6 School Counselor Skills for M.A. in Counseling Graduates

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A school counselor meets with a student.

School counselors play a crucial role in K-12 institutions across the country. They provide specialized support to students navigating a host of concerns. They also allow for their teaching colleagues to focus on instruction.

As a result, students experience a safe and supportive learning environment, enabling them to better work toward their goals. Because school counselors’ work involves balancing many different needs, they require a specific skill set and an advanced educational foundation.

What Does a School Counselor Do?

The hundreds of thousands of school counselors in this country do a varied array of tasks each day. Working in elementary, middle and high schools, they support students with their academics, social skills and educational goals. This could mean helping them implement time management strategies, providing short-term therapeutic counseling or discussing different college options with them.

School counselors can expect to do the following tasks:

  • Maintain thorough student records
  • Collaborate with parents, teachers and administrators to aid students
  • Interpret student data to identify concerning trends
  • File student concern reports to connect resources with those who need them

These professionals ultimately work toward access, success and equity for all of their students. This can take many shapes, but school counselors need some fundamental skills to do their work.

The Fundamental Skills and Characteristics of a School Counselor

Given the complexity of the needs and personalities of the students they support, school counselors apply wide-reaching skills and traits in their work every day.

1. Analytical Skills

A school counselor should be able to monitor, aggregate and analyze their students’ behavior. This will allow them to contextualize students’ actions to identify bigger issues. In an increasingly data-driven world, school counselors must also nurture this skill to provide the right interventions to the right students at the right times.

2. Critical-Thinking Skills

Pure numbers will never be able to replace human intuition and instinct. As such, critical-thinking skills are important for school counselors, who need to be able to make decisions quickly in response to dynamic learning environments.

3. Problem-Solving Skills

Good problem-solving skills aren’t just about treating symptoms as they arise; they’re about being able to identify and resolve core issues. Students may be acting out or misbehaving, but uncovering the deeper causes of that behavior can help them make sustainable positive change rather than simply reacting to a single outburst.

4. Communication Skills

A core school counselor skill is the ability to communicate effectively with students, parents, teachers and other administrators. These professionals must be able to communicate clearly, concisely and confidently with all stakeholders. Each audience requires its own approach, so school counselors need to adapt their communication style to the situation.

5. Empathetic Listening

Building upon communication skills is the ability to listen in a way that allows for students to open up and feel heard. Students often feel talked down to and misunderstood, so school counselors must strive to fully comprehend where their students are coming from.

6. Cultural Competency

A fundamental school counselor skill is being able to navigate various cultural backgrounds and experiences. If this skill isn’t nurtured, the rest may not matter. If a school counselor loses a student’s trust due to not appreciating the struggles they face or the values they hold important, winning it back can be difficult.

How Education Builds School Counseling Skills

Given the sensitive nature of the work, as well as the trust that the public puts into K-12 educators and administrators, professional education is crucial to building school counseling skills. That’s why school counselors are typically required to have a master’s degree, such as a Master of Arts in Counseling, as well as specific state-issued licenses. Earning a license entails completing a relevant graduate program, doing an internship under a practicing school counselor and passing an exam.

In addition to these professional requirements, teaching experience can give aspiring school counselors the holistic perspective necessary for the work and solidify their practical skills. It also provides the opportunity to more fully understand and appreciate the classroom experience students are going through.

Make a Difference in Students’ Lives

A career as a school counselor is about helping students articulate and achieve their goals. The impact school counseling can have on students is powerful, and the ripple effect can be felt for generations. If you’re interested in inspiring students and helping communities, explore the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Arts in Counseling program, which features a K-12 School Counseling track. UND also offers a graduate certificate in K-12 School Counseling for those who already have a counseling master’s in another area of the field but wish to re-specialize to school counseling. With coursework that teaches future counselors how to promote students’ well-being with a focus on social justice, UND offers a path to a rewarding career where you can impact the next generation. Learn more today.

Recommended Reading:

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Counseling?

How to Become a School Counselor

Webinar: Online Graduate Counseling Programs Overview


American School Counselor Association, The Role of the School Counselor

American School Counselor Association, The School Counselor and Cultural Diversity

Houston Chronicle, “Qualities & Characteristics of Guidance Counselors”

ResearchGate, “Description of Empathetic Listening of School Counseling on the Counseling Among Problematic Students”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors and Advisors