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What is School Counseling?

A degree in school counseling or other related subjects can help prepare you for a wide variety of impactful and fulfilling careers in Massachusetts. While many graduates go on to work in academic settings, the knowledge and skills obtained may be applied in many different occupations instrumental in helping people of all ages achieve success, access, and equality.

Often present in various academic settings, school counselors provide young people with support and guidance as they develop academic and social skills. These professionals may work with students of every age, but are predominantly found in secondary education facilities. They are particularly versed in helping adolescents plan for life after graduation. From recommending colleges and universities to providing employment resources, school counselors can play an integral role in preparing young people for success.

School counselors can take on a wide variety of responsibilities, depending on the needs of the individuals they work with. To ensure their efforts are appropriate, they often spend a lot of time assessing student abilities and interests. Most strive to be readily available to provide advice and guidance, but it is sometimes necessary for them to take a more active instructional role, as well. Areas of specialty tend to include skills development and academic support, as well as assistance establishing good time management and study habits. School counselors are also trained to help students understand and overcome various social and/or behavioral challenges.

School counselors possess great analytical, interpersonal, listening, and speaking skills and collaboration is also an integral part of the job, as they regularly coordinate efforts with other experts, educators, and family members. It’s also essential that these professionals are able to maintain accurate records and documentation of student progress. This is particularly important when reporting cases of possible neglect and/or abuse to authorities, which is another common responsibility.

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Online School Counseling Education in Massachusetts

It’s important to realize that few undergraduate programs focus exclusively on school counseling. While this major is readily available at the graduate level, most individuals pursuing this career field start by studying general counseling topics first. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of school and career counselors and advisors is expected to increase by 10% from 2021 to 2031. This is faster than the average for all occupations and will result in an additional 32,000 new job openings throughout the nation.

The educational services, healthcare, and social assistance industry is the third largest in Massachusetts. It accounts for $69.7 billion in revenue each year. As of May 2022, the state employed 8,790 educational, guidance, and career counselors and advisors, with an annual mean wage of $76,860. This is comparable to the annual mean wage of $76,600 for all occupations in Massachusetts.

Notably, those who graduate with degrees in general or school counseling are also likely to qualify for many other related community and social service occupations. Opportunities include, but are not limited to, school social worker, family therapist, and rehabilitation counselor. As of May 2022, Massachusetts employed 10,560 individuals in these positions. Overall salary potential for these occupations is lower, however, with an annual mean wage of $58,470 reported for these jobs.

Many colleges and universities in Massachusetts offer degree options that can lead to school counseling positions, as well as other related careers. While opportunities to study outside of the state are also available, this is generally discouraged for individuals planning to seek employment locally. Institutions within Massachusetts will provide the most geographically relevant curriculums. This can be particularly important when completing necessary field work and preparing to apply for school counseling licensure.

School counseling, as well as other related subjects, is a common major area of study offered by colleges and universities in Massachusetts. Academic institutions throughout the nation offer applicable programs at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. Notably, those pursing jobs as school counselors, specifically, will require graduate degrees. This is necessary in order to meet state certification standards.

It's important to realize, however, that employment opportunities exist at every level. Earning an undergraduate counseling degree may not lead to a school counseling position, but there are many other entry-level counseling, community, and social service occupations available to graduates. In fact, some positions require as little as a high school diploma or GED. Prospective students should understand that degree level often correlates directly with employment outcomes and pay. More advanced higher education typically leads to more prestigious opportunities with higher pay.

Online Associate Degree in School Counseling (AS)

Associate degrees generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Notably, however, colleges and universities rarely offer programs at this level in school counseling. Instead, those interested in studying these subjects typically find it necessary to enroll in related majors. Common alternative options include general counseling, education, human services, behavioral science, social science, or psychology.

The majority of undergraduate programs are comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. This means that students typically study basic communication, mathematics, and science subjects in conjunction with major-specific content. As a result, those enrolled often develop strong academic foundations for future learning, as well as a basic introduction to the field. Curriculums will ultimately vary depending on the area of study selected from the list above.

Those seeking to save money on their educations may be particularly drawn to associate degrees. These programs are typically offered by community colleges, which charge lower tuition and fee rates than traditional four-year institutions. Additionally, since course requirements can be completed in as little as two years, graduates may enter the workforce sooner than individuals enrolled in more advanced programs.

However, this type of degree does not meet the minimum education requirements to become a licensed school counselor in Massachusetts. But graduates can apply for a wide variety of entry-level employment opportunities in the community and social service field. Alternatively, graduates can choose to pursue further education by enrolling in bachelor’s programs. This is a relatively popular option, as undergraduate course credits may be transferred and applied towards the degree. Most colleges and universities accept up to 60 credit hours from properly accredited schools. This is roughly half of a four-year degree program, which means those with associate degrees generally only require two additional years of education before they can graduate with more advanced degrees.

Online Bachelor’s Degree in School Counseling (BS)

Bachelor’s degrees generally consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that take full-time students approximately four years to complete. Again, colleges and universities rarely offer programs at this level in school counseling. Those interested in studying this subject usually find it necessary to enroll in related majors instead. Common alternative options include general counseling, human services, behavioral science, social science, and psychology.

As another type of undergraduate program, most bachelor’s degrees continue to be comprised of both general liberal arts and major-specific classes. In addition to basic communication, mathematics, and science subjects, programs of this kind often cover topics in behavioral health and various counseling theories. While those enrolled can still typically expect to receive a basic introduction to the field, classes may be slightly more intensive than at the associate level. Curriculums will ultimately vary depending on the area of study selected from the list above.

Graduates often possess the knowledge and skills needed to pursue entry-level employment in various community and social service occupations. It’s important to realize, however, that this type of degree does not meet the minimum education requirements to become a licensed school counselor in Massachusetts. Those seeking state school counseling licensure will need to enroll in graduate school programs. Prospective graduate students must be prepared to meet various admittance standards, including minimum grade point averages (GPAs) and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores.

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Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling (MS or MC)

A master’s degree in school counseling ranges from 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework that takes full-time students approximately two to three years to complete. Some colleges and universities do offer accelerated program, which may take less time to finish. Either of these are likely to offer a School Counseling Master of Arts.

Notably, graduate programs no longer incorporate general liberal arts classes. It’s not uncommon, however, for institutions to require incoming students to possess certain undergraduate prerequisite courses, which aren't likely to include school counseling courses. This ensures those enrolled have the basic knowledge needed for the advanced study of specific topics pertinent to the field, while this degree prepares students to work in student counseling with knowledge in career development for students, group counseling skills, and the counseling process.

Every academic curriculum is different, but most institutions design their programs to cover various school counseling techniques. Students can typically expect to learn about multicultural counseling, lifespan development, academic and career counseling, professional issues, and ethics. Those enrolled are also likely to participate in supervised residencies, during which they must complete a specific number of clinical hours in real school settings. Another option at this level is to earn a Master of Education.

All school counselors in Massachusetts must obtain master’s degrees in order to meet the state’s minimum licensure requirements. Graduates may also qualify for jobs other than school counselor such as as career counselors, community service managers, social workers, substance abuse counselors, mental health counselors, juvenile justice counselors, in mental health counseling, school guidance counseling, school adjustment counseling, etc.

Online PhD Degree in School Counseling (PhD)

A PhD or doctorate in school counseling can consist of between 60 and 120 credit hours that may take full-time students two to four years to complete. This type of program is often pursued by current professionals in the field who want to further develop their knowledge and skills. Curriculums typically place emphasis on various counseling concepts, with opportunities to enroll in specialized classes that provide greater insight into grief therapy and/or curriculum coaching.

As with most terminal degrees, the first few years of enrollment are spent receiving traditional instruction and completing assigned coursework. Later, student focus often shifts toward independent study, research, and writing. The degree eventually culminates in the presentation of dissertations before a board of professors prior to graduation.

This type of degree is ideal for individuals interested in expanding their clinical skills. Notably, it exceeds the minimum education requirements needed to become a certified school counselor in Massachusetts. Graduates more commonly seek employment in research and higher education.

Become a School Counselor in Massachusetts

There are many counseling and counseling-related positions available both inside and outside the Massachusetts school system. If this type of work appeals to you, it’s important to spend some time considering which of these professions you prefer. By researching the various options early, you will become familiar with the standards and expectations you will need to meet. Identifying your ultimate career goals can also help you select the most appropriate academic programs, minor areas of study, elective courses, concentrations, extracurricular activities, and/or internship opportunities.

If you intend to become a school counselor in Massachusetts, you will need to become licensed by the state. This process is overseen by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). Committed to ensuring excellence within schools and to supporting and developing the educator workforce, this department establishes and maintains all of the performance standards for professionals in this field. The Massachusetts DESE administers all credentials for vocational technical positions and professional support personnel.

The Massachusetts DESE issues two applicable licenses for school counselors: Initial License and Professional Licensure.

All school counselor licensure candidates in Massachusetts must obtain bachelor’s degrees from a properly accredited college or university. While majoring in counseling is not required, it’s often helpful. Master’s degrees in counseling are also necessary. This must include a 450-hour practicum during which you work in an actual educational setting. Additionally, candidates must achieve a passing score on the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) Communications and Literacy Skills examination.

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Those who have graduated from an approved master’s degree program and pass the MTEL examination can qualify to apply for initial licensure as a school counselor. It’s possible to work in the state’s school system for up to five years with this credential. After working full-time in an approved school setting for at least three years, however, you can apply for a Professional License. Additionally, candidates will require 60 credits of graduate coursework. This may include credits earned in a master’s degree program in school counseling, mental health counseling, school psychology, or clinical psychology. Alternatively, licensure will be granted to those who possess certification from the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the National Board of School Counseling.

Notably, the Professional License for school counselors also remains active for five years. Professionals must renew their credential periodically. This is done by meeting established continuing education requirements, which are also set and overseen by the Massachusetts DESE.

Potential Careers for School Counseling Graduates

  • Academic Advisor
    Academic advisors work in secondary and post-secondary education facilities. They are typically responsible for providing students with assistance and support as they progress through their respective academic plans. This usually entails offering guidance when selecting courses in order to help ensure successful and timely program completion, as well as assisting with course registration. They may also be expected to provide educational counseling, assist with departmental transfers, and keep detailed academic records of meetings with students. According to PayScale, academic advisors make an average base salary of $43,976 per year.
  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Counselor
    EAP counselors are employed by companies and organizations to provide support and assistance for employees experiencing issues with personal well-being and/or job-related performance. They are regularly expected to perform worker evaluations and surveys, as well as provide counseling when needed. They may also recommend medications, answer questions regarding program parameters, make referrals to other professionals, and coordinate with health insurance providers. According to PayScale, employee assistance program counselors make an average base salary of $60,311 per year.
  • Guidance Counselor
    Guidance counselors work in various educational settings. While primarily responsible for helping students identify personal goals, strengths, weaknesses, and interests, they may also provide basic counseling services related to academic, personal, and social development. Additionally, these professionals are frequently expected to perform various assessments, teach useful skills, and collaborate with teachers. According to PayScale, guidance counselors make an average base salary of $53,599 per year.
  • Mental Health Counselor
    Mental health counselors utilize one-on-one and group counseling to diagnose and treat various mental health conditions and illnesses. While proficient with many different curative counseling methods, they generally lack the authority to prescribe medications to individuals working through these psychological difficulties. Instead, they primarily focus on providing regular support and guidance to patients, as well as encouraging new ways of thinking. According to PayScale, mental health counselors make an average base salary of $45,695 per year.
  • Mental Health Technician
    Mental health technicians work in hospitals, private institutions, and for individual practices providing assistance and support. They are often responsible for observing patient behavior and reporting any relevant updates to mental healthcare doctors. These professionals also spend a lot of time ensuring patient comfort between treatments, as well as helping them to bathe, dress, and eat. According to PayScale, mental health technicians make an average base salary of $34,643 per year.
  • School Psychologist
    School psychologists are employed by educational facilities to help children diagnosed with learning, emotional, and/or behavioral issues succeed in school and at home. Often in conjunction with counselors, social workers, and other general psychologists, they ensure appropriate measures are taken to provide children with the greatest opportunities for success. This generally entails screening students for various conditions, providing diagnoses, and working with teachers and family members to create Independent Education Plans (IEPs). It may also be necessary to refer students to other professionals for additional assistance. According to PayScale, school psychologists make an average base salary of $66,151 per year.
  • Social Services Manager
    Social services managers are responsible for overseeing various public well-being programs and organizations. In addition to providing a wide variety of services to community members, they are often responsible for supervising other workers in the field and are frequently tasked with managing a number of administrative duties such as analyzing data to determine overall effectiveness, suggesting improvements, and writing proposals for social services funding. According to PayScale, social services managers make an average base salary of $58,081 per year.

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