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How Do I Become a College Counselor?

Becoming a college counselor is a noble, rewarding choice for individuals called to help young people transition into adulthood. College counselors are responsible for guiding post-secondary students smoothly through freshman to senior year to reach their full potential. Counselors work in several different campus departments, including admissions, financial aid, career services, and academic advising. Some specialize in treating mental health disorders common in college-age youth, such as depression, anxiety, anorexia, and substance abuse. College counselors play pivotal roles giving students the tools to start fruitful careers and healthy lives. For 2019, the U.S. News & World Report ranked college counselor as the 63rd best job with low unemployment of 2.2 percent. The following article outlines three essential steps to join the 291,700 school counselors and become a college counselor.

Complete a Human Services Bachelor’s Degree

After high school or GED completion, the first step for aspiring college counselors is earning a baccalaureate. These four-year programs require at least 120 semester credits at colleges or universities. Students focus their Bachelor of Arts or Science in specific areas called majors. Most counselors start with majors in the human services field, such as psychology, sociology, social work, and behavioral health. Certain institutions, including Liberty University, Grand Canyon University, Clarks Summit University, and Toccoa Falls College, even have bachelor’s degrees in counseling. Whichever major is chosen, the curriculum should include courses like Human Development and Student Affairs. Building hands-on experience in counseling settings via internships or work-study placements is also encouraged.

Enter an Accredited College Counseling Program

Next, attending graduate school is necessary to become a college counselor. Bachelor’s grads typically need GPAs above 2.75 and satisfactory GRE/MAT scores to begin advanced study. Admission teams might require prerequisite courses, references, interviews, and essays too. It’s best to apply to schools accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. Accredited master’s degrees meet field standards and have higher licensure success rates later. The CACREP presently lists accredited college counseling programs at 28 institutions, including DePaul University, Hampton University, Idaho State University, San Francisco State University, and Syracuse University. Each M.A/M.S. option will include 30 to 60 credits of upper-level courses with practicum hours and capstone projects. Some like North Carolina State and Arkansas Tech are fully online.

Pursue Professional Licensure as a College Counselor

Master’s graduates are prepared to complete the counseling licensure employers usually require. State licensure proves that individuals have the training, character, and experience to practice independently. The American Counseling Association outlines the general licensing qualifications as being a master’s degree and 1,000 hours of practice. Each state has different requirements for receiving the Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) or similar credential though. For example, Delaware requires passing a $171 exam and finishing 1,600 supervised client hours. Illinois stipulates that new LPC candidates must take the National Certified Counselors exam. New Jersey only accepts master’s degrees with the word “counseling” in its title, not simply student affairs or higher education. Reviewing one’s own state board requirements will ensure college counselors are ready for job applications.

Related Resource: Top 20 Online Master’s in Educational Psychology

College counselors are highly trained to address educational, social, and emotional issues young adults face. It’s their duty to make college less overwhelming and more rewarding for America’s 21 million students in higher education. Counselors are especially needed today when the NAMI reports one-fifth of older adolescents have mental health disorders. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects above-average job growth of 13 percent through 2026 for college counselors. Follow these steps to become a college counselor and set students up for bright futures.