What does a guidance counselor do? A closer look at this student-centric role
If you think back to your adolescence, you may recall a few interactions with school counselors. You might even have a child who’s working with one now. School counselors do everything from helping new students adjust to providing guidance during the college application process. They play a role of unparalleled importance in students’ lives.
You may be wondering, but what does a school counselor actually do? The job title can be a bit ambiguous, especially if you consider the range of ages these professionals can work with. As you can imagine, the role of an elementary school counselor will differ greatly from a high school counselor. But when it all comes down to it, the school counselor job description is always anchored in helping students develop the skills they need to succeed—whether that’s in school, on the playground or in college.
Interested in learning more about what a school counselor does in their day-to-day duties through all grade levels? We spoke with seasoned school counselors to reveal more about their lives and the rewarding impact they have on students.
What does a guidance counselor do? A high-level look at their daily duties
Generally speaking, school counselors help students develop the academic and social skills needed to succeed in school—and later in life.
“School counselors serve the social and emotional needs of students so that they can be prepared for academic rigor,” says Brandi Lewis, M.Ed, LPC, high school counselor and owner of Reach Counseling Solutions.
With so much hinging on academic success, school counselors play an important role. Beyond supporting the social and emotional needs of students, they also help pupils explore their interests and potential career options. Of course, these responsibilities vary depending on the students’ ages.
“Our daily duties can include anything from referring students to outside agencies for mental health concerns to doing lunch duty,” says middle school counselor Felicia G. Meadows, M.Ed. “I do schedule changes, suicide prevention, meditations, individual counseling, referrals to outside services and classroom lessons, just to name a few.”
As you can see, school counselors take on an array of responsibilities to help improve the lives of their students, both in and out of the classroom. The following are a number of their typical tasks, outlined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
- Identifying issues affecting school performance, such as absenteeism
- Addressing social or behavioral problems
- Helping students develop skills needed for academic success
- Counseling individuals and small groups
- Assessing students’ abilities and interests
- Helping students achieve academic or career goals
School counselors also work with teachers, administrators and parents to help students improve their classroom performance. They might suggest outside resources for additional support. Because school counselors are positioned to work closely with students, they’re also trained to detect and report possible cases of neglect or abuse.
What does a guidance counselor do at each grade level?
Now that you’re familiar with some of the basic school counselor duties, keep reading to learn more about what these professionals do at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
What do elementary guidance counselors do?
A key part of an elementary school counselor’s job is to foster the foundational skills students need to excel in the classroom. Skills like decision-making and studying prove critical to a child’s academic success. An elementary school counselor may collaborate with teachers and administrators to ensure the curriculum addresses students’ needs.
Elementary school counselors sometimes work with parents and guardians to discuss a child’s classroom performance, developmental needs or behavioral issues. By supporting students at an incredibly formative period of their young lives, elementary school counselors help children develop good habits both in and out of school.
What do middle guidance counselors do?
Middle school counselors provide critical support for students during adolescence. They strive to create a caring and supportive learning environment for students and help them develop skills crucial for classroom and social success. Middle school counselors play a critical role in supporting the emerging self-identity of their students. By collaborating with teachers, parents and administrators, they create an environment that maximizes personal and academic achievement.
During a time when adolescents increasingly turn to peers for affirmation, middle school counselors play an integral role in addressing the social and emotional needs of students. They also provide necessary interventions that remove barriers to learning.
“We are their voice when they don't feel like they have a voice,” Meadows says. “We provide academic support and social and emotional counseling.”
Because the knowledge, attitudes and skills students acquire during these years build the foundation for future success, the role of a middle school counselor is incredibly significant.
What do high school counselors do?
The high school counselor job description includes assisting students in making academic and career plans. They also help teenagers overcome barriers to success. They may work one-on-one with students experiencing personal problems. They might also work on a larger scale to educate students about drug abuse, bullying or other significant issues high schoolers face.
“Many people would be surprised to know that much of the time we are working with students who may have mental health or other personal concerns,” Lewis reflects. “We have to provide individual care for those students—whether it’s referring them to a school-based mental health counselor or providing community resources.” She adds that suicidal ideations are a very real issue that she encounters while working with students at this age.
On top of this, high school counselors also help prepare students for life after graduation.
“In high school, we often serve as one of the only contacts that students have related to college or career preparation,” Lewis explains. With graduation on the horizon, this remains an integral part of a high school counselor’s role. They provide aptitude assessments and individual planning to help identify a student’s interests and abilities.
High school counselors provide additional guidance on the college application process and other avenues, such as apprenticeships or training programs. They also help teenagers develop tactical skills—those related to applying for jobs, interviewing for positions and writing resumes—critical to their success following graduation.
The bottom line: You have plenty of options for a school counseling career
Exactly what does a school counselor do? They listen. They teach. They advocate. They care. They do a lot more than you may have realized. And they support students holistically in ways no one else can.
School counselors help reduce obstacles preventing students from reaching their potential. Above all, they arm students with the skills, strategies and support they need to build the foundation for a successful and productive life.
If you’re passionate about improving the lives of students, consider how you can get started on the path toward a meaningful and rewarding career as a school counselor. Visit Brandman University’s Master's Degree in Counseling and PPSC in School Counseling to learn more. Or, if you already have a master's degree, consider adding on a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in School Counseling.
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