Residential Counselors See Real Opportunities

Residential counselors are in demand all over North America to help those with developmental or physical disabilities deal with daily life.

Residential counselors generally work in group homes, treatment facilities or other types of supported-living situations. They help people with social activities, personal care, meals, medications or finances.

"They'd do anything and everything. It really varies, depending on the level of support that an individual requires," says Michael Douglas. He is chair of the human service worker program at a college.

"They range from supporting people with very profound disabilities right up to people that are very mildly challenged."

Residential counselors also work with people with mental illness. They help women at crisis shelters and people in drug or alcohol treatment facilities.

The title "residential counselor" is only part of a wide array of jobs. They all fall under the umbrella of social or human service work. But whatever they're called, residential counselors are in demand throughout North America.

This job can require shift work. It can be emotionally draining and doesn't really pay well. Not everyone is interested in this kind of work. That makes the job market easier for applicants with the right training.

"It is a fast-growing job because there is high need," explains Wm. Lynn McKinney. He is the director of human science and services at the University of Rhode Island.

"There is also high turnover in these jobs because they usually require workers to spend [the night] or even to live in. Some of the settings or residences can be challenging. And not everyone has the patience to do this kind of work."

McKinney is also president of the National Organization for Human Service Education. He expects residential counselor jobs to be around for a while. "While the economy is strong and we, as a society, believe in providing services to all individuals, this opportunity will last."

Your chances of finding a good job as a residential counselor are best if you have at least some college-level courses in human services or social work. But the best bet is probably a college diploma or certificate, or a bachelor's degree from a university.

Community colleges and universities across North America have human or social service programs. Within these programs, there are often different streams, depending on where your interests lie.

This gives you the option of becoming a residential counselor or any other number of related jobs: skills instructor, job coach, educational assistant, community support worker, child care worker or drug abuse counselor.

To get accepted into many of the diploma or degree programs, you may need first aid, CPR, a criminal record check and a medical exam, along with other academic qualifications. Check individual schools for more details on this and on their waiting lists.

Douglas recommends doing volunteer work, even in high school, with crisis lines, people with disabilities or other places. "That helps to mature them. Maturity is important. The ones that aren't mature simply aren't ready."

Margaret J. French is chair of the human services technology program at Pitt Community College in North Carolina. She also advises getting volunteer experience. "Any type of work where they can get exposure to populations that have special needs," she says.

The job of a residential counselor can be demanding but rewarding. It appears that people who are prepared, through volunteer work and education, are best able to deal with the challenges of the job.

"There will always be individuals in our society that have special needs and they need a special type of person to work with them," says French. "Having the opportunity to give another human being the feeling of success, no matter how limited they are, is absolutely incredible."


National Organization for Human Services
Learn more about the human service field

Human Services Career Network
Connect with opportunities

The New Social Worker's Online Career Center
Extensive links to sites dealing with social work

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support
  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900
  • North Dakota Career Resource Network | (701) 328-9733