School Counselor Roles & Ratios
School counselors are highly educated, professionally certified individuals who help students succeed in school and plan their career. An integral part of the total education system, school counselors help students form healthy goals, mindsets and behaviors. With the aid of a school counselor, students learn to develop effective collaboration and cooperation skills, to practice perseverance, to develop time management and study skills, and to learn self-motivation and self-direction habits.
Feel free to use any of the following resources supporting the roles of school counselors at back-to-school nights, school board presentations, etc.
School Counselor Roles
- The Role of the School Counselor
- Appropriate and Inappropriate Duties
- The Essential Role of Elementary School Counselors
- The Essential Role of Middle School Counselors
- The Essential Role of High School Counselors
- The Essential Role of School Counselor Educators
- The Essential Role of School Counseling Directors/Coordinators
- Guidance Counselor vs. School Counselor
- Who Are School Counselors Infographic (also available in Spanish)
- History of School Counseling
- School Counselors Matter (EdTrust report)
Although ASCA recommends a 250-to-1 ratio of students to school counselors, the national average is actually 415-to-1 for the 2020–2021 school year (the most recent year for which data is available). See how the individual states stack up:
- School Counselor Ratios (PDF) (2020-2021)
- School Counselor Ratios (PDF) (2019-2020)
- School Counselor Ratios: 30-Year Trends (PDF)
- To research ratios in your state, click here.
Why does ASCA recommend a ratio of 250 students per school counselor?
Since 1965, ASCA has recommended a student-to-school counselor ratio of 250:1. Although this ratio may be optimal, grade level and socioeconomic factors require close consideration. According to data from the U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics, the 2019–2020 national student-to-school-counselor ratio was 424:1. National ratios are higher in elementary schools and lower in high schools, based on estimates using the NCES data. However, because some states do not designate school counselors by grade level, average ratios can only be calculated in ranges: The national average for grades K-8 ranges from 419:1 to 1,135:1. The national average for grades 9-12 ranges from 164:1 to 347:1. (National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ccd/elsi/)
Research dating to the 1950s indicates the school counseling role was much broader and much more clerical during that time. Analyzing the role of the school counselor, Hoyt (1955) determined that school counselors typically spent more than 55% of their time in counseling and group activities with students. The remaining 45% was spent working with teachers, conducting local research and performing clerical tasks. Based on his assessment, Hoyt concluded that school counselors should have no more than 400 pupils in their caseload. As the role of the school counselor became clarified further, ASCA adopted 250:1 as the optimal ratio, which reflects the goal that school counselors spend 80% of their time in direct and indirect student services.
Several studies have noted that smaller ratios support increases in standardized test performance (Parzych et al., 2019), attendance (Carey et al., 2012), GPA (Goodman-Scott et al., 2018) and graduation rates (Lapan & Gysbers, 2012), as well as decreased disciplinary infractions (Carrell & Carrell, 2006; Lapan et al., 2012). Additional studies have shown that lower ratios also increase the likelihood of students having conversations with school counselors regarding college-going and postsecondary plans (Bryan et al., 2009; Danos, 2017; Engberg & Gilbert, 2014; Hurwitz & Howell, 2013; Woods & Domina, 2014; Lapan et al. 2019). Further, in an ASCA-grant-funded meta-analysis of student-to-school-counselor ratio outcome studies, Kearney et al. (2021) found that a one standard deviation change in the ratio is likely to result in a 6% standard deviation in student outcomes, especially in terms of improving attendance, decreasing disciplinary infractions, and increasing high school graduation.
How have the student-to-school-counselor ratios changed over time?
While the national student-to-school counselor ratio has decreased, on average, by 1% per academic school year since the 1987–1988 school year, the national ratio remains well above the ASCA recommended ratio of 250:1 at 424:1 (2019–2020 data). For the 2019–2020 school year, only New Hampshire (214:1), Vermont (201:1) and the U.S. Virgin Islands (168:1) reported ratios within the recommendation. One quarter (25%) of respondents to the ASCA State of the Profession 2020 survey reported their caseload to be 250 or few students, while similar portions of respondents reported 251–350 (26%) and 351–450 (24%) students per school counselor. Many students lack sufficient access to school counselors and other support staff. In fact, students of color and students from low-income families are often shortchanged, receiving unequal access to school counselors or attending a school with too few school counselors.