Do I Need a Master's Degree to Be a School Counselor?


Updated April 16, 2024 · 2 Min Read

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School counselors help students with social, academic, and behavioral challenges. They work closely with teachers and families to support young learners.

But do you need a master’s to be a school counselor? Yes, you’ll need a master’s degree and a state credential to work as a school counselor. You’ll develop clinical expertise during a master’s program in school counseling, preparing you for careers in this field. Learn more about how a master’s degree prepares school counselors.

Popular Online Counseling Master's Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Why Do School Counselors Need a Master's Degree?

Successful school counselors need advanced counseling skills and a deep understanding of the challenges students face. Master’s programs in school counseling develop these critical abilities, requiring coursework and practicum experience.

A school counselor’s typical day might include leading a group discussion on bullying, meeting with students facing abuse or neglect, and writing college recommendation letters. School counselors also dig into data to develop counseling plans and support struggling students. These responsibilities require strong interpersonal, analytical, and communication skills.

A graduate degree prepares school counselors to uphold professional practice requirements and meet regulatory standards. Supervised clinical experience helps school counseling graduate students develop the hands-on skills they’ll use in their careers.

Alternative Paths: Can You Be a School Counselor Without a Master's Degree?

While you’ll need a master’s degree to become a school counselor, you can qualify for many other roles in education and childcare without a graduate degree. Gaining experience in these alternative paths can help you prepare for a master’s in school counseling.

Childcare Workers

  • Median Salary (2022): $28,520
  • Required Education: High school diploma
  • Job Duties: Care for children from infancy through preschool; encourage childhood development; communicate with parents.

Teacher Assistants

  • Median Salary (2022): $30,920
  • Required Education: Some college
  • Job Duties: Assist teachers in the classroom by working one-on-one with children, preparing equipment, and supervising students.

K-12 Teachers

  • Median Salaries (2022): $61,620 (kindergarten/elementary), $61,810 (middle school), $62,360 (high school)
  • Required Education: Bachelor's degree (Some states may require a master's degree in addition to a state teaching certification)
  • Job Duties: Educate children in subjects such as reading, math, and science; these roles typically require a teaching license.

Advantages of Pursuing a Master's Degree in School Counseling

Earning a master’s degree in school counseling prepares you for careers in a rewarding, in-demand field. School counselors make a difference in the lives of students. You’ll also qualify for roles in a variety of settings, including public schools, elementary schools, and high schools.

School counselors also benefit from strong demand and good pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school and career counselors jobs will grow by 5% from 2022-2032, which is faster than the average rate for all occupations.. K-12 school counselors earn a median annual salary of $65,930.

Considerations for Choosing a Master's Program in School Counseling

When choosing a master’s program in school counseling, it’s critical to check its accreditation and whether it meets licensing requirements. Here are the key factors to consider when researching programs:

Licensing Requirements

Licensing and certification requirements for school counselors vary by state. Public schools require that school counselors have a state-issued credential. Check with the state board to ensure you meet requirements.


Always choose an accredited master’s program for your counseling degree. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) accredits graduate counseling programs. CACREP-accredited programs meet the best practices for educating school counselors.

Program Curriculum

Reviewing the program curriculum can help you find a program that best matches your interests and career goals. It’s also worth considering whether you want to pursue an M.Ed or MA in school counseling.

Costs and Funding

You can compare programs based on the total cost of the degree, including tuition, textbooks, fees, and other expenses. Determine the financial aid opportunities a school offers, including scholarships, to help you find a program that fits your budget.

Master's in School Counseling FAQs

Do you need a master's to be a school counselor?

Yes, you need a master's to be a school counselor. In most states, you'll need a master's in school counseling. Some states may also allow licensure with a master's in psychology. Contact your state licensing board for more information.

How much do school counselors make?

School counselors working at K-12 schools earn a median annual salary of $65,930, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Earning potential depends on several factors, including experience, location, and industry. For example, school counselors in California reported an average pay of $81,100.

How long does it take to become a school counselor?

It takes around six years to become a school counselor. First, you'll need a bachelor's degree. Majors such as counseling, education, or psychology can help you prepare. Next, you'll need a master's in school counseling, which typically takes two years. In some states, you'll also need teaching experience.

Is a master's in school counseling worth it?

A master's in school counseling prepares you for rewarding careers working with students. School counselors are in demand, and you can expect a median salary of $65,930 at K-12 schools. That can make earning a master's in school counseling worth it.

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