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Counselors working in a college or university career center will have a very different role compared with counselors providing mostly personal or mental health counseling. Collegiate career centers, in my experience, tend to operate on a philosophy different from that of college counseling centers for a variety of reasons.
Most career counselors staffing college career centers will hold a master’s degree as opposed to a doctorate. Counselors in larger universities may be required to have a doctorate in counselor education, education administration, college student personnel, or other related doctorates. For most institutions, the master’s is the entry degree.
Issues to Understand
Counselors in college career centers will likely do more advising, testing, and placement work than counseling. Many career centers have the title of “Career Planning and Placement Center,” meaning that a large part of their job is assisting students land jobs after graduation. This means
that much of the staff will come from fields outside counseling such as business, marketing, and so forth. Placement work requires spending a lot of time bringing recruiters to campus to interview students for potential jobs. Counselors will also spend a lot of time teaching students how to write effective resumes and cover letters, and practicing interviewing skills. Career centers will also provide career assessment to undecided majors in the way of career aptitude and interest testing, utilizing the Strong Interest Inventory, Self-Directed Search, Career Ability Placement Survey, Armed Services Vocational Assessment Battery, and many more. Counselors working in career centers will need to be highly organized, able to balance multiple tasks, and enjoy advising undecided majors.
Best Aspects of the Job
Like many collegiate jobs, the opportunity to work with motivated (mostly), idealistic people excited about their future is likely the most rewarding part of the job. College career centers also tend to work on “positive” attributes, as opposed to having to provide crisis intervention, diagnose, and serve evening and weekend on-call responsibilities. Though we have seen tough economic times resulting in concerned college students wondering if they will land a good job, my experience is that career advising and placement is generally exciting work. Helping undergraduates and graduate students get started in their careers is rewarding work, and most students tend to be appreciative.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
College career centers tend to be a “catch all” for the campus. Career center staff are expected to provide career counseling, testing, advising, and placement services; serve on campus committees; do outreach work with industry; and do multiple other tasks. Smaller career center staff will likely feel spread thin by these broad expectations. Another challenging factor is that career centers serve a wide range of students and majors. The needs of a student in, say, chemical engineering are vastly different from those in theology.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
Because the BOLS does not break career center staff into a distinct category, job growth rate and salary are difficult to determine. Based on my experience in college student affairs, I say that career center staff sometimes outearn their counterparts in the counseling centers. Salaries for full-time career counselors will range from the low $30,000 to above $70,000 a year (or higher), depending on the size of the institution and position (e.g., line counselor, assistant director, director). Though overall job growth for student affairs administrators is a paltry 2% (BOLS, 2010–2011), career center positions may fare better due to the fact they deal with job placement. A growing number of career counselor positions are likely to be in community colleges because they are the fastest growing institution.