The Biggest to the Littlest: Switching from High School Counseling to Elementary School Counseling

On the Elementary Exchange FB group, there are often posts asking about transitioning between tier levels as school counselors. For folk out there that may be googling “high school counselor to elementary counselor,” or trying to decide which tier to get their feet wet in: this is for you! While I’ve stayed right in my lane as an elementary counselor, a colleague at a neighboring school rocked at being a high school counselor before moving down to the land of the littles.  Rebecca was kind enough to let me “interview” her to get the scoop.

high school counselor to elementary school counselor interview


Why did you decide to make the change?

Since graduate school, I had always felt that I could work in either Elementary or High School. My first job was in a high school and I really enjoyed it, so I continued on that path, knowing that at some point I would still like to work at the Elementary level. High School counseling is really challenging, and even though our district is making strides to free up our time from testing and administrative tasks, I felt that there was never enough time to truly be a counselor. After 9 years at the High School level (and one in Middle School), I thought it was time to try something different.

What do you miss about being in the high school?

I miss the students—helping them with huge decisions about their futures and the conversations we had.

What surprised you about elementary? What do you wish you’d known?

I was surprised about how much I would love it! It is a joy every day to get to teach, counsel, and get to know my students.

What feels like the biggest change?

The biggest change is my stress level. High school is such high stakes—ACT, college admissions, scholarships—elementary has an element of fun and creativity that I was missing at the High School level.

What’s the hardest/most challenging aspect of being in elementary vs. high school?

I find it challenging to handle the amount of S-Teams we have at this level. The interventions in place for elementary students are so numerous—very different from high school. It is challenging as a counselor to know which interventions to recommend. Also, we have a very high EL population at my school. I love working with this population, but communicating with parents is challenging.

What skills do you think transferred? What skills did you develop in the HS that you still use?

Initially, I was nervous about individual counseling. Speaking with ‘almost-adults’ is a very different approach than with smaller children. However, once I got the hang of it, I remembered that the process of counseling is exactly the same, I just have to use more elementary terms. That gave me more confidence. My organizational skills are still used every day to juggle meetings, classroom guidance lessons, and responding to the needs of my students.

What’s the best part of being an elementary counselor?

The students are always the best part of any counseling job. I am fortunate to work with such a sweet and caring community. The students are eager to learn and it is so fun to watch them grow and learn new things.

Big thanks to Rebecca for answering these questions!

As I write this, NSCW is about to begin. Thinking about advocacy for our work and reading Rebecca’s experiences, I’m interested in knowing if rates of burnout and caregiver fatigue are higher at the high school level. Talking with Rebecca about her transition also reminds me that the differences between the tiers are sometimes less about the age of the population and more about the difference in day to day tasks.
What about you? Have any of you ever switched tier levels? I’d love to hear from you!

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switching from high school counselor to elementary school counselor

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Hello, I’m Sara!

With 10 years of experience in
elementary school counseling,
I get to serve in a different way now
– by helping fellow counselors and

I value quality over quantity,
effective practices and resources,
and meeting the unique needs of all
our diverse learners.


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