Becoming a community college counselor can be a very rewarding career move if you have the right qualities for this job. Counselors, first of all, have an intimate knowledge of education and career options/opportunities; they also specialize in helping students make decisions about what to study, what careers are most realistic for their skill/aptitude sets, and how to deal with issues/problems common to those who attend community colleges.
Starting the Process
In most cases, you will need a minimum of a master’s in counseling. Related degrees (education psychology, social work, etc.) may also be acceptable, depending on your state and the institution to which you apply for a job. Naturally, the more education you bring with you, the more likely it is you will find a job in this field. Having a PhD, for example, may get you higher salaries, positions with more responsibilities, etc.
In most cases, you will have to be licensed/certified by the state as a career or school counselor. Each state has its own guidelines/requirements you will have to meet in order to qualify for such formal state endorsement.
Although there are different types of “counselor,” if you want to become a licensed career counselor, you may have to pass a special exam (e.g., exam by the National Board for Certified Counselors), meet a set number of supervised clinical hours (e.g., such as recommended by the National Association of School Psychologists), and agree to take continuing educations credits.
Typical Job Duties
While on the job you may have to:
- Meet with students to go over academic needs and goals
- Help students set class schedules
- Explain programs and degree programs
- Support and motivate students
- Help resolve conflicts
- Coordinate career days and local business networking
- Teach classes, when applicable or required
Professional & Personal Qualities
College counselors have a very unique job. In general, they should possess the following characteristics:
- Compassionate personality
- Gregarious, outgoing demeanor
- Excellent listening skills
- Patience & understanding
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics the median salary for counselors was about $53,380 as of 2010. What counselors make, however, greatly depends on years/quality of education, years or experience, formal training received, and degrees completed.
Because of increased student enrollments, expanded academic programs, increasing numbers of foreign students, and the added options online colleges/universities are bringing to the table, the opportunities for counselors are varied and promising.
Deciding to become a community college counselor is a serious commitment on your part. You will have to take many courses in psychology and related subjects, in addition to core subject courses. In fact, expect to study for about 3 to 5 years after completing a bachelor’s. Completing a master’s is, in most cases, a necessity, but you should seriously consider also completing a PhD or similar graduate level degree.
As a community college counselor, you will do much more than help students select classes each semester. You will help them identify career aptitudes, deal with the pressures of college, overcome conflict with students, administration and instructors, and, if you have the qualifications and training, even help them deal with personal problems, deficiencies and conflicts.