How To Become a Career Counselor

Man and woman talking and sitting across from each other in an office

According to a YouthTruth survey, only about 45% of high school students feel well prepared for college and careers.1 Of professionals surveyed later in life, about 49% have made a dramatic career change, and of those who have not, about 65% have thought about it.2 These statistics clearly reveal that even when you have strong interests and passions, it’s not always easy to figure out what you want to do in life.

In This Article:

What Is a Career Counselor?

One solution to this conundrum is to seek the services of a career counselor. A career counselor is a trained professional who helps individuals at various stages of life determine what they want to do and how to go about doing it. They may help them begin a new career, change careers, or move up in their current profession.

What Does a Career Counselor Do?

The average worker spends a lot of time at work: eight hours a day, five days a week, most weeks out of the year. Because work consumes such a significant portion of a person’s life, it is immensely important to do work one finds meaningful and personally fulfilling. People who are happy with their careers typically enjoy better quality of life on all levels. Yet, career happiness is often elusive.

It is the job of a career counselor to help people identify their ideal job and work toward landing it. Essentially, career counselors find personal satisfaction in helping others work toward personal fulfillment and meaningful vocations. If you enjoy working with people and have a problem-solving mindset, you might consider becoming a career counselor.

What Is a Career Coach?

One common misconception is that a career counselor listens to you talk about your interests and strengths and then tells you what you should do with your life. In reality, career counselors never tell clients what they should do; rather, these professionals help their clients discern what they want out of life and how to go about getting it. Career counselors are objective, non-judgmental sources of guidance who act as sounding boards for their clients’ thoughts and feelings.

The specific tasks of career counselors often depend on their work environments and their typical clients. For example, many counselors work in public and private school systems. In these settings, they may be called “guidance counselors” and work exclusively with students.

Other types of counseling careers specialize in working with college and university students. Still others find employment with healthcare and social assistance agencies, where they work with clients ranging from retired military veterans to homeless individuals to people who have sustained permanent disabilities and need to transition to another line of work. Finally, some career counselors are self-employed with their own private practice. These counselors might work with people who are no longer satisfied with their careers and are looking for a change.

As you can see, the daily duties of career counselors very much depend on the client populations they work with. A school counselor might help students not only identify their career interests but also overcome behavioral challenges or learn good time management skills. A counselor working with an established professional looking to change careers might focus on connecting that client with educational resources for job retraining.

Although the specific job duties of a career counselor vary with the work environment, the following are some general examples:

  • Administer aptitude and achievement assessments designed to help clients identify their career interests, abilities and strengths
  • Open a dialogue with clients to explore their background and education and help them identify their career goals
  • Assist clients in developing realistic career goals to work toward
  • Help clients apply to educational programs necessary for their chosen career
  • Teach clients essential job search skills, such as networking, resume writing and interviewing

Some clients have trouble recognizing what their interests are or seeing how to apply their interests to a career field. Others need counseling because they have a wide range of interests and are having difficulty deciding which one to pursue.

Each client presents different challenges for a career counselor. As a result, career counseling is an intellectually stimulating job, ideal for people who enjoy solving problems by brainstorming solutions.

Is Becoming a Career Counselor the Right Path for You?

Now that you know what a career counselor is and what they do, you may be curious about how to become a career counselor. The first thing you should know is that different states have different requirements, so as you plan your path to your career, you will need to keep in mind the legal requirements for the state where you plan to work. All states require public school counselors to obtain a license or certification, and many states have similar credentialing requirements for career counselors who work in private practice.

All aspiring career counselors need at least a bachelor’s degree, and many need a master’s degree, depending on specific state requirements. After earning their degrees, aspiring career counselors may need to meet work experience requirements, often through an internship or supervised practicum experience. The final step is to apply for a state-mandated license or certification required for career counseling jobs.

Explore Educational Options for Becoming a Career Counselor

What kind of undergraduate degree do school and career counselors need? There is not a universally required major, but counselors generally earn a counseling or psychology degree. A Bachelor of Science in Psychology will serve you well in this career field, as you will learn the fundamentals of human thought patterns and how those thought patterns influence behavior.

While you are working toward your psychology degree, it is a good idea to get to know the staff in your university’s career services department because they are already doing the kind of work you are interested in. Make an appointment to speak with them about your career aspirations and their experiences in the field. You can solicit their advice by asking them how they landed their first job after graduation or what they wished they had known before entering the field.

During the course of your studies, you can also begin actively cultivating the essential skills and characteristics of effective career counselors. These professionals benefit from having the following skills and traits:

  • Written and spoken communication skills
  • Interpersonal relationship skills
  • Active listening skills
  • Compassion and empathy
  • Analytical reasoning and problem-solving abilities

Advance Your Counseling Career With a Graduate Degree

As soon as you have completed your bachelor’s degree, you can begin working toward your master’s degree. Look for a master’s specifically designed for aspiring school or career counselors, such as a Master of Education (MEd) in School Counseling. This type of program will enable you to develop an in-depth understanding of what students and jobseekers are struggling with. It will also help you understand what obstacles they face on the path toward a meaningful and rewarding career.

Complete a Career Counseling Internship

Your graduate-level counseling education can be enhanced with a supervised internship experience. This internship enables you to gain real-world experience working with students or established professionals.

Your work will be overseen by a faculty member and a clinical site supervisor, who will offer guidance along the way and help you learn to become a more effective career counselor. Remember to carefully document your internship hours, as you may need a certain number of them to qualify for state licensure.

Complete Your State Licensure Requirements

Aspiring career counselors should become familiar with the licensing requirements for the state where they plan to practice. If you need to secure licensure, then you can expect to take an examination administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC), such as the National Counselor Examination (NCE). The NCE is a 200-item multiple-choice test that evaluates your skills and knowledge in the counseling field. Upon successfully passing it, you will have National Certified Counselor (NCC) certification.3

Pursue Advanced Counseling Certifications

Although your state may not require advanced certification to practice as a career counselor, it will help to establish your professional reputation and enhance your qualifications. After you have passed your licensure exam, consider pursuing certification from the National Career Development Association (NCDA).

The NCDA offers several options for vocational counselors. For example, you may pursue the Certified Career Counselor (CCC) designation. Earning this certification establishes your commitment to professional excellence as a counselor.4

Other options include the following:

  • Certified Career Services Provider (CCSP)
  • Certified Master of Career Services (CMCS)
  • Certified Clinical Supervisor of Career Counseling (CCSCC)
  • Certified School Career Development Advisor (CSCDA)
  • Certified Career Counselor Educator (CCCE)

Get Started on Your Counseling Career at GCU

Find your purpose by helping others pursue their passions in life. Apply today to enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Psychology program offered by the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Grand Canyon University (GCU), followed by the Master of Education in School Counseling degree, which leads to initial licensure. Graduates from our career counseling programs emerge with solid critical thinking skills, an unwavering sense of servant leadership and a solid game plan for pursuing career success. Fill out the form on this page to learn more about applying to GCU’s programs.


1 YouthTruth Student Survey, (n.d.). College and Career Readiness. YouthTruth Student Survey. Retrieved March 28, 2023.

2 Indeed. (2019, October 30). Career Change Report: An Inside Look at Why Workers Shift Gears. Indeed for Employers. Retrieved March 28, 2023.

3 National Board for Certified Counselors. (n.d.). About the NCE. NBCC. Retrieved March 28, 2023.

4 National Career Development Association. (n.d.). Intro to Credentialing. NCDA. Retrieved March 28, 2023.

Approved by the assistant dean of College of Humanities and Social Sciences on April 25, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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