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Published: June 28, 2011


In education, the proffering of advice and counsel to students by trained specialists with a minimum of one or two years of graduate study in counseling and state certificates as guidance counselors. Guidance may be proffered on a one-to-one or group (see GROUP COUNSELING) basis, depending on the student’s particular needs. In broadest terms, guidance services are designed to help students adapt successfully to their school environment, academically, socially and developmentally. Individualized, one-to-one counseling may, depending on the student, cover a wide range of personal problems such as academics; college selection; school or class transfers; study skills; career choices; jobapplication skills (interviews, resumes, etc.); emotional, physical or developmental problems; peer relations; teacher relations; or homeor neighborhood-related problems.
Until 1950, teachers routinely served as student advisers, but as educators recognized the need for special training to cope with student counseling, the guidance counselor began appearing in schools as a full-time, nonclassroom instructional staff member to provide one-to-one counseling of individual students and to consult with teachers and parents about individual student problems. As the number of guidance counselors increased, guidance departments assumed increasingly important administrative functions such as maintaining cumulative student records; providing school recommendations for college admission and job applications; coordinating standardized testing programs such as the Scholastic Assessment Tests for college-bound students; providing career counseling services; arranging school appearances by outside advisers and counselors from colleges and companies; and developing working relationships with outside counseling, welfare and law enforcement agencies that might affect the lives of students.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the guidance counselor’s role began to expand still further, as American families became more dysfunctional and gradually left half the children in the United States in single-parent homes. The result was a surge in the number of troubled children who turned to guidance counselors for help in dealing with such problems as parental negligence, parental physical or sexual abuse, hunger and malnutrition, drug and alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, the threat of peer violence and survival in gang-infested neighborhoods ablaze with gunfire.
By 2001, the number of full-time guidance counselors in American public schools had climbed to more than 100,000, or 2.5% of the nation’s public-school instructional staff. Each guidance counselor had an average of about 140 students to counsel, with understaffed schools often assigning as many as 1,000 students to each counselor. Although an increasing number of guidance counselors are appearing in elementary schools, more than 90% of all guidance counselors work with adolescents in middle schools and high schools.