Bachelor’s in school counseling program guide

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With student enrollment, bullying, and teen depression all on the rise, school counselors are in high demand. From online, hybrid, and on-campus, there are a variety of educational pathways available. Earning a bachelor’s degree in school counseling has never been more accessible.

What is a school counselor?

School counselors can be influential in making a student’s time in the education system the best years of their life. Counselors can provide academic, college, and career advice, and help to set in motion the first stages of the plan a student has for their future. They may also provide guidance to pupils struggling with issues like bullying, family violence, or substance abuse.

Why become a school counselor?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in May 2019, the mean annual salary for school and career counselors with a master’s degree was $57,000. At the same time, the highest earners were those working at elementary and secondary schools, making an average of $64,060 per year. Note, most school counselor positions do require a master’s degree.

The BLS notes this field of employment is projected to grow by 8% between 2019 and 2029, twice as fast as the average for all occupations.

If you want to guide and support students as they strive towards a rewarding academic experience and a promising future, then a career as a school counselor might be right for you.

Important personal characteristics

School counselors typically have these qualities:

Compassion

Counselors may need to be empathetic listeners who show that they genuinely care about a student’s physical and mental well-being.

Interpersonal skills

As counselors will likely work with people of all backgrounds and personalities, it is essential that they are able to communicate effectively.

Analytical abilities

Counselors often need to interpret student assessments for future paths, so an aptitude for accurately understanding and communicating data is generally required.

A good listener

A large part of a school counselor’s job involves listening to students or groups. It allows them to evaluate and assess the conversation to guide the speaker to express emotions and determine the best path of action.

Choosing an appropriate program

When choosing a bachelor’s degree program, you may wish to consider the following factors:

Admissions requirements

Most undergraduate programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0, proof of your high school diploma or GED, and transcripts. You often need to submit ACT or SAT scores, and some schools have a minimum score requirement.
Sometimes, students with lower GPAs can be accepted based on a high SAT score. Schools generally ask for letters of recommendation, personal statements or essays, and a resume.

Curriculum

Students interested in becoming school counselors often choose a bachelor’s program in education. Others may select to major in subjects such as counseling, psychology, sociology, or social work.

These majors generally provide a foundation for the topics covered in a master’s degree program. Students with a bachelor’s degree in another field may have to complete some prerequisite courses to gain admission to a graduate program.

Program length and flexibility options

A bachelor’s degree in school counseling typically takes 4 years of full-time study in an accredited university. Some schools may offer dual-enrollment programs that support some undergraduate and graduate coursework. This can allow pupils to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees concurrently.

Cost, including tuition, fees, room and board

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average fees at a 4-year public institution could equal $20,050 annually. This increases for students attending universities and private colleges, with a potential charge of $43,139 each year. For online courses, it could cost between $360 and $470 per credit hour.

Accreditation

Accreditation is awarded by independent agencies. That could be a general accrediting agency or a specific agency that deals with subjects like psychology and counseling. These organizations review schools and their programs to ensure they meet high standards.

The benefit of certification is that it signposts you to credible institutions that provide quality content and student services. Accreditation is a voluntary process and is often carried out through peer review.

Future employers and other educational institutions recognize the significance of accreditation, so choosing a certified school could improve your job prospects. Plus, it’s more likely that you’ll be able to transfer your credits if you change to another certified university. It may also be easier to qualify for financial aid.

Can classes be taken entirely online?

Many school counseling programs provide hybrid course loads with both on-campus & online classes. A handful of schools with purely online programs are also available.

However, potential students should keep in mind that counseling bachelor’s degrees, as a rule, require fieldwork. Programs and institutions across different states have a range of varying requirements. Most programs require at least several hundred hours of fieldwork.

Online/hybrid vs. offline

Learning online

With added flexibility and convenience, online learning may be the right choice for students juggling work and family obligations. With current technology, students can access course readings and lectures from almost anywhere.

Online courses may cover topics like psychology, mental health, and behavioral disorders. Typically, you’ll study developmental growth and empirical research methods. You’ll likely also learn about laws and ethics for licensed counselors. The majority of online programs aim to prepare students for certification, such as licensing exams.

Learning on campus

The opportunity to make personal and professional connections is a strong advantage of in-person study. Valuable job opportunities after graduation can be secured through networking with class instructors, peers, and counseling practitioners.

Counseling involves sessions with others, including group work and supervised hours with an experienced counselor. These elements are crucial to your next steps in a career as a school counselor, including licensing, and further education. Access to a hands-on environment and face-to-face sessions through campus-based study, therefore, is particularly beneficial.

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A hybrid approach to learning

Some bachelor of education degrees require the completion of fieldwork and many clinical hours before graduation. A hybrid approach to earning this undergraduate degree , with students taking some classes online and spending physical time in practicums, can be a great option.

Typical courses for a bachelor’s degree aimed at school counseling:

  • Clinical counseling methods
  • Psychology and counseling
  • General psychology
  • Probability and statistics
  • Research methodology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Biological foundations of psychology
  • Theories of personality
  • Abnormal psychology

Licensing or certification requirements

The requirements to work as a professional school counselor change significantly between different jurisdictions. In some states, a bachelor’s degree in school counseling (or a related field) is all that’s required.

Other states require you to be certified as a counselor to work in the field professionally. Some states have a separate certification specific to an education environment that is required for counseling in schools. In either case, many bachelor’s programs incorporate the local certification process or prepare you for it.

In many jurisdictions, school counselors need to be licensed (or both certified and licensed). Licensing is typically a more demanding process than certification, and isn’t always available with a bachelor’s degree. A few states that require licenses for school counseling also require a master’s degree to qualify for a license.

In such states, a bachelor’s degree in counseling allows graduates to gain entry-level positions in fields like addiction, human relations, and some youth and family services. In these positions counselors must deploy the skills they acquired through their education.

Undergraduate degrees in school counseling, specifically, may lead to work as academic advisors and educational consultants. These positions involve a guidance and orientation role for students and families, helping them plan their academic and educational goals.

Financial aid

There are various federal and state grants, loans, and scholarships available. From the Department of Education, a free application form for student aid is available on the Federal Student Aid website. This site provides information on the types of student financial aid that is available, eligibility criteria, and loan repayment options.

To receive the largest amount of financial aid possible, prospective students should check school and state application deadlines and register as early as possible. Grants, scholarships, and loans are often available from colleges that offer their own source of financial aid. Additional information, including deadlines, is generally available on an institution’s website.

Career options

In states with relatively few requirements for professional school counselors, a bachelor’s degree allows you to work in the field. The state of New York, for instance, only requires completion of a state-approved school counseling program.

School counselors typically work for elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, or directly for the school district. School counselor salaries range from around $37,000 to just above $74,000. The average school counselor salary is $50,831 a year.

In many other states, though, you’ll need a master’s degree to work as a professional school counselor. However, many other career options are available with a bachelor’s degree.

Academic advisors are professionals that help students explore their academic interests, set educational goals and make plans to achieve them. A bachelor’s degree in school counseling is generally a sufficient qualification to get started on this career path.

The most frequent employers of academic advisors are public and private schools, as well as school districts. Some work directly with students, hired by their families. Academic advisors have a national average salary of $42,991 a year.

Educational consultant is another career option open to those who complete an undergraduate degree in school counseling. These professionals help parents, students or organizations with planning educational activities and programs.

Typically, an educational consultant is either employed by a consulting firm, or a self-employed freelancer working directly with parents and students. The average salary for educational consultants is $62,547 a year.

American Counseling Association (ACA): School Counselors

A member-based organization that offers resources and support for everyone in the counseling profession, including school counselors.

American School Counselor Association (ASCA)

A member-based organization representing school counselors in both the U.S. and abroad. Services offered include publications, professional development, advocacy, research, and an online professional networking site.

Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)

A member-based, non-profit organization that conducts periodic reviews of institutional and programmatic accrediting organizations.

U.S. Department of Education

Oversees the accreditation process for all educational institutions. Provides quick links to check the accreditation status of post-secondary institutions

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