Can You Be a Counselor Without a Degree?
Earning a degree in counseling can lead to more job opportunities, but not all positions require a degree. Learn what's required for five counselor roles.
- Counseling is a growing field with a variety of job settings.
- Some counseling jobs require a degree, but not all.
- There are many continuing education opportunities available in the field of counseling.
- Joining a professional organization can help you hone your skills throughout your career.
Counseling is a specialized field where most jobs require extensive training and licensing. Many counseling careers, including alcohol and drug counselors, career counselors, developmental specialists, and peer counselors, require a degree. A degree program features coursework and field experiences that prepare you to obtain a state license.
Nonetheless, not all jobs related to counseling require a degree. Certain certifications and practical experiences can prepare you to enter the field without needing to commit four-plus years of study and tens of thousands of dollars to earn a bachelor's or master's degree. For example, roles like psychiatric assistant, social and human services assistant, and community health worker only require a postsecondary certificate or a high school diploma.
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Ready to start your journey?
Continue reading to learn more about entering the counseling field without a degree.
Do You Need a Degree? Maybe Not. Here Are 5 Counseling Careers That Don't Require a Degree.
Community Health Worker
Community health workers work closely with their communities to develop programs and educate residents. Their main goal is to promote health and wellness.
High school diploma or equivalent
21% projected job growth from 2020-2030
Peer Support Specialist
Peer support specialists are professionals who assist licensed counselors and psychologists. They support patients seeking mental health or substance misuse assistance. Specialists use their experience to supply social and emotional support and provide access to clinical care and community resources.
High school diploma or equivalent
17% projected job growth from 2020-2030
Psychiatric Technician or Aide
Psychiatric technicians and aides are part of medical teams that assist physicians in caring for patients seeking care for mental health disorders or drug or alcohol addiction. They may monitor patients' health, assist with daily activities such as bathing or dressing, and accompany patients on group outings.
Postsecondary certificate or high school diploma or equivalent
11% projected job growth from 2020-2030
Social and Human Services Assistant
Social and human service assistants provide client services in various areas, such as psychology, rehabilitation, and social work. These assistants help clients obtain benefits and select proper treatment plans.
High school diploma or equivalent
17% projected job growth from 2020-2030
Teaching assistants work with licensed teachers to provide additional classroom support and teaching assistance. They often review lessons with students, assist teachers with lesson plans, and handle recordkeeping. Although this position isn't really a counseling position, teacher assistants who gain more experience and education may decide to pursue roles as school counselors. These professionals also develop many skills that can be applied to the field of counseling.
Some college coursework
9% projected job growth from 2020-2030
Skip the FAFSA: How to Enter the Counseling Field Without a Degree
Earn a Certification
Certifications are standardized credentials awarded by professional associations, companies, and independent organizations. Certifications are not a substitute for a degree. Rather, they enhance a worker's skills in the workplace or provide the opportunity to pursue a new concentration in an industry. For counseling careers that don't require a degree, certifications may be necessary for employment and career advancement.
Connect with the appropriate professional organization to determine the certification requirements for your desired career.
Develop Soft Skills
Counselors spend a lot of time interacting with people and their families. Therefore, they need solid interpersonal skills. Soft skills can be self-taught and developed by gaining additional experience.
Soft skills for counselors include strong interpersonal skills, such as communication skills, active-listening skills, empathy, patience, and a non-judgmental attitude when working with clients who may be living with drug or alcohol addiction or mental health conditions.
Gain Practical Experience
Internships, apprenticeships, job shadowing, and volunteer work are great ways to gain practical experience.
These experiences allow you to test the waters and see if an industry or job aligns with your interests and skills. You can also network and meet new contacts, which may be helpful for finding a full-time position.
You can search and apply for internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer work on company job boards, job sites like LinkedIn, and professional association job portals.
Connect With a Professional Organization
A professional organization offers additional opportunities to learn about your target industry and engage in networking. Professional organization members may have the opportunity to serve on committees or volunteer to organize or speak on panels at industry conferences. By joining one of these groups, you can expand your skill set and knowledge and learn about industry best practices.
Peer Support Specialist Professional Organizations
- Mental Health America (MHA)
Psychiatric Assistant Professional Organizations
Social and Human Services Assistant Professional Organizations
Seek Continuing Education
Continuing education is important to stay current in your job field. Attending conferences and classes and pursuing certifications can sharpen your skills and keep you up to date on industry trends and changes. Some professions, especially in fields such as teaching, healthcare, and law, require continuing education as part of the job.
It also pays to invest in ongoing education since it can increase your earning potential. As you develop skills and gain experience in your field, you can pursue positions with more responsibility. Enriching your knowledge by earning a certificate or taking classes can also help you stand out in your field if you're looking for a new job.
Not only can you deepen your knowledge and expertise through continuing education, but you'll also have the opportunity to network and make connections, which can increase your job prospects further.
Aspiring counselors can find continuing education opportunities through accredited universities and professional organizations. There may also be free online courses related to your profession. However, be sure to look into the relevancy and legitimacy of continuing education options before enrolling.
Frequently Asked Questions About Counseling Jobs Without a Degree
What do counselors do?
Many practitioners consider counseling a rewarding and fulfilling career. Depending on their field and speciality, counselors may advise patients and clients about alcohol and drug dependency, career development, psychiatry, social services, and teaching.
Counselors often suggest actionable steps that help people improve their lives. They may assist their clients in many ways, such as by helping them find employment, develop life skills, or work on time management.
How do you become a counselor?
The first step in joining the counseling field is considering which specialty you'd like to focus on and where you'd like to work. Counselors can work in hospitals, mental health facilities, doctors' offices, schools, and corporate workplaces. Once you've narrowed it down, research entry-level requirements for different positions that sound appealing. Many counseling jobs require a postsecondary degree, but some are accessible to people with only a high school diploma.
How long does it take to become a counselor?
There isn't a one-size-fits-all timeline for how long it takes to become a counselor. Counseling careers that require a master's degree, like school and career counselors, will take longer to qualify for than a social services assistant position, which only requires a high school diploma. Master's programs typically feature 1.5-3 years of post-baccalaureate education, depending on the program structure and requirements.
Some counseling positions also require candidates to pass a state licensure exam. Be sure to factor in the time needed to study and prepare for these exams.
Do you need a degree to be a counselor?
Not all careers in the counseling field require a degree. For example, peer support specialists provide assistance to licensed counselors and psychologists. Depending on the state where these professionals work, they may only need a high school diploma or a certification to qualify for this role.
However, more specialized training is required for many counseling careers — especially those where practitioners treat patients with substance use disorders or mental health conditions. For example, although state licensing requirements vary, a master's degree is a common requirement for licensed drug and alcohol counselors.
How much does a counselor make?
Salaries in the counseling field vary widely. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that substance misuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median salary of $48,520 in 2021, while school and career counselors earned a median salary of $60,510. Support roles, like aides and assistants, earn lower median salaries, often ranging from $30,000-$40,000.
A worker's salary is also based on their experience and education. Counseling professionals with more experience, advanced degrees, and respected certifications typically have access to higher-level positions with increased earning potential.
Master's in School Counseling (2022 Guide)
Counseling Salaries: How Much Does a Counselor Make?
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