What Do School Counselors Do?

Female student with brown hair and striped shirt talking to her school counselor

What do school counselors do? School counselors are important figures within the school system. School counselors handle a variety of tasks, but in general, they work one-on-one with students to help them develop the social, academic and life skills necessary to succeed both within school and after graduating.

If you are interested in pursuing this profession, you will need to start by earning a school counseling degree. Aspiring school counselors may choose to earn a bachelor’s in psychology, counseling or education before pursuing a master’s degree. Below, you can learn more about this career path and get the answers to common questions, such as What do high school counselors do?

In This Article: 

School Counselor Job Description

No two days are alike for a school counselor. Their specific tasks will depend on whether they work within an elementary, middle or high school, as well as what each individual student needs to succeed. To answer the question, What do counselors do at school? here’s a look at the various areas of responsibility in this profession.

Academic and Life Skills Development

One way that school counseling programs help students is by guiding them in developing important skills that transfer into adult life. Many K-12 students struggle to stay organized. This can result in late assignments and poor overall performance. School counselors help these students develop effective organizational systems and other important skills related to academic success and professional life.

Other crucial skills that school counselors can work on is time management and study habits. They might help students that struggle with procrastination become more aware of how they spend their time, the consequences of wasting time and effective strategies for better time management.

Similarly, they can help students develop better study habits. It is important for these professionals to be aware of the various learning styles to customize the counseling session to better meet the individual student’s needs.

Vocational Assessment

School counselors can provide vocational counseling. These professionals often perform aptitude assessments and conduct interviews to explore the student’s career interests and abilities. Based on their findings, the school counselors can discuss career possibilities with students.

If a student is not planning to attend college, their counselor can help them work toward getting a job after high school. The student may need a referral to a vocational training program or assistance with developing a resume, for example.

College Selection and Application

Students who plan to attend college often rely on school counselors for extensive help identifying appropriate higher education institutions based on their academic achievements. A counselor will sit down with individual students to ask them about their college preferences and help them explore the possibilities. After narrowing down their choices, the students can then work toward applying to a college.

Individual and Group Counseling

School counselors often meet with students individually. A student can request a meeting with the school counselor for any number of reasons. For example, a student might be having trouble with bullies, or they might be having trouble getting along with a teacher or keeping up with the demands of an Advanced Placement (AP) class. Effective school counselors are active listeners who can provide guidance within a supportive environment.1

Sometimes, school counselors may conduct group counseling sessions. For example, a school counselor might work with a small group of students who are all being bullied. The counselor can help by giving these students a voice, exploring conflict resolution options and teaching coping skills. In some cases, school counselors act as mediators. They may mediate conflicts between two or more students or staff members.

Crisis Response and Prevention

Another way that school counselors help students is by serving as a first point of contact when a crisis occurs. For example, they may provide support to students after a traumatic event. School counselors may also work with students experiencing suicidal ideation.

It is the responsibility of counselors to understand how to identify high-risk students and help students to develop a growth mindset. School counselors are expected to report suspected suicidal ideation and other potential violent plans to the student’s parents or legal guardians and the appropriate authorities.

What Do Counselors Do at School at Different Grade Levels?

The tasks that school counselors are responsible for will vary based on what type of school they work in. For example, an elementary school counselor’s day will look quite different than that of a high school counselor.

What Do Elementary School Counselors Do?

Elementary school is an exciting time in a child’s life. They work toward growing in independence, life skills and social skills. They also begin to develop a sense of self and an understanding of their values — even if they might not be quite sure how to verbalize it yet.2

Elementary school counselors may be responsible for the following:2

  • Developing and implementing a school counseling program that addresses the academic and socioemotional development of the students
  • Working toward the early identification of children who may have learning disorders or neurodevelopmental delays
  • Assessing student abilities, interests and achievements
  • Referring families to community resources when mental health counseling or other support services are needed

What Do Middle School Counselors Do?

Middle school marks a critical transition in the life of a child as they progress from childhood toward adolescence. Middle school students may have unique challenges, such as heightening self-consciousness, susceptibility to peer pressure and bullying and an increasing reliance on peer groups for affirmation instead of family members.3

In middle school, the role of the school counselor is to help students navigate a sometimes difficult transition toward adolescence. It’s imperative that school counselors meet the socioemotional needs of students, as well as address their academic challenges.3

A middle school counselor may help students by teaching coping skills, time management and good study habits. Counselors may also discuss potential career paths and interests with students.

What Do High School Counselors Do?

In high school, students generally strive for much greater independence from their families as they begin to take steps toward adulthood. Although they are still forming their self-identities and exploring various interests, high school students are often faced with “adult” challenges. They may be pressured by peers to try alcohol and other drugs, for example, and they may experience stress as they work on college and career plans.4

At the high school level, school counselors generally help students choose appropriate courses, explore career interests and conduct a college search. They provide assistance with college applications and financial aid processes.

Is a Career as a School Counselor Right for You?

Now that you have a better understanding of the answer to the questions, What do counselors do at school? you may be wondering if this could be the right career for you. Only you can make that decision, of course, but if the following attributes describe you, then perhaps you feel called to serve as a school counselor.

You Are Passionate About Helping Others

School counselors work with students at elementary or secondary schools to help students develop the skills they need for success. If you enjoy identifying issues and working with people to overcome them, you might be a good fit for a school counselor.1 You will use interviews and assessments to discover areas that need improvement and collaborate with students and other educators to provide the help they need to do well in not only their education, but also in life.

You Have Strong Interpersonal Skills

If you have a desire for communicating with diverse groups of people, you may be able to apply this to a career in school counseling. In this field, you will need to work directly with people of many different backgrounds and form working relationships to help your students be successful.1

Along with interpersonal skills, school counselors must have strong listening skills in order to understand the problems of students and form adequate solutions. Being a skilled communicator is also valued in the counseling field so that information and ideas can be expressed to students, parents and teachers.1

You Wish To Address a Growing Need

The career field of school and career counselors has been growing in the past few years as enrollment increases. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates job growth for school and career counselors and advisors to be 5% from 2022 through 2032, faster than average. This indicates that schools expect to hire about 18,400 of these professionals through this time period.5

You Are Interested in Furthering Your Education

School counselors are usually required to have a master’s degree. Those who wish to work in public schools need to be licensed or certified. The requirements for licensure or certification vary by state, but generally involve a supervised internship or practicum and the successful passing of an exam.1 It’s important to research the requirements for the state in which you plan to work.

If you aspire to become a school counselor, you can apply to undergraduate and graduate programs at Grand Canyon University. If you think you may be interested in continuing your education, GCU provides opportunities for transferring credits as well as flexible online course scheduling. Options available to you include the Master of Education in School Counseling program and the MS in Professional Counseling program, which concludes with a practicum and internship. To learn more about the College of Humanities and Social Sciences and its degree programs, fill out the form on this page. 

1U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, September 8). How to become a school or career counselor or advisor. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved August 17, 2023.

2American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). The essential role of elementary school counselors. American School Counselor Association. Retrieved August 17, 2023.

3American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). The essential role of middle school counselors. American School Counselor Association. Retrieved August 17, 2023.

4American School Counselor Association. (n.d.). The essential role of high school counselors. American School Counselor Association. Retrieved August 17, 2023.

5COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 and 2021 may be atypical compared to prior years. The pandemic may impact the predicted future workforce outcomes indicated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as well. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, School and Career Counselor and Advisors, retrieved on Sept. 14, 2023. 

Approved by the director of school counseling of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on Oct. 3, 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.