Guiding Students

School guidance counselors help set students up for success.
By Sara Johnson
 A smiling woman at a school desk talks to two students seated before her.
Guidance counselor Maribel Garcia-Marin speaks with students at Beattie Middle School, in Highland, California.

Guidance counselors are a positive force in students’ lives. It’s their job to help teenagers set educational goals, work through challenges, and plan for life after high school. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for school counselors is expected to grow by 5% through 2032. That’s faster than most other types of jobs.

Maribel Garcia-Marin is a guidance counselor in Southern California. She spoke with Your Hot Job about her career and shared what she believes are the eight keys to being an effective counselor. 

Meet Mrs. Garcia-Martin

Maribel Garcia-Marin was born and raised in Southern California’s Coachella Valley. Her parents migrated to the U.S. from Mexico, determined that their children should have good lives and rewarding careers. From a young age, Garcia-Marin knew she wanted to work with children. So she decided to pursue a career in school counseling. She went on to become a first-generation college student, graduating with a master’s degree in counseling from California State University at San Bernardino. She’s worked as both an elementary and middle school guidance counselor in the Redlands Unified School District for nearly 30 years. 

Could counseling be the career for you? Here’s Garcia-Marin’s advice for success on the job.

Build relationships. Relationships are key. As a school counselor, you need to build relationships with teachers, parents, and students. You must show compassion and empathy, be patient, and listen well. “It is often the students who are withdrawn or quiet who take a while to build a relationship with,” Garcia-Marin says. “But I don’t give up easily!” 

Be visible. Being out on campus when students have downtime (recess, passing period, lunch) can be the best time to connect. If students have a question, they can just come right up and ask it. Or maybe they simply need a hug. Being visible reminds students you’re there if they need you.

Get creative. Being a school counselor is not just about meeting with students one-on-one. Often, Garcia-Marin teaches an entire class about important topics, like how to handle stress, or how to be a good friend. And she uses fun ways to connect with students, surprising them with postcards, phone calls, and special tickets they can spend at a student store. Her middle school even hosts food-truck luncheons to reward students for great attendance.

Be genuine. Being genuine is so important, especially with middle and high school students. If you aren’t real with students, it can be hard for them to share their true feelings.

Collaborate. Depending on the size of the school, you might work with other counselors. Sharing ideas and working together makes the job fun and keeps ideas fresh. 

Stay organized. Like doctors, counselors must document. Keeping organized and detailed notes about communications and conversations helps ensure that students are getting the support they need. The more information you have about a student, the better the decisions you can make.

Be flexible. You might have a great plan prepared for the day, but a parent might show up and need to talk. Or an issue might occur among a group of friends. Change will always happen.

Practice self-care. At times, you might help children with very heavy topics that can take a toll on your emotions and create stress. “Self-care is super important as a counselor,” Garcia-Marin says. “We are the ones helping everybody else, and if we don’t also take care of ourselves, no one else will.” Self-care can be simple, like going on a walk or doing some stretching.

If this sounds like a job you’d enjoy, Garcia-Marin says you’ll need to get your master’s degree in counseling. Typically, you’ll also need to complete an internship or work-study program with supervision from a licensed guidance counselor. You’ll also need to pass a test to get a counseling license, though requirements differ, depending on the state where you want to work. “It may sound like a lot of work, but it’s worth it,” Garcia-Marin says. “There’s no greater feeling in the world than having a career that allows you to make such a positive impact on students and families.” But you don’t have to take her word for it. See what the guidance counselor at your school has to say!