Contrary to some beliefs, college counseling does not directly entail the work with admissions or even academic advising. A college counselor is typically an individual with at least a master’s level education in counseling, psychology, social work or education. Each college counselor may be involved with different responsibilities that are pertinent to the college counseling centers mission. Whether college counselors are providing individualized attention to a student, running a small group session, or assessing risk for the student population, the college counseling center assists students through addressing their presenting concerns and promoting greater wellness. It’s a powerful opportunity for professional counselors as they have the ability to impact the lives of people on the cusp of adulthood, often facing a wide array of choices and opportunities.
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A college student may encounter a number of different counselors in the course of their study. The first such professional they are likely to encounter is an admissions advisor who offers guidance applying to the school and enrolling in classes. Next the student may work with a financial aid advisor for help with applying for loans and scholarships. Throughout their schooling, most students will have access to an academic advisor who will offer help selecting courses and a major, staying on track for graduation, and getting support if struggling in a class. While these encounters are critical to a student’s college success, these are not the roles of a college counselor.
Some universities have counseling centers which empoy licensed counselors, social workers, and/or psychologists to help students experiencing emotional difficulties, depression, mental illness, substance abuse or other personal problem. The George Washington University and the University of Kentucky counseling centers, for example, staff licensed psychologists, clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and master’s level interns. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges summarizes the goal, purpose, and value of college counselors in that they assist students in educational, vocational, and personal goals. Every college will entail different responsibilities for their college counseling centers. Brian Van Brunt, EdD, the past-president of the American College Counseling Association (ACCA) describes three main roles that college counselors engage in - counseling, consulting and prevention programming, and assessing risk. College counselors attend to these roles within individual and group counseling sessions, conduct outreach and prevention activities (attending to mental health awareness, substance abuse awareness, and suicide prevention), and assessing risk of harm to self and/or others.
Steps to Become a College Counselor
Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral or social science field.
Earning your bachelor's degree in a counseling related field creates a primer that allows you to explore helping professions in terms of foundational knowledge, basic skills, and different types of research with diverse populations.
Step 2: Earn a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work.
As a requirement for any licensed counseling career, a graduate degree in counseling, psychology, or social work furthers your undergraduate education to fine tune your counseling skills, theoretical approaches, understanding of systems, psychology of human development, and current trends grounded in past research.
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Step 3: Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for licensure requirements.
To become a licensed professional counselor in any field, individuals must pursue graduate and postgraduate supervised clinical hours to apply for a state recognized license to practice.
Step 4: Pass any required exams for licensure.
Some counseling graduate programs and states require the passing of the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) as well as other types of exams.
Step 5: Apply for and earn additional certifications.
Additional certifications are available in a wide array of specialties such as theoretical approaches, work with different populations, or provide additional learning opportunities.
Step 6: Continue your education and stay up to date on college counseling trends and changes.
Maintaining your licensure for professional practice as a counselor is required by most states to remain licensed. Attending workshops, presentations, conferences, or even participating in research helps to further your career as a college counselor and assists in your approaches to your work with students.
What are the licensing and certification requirements?
Professional licensure and/or certification is required for college counselors providing services in a counseling center. Counseling licensure requirements typically include the completion of a counseling master's degree program from an accredited university, two years of supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a state-administered licensing exam. Practicing college counselors may also be required to take continuing education to maintain licensure. Specific licensure requirements vary by state. See state counseling license requirements.