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Hiring a Qualified School Counselor

Young female school counselor with student

As districts experience challenges staffing qualified school counselors, it’s important to note the degree and certification requirements and the options when there aren’t certified counselors available.

Degree Requirements

The minimum number of hours to obtain a master’s degree in counseling degree is 48 hours, which may be contributing to the shallow pool of school counselor applicants. Many of the 58 approved educator preparation programs across the state are either embedding coursework for licensed professional counselor (LPC) or offering a bridge (i.e., add-on courses). Most programs that include the LPC coursework in the degree plan require the completion of 60 hours. As a result, it is estimated a master’s degree in counseling may take an individual anywhere from two to two-and-a-half years to complete.

Certification Requirements

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) requirements for certification of school counselors include the following:

  • Complete an approved EPP for the certificate desired.
  • Hold a master’s degree from an institution of higher education that is accredited by an agency recognized by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).
  • Complete the required test.

In the past, classroom teaching experience was also required. However, Senate Bill (SB) 798 of the 88th Regular Session of the Texas Legislature, removed the two years of required classroom teaching experience for the school counselor certificate effective September 1, 2023. Therefore, any individual who has met the requirements stated above is eligible to become a certified school counselor.

Qualifying a School Counselor

If an individual is currently uncertified but enrolled in an EPP, there are a couple of options available to qualify them to serve as a school counselor. The first is an emergency permit. To be eligible for an emergency permit, the individual must have completed 24 hours of their graduate-level credits, including 12 semester hours in guidance and counseling.

The second option is the state certification waiver. The waiver does not require a certain number of semester hours but waives certification requirements for a designated period (e.g., one to three years) to allow the individual time to complete the certification requirements. The district’s board of trustees must take action to approve the filing of the certification waiver.

DOI Option

Exemption from school counselor certification is available through a district’s District of Innovation (DOI) plan. Many districts have exempted themselves from Texas Education Code (TEC) § 21.003 to provide maximum flexibility to hire uncertified teachers. This statute states a person may not be employed as a teacher, teacher intern or teacher trainee, librarian, educational aide, administrator, educational diagnostician, or school counselor by a school district unless the person holds the appropriate certificate or permit.

If a district is considering a school counselor certification exemption, the addition of an exemption to TEC § 33.002 in the DOI plan would be necessary. TEC § 33.002 specifically requires districts to employ school counselors certified under the rules of the State Board for Educator Certification (SBEC). Therefore, to be eligible for the exemption, both TEC § 21.003 and TEC § 33.002 need to be approved in the DOI plan. Additional information regarding DOI exemptions is available in the School Law eSource document Districts of Innovation Plan Tips and Policy Development (member login required).

Other Considerations

School districts should carefully weigh their decision to hire an individual for the role of school counselor through a DOI exemption to ensure students have access to high-quality counseling staff.

Districts adding the exception should outline expectations in their DOI plan and communicate these expectations directly to the individual. It is imperative that individuals hired for this role have a knowledge base and skillset required for success. The district should expect to provide a greater amount of support to these individuals compared to hiring a certified school counselor. 

Following are examples of details to consider including in the DOI plan:

  • Service in a public school setting or related work experience
  • Acceptance to or participation in an EPP for counseling certification
  • Reasonable time requirement for completion of counseling certification

DOI is a temporary solution to the recruitment of certified staff. By being intentional in the use of the exemptions, districts can improve their efforts.

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Karen Dooley
Karen Dooley
HR Services Assistant Director

Karen Dooley joined HR Services in 2016. She provides oversight to a team of consultants providing staffing services, HR reviews, and other projects. She provides training and assists school districts with their HR-related needs. Dooley is a seasoned administrator with more than 17 years of HR experience in Central Texas districts as a coordinator, director, and assistant superintendent. She also worked as an assistant principal, counselor, and teacher, and holds a superintendent certificate.

Dooley received her master’s degree from Prairie View A&M University and her bachelor’s degree from Texas State University.

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