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 description
Francesca Friday
Noodle Expert Member

March 10, 2021

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

School guidance counselors work hard to foster the academic and personal successes of students. From navigating social and emotional problems to assisting with college admissions, a career as a guidance counselor is both challenging and rewarding. And (as with any career) while salaries vary widely from state-to-state, 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 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. For example, 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. But each state does hold their own unique set of requirements that guidance counselors must meet.

If you don’t want to pursue a master’s degree, another option is to work as a private school counselor or a college educational counselor. These professionals aren’t required to hold anything beyond a bachelor’s degree—but the school counselor job market can be competitive, so higher education is an excellent way to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Guidance counselor salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, school counselors make an average of $53,610 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 certainly helps boost what you're compensated for your work. 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 median annual wage of $62,950, while high school counselors make a median of $56,320. College academic advisors earn a median salary of $67,760, while college psychological counselors earn a median pay of $54,560.

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 New Jersey ($72,190 on average), Alaska ($69,820 on average), California ($68,000 on average), New York ($67,100 on average), and Massachusetts ($66,640 on average). If a higher salary is important to you, it may be wise to pursue your degree and licensure in one of these states.

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 a required presence 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 482-1—an extremely large 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 13 percent by 2026, nearly double the average job growth rate of 7 percent. 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.

Questions or feedback? Email