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Can I become a guidance counselor with my associate's degree?

Dear Guidance Counselor:

Education Teaching

Here is my question. I have a associate degree in criminal justice I understand that's a different career field but I can I use that degree to be a guidance counselor? I'd like to work with high school students. Sincerely, Molly

Dear Molly,

It is great that you are thinking about your career planning and have some ideas what you want to do. However, I must tell you right from the beginning that you will not be able to become a guidance counselor with your background until you receive further training and education. Having an associate's degree in criminal justice might be an interesting start to your career, but to work in a school system as a counselor there are specific requirements that vary from state to state.

What does a guidance counselor do?

A guidance counselor, or school counselor, can work at the elementary, middle school, or high school level. Typically she is responsible for helping guide students through important educational decisions, administers appropriate tests, sits in on academic planning teams, and also helps students with personal and social issues. The high school guidance counselor helps prepare students for the college application and enrollment process.

At a minimum, a guidance counselor must have a bachelor's degree. Most states also require or at least strongly suggest a master's degree in the field as well. In addition, each state school system has its own licensing requirements. You will likely have to do some training in the schools as part of your degree program.

Starting your career in counseling

Since you already have an associate's degree, it may be possible to transfer some of your credits to a bachelor's degree program. You can look at online schools to become a guidance counselor or school counselor, or you can check out traditional campus-based programs. Speak with a counselor or advisor at the schools of your choice to see what will be possible.

It would also be great for you to get some experience, perhaps as a volunteer, working with children in a school setting. This experience will help you see if you like both the school environment and population (children or adolescents).

However, in the long run, you will probably need to consider getting a master's degree in guidance counseling. Are you prepared for this commitment of time and money? If not, perhaps there are related jobs that would be of interest to you. What part of guidance counseling is attractive to you? Do you want to work in a school system or specifically with a certain age group?

Next steps

Sometimes when making a career decision it can be helpful to talk with people who already do that job. Do you still have a relationship with your high school guidance counselor? Even if you have not kept in touch, you might be able to call your local high school and talk with the guidance counselor there about your interests.

Meanwhile, do check out this site for guidance counselor and school counselors. The American School Counselor Association has a wealth of information for aspiring counselors. You can learn more about state certification and education requirements.

Good luck in your career path!

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