Make a Difference with a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
Rehabilitation Counseling Master’s Degree at a Glance
Duration:2–3 years of full-time study, longer if part time
Academic Credits Required:Between 48 and 60
Tuition and Fees:An average of around $27,000 a year for a master’s in the social and behavioral sciences
Financial Aid:Eligible for accredited programs
One in four U.S. adults—61 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—are living with a disability that impacts major aspects of their everyday lives. Whether they were born with a disability or acquired it from an accident or illness, disabled individuals can experience emotional, mental, physical, and social complications when conditions pose ongoing challenges in their lives. As the aging population grows and more people survive accidents and disease, the number of people needing treatment is only expected to rise.
Rehabilitation counselors can offer a significant solution. Backed with patience, compassion, critical thinking, excellent communication skills—and a master’s degree—professionals in the field of rehabilitation counseling can help empower disabled people to reach their potential and lead independent, productive lives. As the only degree designed for students who wish to work specifically with people who have disabilities, a master’s in rehab counseling qualifies you to arrange assessments, interpret diagnoses, and develop treatment plans while ensuring your patients have the knowledge and support that’s necessary for them to thrive.
Whether you’re still earning your bachelor’s degree and mapping out your future or you’re actively looking to advance your degree, our guide to getting your master’s degree in this field provides the detail you need to get started.
MA vs. MS in rehab counseling
A master’s degree is the minimum education required to provide the full scope of services of a rehabilitation counselor. The curriculum and required fieldwork provide the type of specialized knowledge you need to assist and support a wide range of individuals with psychiatric, developmental, sensory, and physical disabilities. A master’s degree can also serve as a stepping stone for a doctorate in counseling, which could lead to positions in leadership, education, research, and administration.
Both the Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MS) programs cover the same general coursework and can make you eligible for licensing and certification, though their emphasis might be slightly different. An MA might focus more on liberal arts and practical application, while an MS might put a greater emphasis on science and research. There’s no standardized difference between the degrees, so it’s important to explore a program’s specific curriculum, concentration areas, and outcomes to determine whether it’s the right fit.
A master’s in rehabilitation counseling typically takes at least two years of full-time study to complete. Since many students pursue the degree while holding down a job, it can often be completed part-time, though it’ll take longer to graduate.
While the exact coursework will vary depending on your program, you can typically expect to need at least three credits in each of the following areas:
Specializations and areas of concentration vary widely by program. Some require additional credits beyond what you need to complete your master’s, while other programs weave specialized classes of your choice into the normal curriculum. In rehabilitation counseling, common areas of concentration include:
Some programs also allow students to specialize in the treatment of people with a specific disability such as autism or visual impairment, while others might prepare you to work with certain demographics like the elderly or ex-military. While these areas aren’t formal specializations, you can develop advanced skills in your electives.
According to standards set by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), a master’s program in rehabilitation counseling should include an onsite internship of 600 clock hours with at least 240 clock hours of direct client service. Students must also complete at least 100 hours of a supervised practicum prior to beginning the internship. Practicum experiences allow you to observe professionals and make limited contributions as you apply your classroom knowledge.
What to Look for In a School
One of the most important characteristics to look for in a school is accreditation, which verifies that it’s met the national standards for quality of education. Attending an accredited school is a prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid, and it also means that your credits will be most likely to transfer should you switch schools or pursue a doctoral degree.
You can check accreditation by searching the database offered by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
The school you choose should be accredited by one of the following regional commissions, all of which are recognized by both the department of education and the CHEA:
Your individual counseling program should also be accredited to make sure you receive the preparation that’s required for licensing. For rehabilitation counseling, look for master’s programs that have been approved by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (
Ask important questions
Beyond verifying accreditation, make sure you ask questions when comparing graduate schools so you can easily find the one that’s best for you.
Choose a classroom format: online or traditional?
Another important consideration is whether the educational format matches your lifestyle and learning needs. Depending on what’s right for you, you might choose a traditional classroom experience, take your courses online, or do a combination of the two. Keep in mind, though, that regardless of the format, you’ll still need to gain hands-on experience through an in-person practicum and internship in order to earn your degree.
- Classroom: Programs that offer classroom instruction provide the most immersive learning experience. Class schedules are structured and don’t allow for much flexibility, but offer the most interaction with professors and fellow students.
- Online: An online program lets you attend classes and listen to lectures in a more flexible format, making it ideal for students who need to work their education around family or job obligations. However, you’ll still have to meet the internship requirements at an approved site in your local area. Some online programs may also require that you have professional work experience to fully bypass classroom learning.
- Hybrid: Hybrid programs combine the accessibility of online courses with a chance to get first-hand instruction in classroom courses. Many hybrid programs provide the bulk of instruction online but include required courses on campus or at regional locations.
Admission Requirements and Prerequisites
Admission requirements for a master’s in rehabilitation counseling vary by institution, though many programs want applicants to have the following:
While an undergraduate degree in psychology or a closely related field is the best preparation for a master’s in rehab counseling, many programs welcome applicants from a wide range of disciplines. However, these programs typically require a minimum number of undergraduate credits in psychology, biology, and statistics. If you don’t have the required prerequisites, you may have to take these courses before beginning work on your master’s.
Your eligibility for financial aid to help pay for your tuition depends on several factors including your personal finances, the program you choose, and your educational background. You might find assistance through loans, scholarships, fellowships, or work-study programs. You could be given tuition remission for assisting with teaching or research, or granted loan forgiveness for finding work with a qualifying employer.
Career Opportunities and Outlook
Earning a master’s in rehabilitation counseling qualifies you for work as a professional counselor after meeting the state licensing requirements for the position you seek.
Employment opportunities are expected to grow by 10% through 2029, with an estimated 11,800 new jobs.
Salaries vary greatly based on factors such as your location, employer, and level of experience, though on average, salaries range between roughly $23,000 and $64,000 in 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The majority of these professionals will find work in community or senior citizen centers, while others might work in hospitals, nursing facilities, or individual services.
Beyond the exact title of rehabilitation counselor, there are a number of other roles you could qualify for with this master’s degree.
Advancing Your Education and Career
A master’s-level degree qualifies you for most roles in the field of counseling, though you could choose to advance your career by earning a doctoral degree. With a PhD or PsyD, you could opt to pursue a career as a licensed clinical or counseling psychologist and expand your practice to include a wider range of patient populations and areas of treatment. Another option, though less common, is the Doctor of Education (EdD) in Psychology. This degree is designed for those who plan for a career in the areas of school, educational, or developmental psychology, often with a focus on children with special needs.
Licensing Requirements and Certification
Completing your master’s in rehabilitation counseling fulfills the first requirement for working as a professional counselor in the field. For most roles, you’ll need to earn a license if you want to
The requirements for licensing also vary, so it’s best to check the criteria in the state where you plan to work. Most require a master’s degree from an accredited program and between 2,000 and 4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience. You’ll also need to take at least one of the exams administered by the National Board for Certified Counselors.
Depending on your state’s licensing rules, you may be able to work as a counselor in government agencies, nonprofit organizations, or private corporations in the following roles without a license:
In addition to having your license, some states and employers require that you earn specialty certifications to prove that you’ve achieved an advanced level of expertise in the field
- The Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) credential from the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification is earned upon passing the CRC exam and meeting advanced educational and professional requirements
- The National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential from the National Board for Certified Counselors is available to counselors who pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examinations (NCMHCE), meet advanced
educationaland experience requirements, and present a professional endorsement. This certification is open to professional counselors in all specialty areas.
Whether you’re a student or a seasoned professional, getting involved in a professional organization can give you access to current research, news, and trends that impact the profession. You can also benefit from opportunities for networking, mentoring, and job referrals by staying involved in and on top of these resources.