School Counseling in Pennsylvania
School counseling is a rewarding career that enables you to affect the academic, social, and emotional development of students at your school. In Pennsylvania, school counselors are also responsible for providing other services, including career planning, classroom guidance activities, and individual and group counseling as well.
In other words, it’s a broad-based job and one that can be challenging. However, your hard work and the hard work of your students can pay dividends in the future with improved day-to-day functioning, better academic performance, and better career readiness.
If you are thinking about becoming a school counselor in the Keystone State, use this guide to help you prepare for your future career.
What are the Requirements to Become a School Counselor in Pennsylvania?
School counselors in Pennsylvania must complete an approved program in school counseling. Broadly speaking, an approved program is a master’s degree that includes coursework and experiential training in a school setting.
Though the Pennsylvania Department of Education doesn’t outline the specific courses required in an approved program, most accredited school counseling programs include studies in the following:
- Group Procedures in Guidance & Counseling
- Counseling: Theory & Method
- Individual Counseling Procedures
- Organization & Administration of Guidance Programs
- Multicultural Issues in Counseling
This is not a complete list, of course. Many approved programs require you to complete 50 or more semester credits in various school counseling-related subject areas.
Work Experience Requirements
Pennsylvania requires prospective school counselors to gain experience in two different ways. On the one hand, approved school counseling programs must include at least 60 hours of practicum experiences that involve providing “direct service with individuals and groups.”
On the other hand, a field experience is also required. The field experience, which occurs after the practicum, must include at least 300 additional clock hours of supervised practice. During this time, you must gain instructional experience as well as 70 hours of experience in elementary school counseling or 75 hours in secondary school counseling. In either case, your supervised practice must include direct service to individuals and groups.
Pennsylvania requires all school counseling applicants to take the Professional School Counseling Praxis exam. This two-hour exam includes 120 selected-response questions on many aspects of the practice of school counseling, including the following:
- The role of the school counselor
- Direct and indirect student services
- School counseling program development
- Evaluating program effectiveness
Background Check Requirements
All school counselors in Pennsylvania must submit to a full background check for employment. Furthermore, background checks are required to ensure school counselors have integrity and ethical behaviorand a commitment to professional conduct as outlined in the Pennsylvania Code of Professional Practice and Conduct for Educators.
What are the School Counselor License Renewal Requirements in Pennsylvania?
Education professionals in Pennsylvania must complete continuing education credits to renew their licenses. The American School Counseling Association notes that this requirement can be fulfilled with one or more of the following:
- Six credits of coursework
- 180 hours of professional development
- A combination of professional development and course credits commensurate with 180 hours
These continuing education activities must be completed every five years to retain an active Pennsylvania certificate.
How Long Does It Take to Become a School Counselor in Pennsylvania?
As a general rule, you will need a minimum of seven years to complete the requirements to be a school counselor in Pennsylvania. This includes four years to finish a typical undergraduate degree and three years to complete a typical graduate degree in school counseling.
However, the time it takes you to complete these requirements can vary widely depending on your situation. For example, many school counselors start their careers as teachers. So, you might finish your undergraduate degree in education, teach for four or five years, and then complete your graduate degree.
What is the Scope of Practice for School Counselors in Pennsylvania?
As noted earlier, school counselors in Pennsylvania are responsible for developing a multi-faceted school counseling program that addresses various areas of child development. This includes, but is not limited to, practice in the following areas:
- Academics, such as participating in the development of individualized education programs, interpreting aptitude tests and other measures, and providing transition services for students departing school.
- Career planning, such as coordinating work-based programs for students and devising career planning services for students.
- Social-emotional development, such as providing prevention and intervention services, individual and group counseling, and classroom-based guidance activities.
The manner in which these areas of practice are undertaken might vary based on the type of certification. For example, Pennsylvania school counselors can be certified in elementary school counseling for K-6 students, secondary school counseling for grades 7-12, or both.
For example, as an elementary school counselor, the academic transition services you provide to a child moving away from your district will be much different in scope than those you would provide as a secondary school counselor working with a graduating senior heading off to college.
As another example, the prevention and intervention services you provide to elementary students might be vastly different from those you’d provide to older secondary children. With elementary students, you might work on preventative measures, such as helping them develop refusal skills that reduce the likelihood they experiment with drugs and alcohol.
But, with secondary students, you might place more attention on intervention programs. Let’s say a student has been suspended for drinking alcohol on school property. Rather than working with the student on preventative measures – the student has already consumed alcohol, after all – you might instead focus on individual counseling sessions with the student to explore their decisions and the environmental conditions in their life that led to them drinking.
What is the Difference Between a Guidance Counselor and a School Counselor?
The terms “school counselor” and “guidance counselor” are used interchangeably to describe the same professional position. However, there are distinct differences regarding the connotation of these terms.
“Guidance counselor,” which is an older term, indicates a much more narrow focus of practice. Guidance counselors tend to focus mostly on academics – helping students with the class schedules, registering new students, and helping seniors fill out college applications and applications for financial aid.
Though today’s school counselors might still perform all of these duties, their scope of practice is much broader. As noted earlier, school counselors work with students on a variety of levels, from academic development to social and emotional development to career preparation.
Moreover, how school counselors accomplish these tasks is much more detailed and specific than what guidance counselors tend to provide. A good example of this is the data-driven approach that professional school counselors use today.
Let’s assume a school counselor develops and implements a program to reduce the number of student truancies. The evaluation of the program’s success would be based on hard data – how many truancies were recorded after the program began compared to how many there were prior to the implementation of the program.
A guidance counselor, on the other hand, usually doesn’t use data to drive their decision-making. Instead, a guidance counselor might contact the child’s parents or guardians and offer some basic advice about encouraging their child to attend school regularly. It’s a much more passive and reactive approach, whereas school counseling is far more proactive and forward-thinking.
It’s worth noting that many guidance counselors frequently work in relative isolation, seldom leaving their office and instead visiting with students one-on-one in their office most of the day. By contrast, school counselors are an active part of the school environment, going into classrooms, implementing school-wide programs, meeting with other educational professionals, and so forth.
Another major distinction between guidance counselors and school counselors is the required education. Guidance counselors come from many different degree programs, from social work to counseling to education administration. In fact, some guidance counselors have no formal counseling training at all.
Conversely, school counselors are governed by a strict set of educational and experiential requirements, as outlined earlier. Not only do school counselors need a master’s degree in school counseling, but they must also take part in supervised training experiences as part of their graduate programs. In this regard, school counselors are much more highly trained today than guidance counselors were years ago.
Highlighting these differences is essential to illustrate the broad scope of modern school counseling – it is an extremely detailed and complex job. But it is in no way intended to diminish the role of guidance counselors or the importance of their contributions to the school environment.
Though guidance counselors are much rarer today, they still serve a unique purpose in schools that helps facilitate children’s continued growth and development.