A master’s degree in counseling is a course of study that prepares graduates to promote the overall health and well-being of persons in their care. Specialization and training come in the form of education and on-the-job training with an already licensed professional. They can specialize in work with children, families, or those dealing with grief, addiction, or behavioral issues, to name a few. Counseling is a widely used approach for treating addictions, marriage problems, and relationship issues.
A master’s of counseling is a psychology-focused degree, though at a different level from a regular psychology degree. The field of counseling psychology is a theory-based, hands-on academic area that focuses on putting counseling practices into action.
A master’s degree in counseling is a professional degree that can allow graduates to help those who seek out counseling. Students study theory early on and their later coursework focuses on applying their knowledge in counseling settings. Admission to the field requires a formal education, practical experience, and licensure. The National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides testing and qualification for licensure.
- Counseling is a socially rewarding field in which professionals contribute to the health and well-being of their patients. A master’s degree in counseling also has economic rewards and a wider range of career options than a bachelor’s degree.
- A master’s requires a core of study subjects and elective coursework, but students can use course selections to concentrate in one or more fields of study in a way that is not possible with a lower-level degree. A master’s degree also opens a range of certifications and specialties not available to bachelor’s degree holders. Master’s degree holders can be trained and certified in specialty areas of practice and licensure typically requires a master’s degree and state-specific testing and certifications.
- A master’s degree is also still an academic achievement that supports further education at the doctoral level. Master’s holders can advance to become educational policy makers, advanced researchers, and graduate-level faculty.
- A master’s degree in counseling requires attendance at an accredited college or university. To gain admission to a master’s program, students must have a bachelor’s degree in counseling, or a related field and they may be required to also have experience in the field or to have earned a certain GPA in previous studies, depending on the program. A master’s degree in counseling also does not qualify a graduate to work as a counselor with their degree alone; each state requires licensure for counselors, which usually means passing a national exam and completing some time on the job under an already licensed.
- The master’s degree is a required step that helps qualify a graduate for licensure. Licensure requires a national examination and approval by a national licensing agency like the national Board of Certified Counselors. The NBCC issues the National Certified Counselor certification.
- Counselors seeking certification in a specialized area may choose among three specialty certifications in addition to the NCC.
- A master’s degree is also not the highest degree in the field. Graduates seeking academic, policy, and research roles may need to go further and complete a doctoral program. A PhD level degree supports extensive research opportunities and the highest levels of specialization. Educational policy, administration, and faculty positions may require a doctorate in a specialized field.
Certificates vs. Masters
Counseling is a broad field, and it has significant differences between branches and specializations. Licensed counselors can use certificates to deepen their area of practice, gain specialized knowledge, or gain dual licensure. Certificates are typically shorter programs than master’s degrees, though they range from about six-months to two-years.
Certificates can help master’s degree holders qualify for licensure in various areas and certificates can help those with no master’s degree qualify in a given state and a specific specialization. For example, a state may permit certificates and even licensure for substance abuse counselors without a master’s degree.
What Counseling Master’s Degrees are Available?
Each school offering a master’s degree in counseling sets its own academic standards. However, you should be sure that whatever school you attend will help you to complete all requirements for state licensure if you are looking to go into a counseling practice. Schools can also place their counseling programs in various departments including education, social work, or psychology.
The options between schools may include master’s degree options such as a Master of Science or a Master of Arts. The differences between these lie in the core coursework and educational objectives. The common aspects of both types of master’s degree are psychology- and counseling-focused coursework, clinical fieldwork, and either a research project or overall assessment.
- Master of Arts in Counseling degrees offer curriculum rich in practical application of theory. The MA is an interdisciplinary approach to counseling combines philosophy, ethics, and the humanities. Coursework focuses on foundations of counseling, counseling theories, and counseling techniques. Students must also have a strong competence in counseling ethics.
- Master of Science in Counseling degrees focus on research and analytical approaches to working with patients. The MS is a typical steppingstone toward a doctoral program. The typical core coursework includes psychometrics, research methodology, issues in psychological research, and ethics in psychological research.
Every college and university offering a master’s degree in counseling sets its own admission requirements for its programs. The typical requirements are a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution, sufficient undergraduate courses in related areas, and a high level of academic achievement. Students with a master’s degree in a different field can also qualify, but they may be required to complete prerequisites on top of the usual courses for the program.
A personal statement is another typical requirement; schools wish to consider master’s applicants in terms of their long-term goals. Some programs may also require that prospective students complete the GRE and earn a minimum score. In addition to the above requirements, international students must submit proof of English proficiency.
How long does it take to earn a Master’s Degree in Counseling?
A typical master’s degree program in counseling requires around sixty credit hours. The typical range of coursework requirements is about 45 to 60 credit hours. This means that full-time students can complete a master’s degree in counseling in about two years, and part-time programs can run up to five years for completion.
Schools may place their MA or MS programs in departments of their choice. A school may offer an MA in Education or a Master’s in Social Work with counseling as a concentration. In nearly every program, students must participate in clinical fieldwork, in which they work with patients under observation. The final stage of a program can be an assessment or a capstone project that displays the students’ knowledge and capabilities.
Potential Careers for Graduates
- Academic or School Counselors work in educational settings such as high schools, community colleges, and universities. Academic counselors support student and the overall educational process by helping students find the best academic and career path forward. The average salary for this role is about $55,000 per year.
- Substance Abuse Counselors offer therapy and support for individuals with drug, alcohol, or substance abuse addictions. They can work in individual or group settings and for public, non-profit, or private employers. The average salary for this role is about $46,000 per year.
- Mental Health Counselors can be licensed, independent service providers or work as part of an organization or within a group practice. They work in many settings including courts, hospitals, and correctional institutions. They work to resolve psychological barriers to health and life goals. The average salary for this role is about $47,000 per year.
- Marriage Counselors work with marriage and relationship issues. These counselors may interact with couples in individual or group settings. They help couples recognize harmful behavior patterns and find ways to develop positive and healthy interactions. The average salary for this role is about $70,000 per year.
- School Counselors work with students at all levels and grades of education to help achieve academic goals, socialization, and personal adjustments. They also may work with parents or guardians of troubled young students. The average salary for this role is about $57,000 per year.
Options to Advance
Experience and expertise are keys to advancement in the field of counseling. Licensed practitioners can maintain a practice in as many field as they have qualifications. Experience matters, and employers typically ask for a substantial level of supervised experience when recruiting recent graduates. Counselors employed by organizations can also advance through certificates that go deeper into an existing area of practice or expand into a new or different area of practice. Advancement can bring greater responsibility and higher salaries.
Education and certificates can help counselors advance to senior and policy level positions. High demand areas of practice can make employees more valuable to an organization. For example, there may be urgent needs for more counselors in specific treatment situations like opioid addiction or the mental health effects of a pandemic. Business coursework can help counselors stand out as managerial candidates.
Colleges That Offer Online Master’s Degrees in Counseling
New York University
New York, NY
NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development offers a graduate program that prepares students for counselor roles in school systems grades K-12 and a program that equips graduates to serve the wellness needs of diverse populations.
- Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance
- Master of arts in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness
College of William and Mary
The College of William and Mary - School of Education offers a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling and students can pursue the degree completely online. The program offers concentrations in clinical mental health, military and veterans, and school counseling.
- Master of Education in School Counseling
- Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Northwestern University offers an online Master of Arts in Counseling degree. The CACREP-accredited program requires sixty credit hours of coursework and it emphasizes clinical practice. The school offers a focus in the high-need field of child and adolescent counseling.
- Master of Arts in Counseling
- Master of Arts in Counseling- Bridge Program
Bradley offers two CACREP-accredited Master’s degree in counseling. Students can study mental health counseling or professional school counseling online in either full-time or part-time programs.
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling, or.
- Professional School Counseling
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA
The Rossier Master of Education in School Counseling is an online degree programs for students seeking to become school counselors in K-12 settings. Students learn to help students prepare for college and develop career skills and awareness. Full- or part-time attendance accepted.
- Master of Education in School Counseling
Traditional Schools Offering Master’s Degrees in Counseling
Johns Hopkins University, School of Education
The JHU MS in Counseling prepares students for ethical, culturally responsive advocacy. The evidence-based curricula uses clinical experience through partnerships with local schools and mental health agencies to help students gain experience.
- Master of Science in Counseling- Clinical Mental health
- Master of Science in Counseling - School Counseling
Montana State University
The Montana State University counseling programs prepare students to work in public and private organizations as professional counselors. Students gain eligibility for state educator licensure. The program feature internships and practical education. Both programs have CACREP programmatic accreditation.
- MEd School Counseling
- MS Clinical Mental Health Counseling
The master of education program at Clemson prepares graduates to function in culturally diverse settings. The Master of Education in Clinical Mental Health Counseling equips students with technical and advocacy skills. Both programs have CACREP programmatic accreditation.
- MEd/Ed Science School Counseling
- ME/Ed Science Clinical Mental Health Counseling
California State University - Fresno
California State University at Fresno offers two CACREP- accredited master of science in counseling degree programs.
- MS Marriage Couple, and Family Counseling
- MS Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling
Boise State University
Department of Counselor Education offers two 60-hour CACREP-accredited programs for school counseling and addiction counseling.
- MA School Counseling
- MA Addiction Counseling
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