Make a Difference with a Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling     

rehabilitation counselor walks and talks with rehabbing vet who lost leg

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.

Core curriculum

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:

  • Counseling theory and ethics
  • Diagnosis of mental disorders
  • Foundations in career development/job placement
  • Group procedures in guidance and counseling
  • Medical information for counselors
  • Multicultural counseling
  • Psychosocial aspects of disabilities

Specialized coursework

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:

  • Addiction rehabilitation
  • Clinical mental health counseling
  • Psychiatric rehabilitation
  • Transition counseling

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.

Fieldwork/internship requirements

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

Accreditation

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 (CACREP).

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.

  • Does the program offer the specialized areas I want?
  • What are the qualifications of the faculty?
  • What are fieldwork and internship requirements?
  • How do graduates perform in certification and licensure exams?
  • Does the school offer financial aid or scholarships?

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:

  • A bachelor’s degree with a GPA of 3.0; 3.5 for more competitive programs
  • GRE scores of around 153 on Verbal Reasoning, 151 on Quantitative Reasoning, and a 3.9 on Analytical Writing
  • A statement describing your career and personal goals
  • A faculty interview
  • Letters of recommendation

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.


Financial Aid

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 2028, 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 $22,000 and $64,000 in 2018, 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.

What you’ll do: Assess, advise, and provide treatment for patients struggling with issues related to alcoholism, drug addiction, behavioral disorders, family problems, stress management, self-esteem, and more.

What you’ll do: Work with clients to assess their aptitude and interests, select and apply to educational programs, improve interview and networking techniques, resolve workplace conflicts, and/or help clients who have been laid off or are transitioning into new careers.

What you’ll do: Promote healthy behaviors through community outreach, evaluate health education programs and implement strategies for improvement, and provide referrals or help with enrollment in medical or mental health services.

What you’ll do: Coordinate and supervise social service programs, community organizations, and outreach activities, analyze the effectiveness of programs and implement improvements, and write proposals for social service funding.


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 work unsupervised and/or in private practice. This typically means earning your credentials as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), though the exact title might vary by your state.

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:

  • Career counselor
  • Case manager aide
  • Community service manager
  • Consultant
  • Correctional treatment specialist
  • Residential counselor
  • University-level instructor

Certifications

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 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 educational and experience requirements, and present a professional endorsement. This certification is open to professional counselors in all specialty areas.

Professional Resources

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.

Professional associations

American Rehabilitation Counseling Association: For rehabilitation counseling practitioners, educators, and students as a division of the American Counseling Association (ACA)

International Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (IARP): Supports a multidisciplinary membership of professionals in the private rehabilitation industry

National Council on Rehabilitation Education: For professional educators, rehabilitation counselors, and students; publishes the quarterly NCRE Journal: Rehabilitation Research, Policy, and Education

Rehabilitation Counselors and Educators Association: The largest specialized National Rehabilitation Association (NRA) division supporting professional, educator, and student members

Blogs and newsfeeds

National Disability Institute Blog: Posts from disabled individuals, disability advocates, and community partners

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services Blog: Posts by individuals with disabilities and the professionals who serve them

National Council on Disability Newsfeed: Updates from this independent federal agency committed to disability policy leadership

Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) Newsfeed: News and updates that impact CRCs and the profession of rehabilitation counseling

Reference Resources

National Rehabilitation Information Center: Online library of rehabilitation-centered publications, searchable databases, and referral data from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)

National Clearinghouse of Rehabilitation Training Materials: Peer-reviewed training resources in vocational rehabilitation sponsored by the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA)

Podcasts and Social Media Feeds

Kessler Foundation Expert Interview Series: Podcast interviews related to changing the lives of people with disabilities

VR Workforce Studio Podcast: Inspiration, education, and resources for individuals with disabilities and vocational rehab professionals

IARP on Facebook: Industry news, IARP updates, and member input

National Rehabilitation Information Center (NAIRC) on Twitter: Professional tips, resources, and research updates

Ready to Go? Start Your Search

If you’re ready to pursue a meaningful career in rehabilitation counseling, let us help connect you with the right master’s degree program to meet your needs.