7 Steps to Make the Most of Your School Counseling Internship Experience

If you're anything like me you are probably so eager to get out of the classroom and into the field. I was so excited to start my internship. It was a lot given that I had another full-time job and classes, but I gave it my best effort and the end result was totally worth it. I was able to communicate the skills I learned during my internship experience during my interviews and landed my dream job as an elementary school counselor. Use these 7 steps to make the most out of your internship too!

A little about me…

Let me tell you a little about my own school counseling internship experience. I went to grad school at Point Loma Nazarene University (Go sea lions! woop woop!) There were two part of the internship process; first, practicum hours (this was more observation) and then fieldwork hours (this was direct services with students).

We were required to do internships at two different placements (elementary, middle, or high) I wanted to be certain of the field I decided to pursue so I decided to over-achieve and do three placements, one at each level. My hunch was confirmed, high school is not for me! I did enjoy both elementary and middle school counseling, but elementary was just so much fun! I also tried to gain experience in a variety of school settings. I did my practicum hours at a private school and my first fieldwork placement at a charter school. For the public schools I chose ones in different districts with various demographics.

I totally recommend you try out as many variations as possible. This does two things.

  1. Allows you to gain a variety of experiences so you can see what you like and dislike when later looking for jobs

  2. Allows you to communicate your ability to thrive in a variety of settings and connect with students across different backgrounds

7 steps to make the most out of your school counseling internship

1. Cover the three tiers

You want to make sure that you are getting adequate experience at all levels of school counseling (class lessons, groups, and individual).

Class Lessons

Find out your counselor supervisor's plan for SEL guidance lessons. Ask if you can help plan them so you can get familiar with the curriculum. Then it's time to teach!

  • Good: Help prep the lesson and watch the counselor teach it.

  • Better: See if you can co-teach the lesson with another intern or with the counselor.

  • Best: The best experience would be to teach your own lesson.

It may sound intimidating to teach your own lesson, but after some practice with the first two options you'll feel prepared!

school counseling intern

Small Groups

This was by far my favorite part of my internship. I definitely struggled at times, but I learned a ton! Running your own small group is a skill that I believe can only be learned by doing. I took a class on group counseling in grad school, but this boots on the ground experience taught me so much more. Ask for help gathering referrals and planning the curriculum, but try to facilitate solo!

Individual Sessions

This is the one area you may not be able to do independently. Interns are not qualified to individually counsel students, but this doesn't mean you can't learn all of the ins and outs. Individual sessions are still the most challenging part of counseling to me so I cannot stress enough the benefit of watching your counselor supervisor in action. Take note of strategies you'd like to try, but be mindful of maintaining confidentiality. Also be sure to get student and possibly even parent permission to be a part of the individual sessions.

2. Take Initiative

I was fortunate to have counselor supervisors who gave me a lot of opportunities to get direct experience in teaching class lessons, leading small groups, and learning individual counseling strategies, but I also put in the work. I actively sought out opportunities to shadow, observe, plan, and participate. You won't get what you don't ask for!

3. Shadow everything

When you're not directly providing services, shadow as much as possible. See what a day in the life is like for your counselor supervisor. This includes attending meetings! Accompany them to IEP, SST, and parent meetings. Learning how to participate and lead meetings is an essential skill that will help you feel professional and prepared as a school counselor in the future.

4. Get out of your comfort zone

Introduce yourself to the principal, interview other school counselors, ask every question you can think of, and try things you don't yet feel ready for. This is the environment where you are supported and expected to not know everything. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there. I even participated in a flashmob at a school-wide assembly!

5. Think outside the box

Try to expose yourself to all aspects of the education world. If you're like me, you may have a background in psychology and no experience as a teacher! Try to learn the ropes about the school system you're working in. Attend a school board meeting, observe teachers in their classrooms, and make small talk with support staff! All of these connections and experiences are invaluable and may be beneficial to you during the hiring process.

think outside the box

6. Leave the counseling office

Be seen on campus! The office may feel safe and cozy but go outside and get familiar with the school site, faculty, and staff. Being visible is a way to advocate for the profession (this is a great skill to learn early on!) Introduce yourself to everybody you meet. Remember the more connections the better. I even know of schools who have created a position for someone because they made such an impact!

7. Be a lifelong learner

Learning doesn't have to stop when you leave your school site. Listen to podcasts, read books, and blog posts Personal and professional development are essential and will give you the extra edge you need when it comes time to interview!

But wait! I'm virtual!

Being a virtual counseling intern isn't ideal but you can still learn a wealth of information and get experience. Frequently initiate conversation with your counselor supervisor to remind them you are here and ready to help! Being visible on campus is especially important if you're virtual. It is definitely more challenging but hop in those Zoom calls and show face.

virtual counseling

These virtual counseling skills will be super helpful as we continue to see schools change. Think of it as having an advantage. You're able to get familiar with all of the virtual learning platforms and can later communicate this in an interview.

It's too late! My internship is over'

If you're just now reading this, no worries! You can interview counselors on their experiences and even ask to observe them after you've finished your program. Continue to find personal and professional development opportunities and learn as much as you can.

Your internship can be such a fun learning experience if you let it. The skills you're learning now are going to turn you into the best school counselor you can be!

Click here to sign up for my free School Counselor Bootcamp so you can be confident and prepared going into your first year!

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