As society puts more and more emphasis on the importance of mental health, the demand for mental health professionals is growing. If you want to become a successful counseling professional, then earning your Master’s Degree in Counseling is a must.
Counseling requires a master’s degree and extensive clinical experience, so it is a path that requires time and dedication. If you’re interested in pursuing counseling as a career, check out Career Karma’s guide below to a Master’s Degree in Counseling.
Why Study Counseling?
Counseling is an excellent career choice if you are passionate about helping others and guiding them through life’s challenges.
Counseling is also a very broad and varied field. You can specialize in particular kinds of counseling, like group counseling, or you can become a school counselor, a mental health counselor, or a marriage and family therapist, just to name a few specialties. The possibilities are endless and career development opportunities are continuous.
Read on to sink your teeth into the world of counseling master’s degree programs. You will learn about the different kinds of programs out there, their requirements, typical curriculum offerings, and clinical experience requirements. We’ll also tell you about the range of career opportunities and the faster-than-average growth rate of jobs in the field.
Master’s Degree in Counseling Programs Explained
To become a licensed counselor, you must have a bachelor’s degree and a graduate degree, either a Master of Science in Counseling or, for certain kinds of counseling, a master of social work.
A Master of Science in Counseling takes roughly two years of full-time study to complete. It’s an intensive academic experience that allows students to immerse themselves in the material and grow a network of like-minded peers. It’s also a chance to gain valuable experience with clinical field programs and internships.
Counseling master’s programs with accreditation for counseling include everything students need to fulfill licensure requirements. They even give you the tools to eventually establish a private practice if that’s where your career goals take you.
Counseling Program Requirements
To apply to a Master of Science in Counseling, you must have a few prerequisites. The first is that you hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology or a related field. You may hold a bachelor’s degree in an unrelated field, but you may want to get some related work experience to demonstrate your interest in counseling.
Some programs have minimum GPA requirements, usually around 2.7 or 3.0 depending on the school and its selectivity.
Some programs may require professional experience in the field from your undergraduate studies or your post-graduate years. It’s important to research each program for its specific eligibility requirements. Professional experience requirements can usually be supplemented with volunteer experience or other proof of your commitment to the field.
Master’s Degree in Counseling Curriculum
A Master of Science in Counseling curriculum is fairly standard, though it may vary depending on the program and its specializations. Here are a few of the core courses that explore the fundamentals of counseling:
- Introduction to Counseling: This fundamental course that introduces students to the nuts and bolts of the counseling profession.
- Theory of Counseling: This course allows students to try out what they have learned in other counseling courses and theorize methods of practice.
- Group Counseling: Group counseling may be listed as Family Counseling in some programs. This course teaches counselors about counseling multiple people at once in a collaborative, group setting.
- Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling: This course focuses on counseling for patients struggling with addiction and substance abuse. It gives students an introduction into this counseling sub-field and can lead to a specialization or concentration in Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling.
- Growth and Human Development: This course focuses on the study of individual human development. By studying the common patterns and modes of development throughout the human lifespan, this course teaches counselors about the constants they can expect in their patients of all ages.
- Issues in Counseling: There are many variations of this course, including Ethics and Legal Issues and Multiethnic Issues in Counseling.
Master of Science in Counseling programs include clinical fieldwork or internship experience to make sure graduates fulfill counseling licensure requirements. Though each state has its own specific set of requirements for licensure, a standard requirement is a certain amount of clinical hours.
Internships and field practicums are a great opportunity to gain experience in specific counseling areas that you’re interested in. From Clinical Mental Health Counseling to Family Counseling, you can seek out experience in specific subfields to strengthen your resume as a counselor.
You can start these hours during your master’s program and complete the hours in your first professional experience upon graduation. Then, you can take the required exams and earn your license.
Master’s Degree in Counseling Program Accreditation
When considering any higher education degree, it is extremely important to make sure the program is properly accredited. Accreditation is a stamp of approval that gives your degree legitimacy. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Other Related Educational Programs, or CACREP, is the main national accrediting body for counseling education programs.
CACREP is a very well-regarded accrediting agency. Some states require that those seeking state licensure be graduates from master’s programs accredited by CACREP.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Your Master’s Degree in Counseling?
Financing your education should be a top priority in your research and program search process. The cost of your degree will vary on a few factors, including whether you go to school part-time or full-time, and in-person or online. Some in-person programs at public state universities may offer lower rates to in-state students.
A counseling master’s degree should cost between $300 and $400 per credit hour and require between 36 and 60 credit-hours in total. This means that a program could run up to $60,000. That said, it could cost much, much less, so do your homework and research different program costs.
Beyond researching program sticker costs, it’s also important to research financial aid opportunities. In addition to applying for federal financial aid if you qualify, you may also consider looking into specific state and school scholarships. Again, every program you research may offer different scholarship opportunities.
Best Master’s Degree in Counseling Programs
Choosing a master’s program in counseling that’s right for you is a personal decision that will depend on a lot of factors. For example, can you commit to a full-time program or will you be pursuing your education part-time? Do you want a fully in-person classroom experience, an entirely online experience, or a hybrid experience?
With these major questions in mind, check out the below list of the some of the top programs out there for a Master of Science in Counseling.
NYU offers a top online Master of Science in Counseling and Guidance. This is a great option for those seeking an excellent online program in school counseling. The program prepares students to become K-12 counselors and offers specialization in bilingual school counseling. The program requires a total of 48 credits.
Fitchburg State, located in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, offers a hybrid program with both in-person evening classes and online classes. This 60-credit program is a Master of Science in Clinical and Mental Health Counseling. It is a great option for anyone looking to specialize in this area of the counseling field and who wants the dynamism of a hybrid program. Though students can complete the program in as little as two years, those who need to study on a part-time basis may take up to six years to complete their studies.
Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, offers a Master of Arts in Counseling through a specialized university center, The Family Institute. The program, which focuses on Family Counseling and Youth Development, is an online program that incorporates some in-person experiences and fieldwork experience in students’ communities. Students are required to complete two different forms of clinical field experience: A practicum and an internship that amount to 800 supervised clinical hours.
This Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling prepares its graduates to counsel and encourage the development of diverse communities. Concordia University Chicago offers the MA in several formats: hybrid, on campus, and on a secondary campus at Grayslake. The CACREP-accredited program is 60-credit hours and includes all of the educational components required of a licensed counselor.
This online program is a Master of Education in Counseling. It is a bit different from all other programs profiled here in that it is an M.Ed degree rather than an MA or MS. That said, it is an excellent option for prospective students focused on school and guidance counseling. The program requires all graduates to gain their California Commission on Teaching Credentialing Pupil’s Personnel Services, also known as the PPS-SC, which is required of all school counselors in California. That said, students residing outside of California aren’t excluded from the program. Students will still gain the PPS-SC and then be able to apply for reciprocity in their state of residence.
Career Outlook: What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Counseling?
So, what can you do with a Master’s Degree in Counseling? The short answer is a lot. Once you find your niche in your master’s program, you can take it as an opportunity to specialize in a particular area of the profession. With a specialization, you can graduate with a focus and seek supervised clinical hours that meet your area of interest.
Below are just a few of the counseling jobs you can pursue with a Master’s Degree in Counseling:
- School Counselor
- Career Counselor
- Clinical Mental Health Counselor
- Group Counselor
- Marriage and Family Therapist
- Addiction and Substance Abuse Counselor
It’s important to note that salary expectations and the job outlook in this field vary depending on the kind of counseling you go into. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, School and Career Counselors make a mean annual income of $57,040 and job growth is estimated at eight percent by 2029. Meanwhile, Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors make a mean annual salary of $46,240 but have a much better job outlook, with opportunities in the subfield expected to grow by 25 percent by 2029.
Why a Master’s Degree in Counseling Is the Right Step in Your Career Development
Hopefully, you now have a better idea of what it takes to pursue a counseling master’s degree.
Now that you have a sense of what you will need in terms of time, resources, and motivation to earn your master’s degree, you should ask yourself if a master’s in counseling is a step forward for your career development.
Whether you already have some counseling experience with a human services or social work bachelor’s degree or you are making a complete career shift, you’ll want to make sure a master’s degree will make a difference in your career development. If the answer is yes, review this article again and continue your research before choosing a program.
Familiarize yourself with what programs typically require and make sure you are prepared to apply as a competitive applicant. Consider accreditation, cost, and financial aid as major factors in this process. We hope this guide is the beginning of a fruitful search.
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