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Are you considering enrolling in an associate degree program in counseling? If you have an interest in and passion for helping others overcome challenging situations and enjoy encouraging those around you to make positive changes in their lives, counseling may be an ideal major of study. Students in this field learn how to use a wide variety of techniques to provide appropriate social, emotional, and mental support. Earning this degree is an optimal way to become more familiar with counseling as a career and will help determine whether or not the profession is an appropriate career path.
Degree programs in counseling are typically designed to provide students with a broad introduction to the field, but they include post-secondary education as well. While every college and university is different, most incorporate core areas of study with a number of subject-specific electives. This means that those enrolled should expect to take a mixture of courses related to counseling, as well as many general education classes such as composition, math, humanities, and science.
It’s important to realize that, while associate degrees in counseling are available, they are fairly uncommon. This is because most states require counselors to have, at minimum, bachelor’s degrees; master’s degrees are often necessary to gain top licensure status. As a result, students who are interested in a counseling-related career may need to pursue associate degrees in majors that provide related knowledge such as those in human services, psychology, or family studies.
Regulations vary by state, but graduates at this level will likely qualify for some entry-level jobs. Some of the most common options include caseworker, child and youth advocate, counseling assistant, family mediator, human service assistance, mental health technician, social service assistance, and substance abuse counselor.
In most state, counselors are expected to have either bachelor’s or master’s degrees in order to practice, even for entry-level positions in this field. Some type of post-secondary education will nearly always be required. An associate degree may be a viable option, but it will depend on your location and ultimate career goals. There are several advantages and disadvantages you should be aware of, either way.
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- There are many reasons to pursue an associate degree in counseling or a related field. A key benefit is that earning an associate degree costs less than earning a bachelor’s degree. According to 2017-2018 statistics released by the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series, the average in-state tuition at traditional four-year institutions for a single year was $9,970. Associate degree students paid an average of $3,570. This is a significant difference and can make the cost of earning a degree much more reasonable.
- It also takes significantly less time to complete an associate degree than a bachelor’s degree. Timeframes can vary depending on course requirements and enrollment status but most full-time students graduate in approximately two years. Traditional bachelor’s degree programs typically require at least four years of study to complete. As a result, bachelor’s degree holders wait longer to join the workforce and start earning money later. Associate degree graduates, on the other hand, will qualify for entry-level employment two years sooner.
- Additionally, it’s often easy to transfer credits earned from one accredited institution to another. Whether you graduate or not, completed coursework can count toward bachelor degree requirements in the future.
- While there are many advantages of pursing an associate degree in counseling, there are drawbacks as well. One that is particularly important to note is that the degree may be insufficient to qualify graduates for jobs within this field. As previously mentioned, most states require counselors to have either bachelor’s or master’s degrees to practice. It may also be particularly difficult to achieve career advancement without additional education. The worth of an online associate degree in counseling ultimately depends on the state, which will dictate exactly what is necessary to find employment.
Certificate vs. Associates
In addition to counseling associate degrees, there are also some certificate programs available. Both associate degrees and certificate programs take less time to complete than bachelor’s degrees, but there are several differences you should be aware of.
An associate degree program usually includes coursework geared toward your field of interest, as well as general education classes. Counseling certification programs, on the other hand, do not incorporate classes like this into their curriculum. Instead, they provide a hyper-focused exploration of a single field, ending in a specific certification and NOT a degree of any kind. As a result, certificate programs take less time to complete. Whereas an associate degree requires approximately two years of time, students can graduate with a certificate in as little as a year.
It’s important to note that some certificate programs are offered at the graduate level. Colleges and universities that offer these are likely to necessitate students have bachelor’s degrees prior to enrolling. Either way, certificates are often used to add specific knowledge to an existing degree rather than being used to replace a degree. This is especially true in the field of counseling.
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What Counseling Associate Degrees are Available Online?
Specific degree titles in counseling vary from institution to institution. Most colleges and universities offer Associate of Arts (AA) and/or Associate of Science (AS) degree options. You may also find Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degrees in counseling, psychology, or a related field. While all of these variations prepare graduates for employment in the field, there are a few differences you should be aware of.
Associate of Arts Degree in Counseling (AA)
An Associate of Arts (AA) in counseling or a related major usually appeals to individuals interested in obtaining a broad knowledge of the field in addition to other facets of arts and humanities. While AA graduates may apply for employment right away, this degree option can be used to help students prepare to pursue further education at a traditional, four-year institution. Completing a two-year AA counseling degree program is often considered equivalent to completing the first two years of an undergraduate degree.
Associate of Science Degree in Counseling (AS)
An Associate of Science (AS) in counseling or a related major usually appeals to individuals interested in the field as it relates to core sciences, math, and statistics. These degrees are usually intended for students who plan to enroll in a traditional, four-year undergraduate program afterward. A two-year AS in counseling degree is often considered equivalent to the first two years of an undergraduate degree.
Associate of Applied Science Degree in Counseling (AAS)
Associate of Applied Science (AAA) degrees are similar to AA and AS degrees. They tend to be, however, much more technical in nature and are better suited for individuals planning to obtain employment immediately after graduation. These programs prepare students to join the workforce right away instead of continuing their education and often include an applied learning experiences. Students should anticipate completing an internship or practicum prior to graduation. However, there aren’t many options to complete an AAS in psychology, counseling, or pertinent related degrees.
I’s also important to realize that many colleges and universities give students opportunities to specialize their coursework by selecting a concentration. Some AA, AS, and AAS degree programs in counseling and related fields offer this as an option.
Common concentrations offered in this field include:
- Marriage and Family Therapy
- Mental Health Counseling
- Rehabilitation Counseling
- School Counseling
- Substance Abuse Counseling
What are the Admission Requirements?
Most associate degree candidates must complete various institutional requirements before enrolling.
Enrollment standards vary by institution, but often include the following:
- A high school diploma or equivalent (GED)
- Minimum overall academic grade point average
Most community colleges do not require SAT and/or ACT scores; however, these may be necessary if you plan to enroll in an undergraduate degree program later. Additionally, transfer students are often asked to provide a transcript containing a record of any prior course completions and grades.
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How Long does it Take to Earn an AS Counseling Degree?
The majority of associate degree programs in counseling consist of approximately 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students approximately two years to complete. Many online programs also accept transfer credits, which can shorten graduation timeframes. It’s important to realize, however, that the process will take much longer for students attending classes part-time. These students may require one to three additional years to graduate.
While some states may allow associate-level graduates to apply for entry-level employment as human services assistants, halfway house administrative assistances, and adolescent counselors, most expect candidates to have more advanced educations. As a result, it’s not uncommon for graduates to apply for admittance into a bachelor’s degree counseling program. After transferring credits, students can anticipate completing another 60 hours of coursework.
Potential Careers for Graduates
There are numerous employment opportunities available to individuals who have graduated from an associate degree program in counseling.
While salaries and daily duties will vary, some of the most common professions available to graduates include:
- Child and Youth Advocate
- Counseling Assistant
- Family Mediator
- Human Service Assistant
- Mental health Technician
- Outreach Specialist
- Program Assistant
- Social Services Assistant
- Substance Abuse Counselor
- Mental Health Technician
Mental health technicians are responsible for providing direct assistance to patients in a variety of ways. They complete many tasks, including helping patients with baths, grooming, and feeding. These professionals may also organize activities and therapy sessions as appropriate. According to PayScale, school counselors make an average base salary of around $32,700 per year.
- Outreach Specialist
Outreach specialists are responsible for organizing and managing various social service programs in order to promote health and wellness within their communities. They often conduct research and perform assessments to identify which programs are needed most. These professionals may also take part in hiring staff and finding volunteers. According to PayScale, clinical social workers make an average base salary of $45,450 per year.
- Substance Abuse Counselor
Substance abuse and addiction counselors are responsible for the treatment of patients struggling with or recovering from substance use and abuse. They create treatment plans, implement therapeutic treatments, and evaluate patient progress, as well as maintain updated histories and notes regarding observations made. These professionals may provide counseling services to individuals, as well as in small groups. According to PayScale, substance abuse and addiction counselors make an average base salary of $40,750 per year.
Options to Advance
Advancement opportunities will differ depending on the type of counseling position you intend to pursue, as well as the state in which you expect to practice. Most types of counseling positions necessitate completing bachelor’s or master’s degree programs, which also tends to be the minimum requirement for licensure. This means the best way to advance is to enroll in further educational programs.
A license is generally required to provide the largest array of counseling services in the private sector. Every state manages their own licensure process and requirements, making it essential to research expectations thoroughly prior to selecting an academic program.
In addition to acquiring the correct degree, candidates may need to:
- Pass a criminal background check
- Complete a practicum
- Undergo individual supervision
- Pass a standardized examination
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Colleges Offering an Online Associate Degree in Counseling
There are many institutions that offer online associate degrees in counseling or related subjects. Students enrolled in these programs can complete coursework online.
Some of the most prominent colleges and universities with this type of program include:
Florida Institute of Technology
The Florida Institute of Technology offers an online Associate of Arts in Applied Psychology. The program is designed to provide an understanding of psychological principles in conjunction with a liberal arts educational foundation.
- Associate of Arts in Applied Psychology
Liberty University offers an Associate of Arts in Psychology degree. The program is 100% online and ideal for students who want to enter the human services field. Students can expect to study all phases of human growth and development, as well as personality types.
- Associate of Arts in Psychology
Colorado Christian University
Colorado Christian University offers an online Associate of Science in Psychology degree. This two-year program is designed to provide students with an introduction of the field as a whole. Classes foster critical and creative thinking while challenging students to integrate faith and the study of human behavior.
- Associate of Science in Psychology
South Texas College
South Texas College offers an online Associate of Arts in Psychology. The program offers courses related to the scientific study of the mind and human behavior. Mental processes examined include neuroscience, sensation and perception, memory, cognition, language, intelligence, development, personality, therapy, and human sexuality.
- Associate of Arts in Psychology
Virginia Beach, Virginia
Regent University offers an online Associate of Arts in Psychology degree. This program is designed to increase student understanding of the human mind. Instruction covers key concepts and theories of psychology. The institution strives to help position graduates into meaningful careers within the field.
- Associate of Arts in Psychology
Traditional Schools Offering Associate Degrees in Counseling
There are many institutions that offer traditional associate degrees in counseling or related subjects, as well. Students enrolled in these programs must attend classes in person at the institution. Some of the most prominent colleges and universities with this type of program include the following.
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania State University offers an Associate of Science in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) degree. The program integrates practical and academic experiences to provide students with entry-level, professional competencies related to the field. Coursework focuses on lifespan and family development, as well as other core professional skills.
- Associate of Science in Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS)
Community College of Philadelphia
The Community College of Philadelphia offers an Associate of Arts degree in Psychology. The program is designed to ensure graduates are capable of recognizing and applying the major concepts of psychology, as well as various theoretical perspectives, empirical findings, and historical trends.
- Associate of Arts degree in Psychology
Central Methodist University
Central Methodist University offers an Associate of Arts in Psychology degree. The program helps students enhance skills in counseling, health psychology, personality, and social psychology. Students participate in classroom instruction, as well as hands-on learning opportunities, such as internships and practicums.
- Associate of Arts in Psychology
Vincennes University offers an Associate of Science in Behavioral Sciences degree. This two-year transfer program provides a foundation for future learning related to the psychology field. Coursework is meant to enable students to think critically about behavioral and mental processes, as well as promoting understanding and respect for human diversity.
- Associate of Science in Behavioral Sciences
Mt. Hood Community College
Mt. Hood Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science in Mental Health, Social Service, and Addiction Counseling degree. The program combines classroom study and practical experiences to prepare students for work in social services agencies, addiction facilities, residential homes, schools, and community corrections.
- Associate of Applied Science in Mental Health, Social Service, and Addiction Counseling