as a school counselor
Exactly what does a school counselor do? They listen. They teach. They advocate. They care. They do a lot more than you may have realized. And they support students holistically in ways no one else can.
The role of a school counselor is to help reduce obstacles preventing students from reaching their potentials. Above all, they arm students with the skills, strategies and support they need to build the foundation for a successful and productive life.
If you’re passionate about improving the lives of students, consider how you can get started on the path toward a rewarding profession as a school counselor. Check out University of Massachusetts Global’s Master's Degree in Counseling and PPSC in School Counseling to learn more.
Already have a master’s degree? Learn more about how a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Counseling can benefit your career.
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