How to Transition From Teacher to School Counselor

Transitioning from teaching to counseling can be a common career move for teachers. School counselors and guidance counselors help students navigate the rigors of a school environment, from dealing with personal or family issues to preparing for college.

If you’ve worked in the classroom and want to transition to a counseling role that enables you to serve students in a different way, a master of school counseling can help. Here’s everything you need to know about how to transition from teacher to school counselor.

Why Make the Switch From Teaching to Counseling

It’s not unusual for peoples’ desired job roles to change over the length of their careers. If you want to apply new skills in a different role and expand your career skill set, transitioning to a school counselor enables you to stay in a familiar work environment while tackling a different set of challenges.

The work of school counselors has some similarities as well as differences related to the work of teachers. As a teacher, you teach classes, create lesson plans, grade homework, assign presentations and serve as a mentor for your students. School counselors can also find themselves in mentorship roles, but their work is more focused on helping students reach certain academic goals or overcome social or behavioral issues. If you have an interest in psychology and enjoy working with students, school counseling is a way to marry these two interests.

If you feel nervous about making the switch from teaching to counseling, know that changing careers throughout your lifetime is common. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), younger baby boomers have held an average of more than 12 jobs from age 18 to 52. What about millenials? Gallup calls them “the job-hopping generation” because their generation is most likely to switch jobs.

Why Is Counseling a Good Second Career for Teachers?

If you’re a teacher, you have a passion for helping younger generations grow into confident, capable adults. School counselors share this passion—they just help students do this in a different way.

In elementary and middle school, counselors help students develop studying and decision-making skills. They address behavioral issues and special needs that the children may have. They work with school administrators, parents and students to create strategies for students’ social and academic success.

In high school, counselors help students make plans for college and careers. High school counselors help teenagers with a variety of personal issues that may affect academic performance. They encourage students, some of whom may be in their last academic environment, to live successful lives after graduation. High school counselors also help students learn about the college application process, including how to apply for financial aid and scholarships.

As a teacher, you already know how to effectively connect with students, build relationships and foster bonds built on trust and empathy. Changing roles from teacher to counselor gives you the opportunity to continue using these skills in a new way.

5 Skills That Transition From the Classroom

Teachers are some of the most primed professionals to make a successful transition to a career as a school counselor. Having worked in the school environment, you’re already equipped with an advantageous skill set to thrive as a school counselor. Here are five skills that transition from the classroom to the school counselor office.

1. Organization

School counselors must organize appointments, track students’ progress, file reports and communicate to appropriate parties regarding their interactions with students. They juggle many responsibilities and work with many students. They must stay organized by managing their time and priorities well. Teachers can relate, as organizational skills and planning are essential to classroom management.

2. Empathy

School counselors empathize with students and what they’re going through, whether it’s a social or personal problem, academic challenge, learning disability or behavioral issue. Despite the age gap, you must be able to relate to the students you’re helping. Teachers also find themselves empathizing with students’ academic and personal needs.

3. Connection

For school counseling to be effective, students must be open and receptive to the recommendations of a counselor. School counselors must gain the trust of students and help them understand the benefits of their recommendations. Building authentic connections with students is a key to a counselor’s success. In the classroom, the connection between a teacher and student is instrumental in academic success.

4. Understanding

A school counselor’s job becomes easier and more effective when a counselor understands the issues students face throughout their school journeys. School counselors can anticipate what students may be going through at various times periods and create strategies to help them. Having worked in the classroom, teachers are familiar with common problems students face.

5. Collaboration

Just like teachers, school counselors must work with a variety of people in their roles. This includes principals, athletics coaches, extracurriculars leaders and parents. Having experience interacting and collaborating with everyone from school administrators to parents can help you in a school counselor role.

How to Make a Mid-Career Change From Teacher to Counselor

If you want to become a school counselor, you’ll likely need a master’s degree in school counseling or a related field and a state-issued credential. Some states require licensure for school counselors, according to the BLS.

If you already have a master’s degree in a teaching-related field, there may be an opportunity for credit overlap, depending on the program and schools. However, if you only have a bachelor’s degree, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to use any credits from that program toward a counseling degree. Check with an admissions advisor if you have questions.

Here are steps to make a career change from teacher to school counselor.

1. Earn a master’s in school counseling.

As mentioned, school counselors typically must have a master’s degree in school counseling or related field. You can earn your degree in person or choose an online program. In a master of school counseling program, you’ll study topics like the history of school counseling, human development, theories and techniques of personal counseling, and psychology. Some programs let you specialize in a certain type of school counseling, such as working with students who have special needs. If you’re wondering whether a master of school counseling is right for you, be sure to explore counseling scholarship opportunities while making your decision.

2. Acquire supervised training hours.

Many master’s in school counseling programs require students to engage in supervised experience. This might be in the form of a practicum or internship. You’ll usually be required to work under a certified school counselor to obtain clinical training hours.

3. Become licensed.

Public (and often private) school counselors usually need to be credentialed by their states in order to work. The credential may be a license, certification or endorsement. In order to be credentialed, you’ll need to pass a test after you’ve received your master’s and have completed your practicum or internship.

Will You Need a Master’s in School Counseling to Change Careers?

Typically, yes, but it will depend on the state. There may be special exceptions where a master’s degree in a field related to school counseling may be acceptable. You can check state-by-state requirements on the American School Counselor Association website.

If you’re unsure about going back to school, know that obtaining your master’s degree can lead to career advancement opportunities. In a report on unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment from the BLS, data show the median weekly earnings for those with a master’s degree were $1,434 in 2018, compared to $1,198 for those with a bachelor’s degree.

Maintaining Your Career Outside the Classroom

Making the transition to school counselor is a great way to continue working in the school system without having to run a classroom. The BLS reports the job outlook for school counselors is projected to grow 8% between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average compared to all occupations. That job growth rate is also faster than the growth rate for elementary teachers (3%), middle school teachers (3%) and high school teachers (4%).

With experience as both a teacher and school counselor, you’ll expand your knowledge of school operations. This could open doors to further advance your career and apply your unique skills to administration roles, such as school principal. According to the BLS, school principals typically need to have a master’s degree. The 2018 median pay for school principals was $95,310. When you move from teaching to counseling, you’ll develop new skills that can help you further your school counselor career outlook.

Check Out Online Programs

If school counseling interests you, perhaps an online master’s in school counseling program can enable you to continue teaching while studying for your master’s. Without having to relocate for school, you can take the required school counseling courses online and learn on your own time, which means that disruptions to your teaching schedule can be minimized.