Historically, the term “guidance counselor” was used to reference counselors working within the school system. These counselors’ main role was to “guide” students to college: writing letters of recommendation and sending out transcripts. However, this role has evolved in the past decade, and many schools are now using the term “school counselor” instead.
School counselors are highly trained and support students in many ways in addition to guiding them to college. The role itself has evolved from a focus on post-graduation planning and administrative support External link to today’s focus on embracing a comprehensive approach to optimize student outcomes in much more than just college planning. Focus areas include emotional support, family intervention, social development, academic guidance, and career planning. School counselors are now a strong, collaborative member of an educational team.
Impact of Effective School Counselors
School counselors make a positive impact in the lives their students. Research supports the value of school counseling External link across a number of domains. According to the American School Counselor Association External link (ASCA), when effective school counseling programs are in place, students experience:
- Improved behavior.
- Improved learning behaviors and academic outcomes.
- Reduced racial disparities in Advanced Placement courses.
- Reduced achievement gaps for minority populations with limited English language proficiency.
- Improved support for the needs of immigrant students.
- More support for students with autism spectrum disorder preparing for college.
- Higher graduation rates.
- A higher likelihood of enrolling in college.
In addition, studies External link indicate that school counselors are critical to school leadership — providing early identification and short-term intervention for students with personal, social, emotional, and academic needs. Counselors play a key role in the college preparation and admissions process. To learn more about the impact school counselors have on student learning, visit our infographic.
The Evolving Role of School Counselors Across Grades
The role of school counselor has evolved to become a central and important part of a child’s development and educational career. A post for neaToday External link highlights how the role has shifted from a focus on college applications to becoming key members of the team, working collaboratively with students, school administration, parents, and guardians on students’ academic and career achievement, as well as social and emotional development.
The ASCA External link highlights the critical role school counselors play to help ensure that “today’s students become the productive, well-adjusted adults of tomorrow.” Offering a variety of resources about the profession, the ASCA describes the issues involved in different educational settings — and explains why school counselors are needed to address them:
Elementary School Counselor
In elementary schools External link , counselors help students during a time when they are beginning to develop their “academic self-concept,” including attitudes about school, self, peers, their social groups, and family — as well as learning competence and confidence. The ASCA says that “the knowledge, attitudes and skills students acquire in the areas of academic, career and social development during these elementary years serve as the foundation for future success.”
Middle School Counselors
In middle school External link , as students pass from childhood to adolescence, they are undergoing rapid physical and emotional change. These students are struggling to find their identities, turning to peers more than parents, and trying to find the meaning in education in terms of real-life experience — among other issues. As the ASCA notes, “Middle school counselors are professional educators with a mental health perspective who understand and respond to the challenges presented by today’s diverse student population.”
High School Counselors
In secondary school External link , students are facing the final transition from high school into adulthood. Whether this includes plans for starting college or immediately entering the world of work, students spend these years trying to figure out who they are and what should come next in the context of their strengths, skills, abilities, and interests. School counselors work to address the pressures students experience to engage in risky behaviors related to sex, alcohol, and drugs. The ASCA National Model presents a multifaceted role for school counselors as they “align and work with the school’s mission to support the academic achievement of all students as they prepare for the ever-changing world of the 21st century.”
School counselors are highly trained to address the variety of challenges that students face today. They must hold advanced degrees and adhere to state-by-state requirements for certification External link and continuing education External link . With the critical role they play, competent school counselors are essential to ensuring that students receive the comprehensive supports and services they deserve to achieve.
Citation for this content: Counseling@NYU, the online masters in school counseling from NYU Steinhardt.