How Much Do Guidance Counselors Make?

How Much Do Guidance Counselors Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that an advanced degree can tack an average of $10,000 onto your salary—and the educational level of your students factors in, as well. Image from Unsplash
Francesca Friday profile
Francesca Friday March 8, 2023

The states with the highest average salary for guidance counselors are New Jersey, Alaska, California, New York, and Massachusetts—in that order.

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School guidance counselors work hard to promote their students’ academic and personal successes. From navigating students’ social and emotional problems to assisting with college admissions, school and career counselors undertake challenging and rewarding careers.

How much will you earn in this valuable role? Salaries vary widely from state-to-state, but it’s possible to make a solid living as a guidance counselor. Here’s what kind of salary you can expect in this profession.

First things first: your educational checklist

Because educational requirements for school counselors vary by state, it’s important to do your research before deciding where to launch your career.

If you hope to work in a public school, you’ll need to meet your state’s credentials. Guidance counselors in Arizona must hold a master’s degree or higher and must log two years of counseling experience through an accredited institution. California, on the other hand, does not require a master’s degree—just a bachelor’s degree along with a recommendation from a local college or university’s school counseling program.

California, Utah, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, New Mexico, and Michigan are the only states where you can work as a school counselor without obtaining your master’s degree. Each of these states imposes a unique set of requirements that guidance counselors must meet.

If you don’t want to pursue a master’s degree, consider working as a private school counselor or a college educational counselor. These professionals aren’t required to advance beyond a bachelor’s degree. That said, the job market is competitive and a graduate degree adds value to a résumé. There are certainly instances in which that degree is the deciding factor in which candidate gets the job.


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Guidance counselor salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors make an average of $60,510 per year. As with all teaching jobs, that figure operates in tandem with the cost of living in a given area. It may also go up or down depending on state law.

Earning a master’s degree typically helps boost your compensation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that an advanced degree can tack an average of $10,000 onto your salary—and the educational level of your students factors in, as well. The Bureau of Labor statistics also points out that elementary and secondary school counselors make a mean wage of $70,790, while college, university, and professional school counselors earn a mean income of $54,570.

Because compensation varies by state, one way to position yourself for a higher salary is to relocate. The highest paying states for guidance counselors are California ($82,590), New Jersey ($76,040), Massachusetts ($75,560), Washington ($75,160), and Maryland ($72,730). The lowest-paying state? South Dakota ($46,960).

The demand for guidance counselors in U.S. schools

School counseling is both in-demand and demanding. In most areas of the United States, counselors are required in public schools. But while the American School Counselor Association recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-1, a recent report found this number to be nearly double, at 408-1—an unwieldy caseload for any professional.

The impact guidance counselors have on prospective college students is undeniable. A study from the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC) found that high schoolers who work with their guidance counselors on college admissions are twice as likely to attend a four-year university.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the demand for school counselors will increase by 10 percent between now and 2031. Yet while demand for counselors is growing overall, some districts face the reality of budget cuts.

When money is tight for schools juggling pressing needs—teachers, facilities, technology, security, extracurriculars—counseling programs may feel the squeeze. A 2016 survey asked schools across the country to identify what they would invest in should budgets be increased; counselors came in last place, with only 6 percent of respondents allocating funds in that direction.

Budgeting concerns and high caseloads can pose a challenge to school counselors. One way to maximize job security and compensation is to arm yourself with an advanced degree. Beyond seeking out institutions that truly value school counselors (and won’t cut these roles at the first sign of financial trouble), do some research on the state in which you hope to work, to ensure that state’s average salary and educational requirements are aligned to your lifestyle.

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024).

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About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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