Counseling Master’s Programs: Everything You Need to Know
About the Master’s in Counseling Psychology
Master of Arts or Master of Science
Online, classroom, or hybrid
Typically 2 years
Yes, for accredited programs
If you’re interested in helping people work through with mental, emotional, and physical issues, you may want to consider a master’s degree in counseling. Depending on your career path, you’ll have the opportunity to work with individuals, families, larger groups, or organizations to improve lives daily. Find more information below about what to expect from a master’s program and how you can use the degree.
What Is a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology?
A master’s in counseling psychology teaches you to understand the relationships people of all ages have with themselves and others.
You’ll gain the tools to address your patients’ concerns at the various stages of their lives, including emotional, social, work, school, physical, and mental issues.
While counseling master’s programs cover therapies for everyday stressors as well as more severe issues, similar to other master’s degrees, this degree is focused on the overall wellness and adjustment of a patient or group. Unlike some psychology master’s degrees, this counseling programs are heavily client-facing.
Are MA and MS degrees in counseling different?
Yes, the MA and MS degrees are different, but only slightly. The programs will cover the same foundational coursework in psychology, as well as few of the same electives, but each program may narrow its focus in a different way.
The differences are largely dependent upon the school itself. The Master of Arts program can be more geared towards research projects and workshops while the Master of Science program may incorporate more lab work and scientific analysis.
To get the best idea of which program is right for you, compare the curriculum of the specific programs you’re interested in and get a feel for the kind of classes you may take.
Who are counseling graduate degrees intended for?
Counseling graduate degrees are meant for students who’ve already completed their bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field and want to have face-to-face interactions while helping clients.
Those who find reward in the field are empathetic, calm, communicative, and good at listening and setting boundaries.
Can you become a school counselor with a master’s in counseling?
Each school has it’s own requirements for hiring a school counselor, so the exact qualifications you need can vary. Many MA or MS in Psychology programs offer a specialization in school counseling, so if you’re sure this is the route you want to take, you may want to pursue one of those programs. You can also explore Master of Education (MEd) degrees in School Counseling.
It’s also incredibly important to follow the exact certification requirements expected by your state. For a deeper look, you can take a look at the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS), both of which provide certification. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) provides an easy certifying body comparison chart.
When it comes to a degree program, it’s more likely that a student would enroll in a Master of Arts or Master of Education in School Counseling program. These degrees are dedicated to providing therapy and guidance within the context of learning, student interactions, family problems, and special education, among others.
Terminal vs. non-terminal degree programs
Terminal degree programs do not require students to pursue further education once they graduate. This does not include continuing education credits, however.
Students in non-terminal degree programs typically continue their education by earning a more advanced degree. In the case of a master’s degree in counseling psychology, students may go on to earn their doctorate in counseling should they wish to increase their qualifications and competitiveness within the job market.
Careers with a Master’s in Counseling
To learn about some of the most popular careers with a master’s in counseling, keep reading.
Marriage and family therapist
Marriage and family therapists help people explore their relationship issues and discover techniques to better cope with difficult behaviors or situations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for marriage and family therapists was $48,790.
In addition to earning at least a master’s degree, you’re required to complete 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical hours. You’ll also need to make sure that you’re licensed appropriately for your state. The Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards (AMFTRB) has provided an easy state-by-state comparison of licensure requirements. To maintain your licensure, you’ll complete annual continuing education credits.
These counselors help people living with disabilities to cope with personal, social, and psychological obstacles so they may be as independent as possible.
The median annual pay in 2017 was $34,860, according to the BLS.
Beyond a master’s degree, students will need to complete 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also need to obtain licensure according to the requirements set forth by your state. A good place to start is through the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification. To maintain this license, you’ll need to complete annual continuing education credits.
Mental health counselor
Mental health counselors treat individuals, couples, groups, and families, all the way from children to the elderly. They treat a variety of issues, from anxiety to stress to suicidal thoughts.
You’ll need to get 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience under your belt. In addition, you’ll need to pass your state-issued exam for certification, along with continuing education every year. To find out more about your state’s requirements, you can start with the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Typical Degree & Career Paths in Counseling
As outlined in some of the sections above, you’ve got a few options for degrees and careers. You’ll need to first have at least a bachelor’s degree before pursuing any master’s degree in counseling.
Depending on your area of interest, you can earn a general master’s in the field with either an MA or MS in Counseling. Your school may have different areas in which you can narrow your focus as well.
Some schools offer programs that are more specific, such as an MA in School Counseling, MA in Rehabilitation Counseling, or MS in Marriage and Family Counseling. Even if you’re coming from a business background, these programs may be a great option for you if you wish to open your own private practice.
No matter which area you choose, you’ll be helping people or organizations achieve holistic improvement to their well-being.
Academic Requirements Before Starting a Master’s in Counseling
Before beginning your quest for a master’s in counseling, make sure you’re on track to complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology, social science, or related field. This will ensure that you’ve taken the right prerequisite courses for your grad school program.
It may also be wise to have some volunteer or internship time completed as well, since this might help you decide what area of counseling is right for you.
Is there a GPA requirement?
The GPA requirement for earning your degree depends on the program in which you enroll, however, most master’s programs require that you have at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA.
Can you get in if your bachelor’s isn’t in psychology?
As mentioned above, you’re not required to have a bachelor’s in psychology, but you’ll want to make sure that you’ve taken the prerequisite courses for your specific master’s program. If you earn your bachelor’s in a related field to psychology, you may also be able to take care of the master’s degree prerequisites through your undergrad degree.
Do you need to take the GRE?
While there’s no absolute requirement for the GRE, it’s important to check with the schools you plan to apply to if they require certain scores on the test. More and more schools are waiving the GRE requirement, sometimes replacing it with a writing option, while some schools don’t require scores at all.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s Degree?
Master’s degrees typically take around 2 years to complete if done full time.
The Master’s in Counseling Curriculum
The counseling curriculum can cover a wide breadth of knowledge given the many types of counseling professions that are possible. No matter which type of counselor you hope to be, your program should provide you with classes that cover ethics, evidence-based practice, psychodynamic theory, and individual and group therapies.
What core classes are involved?
Some of the core courses you can take may include the following:
- Professional counseling ethics
- Social and cultural diversity issues
- Developmental perspectives in counseling
- Theory and techniques of counseling
- Group counseling procedures
- Lifestyle and career development
- Family counseling
- Applied psychopath and diagnosis
- Crisis, grief, and loss
- Diagnostics, assessment, and treatment
Number of course credits
Typical master’s in counseling programs require at least 60 credits, with some as high as 75, for full-time students. Do note that students who aren’t full-time may evaluate schools on a cost-per-credit basis.
Because counseling can cover so many areas, make sure to research what concentrations are available. Programs may offer:
- Community counseling
- Rehabilitation counseling
- Art therapy
- Career counseling
- School counseling
- Marriage and family counseling
- Higher education student development
- Mediation/conflict resolution
Is Fieldwork or a Practicum Required?
Yes, programs will likely help you achieve the 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical time that’s required to begin your career as a licensed counselor with a required practicum.
Can You Get an Online Master’s in Counseling?
Yes, absolutely. There are many options available for an online master’s in counseling, as well as other formats for learning.
The online format is ideal for those who need the flexibility to study when and where they want. You’ll likely still be getting the same courses as an on-campus program, however it’s important to note that your fieldwork will still need to be done in person.
The classroom option is great for anyone who’s near the campus itself and wants a more traditional college experience. You may also get more group projects or face-to-face time with professors and other students. Your practicum may take place off-campus, however.
This is a great option for those with a busy schedule who are also near campus. Depending on the program, you may take the majority of your classes online and visit campus just once or twice a week, or they may become increasingly more classroom-based as the program continues.
If you’re hoping to earn your degree in a very short amount of time, consider an accelerated option. Each program is different, but some options may allow you to finish in just a year if you can handle the rigorous workload. These program options are rarer.
Can I Apply Credits Toward a Doctorate?
This is completely dependent upon the program you choose, however there are many courses you can take in a master’s program that can be applied towards a doctorate degree.
Master’s/doctorate joint degree programs
While less common, dual master’s/doctoral degree programs do exist and allow you work toward both degrees simultaneously for a period of time. The benefit of this path is that if you ultimately decide not to pursue your doctorate, you’ll still be able to walk away with 1 advanced degree.
Fully completing a dual degree can take around 5 or more years to complete, cutting the timeline of the traditional master’s-to-doctoral degree path down by up to half.
How to Pick a Degree Program
When you’re choosing a degree program, the most important thing to look for first is accreditation. Counseling master’s programs can be accredited by 2 main accreditation bodies—the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) or the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC).
Each accreditation body has specific requirements for clinical hours, curricular focus, and faculty qualifications.
You’ll also want to ask yourself which program fits your needs based on factors such as:
- Length of time
- Number of credits
Financial Aid for Counseling Students
Financial aid is available for counseling students. You can start at the federal level with loans, grants, scholarships, or work-study benefits. To see if you qualify, first fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).
You can also look into private institutions for financial aid, such as banks or other lending services. Of course, you’ll want to research your school to see what types of scholarships they offer as well.
Fellowships can also be a great option to pursue. These can provide some coverage of your tuition for a short or extended period of time, and may also include stipends and additional benefits.
Does Counseling Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
While there are no federal loan forgiveness programs specifically dedicated to psychology students, you may still qualify for loan forgiveness with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program through the federal government.
This program “forgives the remaining balance on your Direct Loans after you have made 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer.” These employers include eligible nonprofits and government agencies.
You may also want to look into state-sponsored loan forgiveness programs, which can forgive all or a portion of your loans based on their unique employment requirements.
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If you know you want to put your good listening skills into practice and help people of all ages and backgrounds, consider a master’s degree in counseling psychology. Select the Find Schools button to begin your research into programs today.
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