How to Become a Counselor Without a Degree: Is It Possible?

Curious about how to become a counselor without a degree? You'll need a graduate degree — but you can still find fulfilling counseling-adjacent jobs.
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Rayelle Davis, LCPC
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Rayelle Davis is a nationally board-certified counselor, a licensed clinical professional counselor, and a board-certified telemental health provider. She has taught several undergraduate psychology courses and is currently a doctoral candidate at Du...
Updated on June 7, 2024
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Many people wonder, How can I become a counselor without a degree? After all, college can be expensive and time-consuming. And if you could skip it all while still pursuing a fulfilling career in counseling, why not?

There are many types of counselors. The specific job duties of a counselor vary based on your education and work setting, but all counselors must be attentive listeners who can provide empathy and understanding to their clients.

So do you really need a degree to become a counselor? Read on to find out.

Can You Be a Counselor Without a Degree?

The reality is that you typically can't become a full-fledged counselor without a graduate degree and licensure. Each state determines its own requirements to practice as a counselor.

Here's a general overview of what you must do to become a licensed counselor:

  • Earn a master's or doctoral degree from an accredited counseling or psychology program
  • Work under clinical supervision for 2-3 years
  • Pass all required exams

The main exception to these steps is substance use counseling, which usually requires a bachelor's degree — not a master's degree. Some states, however, such as Pennsylvania, allow substance use counselors to practice with just a high school diploma or GED certificate.

These counselors focus on helping clients recover from addiction without diagnosing conditions. Instead of licensure, substance use counselors normally obtain state certification and only practice under supervision.

Below are the typical education requirements for various types of counselors.

Education Requirements for Counselors
Counselor Type Minimum Degree Required
Career Counselors Master's degree
Counseling Psychologists Doctoral degree
Genetic Counselors Master's degree
Marriage and Family Therapists Master's degree
Mental Health Counselors Master's degree
Rehabilitation Counselors Master's degree
School Counselors Master's degree
Substance Use and Behavioral Disorder Counselors Bachelor's degree
Source: BLS

Featured Online Counseling Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

8 Counseling-Adjacent Jobs Without a Degree

If you think you'd enjoy a counseling career but are unsure about it or don't yet have the necessary education, counseling-adjacent jobs without a degree can be a great alternative.

The jobs below all involve attentive listening skills and helping others. And since they do not entail clinical skills, licensure is not required.

All salary and job growth data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and Payscale.

1. Career Coach

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Avg. Annual Salary (March 2024): $43,730
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 5%

A career coach helps you build the skills needed for career development. This can include resume-building, interviewing, and job searching. Career coaches can also help you identify your professional goals and skills and offer guidance on career choices you may find fulfilling.

2. Community Health Worker

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Median Annual Salary (May 2023): $48,200
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 14%

Community health workers act as intermediaries between clients and care providers. They're usually active in their communities, where they advocate for their clients' unique needs, conduct outreach, or provide coaching support.

These workers may also help clients overcome barriers that impede access to care.

3. Life Coach

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Avg. Annual Salary (December 2023): $94,350
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): N/A

A life coach helps you achieve your goals related to wellness or personal growth. These professionals provide support as clients navigate various obstacles and help them remain focused on their life goals.

The life coach industry is largely unregulated and does not require a degree. Income varies widely and tends to increase for experienced coaches who are skilled at networking and marketing themselves.

4. Peer Support Specialist

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Avg. Annual Salary (April 2024): $32,470
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 9%

Peer support specialists assist licensed counselors and psychologists by supporting patients seeking mental health or substance use services. They use their experiences to provide social and emotional support as well as to supply access to clinical care and community resources.

5. Personal Trainer

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Median Annual Salary (May 2023): $46,480
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 14%

Personal trainers help people achieve their fitness goals. Trainers can work privately with clients in their homes or teach individuals or classes at gyms. These professionals offer coaching support, develop training plans, and teach proper form to help people avoid injury.

They may also provide education about nutrition and lifestyle factors related to fitness.

6. Psychiatric Technician or Aide

  • Minimum Education Required: Postsecondary certificate or high school diploma or equivalent
  • Median Annual Salary (May 2023): $39,610
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 9%

Psychiatric technicians and aides assist doctors in caring for patients seeking care for mental health conditions or drug or alcohol addiction. They may monitor patients' health, assist with daily activities such as bathing and dressing, and accompany patients on group outings.

7. Social and Human Services Assistant

  • Minimum Education Required: High school diploma or equivalent
  • Median Annual Salary (May 2023): $41,410
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 9%

Social and human service assistants provide client services in areas such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. These assistants help clients get benefits and select appropriate treatment plans.

8. Teacher Assistant

  • Minimum Education Required: Some college coursework or associate degree
  • Median Annual Salary (May 2023): $35,550
  • Projected Job Growth Rate (2022-2032): 0%

Teaching assistants work with licensed teachers to provide classroom support and teaching assistance. They often review lessons with students, help teachers with lesson plans, and handle recordkeeping.

Assistants who gain more experience and education down the line may be interested in becoming school counselors.

Still Want to Become a Counselor? Next Steps

If you still want to become a fully licensed mental health counselor, you'll need to complete the requirements determined by your state's licensing board.

Exact details can vary, but all states require:

  • Successful completion of a graduate program in counseling education or psychology
  • Earning clinical hours under supervision
  • Passing of board exams

Some states only accept degrees earned from a program that is accredited by either the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

It typically takes 2-3 years after graduate school for counselors to earn their required clinical hours. For those who've completed a doctoral program, fewer hours may be required.

There are also differences regarding which exams you must take to become a licensed counselor.

You can learn more about your state's counseling requirements by visiting the National Board for Certified Counselors website.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Counselor Without a Degree

Can you become a mental health counselor without a degree?

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No, you cannot become a mental health counselor without at least a master's degree. You may be able to become a substance use counselor with a bachelor's degree or high school diploma, but requirements depend on your state.

Substance use counselors without a master's degree have a more limited scope of practice compared to those with a degree. Counselors with a master's degree may diagnose mental health disorders or run their own practice.

What is the highest-paid counselor?

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According to 2023 BLS data, the highest-paid counselors are counseling psychologists, who earn a median salary of $96,100, and genetic counselors, who earn a median salary of $95,770.

Other well-paying counseling roles include mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists who've earned their independent licenses. This is because fully licensed counselors can qualify for positions that don't require supervision.

When researching average salaries for counselors, consider your goals and skills. Counselors in private practices with clinical expertise tend to earn more than counselors employed by agencies.

What type of counseling is most in demand?

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The most in-demand counseling jobs include mental health and substance use counseling, according to the BLS. Jobs for substance use, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors are projected to grow 18% between 2022 and 2032 — far faster than the average rate for all jobs.

The reduction in stigma and the increased awareness of the importance of mental health are just a couple of factors contributing to growth in the counseling field.

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