What Is Career Counseling?

Career counseling Learn what it takes to become a career counselor and where the industry is heading.
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People who enjoy offering advice and guidance to others about their futures should consider entering the career counseling profession. Career counselors empower students and adults to achieve their professional goals and land their dream jobs. Learn what it takes to become a career counselor and where the industry is heading.

Career Counselor vs. Life Coach: What's the Difference?

Career counselors and life coaches provide similar services. However, career coaches offer guidance for your professional life. And life coaches focus more on your personal life. But your personal life often impacts your professional life and vice versa. So some professionals earn certification in both life and career coaching.

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Career Counselor

  • Focuses on your work-related goals, like income and position achievement
  • Requires a formal license in some states
  • Uses counseling concepts to figure out what barriers are keeping people from reaching their professional goals
  • Uses psychological principles to help people understand their feelings about reaching their career goals
  • Encourages people to overcome barriers through counseling techniques

Life Coach

  • Focuses on interpersonal relationships and goals that involve life outside of work
  • Holds certification rather than licensure, typically
  • Assesses clients' skills and weaknesses to formulate an actionable plan
  • Helps identify clients' ideal outcomes for their life
  • Encourages people to set deadlines and holds them accountable

What Is the Job Demand and Salary for Career Counseling?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects about 32,000 new openings — an increase of 10% — for school and career counselors and advisors between 2021 and 2031.

According to the BLS, colleges will need to hire more career counselors and advisors to meet the growing demand for these services from their students. High schools and community career centers may also hire career counselors.

In May 2021, these professionals earned a median income of $60,510 per year. However, your years of experience can affect your salary as a career counselor.

According to December 2022 Payscale data, a career counselor with less than one year of experience earns an average of $43,980. But the same professional with 5-9 years of experience earns an average of $49,240 per year.

What Careers Are There in Career Counseling?

5 Popular Career Counseling Jobs

School and Career Counselors and Advisors

2021 Median Annual Salary: $60,510
Projected Job Growth:10%

As a career counselor, you may work primarily at high schools and colleges. You'll teach learners about potential career paths they can take. Career counselors who work at colleges also help students select a major, craft their resume, and start the job search after graduation.

High school career counselors help students decide whether they want to immediately enter the workforce or attend college. But keep in mind: You'll need a master's degree to practice.

Training and Development Specialists

2021 Median Annual Salary: $61,570
Projected Job Growth: 8%

Training and development specialists coordinate learning opportunities for current employees. In this role, you'll survey current employees to discover what they want to learn more about. You may also design training manuals and programs.

Traveling between sites is fairly common, too. You can earn certification through the Association for Talent Development or the International Society for Performance Improvement. You'll need at least a bachelor's degree for this career.

Career and Technical Education Teachers

2021 Median Annual Salary: $61,160
Projected Job Growth: 2%

These professionals can work at community and junior colleges. They provide training and education for jobs that require vocational and technical skills. As a career and technical education teacher, you'll create lesson plans, give lectures, and perform hands-on demonstrations. This career requires at least a bachelor's degree and a state-issued teaching license.

High School Teachers

2021 Median Annual Salary: $61,820
Projected Job Growth: 5%

High school teachers deliver lesson plans to students in grades 9-12. And they may teach one or two subjects. They focus on foundational knowledge that helps students make decisions on their future careers. Most importantly, high school teachers prepare students to attend college or enter the workforce. This career also requires at least a bachelor's degree and a state-issued teaching license.

Postsecondary Teachers

2021 Median Annual Salary: $79,640
Projected Job Growth: 12%

Postsecondary teachers work at colleges and universities. They offer learners specialized knowledge on how to succeed in their careers. As a professor, you'll also connect students with professional opportunities like internships and entry-level jobs. This career requires at least a master's degree. However, some colleges prefer to hire candidates with a doctorate.

How Do I Get Into Career Counseling?

If you want to work in career counseling, you should consult your state's requirements. Need help finding the right information? The American Counseling Association provides links to every state's counseling board.

Career counselors who work in school settings must earn a state-issued credential. This is typically a certification, license, or endorsement. Most of these credentials require a master's degree, hands-on experience, and a passing test score.

Once you earn the credentials you need, you'll need to apply for renewal every two years.

Career counselors can earn extra certifications through professional organizations like the National Career Development Association. While not a requirement, niche certifications may give you a competitive edge.

If you're an aspiring career counselor, you'll need compassion, interpersonal communication skills, and active listening skills to best serve people. Before committing to this career, you can shadow others in the field or complete internships to learn if it's a good fit.

How Long Does It Take to Get Into Career Counseling?

Career counselors spend about six years completing their bachelor's and master's degrees. To finish your studies faster, you can pursue an accelerated degree. During your studies, you may complete a one-year internship, practicum, or mentorship under a licensed counselor. In your final semester of studies, you may take a licensing test.

After earning your state-issued credentials, you may qualify for entry-level roles at high schools. Advanced college counseling roles may require a doctorate, which takes about four years to finish.

The Future of Career Counseling

Increased Demand for Career Counseling at High Schools and Colleges

According to the BLS, as enrollment grows at high schools, they'll need more counselors to meet their academic needs.

Plus, the BLS reports that an increasing number of universities are opening onsite career centers. These centers need qualified career counselors to help their students transition into the workforce.

More Specialized Certification Opportunities

Many professional organizations only offer general career counseling certifications. For example, the National Career Development Association only offers credentials for certified career counselors, certified career counselor educators, and certified school career development advisors.

Pairing Career Counseling Services with Life Coaching Services

If you want to offer unique services to your students and clients, you may pair your career counseling services with another service, such as life coaching. People who switch professions mid-career may benefit from pursuing both of these services at once.

Is Career Counseling Right For Me?

Career counseling requires a unique skill set. You'll need exceptional analytical and observational skills. You'll also need to pay attention to the talents and interests of others to form career suggestions.

Not only that, but you'll also need strong interviewing and editing skills to review mock interviews. You must stay up to date on best practices for applying to jobs through newer means, like LinkedIn.

Before committing to career counseling, you can speak to current counselors and ask to shadow them. You can also get an entry-level job or co-op at a career counseling center or an internship.

Frequently Asked Questions About Career Counseling

What are the highest-paying jobs in career counseling?

According to the BLS, career counselors who work at elementary and secondary schools make the most money, with a median yearly income of $63,460 as of May 2021. But career counselors in certain states can earn even more money. For example, the BLS reports that Californian career counselors earned an average wage of $81,590 in May 2021.

What is the difference between career counseling and life coaching?

Life coaches focus more on personal life goals, while career coaches help solely with professional goals. And career counselors usually hold a state-issued credential, like a license. Life coaches only need a certification from a professional organization to practice.

Career counselors take more of a psychological approach. These counselors help people identify what emotional barriers keep them from achieving their goals. Life coaches help people figure out the exact steps they should take to reach their goals.

Is career counseling a good career?

Yes. With a counselor's above-average pay and meaningful job responsibilities, many people value a counseling career. People achieve careers that align with their values, interests, and monetary goals thanks to their work.

For complete job satisfaction, career counselors must enjoy working one-on-one with people. Career counselors who work in school settings must collaborate with teachers, parents, and students.

What can I do with a counseling degree?

A counseling degree prepares you to work in a school and career center setting, as well as a clinical setting. Counselors in clinical settings often see patients living with behavioral disorders, mental health conditions, or addiction. But school counselors can also assist students with these issues.

Other counselors host group counseling sessions or couples counseling. These professionals act as moderators as people talk through their experiences and feelings to people going through similar challenges.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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