What is Career Counseling?

female career counselor talking with client in office

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 with your life.

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.

What Is Career Counseling?

The average worker spends a lot of time at work: eight hours a day, five days a week, most weeks out of the year. Since 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.

Now is a great time to consider joining this dynamic field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates job growth for school and career counselors to increase by about 8% from 2019 to 2029, much faster than average, accounting for the addition of an estimated 26,800 jobs in the field.3

What Does a Career Counselor Do?

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. 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 obtaining 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 counselors 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 goals for working toward a career
  • Help clients apply for 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 have 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.

How to Become a Career Counselor: An Overview

Now that you know what career counseling is, 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 in which you plan to work. All states require that public school counselors 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 or the certification required for career counseling jobs.

Take the First Step by Earning a Psychology Degree

What kind of undergraduate degree do school and career counselors need? There is no 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, since 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

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. Our graduates emerge with solid critical thinking skills, an unwavering sense of servant leadership and a solid game plan for pursuing career success.

Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin working toward your exciting future today


1Retrieved from YouthTruth Student Survey, College and Career Readiness in June 2021.

2Retrieved from Indeed, Lead, Career Change Report: An Inside Look at Why Workers Shift Gears in June 2021.

3Retrieved from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors and Advisors in June 2021.

*COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is based on 2019, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselors.

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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