How To Become a School Counselor in California

School counseling today is a complex field that has expanded beyond vocational guidance. In 21st-century schools, school counselors develop comprehensive programs that aim to improve the well-being of individual students as well as the wider communities in which they learn and grow. These education professionals promote students’ academic, career, social and emotional success while maintaining a keen understanding of the diversity of student backgrounds and abilities.

Because school counselors must have a thorough understanding of counseling theory as well as practical experience in the field, becoming a school counselor requires education and training beyond a bachelor’s degree and involves several steps, including certification.

However, hard work and preparation can pay off; school counselors enjoy rewarding careers in which they can see the positive impact they have on children’s lives. And in today’s diverse and high-needs schools, they are in demand.

California Needs More School Counselors


The ratio of students to school counselors in California.


Projected employment growth for school counselors nationwide.

While the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-school-counselor ratio of 250-to-1, California lags behind at 708-to-1. Additionally, school counselor jobs are projected to increase nationwide by 13 percent from 2016–2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

With high demand and increasing job opportunities nationwide, now is the time to take the next step toward becoming a school counselor.

Explore the Master’s in School Counseling online Program From USC Rossier

School Counselor Education and Credentialing Requirements

Aspiring school counselors planning to practice in California must obtain a Pupil Personnel Services Credential (PPS Credential). To do this, they need to complete the following educational requirements and steps toward certification.

  1. Enroll in a School Counseling Master’s Program
    All school counselors in the state of California must have earned a bachelor’s degree followed by a graduate degree specializing in school counseling. Your graduate program must be Commission on Teacher Credentialing-approved, consist of at least 48 semester units and include an in-school practicum experience.Wondering where to start? If you have already earned your bachelor’s degree, it’s time to begin looking into master’s programs that prepare you for state certification and working with diverse students in today’s schools. Begin your search for graduate programs by exploring the Master of Education in School Counseling online program from the USC Rossier School of Education.

  2. Obtain Recommendation for a Credential
    Once you have completed a school counseling master’s program, you will receive formal recommendation from the university or college offering the master’s program in which you are enrolled. The school you are attending will submit this recommendation online to the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

  3. Complete the Basic Skills Requirement
    The Basic Skills Requirement verifies an aspiring school counselor’s proficiency in subject knowledge and the skills necessary to practice in California schools. The Basic Skills Requirement can be satisfied by passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), the California Subject Examinations for Teachers (CSET): Multiple Subjects examinations, or by a combination of other standardized test scores or tests from another state.Depending on the college or university, you may need to complete this requirement before being admitted into a program or before beginning a practicum. USC Rossier requires all applicants to pass the Basic Skills Requirement exams by the enrollment deadline.

  4. Apply for the PPS Credential
    After completing the previous steps, a candidate may apply for the Pupil Personnel Services Credential. Earning this credential is necessary to becoming a licensed school counselor who can practice in California. By earning this credential, you will be authorized to:
    • Develop, plan, implement and evaluate a school counseling and guidance program that includes academic, career, personal and social development.
    • Advocate for the academic achievement and social development of all students.
    • Provide schoolwide prevention and intervention strategies and counseling services.
    • Provide consultation, training and staff development to teachers and parents regarding students’ needs.
    • Supervise a district-approved advisory program as described in California Education Code, Section 49600.

  5. Begin the School Counseling Job Search
    Once licensed as a school counselor in California, graduates may look for jobs at schools in their areas or throughout the state. They can leverage their graduate school’s alumni, academic community or practicum mentors for leads on openings or insights to certain positions or schools.

Note regarding felonies and misdemeanors: In order to obtain the PPS-SC credential, the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC) requires credential applicants to disclose convictions of a felony or misdemeanor. While a felony or misdemeanor will not necessarily prevent you from being admitted to the program, you may not be eligible to participate in fieldwork which is a requirement of the program.

When You Become a Trojan, You Have Support Throughout Your Program and Beyond

Learn more about the master’s in school counseling online from USC Rossier.

How Long Does It Take To Become a School Counselor?

Each person’s journey to becoming a school counselor will be slightly different, depending on their academic background, skill level, full- or part-time availability in their graduate program, credential application process and job search.

Generally, a master’s in school counseling program takes between one and two years when a candidate is enrolled full time. Because colleges and universities in California often require candidates to complete the Basic Skills Requirement before or during their program, some aspiring school counselors may be prepared to pursue positions upon graduating.

Candidates in the master’s in school counseling online program from USC Rossier can complete their degree in as few as 20 months. While live classes are held online, USC Rossier offers dedicated placement assistance so that candidates in the program can gain the required field experience in their own communities and prepare to apply for a credential in school counseling.

Earn Your Master’s in School Counseling in as Few as 20 Months online at USC Rossier

The School Counseling Job Description: Meeting Ever-Changing Needs

School counselors today are empathy-driven advocates for students and communities undergoing constant change. They believe that every child can learn and succeed with access to resources. To foster this access, modern counselors practice with an understanding of factors ranging from racial injustice to abuse to learning disabilities and more.

School counselors create comprehensive programs that outline goals to address the needs of individual students, student groups and school communities, and they implement key school counseling theories in their everyday practice to reach these goals.

Planning School Counseling Programs

According to the ASCA National Model, which the USC Rossier master’s in school counseling online program curriculum follows, school counselors need to develop mission-driven programs that they are continually implementing, evaluating and enhancing. To carry out these programs, school counselors will:

  • Define program goals with desired school and student outcomes in mind.
  • Use organizational assessments and tools, such as advisory councils and data, to measure program progress.
  • Develop a school counseling curriculum designed to help students reach their potential.
  • Conduct individual student meetings to help them set and achieve their personal goals.
  • Prepare responsive services to meet immediate needs or crises.

Implementing School Counseling Theories

The USC Rossier school counseling online program curriculum focuses on three key areas of study that inform counseling research and practice today. School counselors employ the following approaches to help each student achieve overall success and well-being.

  • College and Career Readiness: School counselors teach students the skills and strategies to follow academic and career pathways. They must take into account a diverse range of student backgrounds and tailor their approach to each student’s needs, abilities and opportunities.
  • Restorative Justice: This approach acknowledges the effects of institutional oppression or experiences involving mental illness, community violence or domestic abuse on students. A restorative justice curriculum prepares school counselors to confront these cyclical and systemic influences by encouraging community-building and inclusion. School counselors using this method might help students manage their behavior and succeed through these tactics.
  • Trauma-Informed Practice: School counselors must practice with an acknowledgment of emotional or physical trauma that may have occurred in a child’s life. They can devise preventative and proactive measures to help students while acting as a caring and trusted adviser.

Learn More About the Master’s in School Counseling online Curriculum

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On the Job as a School Counselor

Because school counselors build their programs and approaches around the constantly changing needs of potentially hundreds of students, these advocates must be as adaptable and agile in their roles as they are understanding of students and counseling theories. In addition to remaining a steadfast believer in every student’s ability to learn and succeed, a school counselor must be a problem-solver prepared to address student issues every day.

Some of the tasks a school counselor might have to perform on a daily basis include:

  • Referring students in need to outside counseling services or community resources.
  • Conducting student interviews to evaluate their interests, abilities and goals.
  • Using professional judgment to reach out to a student who cannot self-advocate.
  • Responding to crises in the school community, such as loss or natural or human-made disasters.

Additionally, school counselors need to be points of contact for students as they encounter difficult or transitional situations in and out of school, such as:

  • Divorce
  • Abuse or neglect
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Gender and sexual identity development
  • Loss of a fellow student, teacher or family member
  • Bullying
  • Learning difficulties
  • Mental illness
  • Poverty
  • Community violence

In different grade and age ranges, school counselors may specialize in helping students address certain issues.

Elementary School: School counselors in elementary schools often focus on looking for the early signs of learning or behavioral problems and work with teachers, administrators and parents to address these.

Middle School: School counselors in middle schools tend to specialize in helping students with peer pressure, the transition through puberty, self-esteem and identity development.

High School: School counselors in high schools may concentrate on issues such as academics and career exploration, relationships and sex, mental illness and suicide prevention, and drugs and alcohol.

Planning Preventative and Responsive Services

Throughout their programs, school counselors are also developing preventative and responsive programs to mitigate school community and individual student issues. These programs may include peer-to-peer support, workshops and presentations for students or faculty and parents.

These activities may aim to encourage students to develop organizational and decision-making skills, learn to manage their stress and emotions, improve social and behavioral skills, build self-esteem, explore academic or career paths, and navigate school and life transitions. A significant goal of this programming is helping students understand why academics, career planning and developing life skills are important.

Help All Students Reach Their Potential as a School Counselor

Become the Person Students Can Turn To

Who Do School Counselors Work With?

In order to achieve their program goals, school counselors have to coordinate with a variety of stakeholders within and outside of the school community. Developing plans for individual or schoolwide student success often entails:

  • Developing partnerships with outside agencies and support services for student referrals.
  • Meeting with parents, teachers and administrators to identify student needs and develop strategies for student success.
  • Sharing strategies with school stakeholders, parents and the community in training or workshops.

What Salary Can I Earn as a California School Counselor?

California is home to some of the highest-paying school counselor positions in the U.S.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors in California earn more than most school counselors in the U.S., who earn an average yearly salary of $58,620. The average yearly salary for California school counselors is $68,000, but they can earn upwards of $107,690 in the profession.

Given the employment growth nationwide, higher than average salaries in California and demand throughout the state’s schools, now is the time to start working toward your school counseling career.

Take the Next Step Toward Becoming a School Counselor Today

Learn more about the master’s in school counseling online from USC Rossier.