Career: Guidance Counselor
Few careers are as potentially rewarding—or as frustrating—as that of a guidance counselor,
whose job it is to help guide and structure children’s educational and vocational direction
as they pass through an unstable and confusing time in their lives. It can be frustrating
because you will have limited power to make students follow your advice, and often you will
face students “who don’t want to think about the day after tomorrow,” as one counselor put
it. A guidance counselor helps students determine courses of study and possible vocations.
Counselors try to understand what motivates each student as well as his or her skills and
desires. “When you’re doing things right,” wrote
one, “it’s like you’re another parent, except they
trust you a little more.” Individuals who aspire to
enter the field should be aware that emotional as well as intellectual demands come with the
As most guidance counselors spend over a third of their time in consultations with students
and parents, prospective counselors should be comfortable with teenagers and have
excellent communication skills. Another 25 percent of a guidance counselor’s day is spent
administering and evaluating tests. Guidance counselors use the results to provide context
for existing records of academic performance, teacher evaluations, and a better overall understanding
of students’ needs.
Some guidance counselors call the continuing education they receive from the students
with whom they work the most interesting feature of the profession. “I learned more from
them than from any class in college,” wrote one enthusiastic counselor. “I learned more in the
first day.”Not all counselors are as positive as this, but the level of satisfaction guidance counselors
recorded was one of the highest of any career in this book. Of course, people who don’t
love the profession usually leave quickly; guidance counselors have one of the highest initial
attrition rates of any profession in this book—a staggering 60 percent within the first two
years. Careers that require this degree of emotional commitment can be rough on those individuals
who are not prepared to make one on a regular basis.
A bachelor’s degree is required to become a high school guidance counselor, and some
states require that the candidate have a master’s degree, as well. To work in public schools,
guidance counselors also typically need to be licensed. Coursework should include social
studies, psychology, and communications work, with an emphasis on public speaking.
Courses dealing with education are important, too; many private schools require that guidance
counselors teach courses in addition to performing their counseling duties. A background
in statistics and mathematics is important for evaluating students’ standardized tests.
By far the most important skill a potential guidance counselor can bring to this profession is
the ability to relate to adolescents. This skill requires a combination of the ability to listen,
honesty, an open mind, and a sense of humor. Individuals who succeed in this profession
communicate well with students.
People become guidance counselors because they want to help students, and individuals
who leave find many other ways to satisfy that desire: They return to school and become therapists,
they head up substance-abuse programs, they run educational centers and programs,
they become teachers without counseling duties, and they even become tutors. Some of them
decide that they would like to continue helping people, but in a different age range, and they
become professional career advisors, recruiters, and human resources personnel.