How to Become a School Counselor in Massachusetts

Get started on a career in school counseling.

Do you have the desire to make a positive impact in the lives of children, adolescents, and families? Are you patient, a good listener and communicator, and accepting of world views different from your own? A career in school counseling may be what you're looking for.

You may be wondering, though, how do I get started? First, you'll need to decide which path you'd like to pursue. Two common career paths in this field are School Counselor and School Adjustment Counselor. And, depending on the one you choose, you'll have different requirements to become licensed.

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School Counselor

A School Counselor—a role previously known as a school guidance counselor—focuses on the academic, social, emotional, and career needs of students. It is a dedicated counseling position in a school, working with children in grades PreK–8 or adolescents in grades 5–12. At the high school level, school counselors also help students prep for post-secondary education. In Massachusetts, you'll need an Initial School Counselor License to begin your work in this role.

Teacher counseling student about academic resources

School Adjustment Counselor

A School Adjustment Counselor is dedicated to addressing the mental health needs of students within a school. Sometimes, this position is called a School Social Worker. School adjustment counselors meet one-on-one with at-risk students, or with groups of students.

School adjustment counselors need to complete a master's degree in counseling to receive their initial license. The initial license qualifies them to begin work in the role.


Steps to Becoming Licensed

  1. Get your bachelor's degree.
  2. Get your master's degree.
  3. Pass the Communications & Literacy sections of the MTEL.
  4. Apply for your Initial License through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). This initial license is good for 5 years.
  5. Move your Initial License to a Professional License. After 3 years of work under the Initial License, you qualify for your Professional License.
  6. Maintain your Professional License through continued professional development.

1.  Get your bachelor's degree in an accredited program.

Your degree might not need to be in counseling or a related major, depending on the graduate school you plan to attend. Check the prerequisites for the graduate schools and programs you're interested in.

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2. Get your master's degree in a regionally accredited program.

Your program has to have been approved by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), and meet the state's Subject Matter Knowledge Requirements.

  • School Counselor

    Your master's degree program must be in counseling.

    If you are not planning to also get your Licensed Mental Health Counseling (LMHC) License in addition to your Initial School Counselor License, you can choose a 48-credit master's degree program. In Massachusetts, your program has to include a 450-hour practicum in an educational setting.

    If you are planning to get your LMHC License, you'll need to choose a 60-credit graduate program that requires additional practicum and internship hours.

  • School Adjustment Counselor

    Your master's degree program must be 60 credits in counseling or social work.

    Massachusetts requires your graduate program to include 900 practicum hours for this field, with 450 of the hours in an educational setting working with children, adolescents, or families.

3.  Pass the Communications & Literacy sections of the MTEL. (Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure)

At many schools, you'll need to pass this exam prior to admission or before you start your practicum. You can take the MTEL as many times as you need. Review the Department's prep materials.
 

4.  Apply for your Initial License.

As soon as you graduate from an approved program, you may apply for your Initial School Counselor License or your Initial School Adjustment Counselor License through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

You can work as a School Counselor or School Adjustment Counselor for a total of 5 years with an Initial License.

5. Move your Initial License to a Professional License.

After working full-time in a school setting for 3 years, you'll be eligible to move your Initial License in school counseling or school adjustment counseling to a Professional License.

You'll do this through the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).

  • School Counselor

    You'll need to demonstrate your readiness to advance to a Professional License in 1 of these 2 ways:

    a. Accumulate a total of 60 semester hours of graduate courses in a discipline related to the license you seek, such as school counseling, mental health counseling, school psychology, or clinical psychology, to name but a few. These 60 credits may include credits you've already earned in your master's degree program for your Initial School Counselor License.

    -OR-

    b. Be certified by either the National Board of Certified Counselors or the National Board for School Counseling.

  • School Adjustment Counselor

    According to the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) regulations, you'll need to demonstrate your readiness to advance to a Professional License in 1 of these 2 ways:

    a. Accumulate a total of 60 semester hours of graduate courses in a discipline related to the license you seek, such as mental health counseling, psychological counseling, school counseling, school social work, or social work. These 60 credits may include credits you've already earned in your master's degree program for your Initial School Counselor License.

    -OR-

    b. Achieve and maintain certification or licensure for one of the following:

    • Licensed Mental Health Counseling (LMHC)
    • Licensed Certified Social Worker (LCSW)
    • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
    • Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT)
    • Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor (LRC)


    Given that you had to have completed a 60-credit program to earn your Initial License, you're automatically qualified for your Professional License under option a, as described above.

    Many school adjustment counselors decide to get their LMHC License. While you're working as a school adjustment counselor, you can be counting those work hours toward the work requirements for becoming a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC). You can do this so long as you are performing the duties of a mental health counselor in your role, and you are being supervised by a clinician who meets the state's definition of an approved supervisor.

    Some school adjustment counselors choose to work one night a week in a mental health setting as a faster way to accumulate their hours for their LMHC.

6.  Maintain your license, and skills, through ongoing professional development.

You can work in a school setting with a Professional License for 5 years.

To renew your license, you must have 150 Professional Development Points (PDPs), the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE) term for ongoing training. One Continuing Education credit earned at an event equals 10 PDPs. One semester hour equals 15 PDPs. DESE will approve additional activities at 1.5 PDPs per clock hour.

Graduate Programs
Get your career started.
Interested in launching a career in school counseling? The first step is to find the right graduate program. Explore our graduate programs in School Counseling.

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