The past year has undoubtedly been a challenging one for many students and young people. The COVID-19 pandemic that continues to sweep the globe has resulted in disruptions to their education, cancelation of many key social events and celebrations of important life milestones, financial struggles, and even the deaths of loved ones. As such many people have been inspired to retrain in an area that focuses on helping these young people to cope with the difficulties life throws at them, not just during the current pandemic but on a long term basis. If that sounds like you, then looking into becoming a school counselor could be just the answer you are looking for.
For those who are already sold on the idea, you can click here for more practical information on the master’s in school counseling program, such as entry requirements and the study experience. Alternatively, you can keep reading for a more in depth look at exactly how this qualification can enable you to change the lives of your students, what skills you will need to be the best in the role, and the other ways in which taking the course can benefit you.
Becoming a school counselor can be a challenging path to choose, but it also offers the opportunity to enjoy a truly rewarding career that makes an impact on not only the individuals within your care but the wider community too. It does not get much better than that.
How does a school counselor help students?
It is almost impossible to outline all the different ways in which a school counselor helps their students, because there are just so many. This is one of the reasons why states require you to have a master’s in school counseling in order to gain your license – there is a lot to learn! Having said that, it is possible to get a good idea of the tasks and responsibilities of the role by dividing it into three main areas. Of course, there is plenty of overlap between these, as each one tends to affect the other two, but it can still be a helpful distinction.
- Academic support
This covers all the different ways in which a school counselor assists with a student’s education. For example it could include making an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses to help them choose appropriate classes, working with them to develop good study habits and key learning skills, and evaluating their interests through aptitude tests. You will also help them to set realistic academic goals and plan how to achieve them, as well as refer those students with specific learning difficulties onto external professionals where appropriate. Thus, you can help students to reach their full potential when it comes to their education, giving them the best start in life.
- Career support
This covers all the different ways in which a school counselor assists with a student’s future aspirations, whether that is in college or employment. For instance you might help them to work out what type of career suits them best and how to achieve it, figure out which colleges to apply for and which subject to major in, or work with them on resumes, scholarship applications, and other paperwork. You can help students to achieve their goals and potentially change the entire course of their lives by encouraging them to dream big.
- Personal support
This covers all the different ways in which a school counselor assists with a student’s emotional and social concerns. These issues are wide ranging, covering everything from behavioral problems and truancy, to coping with peer pressure and bullying. You might find yourself counseling those suffering from mental health difficulties such as depression, stress and anxiety, those who have problems at home, or those who are struggling with issues around alcohol or drug misuse. It also involves looking out for, and reporting, signs of neglect or abuse. This personal support aspect of the role may well be the most important of all.
The specifics of the job will vary according to the age group of the students you are working with. In all three areas, you may also find yourself liaising with the parents, guardians or families of your students, as well as completing various types of administrative work.
Why are school counselors so important?
Reading the above has probably already answered this question for you, but let us dig into it a little more. By providing dedicated specialist guidance and support on both an academic and personal level, school counselors can make a lifelong difference to those students in their care. Studying for a master’s in school counseling will give you a deeper understanding of exactly how, because you will learn all about the psychology involved, but essentially you can inspire young people to make better decisions and take more positive actions in all areas of their lives.
To give some concrete examples, the availability of school counseling is credited with a number of encouraging effects including higher levels of class attendance, lower rates of college dropout, increased high school graduation rates and college attendance, plus improved academic achievement overall. It has also been shown to help inspire and empower students from marginalized groups, reducing inequalities in educational achievement. It can also be an effective way of raising awareness of issues that might be affecting young people, because school counselors often run group classes on topics around issues such as relationships, mental health, and planning for life after graduation.
All of this shows why school counselors are such an important resource for students, and why we need more people who are passionate about helping young people to study for a master’s in school counseling and get licensed to work in the field. So, if that sounds like you, it is definitely a career path that you should consider!
What skills do I need to best help my students as a school counselor?
The majority of the technical skills and specialist knowledge that you need to have in order to become an effective school counselor are taught on master’s in school counseling programs. This covers everything from theories and techniques of individual and group counseling, to developmental psychology, adolescent psychopathology, and theories of personality. You will also cover topics such as multicultural counseling, ethical and legal issues in school counseling, crisis response, and mental health and substance misuse. Other skills you will develop include learning how to manage and assess school counseling programs.
In addition to these technical abilities however, there are a number of personal characteristics and personality traits that will truly enable you to excel in the role. Some of these are easy to guess, such as empathy and compassion, which are necessary for getting into the minds of the young people that you are helping – not only understanding what they are going through, but responding in a caring way. Then of course, there is patience. Many students find it awkward or embarrassing to talk to school counselors, and whether it is due to nerves, shyness or even hostility, it might take several sessions before they are willing to open up to you about their concerns.
Throughout your career as a school counselor, it is important that you hold yourself to high standards when it comes to attitude and behavior. That is because it is vital that the students in your care see you as a person they can trust, respect, and look up to. If not, they will be much less likely to be honest with you and it will be more difficult for you to connect with them and help them in a meaningful way. In many ways you will be a role model for the young people you interact with, so be sure to always conduct yourself accordingly.
Some other key attributes to try and develop include adaptability and flexibility. This will be covered in more detail in your master’s in school counseling course, but it is due to the fact that school counseling is a job that can often throw you curve balls. You have to be prepared to drop everything if there is an emergency situation and rearrange your schedule if a student suddenly needs to see you out of the blue.
On a more personal note, it will also be important for you to be able to separate the cases you deal with at work from your life at home. There might be times when you have to deal with troubling issues, and it is key for your own mental health that you can set boundaries and not let those affect you too deeply.
Finally, there are many ‘soft skills’ you will work on during your master’s in school counseling that will prove useful. These include qualities such as leadership and teamwork, as well as administrative abilities like time management, organization and attention to detail. Skills such as communication are vital for working closely with students, staff and families, while problem solving, decision making, mediation and conflict resolution are all key components of the day to day work of a school counselor. Donot worry if this all sounds a little intimidating though, as you will have plenty of time to work on all of these skills during your studies and residencies!
In what other ways will a master’s in school counseling benefit me?
As we have discussed above, studying for a master’s in school counseling will enable you to make a real and long lasting difference to the lives of the students you work with. However, this is not the only benefit it will bring you! There are many more personal advantages of taking this qualification too.
For example, having a master’s in school counseling and going on to work as a school counselor can bring you high levels of job security and financial stability. This is because the employment prospects for school counselors are projected to grow at a faster rate than average, and it is a field in which there will always be a need for people, making the degree a worthwhile investment of your time and effort.
Studying for a higher degree of this sort is also correlated with higher salaries, lower unemployment, a wider professional network and even better health, meaning there are many more general benefits that you can expect to enjoy. Plus of course it is a fantastic way to improve your cognitive abilities such as critical thinking, research and analytical skills, which will be of great advantage to you no matter what career path you go on to pursue.
Finally, taking a master’s course in any field is a wonderful opportunity to dive deeply into a subject area that you are passionate about. This in itself is a great benefit, and lifelong learning of this sort is absolutely to be encouraged no matter how old you are or what your future plans are.
How do I get started on a master’s in school counseling?
For those who have been inspired to enroll on a master’s in school counseling program, the first step is to browse college websites to get a feel for the different courses that are on offer. Take a look at the modules available to see which programs are most closely aligned with your personal interests, and then check that you meet the entry requirements. Other factors to consider are whether you want to study a full time or part time course, and whether you would prefer to attend a program on campus or learn online.
Once you have narrowed down your options, you can begin to put together your applications. This could involve gathering transcripts and certificates from your undergraduate degree, academic or professional references, your resume, and perhaps writing a personal essay on why you want to take a master’s in school counseling. This will be a key part of your application, so take your time with it and let your passion for helping young people shine through.
Keep a close eye on all the relevant deadlines, and check your spelling and grammar carefully before hitting the submit button! It is also a good idea to look into any scholarships that might be available, or other options for financing your studies. After that you can start to prepare by reading around the subject and getting back into the mindset of formal education. Good luck!