Guidance in Iceland initiated within the school system and was for a long time seen primarily as a tool to assist students with making the right educational choices. The hope was that this would decrease the high dropout from both upper secondary schools and universities. Gradually, guidance for adults has been growing, especially guidance for the unemployed. In recent years, the demand for career development for employed adults has been the field that has grown the fastest as social partners feel the need for a more targeted approach. There has also been a demand for online guidance, especially for people with limited formal education.

Guidance has mostly been the responsibility of the Ministry of Education and Children, but the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labour has developed vocational guidance within the Public Employment Services. Other actors who have influenced the development of guidance are e.g. local authorities and experts in the field of guidance, trade unions, employers and various associations, with the Icelandic Educational and Vocational Guidance Association at the forefront.

The division of guidance affairs is based upon different clients, different subjects, different settings and different ways of funding. No formal channels exist in the cooperation between different actors but most innovations in the field of guidance have occurred when ministries, professionals and the social partners have combined resources.


The Ministry of Educationand Children is in charge of guidance in the education system. Guidance is integrated into Acts for each level and is therefore not seen as a separate unit.

The Directorate of Social Affairs and Labour has the responsibility for guidance for unemployed people.

No policy for lifelong guidance has been developed in Iceland.


Guidance practitioners must have a licence from the Ministry of Educationand Children to practice. In order to obtain such a licence, they must have a master’s degree in counselling from a recognised university in Iceland or abroad. Almost all counsellors are members of theIcelandic Educational and Vocational Guidance Association, which has the goals to guard counsellors’ interests, enhance educational and vocational guidance, counsellors’ professional work and research in the field of guidance as well as international cooperation. At present, around 250 people are members of the Association.

All pupils in both compulsory and upper secondary schools have the right to receive counselling upon demand and most schools employ full-time professional counsellors.

All universities employ guidance counsellors, even though they are not obliged by law to do so.

Guidance for adults has been growing. Employed people can seek guidance at adult learning centres and some workplaces offer “first step” guidance for their employees. The Directorate of Labour administers ninePublic Employment Centresfor job seekers, where they have access to guidance.

As for online guidance, the Education and Training Service Centre has developed awebwhich assists people with choosing both a profession and the relevant education and training. The main target group for the web is young people who are contemplating their next steps in choosing either a career or an educational pathway.


The Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Iceland offers a Master of Art’s programmes of at least 120 ECTS for counsellors who must have a bachelor’s degree in e.g. education or social sciences. Students pay a small registration fee each year. The main content is a detailed analysis of the field (with a master’s theses as a relevant part), research methods and courses selected by participants. Students are required to take courses in the following areas: theories on counselling and career development (18 ECTS), theories on educational progress, intervention and assessment (14 ECTS), practical training (30 ECTS), restricted elective in methods and statistics. Upon completion of the MA programme the graduate can apply to the Ministry of Education, Science and Culture to register as a certified Career and Guidance Counsellor.Further information (click on UK flag for English).

The Icelandic Educational and Vocational Guidance Association has an educational committee that organises various forms of continuous training, mostly lectures on relevant topics. The annual Day of the Counsellor is also celebrated by e.g. study visits to relevant institutions, conferences or training seminars.

The University of Iceland, which offers a Masters’ degree in counselling, is the main body carrying out research in the field. All master students must write a research paper of 30 ECTS and their teachers carry out research on a regular basis. Teachers at the University of Iceland must dedicate up to 40% of their time to research but have complete autonomy over the content. They are however obliged to share the results with as many as possible. Over 160 research papers on guidance can be found on the electronic web of the University of Iceland.

Icelandic counsellors have led and participated in many international development projects in the field of guidance. They also participated in the work of the European Lifelong Guidance Policy Unit.


The Icelandic Educational and Vocational Guidance Association has developed its own ethical guidelines. The main three themes in these are:

  1. Human value and respect which emphasis that the counsellor must always meet the client where (s)he is, without favouritism and respect his/her special situation.
  2. Clients’ independence and freedom of choice where the emphasis is on enhancing the client’s ability to take an independent decision and be responsible for her/his actions.
  3. Client’s well-being and happiness where the counsellor must always give advice to the best of his/her professional knowledge and with the main principle in mind that her/his advice should never cause the client any harm.

Last updated at: August 2023