What is a School Counsellor?


A school counsellor is a professional who works in primary (elementary and middle) schools or secondary schools to provide academic, career, college access/affordability/admission, and social-emotional competencies to all students through a school counselling programme.

Academic, Career, College, and Social-Emotional Interventions and Services

The four main school counselling programme interventions include school counselling curriculum classroom lessons and annual academic, career/college access/affordability/admission, and social-emotional planning for every student; and group and individual counselling for some students. School counselling is an integral part of the education system in countries representing over half of the world’s population and in other countries it is emerging as a critical support for elementary, middle, and high school learning, post-secondary options, and social-emotional/mental health.

An outdated, classist, racist term for the profession was guidance counsellor; school counsellor is used as the school counsellor’s role is advocating for every student’s academic, career, college access/affordability/attainment, and social-emotional competencies and success in all schools. In the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Pacific, some countries with no formal school counselling programmes use teachers or psychologists to do school counselling emphasizing career development.

Countries vary in how a school counselling programme and services are provided based on economics (funding for schools and school counselling programmes), social capital (independent versus public schools), and school counsellor certification and credentialing movements in education departments, professional associations, and local, state/province, and national legislation. School counselling is established in 62 countries and emerging in another seven.

An international scoping project on school-based counselling showed school counselling is mandatory in 39 countries, 32 US states, one Australian state, 3 German states, 2 countries in the United Kingdom, and three provinces in Canada. The largest accreditation body for Counsellor Education/School Counselling programmes is the Council for the Accreditation of Counselling and Related Educational Programmes (CACREP). International Counsellor Education programmes are accredited through a CACREP affiliate, the International Registry of Counsellor Education Programmes (IRCEP).

In some countries, school counselling is provided by school counselling specialists (for example, Botswana, China, Finland, Israel, Malta, Nigeria, Romania, Taiwan, Turkey, United States). In other cases, school counselling is provided by classroom teachers who either have such duties added to their typical teaching load or teach only a limited load that also includes school counselling activities (India, Japan, Mexico, South Korea, Zambia). The IAEVG focuses on career development with some international school counselling articles and conference presentations. Both the IAEVG and the Vanguard of Counsellors promote school counselling internationally.

History, School Counsellor-to-Student Ratios, and Mandates


After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the post-Soviet Psychologists of Armenia and the government developed the School Counsellor position in Armenian Schools.


While national policy supports school counselling, only one Australian state requires it. The school counsellor-to-student ratio ranges from 1:850 in the Australian Capital Territory to 1:18,000 in Tasmania. School counsellors play an integral part in the Australian schooling system; they provide support to teachers, parents, and students. Their roles include counselling students and assisting parents/guardians to make informed decisions about their child’s education for learning and behavioural issues. School counsellors assist schools and parents/guardians in assessing disabilities and they collaborate with outside agencies to provide the best support for schools, teachers, students, and parents.


Austria mandates school counselling at the high school level.


The Bahamas mandate school counselling.


Although not mandated, some school counselling occurs in schools and community centres in three regions of the country.


Bhutan mandates school counselling programme for all schools. All schools have fulltime school guidance counsellors.


Botswana mandates school counselling


School Counsellors in Brazil have large caseloads.


The roots of school counselling stemmed from a response to the conditions created by the industrial revolution in the early 1900s. Originally, school counselling was often referred to as vocational guidance, where the goal of the profession was to help individuals find their path in a time where individuals previous ways of making a living had been displaced. As people moved towards industrialised cities, counselling was required to help students navigate these new vocations. With a great discrepancy between the rich and the poor, vocational counselling was initiated to help support disadvantaged students. After World War II, vocational guidance began to shift towards a new movement of counselling, which provided a theoretical backing. As the role of school counsellors progressed into the 1970s, there has become more uncertainty as to what the role entails. This role confusion continues into the 21st century, where there is a lack of clear consensus between counsellors, other teachers, administration, students and parents on what school counsellors should be prioritising.

Throughout Canada, the emerging trend among school counselling programmes is to provide a comprehensive and cohesive approach. These programmes address the personal, social, educational and career development of students. A comprehensive programme consists of 4 components, including developmental school counselling classroom lessons, individual student planning, responsive services, and school and community support.

  • Developmental School Counselling lessons involve small group and class presentations about valuable life skills, which is generally supported through classroom curriculum.
  • Individual student planning involves assessing students abilities, providing advice on goals and planning transitions to work and school.
  • Responsive services includes counselling with students, consulting with parents and teachers, and referrals to outside agencies.
  • Support from the school and community includes such things as professional development, community outreach and program management.

The process to become a school counsellor varies drastically across each province, with some requiring a graduate level degree in counselling while others require a teaching certification or both. Some provinces also require registration with the relevant provincial College of Registered Psychotherapists. These differences highlight the vast range of expertise required within the role of a school counsellor. Regardless of the professional requirements, all school counsellors are expected to advise students within the realm of mental health support, course choices, special education and career planning. The Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, Canada’s leading association for counselling and psychotherapy, is working towards alignment among the provinces through partnership and collaboration between provinces. Recent conferences share information on the differences and similarities within each province and how progress is being made to ensure proper regulations are in place at a national level.

In the province of Ontario, Canada, school counsellors are found in both elementary and secondary settings, to varying degrees. The Greater Toronto Area, the largest metropolis in the country, has school counsellors in 31% of elementary schools, however the remainder of the province averages 6%. Additionally, the elementary schools that have a school counsellor are scheduled for an average of 1.5 days per week. These counsellors are generally classroom teachers for the remainder of the time. In secondary schools in Ontario, Canada, the average ratio of students to school counsellors is 396:1. In 10% of Ontario schools, this average increases to 826:1. There is concern among administration that these staffing levels are not sufficient to meet the needs of students. This has been proven in recent articles appearing in the news featuring student stories of frustration as they prepare for graduation without the support they expected from school counsellors. Considering the extensive expectations placed on school counsellors, future research needs to address whether or not they can be met within one profession while effectively equipping students with support and information.

School counsellors reported in 2004 at a conference in Winnipeg on issues such as budget cuts, lack of clarity about school counsellor roles, high student-to-school counsellor ratios, especially in elementary schools, and how using a comprehensive school counselling model helped clarify school counsellor roles with teachers and administrators and strengthened the profession. More than 15 years later, the profession is continuing to evolve and meet the changing needs of 21st century students in Canada.


China has put substantial financial resources into school counselling with strong growth in urban areas but less than 1% of rural students receive it; China does not mandate school counselling.

In China, Thomason & Qiong discussed the main influences on school counselling as Chinese philosophers Confucius and Lao-Tzu, who provided early models of child and adult development who influenced the work of Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers.

Only 15% of high school students are admitted to college in China, so entrance exams are fiercely competitive. Students entering university graduate at a rate of 99%. Much pressure is put on children and adolescents to study and attend college. This pressure is a central focus of school counselling in China. An additional stressor is that there are not enough places for students to attend college, and over one-third of college graduates cannot find jobs, so career and employment counselling and development are also central in school counselling.

In China, there is a stigma related to social-emotional and mental health issues; therefore, even though most universities and many (urban) primary and secondary schools have school counsellors, many students are reluctant to seek counselling for issues such as anxiety and depression. There is no national system of certifying school counsellors. Most are trained in Western-developed cognitive methods including REBT, Rogerian, Family Systems, Behaviour Modification, and Object Relations. School Counsellors also recommend Chinese methods such as qi-gong (deep breathing) and acupuncture, as well as music therapy. Chinese school counsellors work within a traditional Chinese world view of a community and family-based system that lessens the focus on the individual. In Hong Kong, Hui (2000) discussed work moving toward comprehensive school counselling programs and eliminating the older remediation-style model.

Middle school students are a priority for school counselling services in China.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica mandates school counselling.


School counselling is only available in certain schools.


In 1991 Cyprus mandated school counselling with a goal of a 1:60 school counsellor-to-student ratio and one full-time school counsellor for every high school but neither of these goals has been accomplished.

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic mandates school counselling.


Denmark mandates school counselling.


School counselling services are delivered by elementary school psychologists with a ratio of 1 school psychologist to every 3,080 students.


School counselling is only available in certain schools.


In Finland, legislation has been passed for a school counselling system. The Basic Education Act of 1998 stated that every student must receive school counselling services. All Finnish school counsellors must have a teaching certificate, a master’s degree in a specific academic subject, and a specialised certificate in school counselling. Finland has a school counsellor-to-student ratio of 1:245.


France mandates school counselling in high schools.


Gambia mandates school counselling.


The school counsellor-to-student ratio in Georgia is 1:615.


Two German states require school counselling at all education levels; high school counselling is established in all states.


Ghana mandates school counselling.


There are provisions for academic and career counselling in middle and high schools but school counselling is not mandated. Social-emotional and mental-health counselling is done in community agencies. The National Guidance Resources Centre in Greece was established by researchers at Athens University of Economics & Business (ASOEE) in 1993 under the leadership of Professor Emmanuel J. Yannakoudakis. The team received funding under the European Union (PETRA II Programme): The establishment of a national occupational guidance resources centre in 1993-1994. The team organised seminars and lectures to train the first career counsellors in Greece in 1993. Further research projects at Athens University of Economics & Business were implemented as part of the European Union (LEONARDO Programme):

  • A pilot project on the use of multimedia for career analysis, 1995-1999;
  • Guidance toward the future, 1995-1999;
  • On the move to a guidance system, 1996-2001; and
  • Eurostage for guidance systems, 1996-1999.


School counselling is present in high schools.

Hong Kong

Hong Kong mandates school counselling.


Iceland mandates school counselling.


In India, the Central Board of Secondary Education guidelines expect one school counsellor appointed for every affiliated school, but this is less than 3% of all Indian students attending public schools.


Indonesia mandates school counselling in middle and high school.


Middle school students are the priority for school counselling in Iran. It is mandated in high schools but there are not enough school counsellors particularly in rural areas.


In Ireland, school counselling began in County Dublin in the 1960s and went countrywide in the 1970s. However, legislation in the early 1980s severely curtailed the movement due to budget constraints. The main organization for the school counselling profession is the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC), which has a code of ethics.


In Israel, a 2005 study by Erhard & Harel of 600 elementary, middle, and high school counsellors found that a third of school counsellors were delivering primarily traditional individual counselling services, about a third were delivering preventive classroom counselling curriculum lessons, and a third were delivering both individual counselling services and school counselling curriculum lessons in a comprehensive developmental school counselling programme. School counsellor roles varied due to three elements: the school counsellor’s personal preferences, school level, and the principal’s expectations. Erhard & Harel stated that the profession in Israel, like many other countries, is transforming from marginal and ancillary services to a comprehensive school counselling approach integral in the total school’s education program. In 2011-2012, Israel had a school counsellor-to-student ratio of 1:570.


School counselling is not well developed in Italy.


In Japan, school counselling is a recent phenomenon with school counsellors being introduced in the mid-1990s and often part-time focused on behavioural issues. Middle school students are the priority for school counselling in Japan and it is mandated.


Jordan mandates school counselling with 1,950 school counsellors working in 2011-2012.


School counselling was introduced in Latvia in 1929 but disappeared in World War II.


In Lebanon, the government sponsored the first training of school counsellors for public elementary and middle schools in 1996. There are now school counsellors in 1/5 of the elementary and middle schools in Lebanon but none in high schools. School counsellors have been trained in delivering preventive, developmental, and remedial services. Private schools have some school counsellors serving all grade levels but the focus is individual counselling and remedial. Challenges include regular violence and wartime strife, not enough resources, and a lack of a professional school counselling organisation, assigned school counsellors covering two or more schools, and only two school counselling graduate programmes in the country. Last, for persons trained in Western models of school counselling there are dangers of overlooking unique cultural and family aspects of Lebanese society.


School counselling was introduced in 1931 but disappeared during World War II.


Macau mandates school counselling.


Malaysia mandates school counselling in middle and high school.


In Malta, school counselling services began in 1968 in the Department of Education based on recommendations from a UNESCO consultant and used these titles: Education Officer, School Counsellor, and Guidance Teacher. Through the 1990s they included school counsellor positions in primary and trade schools in addition to secondary schools. Guidance teachers are mandated at a 1:300 teacher to student ratio. Malta mandates school counselling.


Nepal mandates school counselling.

New Zealand

New Zealand mandates school counselling but since 1988 when education was decentralised, there has been a decline in the prevalence of school counsellors and the quality and service delivery of school counselling.


In Nigeria, school counselling began in 1959 in some high schools. It rarely exists at the elementary level. Where there are federally funded secondary schools, there are some professionally trained school counsellors. However, in many cases, teachers function as career educators. School counsellors often have teaching and other responsibilities that take time away from their school counselling tasks. The Counselling Association of Nigeria (CASSON) was formed in 1976 to promote the profession, but there is no code of ethics. However, a certification/licensure board has been formed. Aluede, Adomeh, & Afen-Akpaida (2004) discussed the over-reliance on textbooks from the US and the need for school counsellors in Nigeria to take a whole-school approach, lessen individual approaches, and honour the traditional African world view valuing the family and community’s roles in decision-making as paramount for effective decision-making in schools.


Norway mandates school counselling.


There are some school counselling services at the high school level.


The Philippines mandates school counselling in middle and high school. The Congress of the Philippines passed the Guidance and Counselling Act of 2004 with a specific focus on Professional Practice, Ethics, National Certification, and the creation of a Regulatory Body, and specialists in school counselling are subject to this law.


School counselling was introduced in 1918 but disappeared during World War II.


Portugal mandates school counselling at the high school level.


Romania mandates school counselling.


School counselling focuses on trauma-based counselling. It focuses on academic performance, prevention, and intervention with HIV/AIDS, and establishing peace-building clubs.

Saudi Arabia

School counselling is developing in Saudi Arabia. In 2010, 90% of high schools had some type of school counselling service.


School counselling is available in certain schools.


Singapore mandates school counselling.


Slovakia mandates school counselling.

South Korea

In South Korea, school counsellors must teach a subject besides counselling, but not all school counsellors are appointed to counselling positions, even though Korean law requires school counsellors in all middle and high schools.


Spain provides school counselling at the high school level although it is unclear if mandated. There was around one counsellor for every 1,000 primary and secondary (high school) students as of 2018.

St. Kitts

St. Kitts mandates school counselling.


Sweden mandates school counselling. In Sweden, school counsellors’ work was divided into two work groups in the 1970s. The work groups are called “kurator” and “studie -och yrkesvägledare.” They worked with communication methodology but the kurator’s work is more therapeutic, often psychological and social-emotional issues, and the studie-och yrkesvägledare’s work is future-focused with educational and career development. Studie- och yrkesvägledaren work in primary, secondary, adult education, higher education and various training centres and most have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Study and Career Guidance.


School counselling is found at the high school level.


School counselling has focused on trauma-based counselling of students. Prior to the war it was done in schools but it is now found in either a school club or refugee camp sponsored and staffed by UNICEF.


In Taiwan, school counselling traditionally was done by “guidance teachers.” Recent advocacy by the Chinese Guidance and Counselling Association pushed for licensure for school counsellors in Taiwan’s public schools. Prior to this time, the focus had been primarily individual and group counselling, play therapy, career counselling and development, and stress related to national university examinations.


Tanzania mandates school counselling.


The Thai government has put substantial funding into school counsleling but does not mandate it.

Trinidad and Tobago

Trinidad and Tobago mandate school counselling.


Turkey mandates school counselling and it is in all schools.


Uganda mandates school counselling.

United Arab Emirates

There is some school counselling at the high-school level in the United Arab Emirates.

United Kingdom

School counselling originated in the UK to support underachieving students and involved specialist training for teachers. Head of Year (e.g. Head of Year 7, Head of Year 8, etc.) are school staff members, usually teachers, who oversee a year group within a secondary school. These Heads of Year ensure students within the year cohort behave properly within the school, but these Heads also support students in their social and emotional well-being and course and career planning options. Wales and Northern Ireland require school counselling.

United States

In the United States, the school counselling profession began with the vocational guidance movement in the early 20th century now known as career development. Jesse B. Davis was the first to provide a systematic school counselling programme focused on career development. In 1907, he became the principal of a high school and encouraged the school English teachers to use compositions and lessons to relate career interests, develop character, and avoid behavioural problems. Many others during this time focused on what is now called career development. For example, in 1908, Frank Parsons, “Father of Career Counselling” established the Bureau of Vocational Guidance to assist young people transition from school to work.

From the 1920s to the 1930s, school counselling grew because of the rise of progressive education in schools. This movement emphasized personal, social, and moral development. Many schools reacted to this movement as anti-educational, saying that schools should teach only the fundamentals of education. Combined with the economic hardship of the Great Depression, both challenges led to a decline in school counselling. At the same time, the National Association for College Admission Counselling was established as the first professional association focused on counselling and advising high school students into college. In the early 1940s, the school counselling movement was influenced by the need for counsellors to help assess students for wartime needs. At the same time, researcher Carl Rogers’ emphasized the power of non-directive helping relationships and counselling for all ages and the profession of counselling was influenced to shift from directive “guidance” to non-directive or person-centred “counselling” as the basis for school counselling.

In the 1950s the government established the Guidance and Personnel Services Section in the Division of State and Local School Systems. In 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I. Out of concern that the Russians were winning the space race and that there were not enough scientists and mathematicians, the government passed the National Defence Education Act, spurring growth in vocational and career counselling through larger funding. In the 1950s the American School Counsellor Association (ASCA) was founded as one of the early divisions of what is now known as the American Counselling Association (ACA).

In the 1960s, new legislation and professional developments refined the school counselling profession (Schmidt,[40] 2003). The 1960s continued large amounts of federal funding for land-grant colleges and universities to establish Counsellor Education master’s and doctoral programmes. School counselling shifted from a primary focus on career development to adding social-emotional issues paralleling the rise of social justice and civil rights movements. In the early 1970s, Dr. Norm Gysbers’s research and advocacy helped the profession shift from school counsellors as solitary professionals focused on individual academic, career, and social-emotional student issues to a comprehensive developmental school counselling programme for all students K-12 that included individual and group counselling for some students and classroom lessons and annual advising/planning and activities for every student. He and his colleagues’ research evidenced strong correlations between fully implemented school counselling programmes and student academic success; a critical part of the evidence base for the school counselling profession was their work in Missouri. Dr. Chris Sink & associates showed similar evidence-based success for school counselling programmes at the elementary and middle school levels in Washington State.

School counselling in the 1980s and early 1990s was not influenced by corporate educational reform efforts. The profession had little evidence of systemic effectiveness for school counsellors and only correlational evidence of the effectiveness of school counselling programmes. In response, consulted with elementary, middle, and high school counsellors and created the American School Counsellor Association (ASCA) Student Standards with three core domains (Academic, Career, Personal/Social), nine standards, and specific competencies and indicators for K-12 students. There was no research base, however, for school counselling standards as an effective educational reform strategy. A year later, Whiston & Sexton published the first systemic meta-analysis of school counselling outcome research in academic, career, and personal/social domains and individual counselling, group counselling, classroom lessons, and parent/guardian workshop effectiveness.

In the late 1990s, former mathematics teacher, school counsellor, and administrator Pat Martin, was hired by corporate-funded educational reform group, The Education Trust, to focus the school counselling profession on equity issues by helping close achievement and opportunity gaps harming children and adolescents of colour, poor and working class children and adolescents, bilingual children and adolescents, and children and adolescents with disabilities. Martin, under considerable heat from Counsellor Educators who were not open to her equity-focused message of change, developed focus groups of K-12 students, parents, guardians, teachers, building leaders, and superintendents, and interviewed professors of School Counsellor Education. She hired Oregon State University School Counsellor Education professor emeritus Dr. Reese House, and after several years of work in the late 1990s they created, in 2003, the National Centre for Transforming School Counselling (NCTSC).

The NCTSC focused on changing school counsellor education at the graduate level and changing school counsellor practice in state and local districts to teach school counsellors how to help recognise, prevent, and close achievement and opportunity gaps. In their initial focus groups, they found what Hart & Jacobi had indicated years earlier – too many school counsellors were gatekeepers for the status quo instead of advocates for the academic success of every child and adolescent. Too many school counsellors used inequitable practices, supported inequitable school policies, and were unwilling to change.

This professional behaviour kept many students from non-dominant backgrounds (i.e. students of colour, poor and working class students, students with disabilities, and bilingual students) from receiving challenging coursework (AP, IB, and honours classes) and academic, career, and college access/affordability/admission skills needed to successfully graduate from high school and pursue post-secondary options including college. In 1998, the Education Trust received a grant from the DeWitt Wallace/Reader’s Digest to fund six $500,000 grants for Counsellor Education/School Counselling programmes, with a focus on rural and urban settings, to transform School Counsellor Education programmes to teach advocacy, leadership, teaming and collaboration, equity assessment using data, and culturally competent programme counselling and coordination skills in addition to counselling: Indiana State University, the University of Georgia, the University of West Georgia, the University of California-Northridge, the University of North Florida, and, the Ohio State University were the recipients. Over 25 additional Counsellor Education/School Counselling programmes nationwide became companion institutions in the following decade with average grants of $3000. By 2008, NCTSC consultants had worked in over 100 school districts and major cities and rural areas to transform the work of school counsellors nationwide.

In 2002, the American School Counsellor Association released Dr. Trish Hatch and Dr. Judy Bowers’ work: the ASCA National Model: A framework for school counselling programmes comprising key school counselling components: ASCA National Standards, and the skill-based focus for closing achievement and opportunity gaps from the Education Trust’s new vision of school counselling into one document. The model drew from major theoreticians in school counselling with four key areas: Foundation (school counselling programme mission statements, vision, statements, belief statements, and annual goals); Delivery (direct services including individual and group counselling; classroom counselling lessons; planning and advising for all students); Management (use of action plans and results reports for closing gaps, small group work and classroom lessons; a school counselling programme assessment, an administrator-school counsellor annual agreement, a time-tracker tool, and a school counselling data tool; and Accountability (school counsellor annual evaluation and use of a School Counselling Programme Advisory Council to monitor data, outcomes, and effectiveness). In 2003, Dr. Jay Carey and Dr. Carey Dimmitt created the Centre for School Counselling Outcome Research and Evaluation (CSCORE) at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst as a clearinghouse for evidence-based practice with regular research briefs, original research projects, and eventual co-sponsorship of the annual Evidence-Based School Counselling conference in 2013.

In 2004, the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counsellors was revised to focus on issues of equity, closing achievement and opportunity gaps, and ensuring all K-12 students received access to a school counselling programme. Also in 2004, an equity-focused entity on school counsellors’ role in college readiness and admission counselling, the National Office for School Counsellor Advocacy (NOSCA) emerged at The College Board led by Pat Martin and Dr. Vivian Lee. NOSCA developed scholarships for research on college counselling by K-12 school counsellors taught in School Counsellor Education programmes.

In 2008, the first NOSCA study was released by Dr. Jay Carey and colleagues focused on innovations in selected College Board “Inspiration Award” schools where school counsellors collaborated inside and outside their schools for high college-going rates and strong college-going cultures in schools with large numbers of students of non-dominant backgrounds. In 2008, ASCA released School Counselling Competencies focused on assisting school counselling programmes to effectively implement the ASCA National Model.

In 2010, the Centre for Excellence in School Counselling and Leadership (CESCAL) at San Diego State University co-sponsored the first of four school counsellor and educator conferences devoted to the needs of lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender students in San Diego, California. ASCA published a 5th edition of the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counsellors.

In 2011, Counselling at the Crossroads: The perspectives and promise of school counsellors in American education, the largest survey of high school and middle school counsellors in the United States with over 5,300 interviews, was released by Pat Martin and Dr. Vivian Lee by the National Office for School Counsellor Advocacy, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, and the American School Counsellor Association. The study shared school counsellors’ views on educational policies, practices, and reform, and how many of them, especially in urban and rural school settings, were not given the chance to focus on what they were trained to do, especially career and college access and readiness counselling for all students, in part due to high caseloads and inappropriate tasks.

School counsellors suggested changes in their role to be accountable for success of all students and how school systems needed to change so school counsellors could be key advocates and leaders for every student’s success. Implications for public policy and district and school-wide change were addressed. The National Centre for Transforming School Counselling released a brief, Poised to Lead: How School Counsellors Can Drive Career and College Readiness, challenging all schools to utilise school counsellors for equity and access for challenging coursework (AP, IB, honours) for all students and ensuring college and career access skills and competencies as a major focus for school counsellors K-12.

In 2012, CSCORE assisted in evaluating and publishing six statewide research studies assessing the effectiveness of school counselling programmes based on statewide systemic use of school counselling programmes such as the ASCA National Model and published their outcomes in the American School Counsellor Association research journal Professional School Counselling. Research indicated strong correlational evidence between fully implemented school counselling programmes and low school counsellor-to-student ratios provided better student academic success, greater career and college access/readiness/admission, and reduced social-emotional issue concerns included better school safety, reduced disciplinary issues, and better attendance.

Also in 2012, the American School Counsellor Association released the third edition of the ASCA National Model.

From 2014-2016, the White House, under the Office of the First Lady Michelle Obama, partnered with key school counsellor educators and college access professionals nationwide to focus on the roles of school counsellors and college access professionals. Their collaboration resulted in a series of national Reach Higher/School Counselling and College Access convenings at Harvard University, San Diego State University, the University of North Florida, and American University. Michelle Obama and her staff also began the Reach Higher and Better Make Room programmes to focus on college access for underrepresented students, and she began hosting the American School Counsellor Association’s School Counsellor of the Year awards ceremony at the White House. The initiatives culminated in an unprecedented collaboration among multiple major professional associations focused on school counselling and college access including the American Counselling Association, the American School Counsellor Association, the National Association for College Admission Counselling, the College Board, and ACT raising the profile and prominence of the role of school counsellors collaborating on college access, affordability, and admission for all students.

In 2015, ASCA replaced the ASCA National Student Standards with the evidence-based ASCA Mindsets & Behaviours for Student Success: K-12 College and Career Readiness Standards for Every Student, created from meta-analyses done by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Educational Reform showing key components of raising student academic success over multiple well-designed research studies. While an improvement over the lack of research in the ASCA student standards that they replaced, school counsellors shared feedback that they do not go into enough depth for career, college access/admission/affordability, and social-emotional competencies.

In 2016, ASCA published a newly revised sixth version of the ASCA Ethical Standards for School Counsellors using two rounds of feedback from practicing school counsellors in all 50 states; it also included, for the first time, a Glossary of ethical terms for heightened clarity.

In 2019, ASCA released the 4th edition of the ASCA National Model, a Framework for School Counselling Programmes. Changes included fewer templates and combined templates from the 3rd edition after school counsellor feedback that the 3rd edition had become too complex and onerous. The four outside-the-diamond skills from the first three editions: advocacy, leadership, teaming and collaboration, and systemic change were incorporated throughout the model and no longer part of the diamond graphic organiser. The four quadrants of the model were changed to verbs and action-oriented words to better clarify the key components:

  1. Define (formerly Foundation).
  2. Deliver (formerly Delivery System).
  3. Manage (formerly Management System).
  4. Assess (formerly Accountability System).

The three types of data collected by school counsellors in school counselling programmes have shifted in name to:

  1. Participation data (formerly process).
  2. Mindsets & Behaviours data (formerly perception, i.e. learning).
  3. Outcome data (results).

The 4th edition, while easier to read and use than prior editions, did not cover the history of how the model changed over time and neglected any mention of the original authors, Drs. Trish Hatch and Judy Bowers.


School counselling is mandated in Venezuela and it has focused on cultural competency.


School counselling is mandated in Vietnam.

Roles, School Counselling Programmes, Ethics, and School Counselling Professional Associations

Professional school counsellors ideally implement a school counselling programme that promotes and enhances student achievement (Hatch & Bowers, 2003, 2005; ASCA, 2012). A framework for appropriate and inappropriate school counsellor responsibilities and roles is outlined in the ASCA National Model (Hatch & Bowers, 2003, 2005; ASCA, 2012). School counsellors, in US states, have a master’s degree in school counselling from a Counsellor Education graduate programme. China requires at least three years of college experience. In Japan, school counsellors were added in the mid-1990s, part-time, primarily focused on behavioural issues. In Taiwan, they are often teachers with recent legislation requiring school counselling licensure focused on individual and group counselling for academic, career, and personal issues. In Korea, school counsellors are mandated in middle and high schools.

School counsellors are employed in elementary, middle, and high schools, in district supervisory settings, in Counsellor Education faculty positions (usually with an earned Ph.D. in Counsellor Education in the USA or related graduate doctorates abroad), and post-secondary settings doing academic, career, college access/affordability/admission, and social-emotional counselling, consultation, and programme coordination. Their work includes a focus on developmental stages of student growth, including the needs, tasks, and student interests related to those stages(Schmidt,[40] 2003).

Professional school counsellors meet the needs of student in three basic domains: academic development, career development and college access/affordability/admission, and social-emotional development (Dahir & Campbell, 1997; Hatch & Bowers, 2003, 2005; ASCA, 2012). Knowledge, understanding and skill in these domains are developed through classroom instruction, appraisal, consultation, counselling, coordination, and collaboration. For example, in appraisal, school counsellors may use a variety of personality and career assessment methods to help students explore career and college needs and interests.

Schools play a key role in assessment, access to services, and possible referral to appropriate outside support systems. They provide intervention, prevention, and services to support students’ academic, career, and post-secondary education as well as social-emotional growth. The role of school counsellors is expansive. School counsellors address mental health issues, crisis intervention, and advising for course selection. School counsellors consult with all stakeholders to support student needs and may also focus on experiential learning, cooperative education, internships, career shadowing, and entrance to specialised high school programmes.

School counsellor interventions include individual and group counselling for some students. For example, if a student’s behaviour is interfering with his or her achievement, the school counsellor may observe that student in a class, provide consultation to teachers and other stakeholders to develop (with the student) a plan to address the behavioural issue(s), and then collaborate to implement and evaluate the plan. They also provide consultation services to family members such as college access/affordability/admission, career development, parenting skills, study skills, child and adolescent development, mental health issues, and help with school-home transitions.

School counsellor interventions for all students include annual academic/career/college access/affordability/admission planning K-12 and leading classroom developmental lessons on academic, career/college, and social-emotional topics. The topics of mental health, multiculturalism (Portman, 2009), anti-racism, and school safety are important areas of focus for school counsellors. Often school counsellors will coordinate outside groups to help with student needs such as academics, or coordinate a program that teaches about child abuse or drugs, through on-stage drama.

School counsellors develop, implement, and evaluate school counselling programmes that deliver academic, career, college access/affordability/admission, and social-emotional competencies to all students in their schools. For example, the ASCA National Model (Hatch & Bowers, 2003, 2005; ASCA, 2012) includes the following four main areas:

  • Foundation (Define as of 2019) – a school counselling programme mission statement, a vision statement, a beliefs statement, SMART Goals; ASCA Mindsets & Behaviours & ASCA Code of Ethics;
  • Delivery System (Deliver as of 2019) – how school counselling core curriculum lessons, planning for every student, and individual and group counselling are delivered in direct and indirect services to students (80% of school counsellor time);
  • Management System (Manage as of 2019) – calendars; use of data tool; use of time tool; administrator-school counsellor agreement; school counselling programme advisory council; small group, school counselling core curriculum, and closing the gap action plans; and
  • Accountability System (Assess as of 2019) – school counselling program assessment; small group, school counselling core curriculum, and closing-the-gap results reports; and school counsellor performance evaluations based on school counsellor competencies.

The school counselling programme model (ASCA, 2012, 2019) is implemented using key skills from the National Centre for Transforming School Counselling’s Transforming School Counselling Initiative: Advocacy, Leadership, Teaming and Collaboration, and Systemic Change.

Many provinces in Canada offer a career pathway programme, which helps to prepare students for the employment market and support a smooth school-to-work transition.

School Counsellors are expected to follow a professional code of ethics in many countries. For example, In the US, they are the American School Counsellor Association (ASCA) School Counsellor Ethical Code, the American Counselling Association (ACA) Code of Ethics, and the National Association for College Admission Counselling (NACAC) Statement of Principles of Good Practice (SPGP).

Some school counsellors experience role confusion, given the many tasks they are expected to perform. The demands on the school counsellor to be a generalist who performs roles in leadership, advocacy, essential services, and curriculum development can be too much if there is not a clear mission, vision, and comprehensive school counselling programme in place. Additionally, some school counsellors are stretched too thin to provide mental health support on top of their other duties.

The role of a school counsellor is critical and needs to be supported by all stakeholders to ensure equity and access for all students, particularly those with the fewest resources. The roles of school counsellors are expanding and changing with time. As roles change, school counsellors help students prosper in academics, career, post-secondary, and social-emotional domains. School counsellors reduce and bridge the inequalities facing students in educational systems.

School Counsellors around the world are affiliated with various national and regional school counselling associations, and abide by their guidelines.

Elementary School Counselling

Elementary school counsellors provide academic, career, college access, and personal and social competencies and planning to all students, and individual and group counselling for some students and their families to meet the developmental needs of young children K-6. Transitions from pre-school to elementary school and from elementary school to middle school are an important focus for elementary school counsellors. Increased emphasis is placed on accountability for helping close achievement and opportunity gaps at the elementary level as more school counselling programmes move to evidence-based work with data and specific results.

School counselling programmes that deliver specific competencies to all students help to close achievement and opportunity gaps. To facilitate individual and group school counselling interventions, school counsellors use developmental, cognitive-behavioural, person-centred (Rogerian) listening and influencing skills, systemic, family, multicultural, narrative, and play therapy theories and techniques. released a research study showing the effectiveness of elementary school counselling programmes in Washington state.

Middle School Counselling

Middle school counsellors provide school counselling curriculum lessons on academic, career, college access, and personal and social competencies, advising and academic/career/college access planning to all students and individual and group counselling for some students and their families to meet the needs of older children/early adolescents in grades 7 and 8.

Middle School College Access curricula have been developed to assist students and their families before reaching high school. To facilitate the school counselling process, school counsellors use theories and techniques including developmental, cognitive-behavioural, person-centred (Rogerian) listening and influencing skills, systemic, family, multicultural, narrative, and play therapy. Transitional issues to ensure successful transitions to high school are a key area including career exploration and assessment with seventh and eighth grade students. Sink, Akos, Turnbull, & Mvududu released a study in 2008 confirming the effectiveness of middle school comprehensive school counselling programmes in Washington state.

High School Counselling

High school counsellors provide academic, career, college access, and personal and social competencies with developmental classroom lessons and planning to all students, and individual and group counselling for some students and their families to meet the developmental needs of adolescents (Hatch & Bowers, 2003, 2005, 2012). Emphasis is on college access counselling at the early high school level as more school counselling programmes move to evidence-based work with data and specific results that show how school counselling programmes help to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps ensuring all students have access to school counselling programmes and early college access/affordability/admission activities. The breadth of demands high school counsellors face, from educational attainment (high school graduation and some students’ preparation for careers and college) to student social and mental health, has led to ambiguous role definition. Summarising a 2011 national survey of more than 5,330 middle school and high school counsellors, researchers argued:

“Despite the aspirations of counselors to effectively help students succeed in school and fulfill their dreams, the mission and roles of counselors in the education system must be more clearly defined; schools must create measures of accountability to track their effectiveness; and policymakers and key stakeholders must integrate counselors into reform efforts to maximize their impact in schools across America”.

Transitional issues to ensure successful transitions to college, other post-secondary educational options, and careers are a key area. The high school counsellor helps students and their families prepare for post-secondary education including college and careers (e.g. college, careers) by engaging students and their families in accessing and evaluating accurate information on what the National Office for School Counsellor Advocacy calls the 8 essential elements of college and career counselling:

  1. College Aspirations.
  2. Academic Planning for Career and College Readiness.
  3. Enrichment and Extracurricular Engagement.
  4. College and Career Exploration and Selection Processes.
  5. College and Career Assessments.
  6. College Affordability Planning.
  7. College and Career Admission Processes.
  8. Transition from High School Graduation to College Enrolment.

Some students turn to private college admissions advisors but there is no research evidence that private college admissions advisors have any effectiveness in assisting students attain selective college admissions.

Lapan, Gysbers & Sun showed correlational evidence of the effectiveness of fully implemented school counseling programs on high school students’ academic success. Carey et al.’s 2008 study showed specific best practices from high school counsel.ors raising college-going rates within a strong college-going environment in multiple USA-based high schools with large numbers of students of nondominant cultural identities.

Education Credentials, Certification, and Accreditation

The education of school counsellors around the world varies based on the laws and cultures of countries and the historical influences of their educational and credentialing systems and professional identities related to who delivers academic, career, college readiness, and personal/social information, advising, curriculum, and counselling and related services.

In Canada, the educational requirements to become a school counsellor vary by province.

In China, there is no national certification or licensure system for school counsellors.

Korea requires school counsellors in all middle and high schools.

In the Philippines, school counsellors must be licensed with a master’s degree in counselling.

Taiwan instituted school counsellor licensure for public schools.

In the US, a school counsellor is a certified educator with a master’s degree in school counselling (usually from a Counsellor Education graduate programme) with school counselling graduate training including qualifications and skills to address all students’ academic, career, college access and personal/social needs. Once you have completed your master’s degree you can take one of 2 certification options in order to become fully licensed as a professional school counsellor.

Over half of all Counsellor Education programmes that offer school counselling are accredited by the Council on the Accreditation of Counselling and Related Educational Programmes (CACREP) and all in the US with one in Canada. In 2010 one was under review in Mexico. CACREP maintains a current list of accredited programmes and programmes in the accreditation process on their website. CACREP desires to accredit more international counselling university programmes.

According to CACREP, an accredited school counselling programme offers coursework in Professional Identity and Ethics, Human Development, Counselling Theories, Group Work, Career Counselling, Multicultural Counselling, Assessment, Research and Programme Evaluation, and Clinical Coursework – a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship under supervision of a school counselling faculty member and a certified school counsellor site supervisor.

When CACREP released the 2009 Standards, the accreditation process became performance-based including evidence of school counsellor candidate learning outcomes. In addition, CACREP tightened the school counselling standards with specific evidence needed for how school counselling students receive education in foundations; counselling prevention and intervention; diversity and advocacy; assessment; research and evaluation; academic development; collaboration and consultation; and leadership in K-12 school counselling contexts.

Certification practices for school counsellors vary internationally. School counsellors in the US may opt for national certification through two different boards. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) requires a two-to-three year process of performance based assessment, and demonstrate (in writing) content knowledge in human growth/development, diverse populations, school counselling programmes, theories, data, and change and collaboration. In February 2005, 30 states offered financial incentives for this certification.

Also in the US, The National Board for Certified Counsellors (NBCC) requires passing the National Certified School Counsellor Examination (NCSC), including 40 multiple choice questions and seven simulated cases assessing school counsellors’ abilities to make critical decisions. Additionally, a master’s degree and three years of supervised experience are required. NBPTS also requires three years of experience, however state certification is required (41 of 50 states require a master’s degree). At least four states offer financial incentives for the NCSC certification.

Job Growth and Earnings

The rate of job growth and earnings for school counsellors depends on the country that one is employed in and how the school is funded – public or independent. School counsellors working in international schools or “American” schools globally may find similar work environments and expectations to the US. School counsellor pay varies based on school counsellor roles, identity, expectations, and legal and certification requirements and expectations of each country. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), the median salary for school counsellors in the US in 2010 was (USD) $53,380 or $25.67 hourly. According to an infographic designed by Wake Forest University, the median salary of school counsellors in the US was $43,690. The US has 267,000 employees in titles such as school counsellor or related titles in education and advising and college and career counselling. The projected growth for school counsellors is 14-19% or faster than average than other occupations in the US with a predicted 94,000 job openings from 2008-2018. In Australia, a survey by the Australian Guidance and Counselling Association found that school counsellor salary ranged from (AUD) the high 50,000s to the mid 80,000s.

Among all counselling specialty areas, public elementary, middle and high school counsellors are (2009) paid the highest salary on average of all counsellors. Budget cuts, however, have affected placement of public school counsellors in Canada, Ireland, the United States, and other countries. In the United States, rural areas and urban areas traditionally have been under-served by school counsellors in public schools due to both funding shortages and often a lack of best practice models. With the expectation of school counsellors to work with data, research, and evidence-based practice, school counsellors who show and share results in assisting to close achievement, opportunity, and attainment gaps are in the best position to argue for increased school counselling resources and positions for their programmes.

Notable School Counsellors

  • Jamaal Bowman, US politician.
  • Fernando Cabrera, US politician.
  • Ern Condon, Canadian politician.
  • Derrick Dalley, Canadian politician.
  • Susie Sadlowski Garza, US politician.
  • François Gendron, Canadian politician.
  • Steve Lindberg, US politician.
  • Lillian Ortiz-Self, US politician.
  • Tony Resch, US lacrosse player.
  • Tom Tillberry, US politician.
  • Tom Villa, US politician.

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