What does a High School Counselor do?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2019
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A high school counselor is a licensed professional who offers a variety of services to high school students. He or she often provides advice and resources to students regarding their future college and career plans. A counselor may also help students who are struggling with behavioral problems, family issues, and stress. He or she often acts as a grief counselor to students in the event of a death or other traumatic situation. High school counselors are often very knowledgeable about developmental and family psychology, and skilled at providing direct, compassionate therapy to troubled individuals.

Students who need assistance making plans for the future often seek the guidance of their high school counselor. Counselors are typically very familiar with admissions procedures for colleges and the steps people must take to enter certain career fields. A high school counselor might help a student research different colleges or employers, provide information and resources regarding how to submit applications, and even write reference letters. He or she often researches what types of scholarships and financial aid are available, and assists students in acquiring such resources. In addition, a counselor may instruct students on how to write resumes and cover letters in order to improve their chances of finding employment.


A high school counselor helps students with their academic, social, and personal struggles. He or she might evaluate the causes of stress or behavioral problems, and suggest ways that a student can better handle difficult situations. A counselor often meets regularly with students who have lingering family or school issues, and evaluates the progress of treatment plans. When necessary, he or she refers students to family services professionals, psychiatrists, or professional psychologists to provide further care. If a school-wide traumatic experience occurs, such as the unexpected death of a classmate, the counselor might speak to the troubled student body and offer grief counseling services.

To become a high school counselor, a person must typically obtain at least a bachelor's degree, though counselors with master's degrees or higher enjoy more career opportunities. In addition to educational requirements, new counselors are often required to spend about a year working under the supervision of experienced professionals before they can provide their services independently. Most states and countries require counselors to become licensed, which involves passing a written exam regarding ethics and counseling techniques. Additional certification is not always required, but many high school counselors choose to become certified to improve their credentials and advance their careers.


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Post 17

I think that the high school counselors today have many more challenges than they had in past decades. Besides all the academic advice and assistance they give as far as college admission and career planning, they also have the responsibility of helping students with really serious problems.

There is so much bullying, drug problems, family problems and so on that are referred to the counselor. It can really be overwhelming. I think the job description has widened much farther than was intended when the position of school counselor was started.

Post 16

My mother was a high school counselor for many years. She earned a masters degree and took many additional classes. She was well paid, but worked hard.

She worked in a very large high school. She did a lot of academic counseling, helping students make decisions about colleges, alternate schooling and career planning. She administered different kinds of tests to students. There were too many students in the school to meet with everyone individually. Those who came in and asked for help were always welcomed.

She always said that she wished that she had more time to help students who were having family and emotional problems. She often had to refer some of them to social agencies. She really enjoyed her job.

Post 15

During my senior year, my guidance counselor held a resume writing session for the graduating class. She provided us with valuable knowledge that we still use today when looking for new jobs.

She also taught us how to write good cover letters that could convince a potential employer to look closely at our resumes. I still rely on what I learned from her.

She scheduled individual appointments with each student to help us figure out what our major should be. I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I knew a few things I was good at, and she helped me translate my skills into a career choice.

Post 14

I really don't know where a high school counselors salary fits in the pay scale of things, but I don't think they get paid nearly enough.

I have also heard that many high schools are no longer going to have a counselor on staff, or there will be one counselor for several school districts.

I think this is a big mistake as I remember my high school counselor being very busy. Her office was a place where you could go for advice on all kinds of things. You never felt like you were being judged or looked down on, but she really wanted to help.

There have been many high school students who have really been given good advice from their high school counselors. There will always be some who are not very qualified or a good fit for the job, but most of them are well worth their pay.

Post 13

I still remember my high school counselor and the advice he gave me when I was trying to figure out where I wanted to attend college.

I always thought it would be an interesting job to have and wondered how to become a high school counselor and what the requirements were.

There are many high school who are cutting this position out of their budgets. It think this is very sad, because most high school students really need some good guidance, whether it be about school or personal issues they are struggling with.

Post 12

@seag47 - School shootings are rough. We had one at my school, and the guidance counselor’s son was one of the victims. She had to take a leave of absence to recover, and this was a critical time for the students. They needed help more than ever, so the school brought in a man who specialized in grief counseling.

I think that he did a better job than a general counselor could have done. Most counselors, unless they have personal experience like yours did, are not equipped to deal with the tremendous change that death brings about in a young person’s life. Professional help is needed in this situation.

Post 11

My school had a really great guidance counselor. She had a master’s degree, and she could have had her own practice, if she had wanted to go that route. She chose to work with school kids instead.

When we had a shooting at our school and several students died, she was excellent at grief counseling. She had experienced the death of many loved ones in her own life, so she was able to provide an accurate perspective. I think that hearing her stories of grief and recovery gave the students hope.

My best friend lost her boyfriend in the shooting. She did not know how to carry on, and I think she might have killed herself without the help of the guidance counselor.

Post 10

When I told my parents that I wanted to be home schooled after tenth grade, they agreed to it. I had to talk to my guidance counselor first, though.

She tried to convince me to stay in public school. She pointed out that I would miss out on social events like the prom, but she also noted that she had observed I was a very private person.

After she saw that I had made up my mind, she helped me with the necessary paperwork. I appreciated the fact that she was accepting of my decision, even though she didn’t agree with it.

Post 9

@animegal - I wonder if there is a certain amount of liability involved if a high school counselor isn't properly accredited?

Perhaps your high school counselor really was just a fill-in and wasn't authorized to give real advice on more serious issues. I imagine it would a huge scandal if an unlicensed "counselor" tried to coach a suicidal student or something.

At my high school our counselor often had special sessions with problem students. He was really big on talking things through and helping them with issues at school and at home. I remember he talked to me quite a bit when things were rough at home and it helped immensely.

Post 8

It amazes me how much of an educational background high school counselors need. To be honest, I was pretty sure mine was just a teacher that had decided to go another route at the school. Heck, she ever taught a few classes every once in awhile.

It seems to me that the only help our high school counselor every gave to us was in relation to planning our university applications and picking classes.

As far as I know, if you went to our high school counselor with emotional problems she would forward you to a public health therapist. I guess not all of them are really trained for the heavy stuff.

Post 7

@Summing -You have to love what you do. I think that if your heart is in high school counselor work you will definitely find that it is one of the most rewarding fields out there because you are really helping young people shape their lives.

Most high school career counselors earn an average of $40,000 a year and they are required to have a Master’s degree in educational counseling. I have looked into to it and have also thought of getting an Ed.S. Degree which is a specialist degree in educational psychology.

That is something that I have thought about because I am really drawn to this field and want the best options available. As an educational psychologist, you could work for the school system or work in private practice or for an existing practice. You do have a broader range of students that you can work with. You are not limited to only high school students.

Post 6

I understand your concerns about the job market with respect to having a high school counselor career, but I think that there will always be other organizations that would hire a person with this background because there will always be young people that need some form of guidance and a lot of nonprofits are set up to give these kids support.

You will definitely be able to get a job in a nonprofit organization if you can’t find one in the school system. You also might consider having your own practice.

I have a friend that actually set up a very lucrative college admissions counseling business. She would take on clients in their sophomore year in high

school and groom them to fit the background of the college that they were interested in getting accepted to.

She helped them write essays and made sure that their background was diverse enough that they would have a good chance of getting to a school of their choice. It was really an interesting business and she is enjoying herself.

Post 5

Does anyone here work as a guidance counselor? I have thought about going in to this kind of work and I have the education for it but I have a few questions that still make me uneasy.

What are the prospects for getting a job? You hear so much about cut backs in education, is the guidance counselor being phased out?

Also, how much money could I expect to make? Teachers seem to make wildly different amounts, some a lot and many others very little. Where do counselors fit in on the schools pay scale?

Post 4

I had a fabulous guidance counselor in high school who was a big part of helping me get through one of the worst experiences of my life.

I was a mess in high school. I had family problems, problems with myself, problems with my friends and teachers and even some problems with the law. Its a long story but lets just say that I had a reputation for being on a bad path.

One day when I was walking down the hall the counselor approached me. I knew him but had never spoken to him. He asked me to come to his office instead of going to math that day which was fine by me.

We both

talked a lot and he convinced me to come back. That was the start of a long deep and very effecting conversation that lasted the whole semester. He helped me to work through so much and understand things about myself and the world that confused me so much before. I was changed. If I hadn't had him to talk to I'm not sure where I would have ended up.
Post 3

Its strange, I went to a pretty nice private high school but the only counselor we had was a college counselor. He gave advice about the SATs, applying for colleges and finding the right fit but that is about it. I guess we didn't really have a counselor that was supposed to help us with problems in our social/personal/emotional life.

That may have been because it was a Catholic school and we were expected to turn to God or a member of the clergy for guidance. But it was not strictly Catholic, they were progressive in a number of ways. You would have thought that they would have had someone secular, or at least more approachable than a priest on hand to address student's problems.

Post 2

@jennythelib - I guess school counseling is like any other field, made up of people with a lot of different levels of commitment. Counselors' training varies by state, but there are a lot of really good ones out there.

When I was in high school, a friend of mine got pregnant. Her parents wanted to throw her out of the house. She spent the night at my house, and in the morning we went to see the guidance counselor. He was fantastic! He got my friend's parents to come in, and basically convinced them not to throw her out. (He pointed out that she would wind up in foster care.)

She wanted to keep her baby and it meant

that she wouldn't be able to come back to school, because she couldn't afford childcare. He helped her get into an evening program and basically explained what it would take for her to still go to college.

Without that counselor, I don't think my friend would ever have gotten her life back together.

Post 1

It seemed like my high school "guidance" counselor didn't do much at all. I went to a small independent high school and we had only one counselor. He did make up the schedule each year, but he didn't even do a good job at that - there were always a bunch of scheduling conflicts and I remember one of my teachers scrambling around to try to fix things!

If you tried to go to him with a personal problem, forget it. He would just look uncomfortable and say something hackneyed.

He was also in charge of our college applications, and boy was that a problem. You had to ask like three times to make sure that your applications had actually been sent.

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