While mandates concerning school counselors vary from state to state, schools increasingly are recognizing the crucial role that counselors fulfill for students throughout their education. Demand is increasing, but the supply of counseling personnel to fill these position within the U.S. education system is decreasing.
Job Outlook for School Counselors
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has projected an almost 8 percent growth rate in employment for school counselors.
The average salary for school counselors throughout the U.S. is $56,490 per year, but this pay rate varies considerably from state to state and from city to city. New Jersey is the best paying state and has the best paying city, with counselors statewide earning an average of $72,140 and counselors in Trenton earning an average of $90,090 per year.
Why School Counselors Are in High Demand
The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that schools have one counselor for every 250 students. A low counselor-to-student ratio is associated with a greater knowledge of options for postsecondary education and higher rates of college enrollment.
Students attending schools with a low counselor-to-student ratio are also more likely to take ACT or SAT exams. Approximately 70 percent of students at schools with lower ratios are taking either the ACT or the SAT, whereas only 59 percent of students at higher ratio schools are taking the same exams.
Counseling Mandates Across the U.S.
Counseling mandates can vary considerably from state to state. Over half of all U.S. states do not require counselors in schools for grades K–12. However, more and more states are beginning to understand how essential counseling can be and how it can positively impact students’ lives. At this time, 23 states require schools with students in grades K–8 and 9–12 to have counselors.
Five Examples of States that Recognize How Counseling Can Positively Impact Students’ Lives
Tennessee has established a standards bill and framework for the requirements that school counselors must abide by when working with students from grades K–12. The state has a mandated ratio of one counselor for every 500 students in grades K–6 and a ratio of one counselor for every 350 students in grades 7–12. Approximately 70 percent of associated funding is provided by the state, and 30 percent is provided locally.
Georgia has a ratio of one counselor for every 450 students in grades K–12. Funding is provided at the state level and supplemented locally. Funds allocated by the state are dispersed based on full-time employees.
Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) line up with the standards of the ASCA for all levels of schooling, including elementary, junior high and high school. Dubbed “crosswalking,” this alignment is a replacement of standards that allows counselors to act as both a counselor and an educator “in an effort to meet the mental health and educational needs of all students.”
South Carolina has a counselor-to-student ratio of 1:800 in grades K–5 and 1:300 in grades 6–12, with funding provided by the state. Certified counselors and certified career specialists both are included in mandated school-counselor ratios. However, counselors only can provide guidance and counseling. Current legislation does not allow counselors to perform administrative duties.
South Carolina designed its model to aid counselor-educators-in-training and to develop future school counselors. The three central student development points of South Carolina’s model are learning to live, learning to learn and learning to work, which teach students to balance their personal, social, academic and professional lives.
Virginia has mandated how counselor resource time is allocated based on the number of students in each respective school. Elementary schools require one-full time counselor for every 500 students in each school, middle schools require one counselor for every 400 students and high schools require one counselor for every 350 students.
Funding is provided by the state through legislative action. The Standard for School Counseling Programs in Virginia takes students’ academic, career, personal and social development into account at each grade level in a progressive manner.
With a 1:350 counselor-to-student ratio for grades K–8 and a 1:250 ratio for grades 9–12, Maine has the lowest mandated ratio of any state. Funding is provided to each local district at the state level.
Effective Characteristics and Traits of Successful School Counselors
In order to be effective, counselors must possess unique characteristics and personality traits to guide, mentor and develop students at all levels of schooling.
Listening is the most essential characteristic that a school counselor can have. Counselors must understand that listening involves feeling, seeing, hearing and expressing. It also is important to avoid voicing any assumptions about a student’s feelings or responses.
Empathy helps a counselor understand the intensity of a student’s experience; the context of a student’s verbal and non-verbal behavior; and the importance of responding intentionally to a student’s behaviors, experiences or feelings.
Building a therapeutic alliance between counselors and students involves coming to a consensus regarding goals, collaborating on counseling-related tasks and emotional bonding.
School counselors engage in social justice advocacy and act as social change agents to remove educational inequalities and increase access in order to improve educational outcomes for all students. School counselors know that they must understand their own strengths, weaknesses, perspectives and biases to avoid diminishing their professional effectiveness.
Bradley University has published a state by state infographic/outlook on behalf of their online Master of Arts in Counseling program. Here is a link to the infographic: https://onlinedegrees.bradley.edu/resources/infographics/state-by-state-mandates-for-professional-school-counseling/