School Counseling and Washington State
While many people think of Seattle, soaring volcanoes in the Cascades, and rainy weather in the winter, Washington offers much more. The eastern portion of the state is a high desert plateau with far less rain (and trees) than the western side of the state.
Furthermore, most of Washington state is rural, not an urban center like the Seattle area. And while the state’s western border is rainforests, beaches, and ocean, the eastern side is much flatter, drier, and is home to agriculture, like farming and ranching.
So, there are many aspects to Washington that make it a varied and interesting place to live. The same is true of working in the Evergreen State as a school counselor – you can work in urban or rural areas, public or private schools, and in small or large schools as well.
Before you can work in Washington as a school counselor, you must satisfy the state’s licensure requirements. In the guide below, learn how to do so and get additional information about becoming a school counselor.
What are the Requirements to Become a Licensed School Counselor in Washington State?
There are two types of certificates for school counselors in Washington – a Residency First Issue Certificate for first-tier applicants and a Professional Certificate for second-tier applicants.
Residency First Issue Certificate
To qualify for a Residency First Issue Certificate, you must have a master’s degree in counseling. However, if your master’s degree is in another field, you might still be eligible for certification, as outlined in the following sections.
There are no coursework requirements outside those you completed for your degree so long as you graduate from a state-approved school counselor program. This applies to school counseling degrees earned in Washington and other states.
However, if your degree is not in counseling, you must complete all coursework for a master’s degree in counseling. You must also provide written, signed verification that shows you completed the necessary program requirements.
The only experience requirement for this level of certification applies to applicants without a degree in school counseling from a state-approved program. For example, if you have a master’s degree but it isn’t in counseling, you must have three or more years of experience in a school counselor role in another state to qualify for certification in Washington.
All applicants for a Residency First Issue Certificate must complete a comprehensive exam. If a comprehensive exam was part of your graduate counseling program, you can submit your scores to fulfill this requirement.
If a comprehensive exam was not part of your graduate training, you must take an approved exam, such as:
- National Counselor Examination (NCE), which is provided by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC)
- Praxis II specialty area test (codes 5422, 5421, 0421, or 0420 are acceptable)
School Counselor Certification Renewal Requirements
The first certificate renewal is for a five-year term. As the first renewal period, the requirements are more stringent than subsequent renewals.
First, you must complete 100 clock hours, Professional Growth Plans (PGPs), or college credits in a relevant area. You can count a combination of these three areas towards the 100-hour requirement. These hours must be earned within the five-year period prior to the application for renewal. Alternatively, you can earn national certification in lieu of the 100-clock-hour requirement to renew your school counseling certificate.
Second, you have to complete a course on issues of abuse. The curriculum of the course must include instruction on identifying different types of abuse and its impact on how a child learns and behaves. The course must also outline your responsibilities as an educator to report the abuse and what you are required to do to provide help to victims of abuse. As a school counselor, you are required to learn methods to teach about abuse and devise methods for preventing it.
Third, you must complete training in suicide prevention. This training must be from an approved source and occur in Washington within five years before applying for renewal.
Lastly, you must submit fingerprints for a background check if you do not have a valid certificate on record.
After you are granted the first five-year renewal, subsequent renewals require that you complete 100 hours of continuing education or have a national certification. You must also complete the suicide prevention training as outlined above.
Upgrading Residency First Issue Certificate to Professional Certificate
To upgrade your Residency First Issue Certificate to Professional Certificate, you need to satisfy following requirements:
- Hold a valid Residency First Issue Certificate
- Hold a school counselor certificate issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)
- Complete an approved suicide prevention training
- Complete a course on issues of abuse
How Long Does It Take to Become a School Counselor in Washington State?
The minimum time needed to become a school counselor is about six years – four years to complete an undergraduate program and two years to complete a school counselor program. These are just estimates, though.
For example, many school counseling programs require three years of full-time graduate studies, which sets the timetable for becoming a school counselor at seven years. Other requirements might extend the timeline further, such as having to complete prerequisite courses before your graduate degree or the time needed to pass a comprehensive examination after graduating with your master’s.
Does Washington State Have Reciprocity for School Counselors?
Yes. As noted earlier, earning a degree in school counseling from any state qualifies you to apply for a Washington school counselor certificate.
Can You Be a School Counselor With a Bachelor’s Degree in Washington State?
No. You must have a master’s degree to be a school counselor in Washington.
What is the Role of School Counselors in Washington State?
School counselors in Washington state are only certified to work with children in K-12 settings (unlike other states where school counselors can work with children as young as pre-K and as old as college). Within the K-12 setting, you’ll find that the scope of work is quite broad.
As the Washington State Legislature outlines, school counselors are responsible for developing a comprehensive guidance program in their school. Guidance programs seek to help children learn, grow, and advance to the next level of education or a career.
For example, if you are a school counselor at a middle school, you might develop a program for eighth graders that helps ease the transition from junior high to high school. A program like this might focus on preparing middle schoolers for a new grading system, more rigorous coursework, and introducing them to clubs, activities, and sports available in high school.
Likewise, the legislature mandates that you provide counseling programs to students as a school counselor. For example, you might offer individual counseling services to students who are struggling with mental health, emotional, or behavioral issues. You might also offer group counseling for students who have shared experiences, such as those whose parents are divorced or students who have an anxiety disorder.
School counselors in Washington state are also responsible for evaluating students. For example, you might be asked to assess a student’s emotional state to determine if they are at risk for suicide or harming others. In addition to performing risk assessments, you’ll work with other mental health professionals to ensure all students have the support they need for appropriate social-emotional growth and academic achievement.
School counselors don’t just work with individual students or small groups of students, though. Part of this job is devising school-wide programs and initiatives that promote positive growth of all students. A good example of this is developing a program that introduces high schoolers to various education and career options available to them after graduation.
As another example, you might develop an emotional intelligence-related program for children in an elementary school. A program like this might help educate young kids about different emotions, what to expect in terms of feelings, and how to communicate their feelings to others.
These are just a few examples of what to expect as a school counselor in Washington. Ultimately, your specific duties will depend in part on the school system where you’re employed and the grade levels with which you work.
What are the Career Opportunities for School Counselors in Washington State?
As noted earlier, school counselors in Washington are permitted to work in K-12 environments. In many cases, this means working with a specific grade level, such as K-5, 6-8, or 9-12. This is common in larger school districts, though smaller school districts might require you to work with multiple grades or all grade levels.
Work opportunities exist in both public and private schools in Washington, though the roles might vary between the two. For example, the discussion of school counselor roles in the previous section is specific to working in public schools. In many private school settings, school counselors might not be bound to these legislative requirements.
Not all school counselors work in public or private schools, though. For example, experienced school counselors might transition out of working directly with children and into a training or advisory role, perhaps with a local or state education association or state agency.
As an advisor, you might provide expertise in school counseling for developing new competency standards for school counseling certification or new role definitions for practicing school counselors.
Additionally, school counselors often consult with leaders in the Washington State Board of Education to help devise curricula, intervention strategies, and assessments that are age-appropriate. You might also assist state leaders in developing differentiated instruction that takes students’ unique perspectives, abilities, and backgrounds into account.
No matter where you work in Washington state, your role as a school counselor is an important one. You will be an integral part of the educational process that produces well-rounded, confident, skilled students.
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