How Does School Counseling Differ from Elementary to High School?

There are distinct differences between being a school counselor in elementary school and one who works in a high school. Both are challenging yet rewarding positions. To find the right one for you, it helps to understand the level and type of student interaction you'll have.

Elementary School

Usually encompassing grades K through 6 or 8, school counseling in elementary school environments means you'll see children with severe issues that revolve around their home life. It could include emotional or physical abuse at home, lack of resources that leave the child hungry or without basics like electricity or running water. Along with issues at home, children in this age bracket will have the standard issues seen in many schools, such as bullying, gossip among the students, difficulties with teachers and learning disabilities. In elementary school, you're likely to be the only counselor in the school, or you might serve more than one school in the district.

When the school includes older children because it functions as the middle school, you'll find yourself dealing with more issues like relationship and body issues. You might have to deal with serious issues like self-harm, drug abuse and sexual activity between students. You also might be dealing with violence in school like this school counselor who talked a student out of shooting classmates and teachers.

High School

At the high school level, there's a chance you will be dealing with many of the same home issues as those that come with younger students. Students will have the same socioeconomic issues that plague younger children like being without minimum resources at home. They'll also be dealing with abuse and neglect, but they're likely better at hiding their home life. These students might not reveal their situation at home to anyone.

School counseling in high school will involve guidance regarding classes to take for graduation, or dealing with kids who have learning disabilities. High school students are trying to get into college, too. You'll spend time advising them on the right school for them based on grades, as well as guiding them to the classes they'll need to take to get into that school. As a counselor in high school, you'll be able to counsel students personally or in groups to prepare them for life after high school.

Vast Differences in Ages and Counseling Methods

There can be a huge difference between elementary school counseling and high school counseling. It's a contrast mostly based on the age of the two types of students. With the smaller students in K-6, you'll find as the school counselor that it requires you to be another parent to most of the children. They'll come to you in the hopes that you'll fix their home life or provide a crying shoulder for any problems they're going through at home or in school.

At the high school level, you'll be dealing with fewer emotional issues and more specific problems, issues or concerns like drug abuse or college admissions. You're helping to prepare these students for a world outside of high school, which can be very rewarding.

School counselors face challenges and reward at all levels and it's up to each counselor to determine which age level, and its associated needs, suits them best.

See also: The 20 Best Online Masters in School Counseling Programs