Master’s in School Counseling Program Guide

School counselors can make a positive, long-term impact on students' lives. Learn more about master's in school counseling programs.
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Updated on May 29, 2024
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School counselors help K-12 students overcome academic and social challenges, explore colleges and careers, and transition to adult life. Unlike other licensed educators who may hold only a bachelor's degree, all school counselors must have a master's in school counseling. A typical full-time program lasts two years and may let you complete most academic requirements online.

Use the information in this guide to pick the master's in school counseling program that aligns with your education needs and career goals. School admissions department advisors can also answer your questions and help you choose the right program.

Reasons to Pursue a Master's in School Counseling

Students pursue a master's in school counseling for many reasons, including the satisfaction they can gain by helping young people in need and strong salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that school and career counselors earned a median salary of $61,710 in 2023, with K-12 schools paying significantly more than other employers.

The BLS projects jobs for school counselors to grow by 5% between 2022 and 2023. However, economic trends may change in the coming years, meaning fewer open positions than expected.

Featured Online Master's in School Counseling Programs

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

How to Choose the Right School Counseling Program

Keep these four questions in mind when choosing the right master's in school counseling program. Knowing the answers to each can help you narrow down your options and apply only to the best universities.

Is the program accredited?

Top master's in school counseling programs hold accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). Founded in 1981, CACREP grants accreditation only to programs that offer the highest-quality education. Enrolling in an unaccredited program may limit your job prospects.

CACREP offers a directory of accredited master's in school counseling programs on its website.

What is the master's program format?

Your unique needs determine which program format works best. Full-time and accelerated programs may appeal to learners who do not plan to work while in school. Part-time, online, or asynchronous degrees can help you earn a master's in school counseling without pausing your career.

Consult family and coworkers to find out which format can best help you achieve your academic and career goals. Program advisors can also help you with this important decision.

What is the cost of a master's in school counseling?

The answer depends on whether you attend a public or private university. The former charges lower tuition rates for residents. However, some public schools waive out-of-state tuition for fully online or hybrid degree-seekers.

The most affordable online master's in school counseling programs can save you thousands on your degree. These and other options can help you minimize student loans.

Does this program offer my concentration?

You can explore degrees besides master's in school counseling programs. Some universities offer a master's in counseling with a concentration in school counseling. This option may work best for you if your career goals change during your education.

University websites offer the latest information on concentrations and the careers students can pursue after graduation.

How to Get Into a Master's in School Counseling Program

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    Earn a High School or GED Diploma

    You must have a high school or GED diploma to apply to four-year bachelor's programs. If you lack either, contact your local community college. They may offer free GED preparation classes or other resources.
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    Earn a Bachelor's Degree from an Accredited College or University

    Aspiring counselors typically earn a bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, or another liberal arts subject. Your academic advisor can help you choose the best major and electives.
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    Gather Application Materials

    On-campus and online master's in school counseling programs may require recommendation letters and essays. Ask undergraduate professors or work supervisors for a recommendation. Edit essays closely before submitting them.
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    Take Standardized Tests

    Some master's in school counseling programs require GRE or GMAT scores. They may waive this requirement if you meet an undergraduate GPA cutoff or already hold a master's degree. You can find this information on schools' admissions websites.
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    Submit Your Application Portfolio by the Deadline

    Programs may offer one or more annual application deadlines. Make sure to turn in all required forms, letters, essays, and other materials. Missing documents may make you ineligible for admission.

What Is a Career Like for School Counselors?

Elementary, middle, and high school counselors nationwide help students navigate school and build skills promoting longterm success. Although professionals' day-to-day tasks differ based on the age group they serve, most positions at K-12 pay median salaries above $60,000.

Elementary School Counselors

Elementary school counselors help young children develop academic and social skills. They also use their education and training to identify developmental delays or other disorders. Doing so allows learners in need receive an Individualized Education Plan oand other necessary services promoting academic success.

Middle School Counselors

Middle school counselors help students transition from childhood to young adulthood. This career features unique challenges due to students' physical and emotional changes. Like elementary and high school counselors, they collaborate with teachers and administrators to make sure learners receive any necessary support.

High School Counselors

High school counselors help young adults plan for life after graduation. This process involves college and career exploration, individualized counseling, and standardized test preparation. They also assist learners with complex social and emotional issues involving family, peer, and romantic relationships.

Is a School Counseling Master's Degree Right for Me?

A master's in school counseling qualifies you to work in a rewarding field where you can positively impact young people's lives. By helping students overcome challenges, you can create a lasting impact for learners long after they have graduated. School counselors also earn a strong median salary.

Although a good career for many educators, counseling may not match your personality. Counselors must help learners with sometimes difficult topics, such as mental illness and abuse. These and other challenges may lead some professionals to burn out.

Self-reflection and research can help you explore whether you would thrive as a school counselor. You can also ask friends and family for their input.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in School Counseling

What is school counseling?

School counseling promotes students' success in ways other than academic performance. Counselors focus on learners as individuals, addressing their unique emotional, intellectual, and social needs. Their work promotes students' mental health, social development, and long-term success.

School counselors' responsibilities differ based on the grade levels they serve. Elementary and middle school counselors may focus more on social development, while high school counselors may spend most of their time helping learners with future planning.

A typical master's in school counseling program takes two years for full-time degree-seekers. You may need less time if you already hold some graduate credits or enroll in an accelerated program. Part-time programs designed for working professionals may take an extra year.

School counselors working in California, Washington, and Massachusetts earn more than professionals in other states, according to the BLS. These counselors' average salaries exceed $79,000.

Metropolitan areas in California, Washington, and Massachusetts feature a higher-than-average cost of living (COL). You may achieve a better quality of life living in a state with a lower COL.

Note: The insights on this page — excluding school descriptions — were reviewed by an independent third party compensated for their time by BestColleges. Page last reviewed >May 1, 2024.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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