In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
This is a relatively new position in college counseling. Traditionally, counselors worked in the counseling center, providing occasional outreach to residence halls for programming on health and safety (e.g., stress management, suicide prevention, dealing with roommate conflicts). In recent years, college counseling centers, particularly on large campuses, have begun to place counselors in the residence halls to provide available, brief counseling and assessment, and referral. Though this appears to be a small, nice job market for counselors, it may grow. (Counselors in residence halls are providing a different service compared with counselors hired to serve as residence hall directors.)
Because counselors in residence halls are likely to be employed at large universities, the doctoral degree may be preferred, though a master’s degree may be acceptable. On some campuses, doctoral students in the counselor education or counseling psychology program may provide this service.
Issues to Understand
Counseling in a residence hall will be very different from counseling in the counseling center due largely to the reality that the counselor is working in the student’s environment. Because of the availability of the counselor, the counselor may get more “drop-in” student sessions than in a counseling office across campus or located in an administration building. Counselors in this setting will do several basic screening and minicounseling sessions (say 15–30 minutes) and prepare students with greater needs for a referral to the counseling center. Counselors in the residence hall are also more available to the residence hall staff and can consult with RDs and RAs on the floors. Counselors working in resident halls must be able to set clear limits with both students and the residence hall staff. Students will need to know that what they tell the counselors is confidential and not something the counselor will tell the residence hall staff. This is particularly important as issues of alcohol and drug abuse, conflicts with hall staff, and violations of campus policies and procedures will be discussed.
Best Aspects of the Job
Many college counselors got their start by working in residence halls as an RA or RD, and the opportunity to return to residence halls as a counselor (as opposed to having to live in the hall and enforce rules) can be both nostalgic and an opportunity to work on familiar grounds. The counselor in the residence hall will also provide short-term counseling, thus having the ability to refer difficult clients needing more in-depth work to the counseling center. The position is ideal for counselors who have previously served as RAs and RDs because of the reality that they understand the difference in counseling in a center and in the place where the students reside.
Challenging Aspects of the Job
Counseling in this setting certainly has its challenges. As previously stated, counselors in the residence halls need to establish the ability to network with RAs and RDs and, at the same time, to set boundaries with hall staff. Counselors in this setting must earn the trust of the students residing in the hall and clearly demonstrate they will not violate confidentiality by informing the hall staff of violations they hear in counseling (provided what they have heard is not a suicide plan or a plan to harm another resident). The facilities in the residence hall may not be equivalent to that in the counseling center, and privacy may be more difficult to establish due to the location of the counseling office. There is also the matter of all the distractions and
noise inherent in working in a setting where people (especially young students) live.
Occupational Outlook and Salary
It is difficult to report exact statistics on what is a new occupation for counselors. The BOLS reports the median salary for college counselors to be $43,980. Counselors in the residence halls are likely to be paid less because they may be beginning their careers, as opposed to counselors in the counseling center, many of whom are seasoned veterans. Occupational outlook is likely very low as this is currently a small niche market for college counselors at larger institutions.