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5 Characteristics of a Successful School Counselor

Successful School Counselor Traits

  • Empathy
  • Good Listener
  • Strong Assessment Skills
  • Authoritative as Needed
  • Organized

It takes a special person with the right characteristics to be a successful school counselor. This is a job that requires long hours spent interfacing directly with students, parents and school staff. School counselors are expected to help students work through issues related to academics, health, social, personal and family problems The school counselor listens, documents and helps students process their problems, providing referrals to other resources as needed. They are mediators, negotiators and advocates for students, and they also design and implement programs to help everyone thrive in the school setting while preparing them for the next stages in their lives.


Communicating with children and teens would be most effective when the school counselor engenders trust. Being a good listener is one attribute, but it won’t be enough without sincerity, patience and a sense of humor especially when talking with young students. Children who are affected by trauma, regardless of how small the incident may seem, are more likely to confide in adults who make an effort to be relatable without minimizing their experience and opinions.

Good Listener

School counselors spend a lot of time interacting with students individually or as part of a group. The guidance counselor will be under pressure to do so much in a limited time, and it may be tempting to take short cuts to get everything done. Counselors, who are trained in the art of listening, should be able to guide the conversation while being supportive of the students’ feelings and opinions. Understanding body language, contextual clues, euphemisms and the things left unsaid take training, empathy and sincerity on the part of school counselors.

Strong Assessment Skills

Documentation is a key requirement in most aspects of the counselor-student interaction, but it is not a substitute for assessment of verbal and nonverbal cues of the students’ issues. School counselors should be able to read situations, understand context, connect related facts and draw preliminary conclusions to move students to the next steps in counseling or plans of action to resolve their issues. The school counselor must have keen observation skills and the ability to guide and support students as they articulate their issues.

Authoritative as Needed

Strong leadership skills are crucial to succeeding as a school counselor. The counselor must develop the ability to take control of situations that may be emotional and even traumatic at times. School counselors are expected to take the lead in conferences with students and their parents, guiding the interaction to achieve the best outcome for everyone involved. They have to be firm and assertive yet compassionate even under the most stressful conditions.


According to the American School Counselor Association, the functions of a guidance counselor within the school system cover a broad range of services from behavior assessment to conflict resolution and from program design to test administration. In many cases, the school counselor works with minimum supervision or assistance in handling all of these functions. The ability to multitask is a key requirement of the job as is being organized to keep up with the rigorous pace of a job with many responsibilities. It may not be entirely possible to plan the day as the school counselor’s services are expected to be available on demand, as needed and usually, immediately.

The school counselor is a vital part of the education team. The successful school counselor should have adequate training and experience along with the right characteristics to face a demanding, challenging yet personally rewarding job.