A guidance counselor works in a school setting to assist students in better preparing for postsecondary education or in making career decisions. The requirements to become a guidance counselor differ depending on the school. These individuals typically hold a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in psychology, but they may also hold a B.A. in career counseling. High school counselors are sometimes required to have a master’s degree, and many schools require them to be licensed. Counselors in colleges may not have a B.A., but they may be experts in their field of instruction. At the college level, the counselor is sometimes referred to as an academic advisor.
Guidance counselors in elementary schools are frequently catch-all counselors who assist with learning disability testing and may also manage Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) for students who require them. They rarely provide psychological assistance, but they may observe students in the classroom or participate in psychological or intelligence testing. Children who require extensive counseling for psychological issues usually meet with a school psychologist, though in some schools, funding constraints may limit access to a psychologist.
In most elementary schools, a guidance counselor is simply referred to as a counselor. These employees, regardless of their position, can be a valuable resource for children and parents. Contacting the elementary counselor is a good first step if a parent is concerned about a child’s learning abilities. If the school administration does not take the parent’s concerns seriously, the counselor may be especially useful.
For students deemed “at academic risk,” the guidance counselor may still participate in some educational testing in the middle school setting. He or she usually assists students in making decisions about electives and whether or not their current classes challenge them sufficiently. He or she may be able to assist the student in changing his or her schedule if the courses are too difficult or too easy.
While the guidance counselor used to be a regular sight on the junior high or middle school campus, budget cuts have forced many counselors to work part-time at multiple schools. Having a supportive counselor during the difficult years of early adolescence can be extremely beneficial. Counselors may meet with students who are having emotional problems on a regular basis just to check in and see if help is available, though this role is often filled a school psychologist if one is available.
The guidance counselor’s focus in high school is on assisting students in making decisions about their future careers or college plans. He or she assists a student in developing a study plan that is tailored to his or her goals after high school. A student who wants to attend a university, for example, will most likely be directed to take courses that will help him or her achieve this goal and make him or her eligible to attend. For those who want to attend trade schools or college after high school, the high school counselor may be able to provide information about financial aid options. He or she can also assist students who are having difficulty and are on the verge of failing to graduate.
While working with a guidance counselor can be extremely beneficial for many students, it is critical that the student does not rely solely on the counselor’s advice. If a student is interested in applying to specific colleges or receiving financial aid, for example, she should double-check information and seek advice from a potential college. Information can sometimes change so quickly that the counselor is unable to keep up.