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Summary: Requirements, benefits, and job outlook for counselors

A quick look at the role of a counselor.

Nature of the Work

Counselors assist people with personal, family, social, educational, mental health, and career decisions, problems, and concerns. Their duties depend on the individuals they serve and the settings in which they work.

School and college counselors help students understand their abilities, interests, talents, and personality characteristics so they can develop realistic academic and career options. High school counselors advise on college majors, admission requirements, entrance exams, and financial aid, and on trade, technical school, and apprenticeship programs. They help students develop job finding skills. College career planning and placement counselors may assist alumni or students with career development and job hunting techniques.

Counselors also help students understand and deal with their social, behavioral, and personal problems. They emphasize preventive and developmental counseling to provide students with the life skills needed to deal with problems before they occur, and to enhance personal, social, and academic growth. Counselors provide special services, including alcohol and drug prevention programs, and classes that teach students to handle conflicts without resorting to violence. Counselors also try to identify cases involving domestic abuse and other family problems that can affect a student's development.

Counselors consult and work with parents, teachers, school administrators, school psychologists, school nurses, and social workers. Elementary school counselors do more social and personal counseling, and less vocational and academic counseling than secondary school counselors. They observe younger children during classroom and play activities and confer with their teachers and parents to evaluate their strengths, problems, or special needs. They also help students develop good study habits.

Rehabilitation counselors help individuals dealing with the personal, social, and vocational effects of their disabilities. They may counsel people with disabilities resulting from birth defects, illness or disease, accidents, or the stress of daily life. They evaluate the strengths and limitations of individuals, provide personal and vocational counseling, and may arrange for medical care, vocational training, and job placement. They develop and implement a rehabilitation program, which may include training to help the person become more independent and employable. They also work toward increasing the client's capacity to adjust and live independently.

Employment counselors help individuals explore and evaluate their education, training, work history, interests, skills, personal traits, and physical capacities. They also work with individuals in developing job seeking skills and assist clients in locating and applying for jobs.

Mental health counselors emphasize prevention and help individuals deal with addictions and substance abuse, family, parenting, and marital problems, suicide, stress management, problems with self esteem, issues associated with aging, job and career concerns, educational decisions, and issues of mental and emotional health.

Working Conditions

Most school counselors work the traditional 9 -10 month school year with a 2-3 month vacation.

Rehabilitation and employment counselors generally work a standard 40-hour week. Self-employed counselors and those working in mental health and community agency often work evenings. College career planning and placement counselors may work long and irregular hours during recruiting periods.


Counselors held about 27,150 jobs in 2017, most of which specialized in individual and family services.

In addition to elementary and secondary schools and colleges and universities, counselors worked in health care facilities, job training, career development, and vocational rehabilitation centers; social agencies; correctional institutions; and residential care facilities, such as halfway houses or criminal offenders and group homes for children, the aged and disabled. Counselors also worked in organizations engaged in community improvement and social change, as well as drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and state and local government agencies.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Generally, counselors have a master's degree in college student affairs, education, or various types of counseling.

Graduate level counselor education programs in colleges and universities usually are in departments of education or psychology. In an accredited program, 48-60 semester hours of graduates study, including a period of supervised clinical experience in counseling, are required for a master's degree.

Many counselors elect to be nationally certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), which grants the general practice credential, "National Certified Counselor." To be certified, a counselor must hold a master's degree in counseling from a regionally accredited institution, have at least two years of supervised professional counseling experience, and pass NBCC's National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification. To maintain their certification, counselors must complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every five years.

All states require school counselors to hold state school counseling certification; however, certification varies from state to state. Some states require public school counselors to have both counseling and teaching certificates. Depending on the state, a master's degree in counseling and two to five years of teaching experience may be required for a counseling certificate.

Vocational and related rehabilitation agencies generally require a master's degree. Some, however, may accept applicants with a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation services, counseling, psychology, sociology, or related fields. A bachelor's degree may qualify a person to work as a counseling aide, rehabilitation aide, or social service worker. Experience in employment counseling, job development, psychology, education, or social work may be helpful.

In most state vocational rehabilitation agencies, applicants must pass a written examination and be evaluated by a board of examiners to obtain licensure. In addition, many employers require rehabilitation counselors to be nationally certified. To maintain their certification, counselors must complete 100 hours of acceptable continuing education credit every five years.

Some states require counselors in public employment offices to have a master's degree; others accept a bachelor's degree with appropriate counseling courses.

Clinical mental health counselors generally have a master's degree in mental health counseling, another area of counseling, or in psychology or social work. They are voluntarily certified by the National Board for Certified Counselors. Generally, to receive certification as a clinical mental health counselor, a counselor must have a master's degree in counseling, two years of postmaster's experience, a period of supervised clinical experience, a taped sample of clinical work, and a passing grade on a written examination.

Some employers provide training for newly hired counselors. Many have work-study programs so that employed counselors can earn graduate degrees. Counselors must participate in graduate studies, workshops, institutes, and personal studies to maintain their certificates and licenses.

Persons interested in counseling should have a strong interest in helping others and the ability to inspire respect, trust, and confidence. They should be able to work independently or as part of a team. Counselors follow the code of ethics associated with their respective certifications and licenses.

Prospects for advancement vary by counseling field. School counselors may move to a larger school; become directors or supervisors of counseling, guidance, or pupil personnel services; or, usually with further graduate education, become counselor educators, counseling psychologists, or school administrators. Some counselors also may advance to work at the state department of education.

Rehabilitation, mental health, and employment counselors may become supervisors or administrators in their agencies. Some counselors move into research, consulting, or college teaching, or go into private or group practice.

Job Outlook

Employment of counselors is expected to grow 14% from 2016 to 2016, faster than the average for all occupations.


The median annual wage was $43,370 in 2017. The lowest 10% earned about $25,420, while the highest 10% earned about $75,890.

Related Occupations

Teachers, personnel workers and managers, human services workers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, members of the clergy, occupational therapists, training and employee development specialists, equal employment opportunity/affirmative action specialists

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