If you like the idea of helping people overcome challenging situations to create positive change, consider a career in counseling. Counselors work with many different people, including children, couples and families, those struggling with mental illness, and anyone battling substance abuse and addiction.
By earning a counseling degree, you can help people with a variety of social, emotional, and mental health problems, as well as also open the door to a rewarding career in a field expected to grow substantially in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an impressive growth for many counseling career paths between 2016 and 2026. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselor positions are projected to increase by 23%.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Counseling?
If you want to become a professional counselor, a crucial part of the process includes earning your counseling bachelor's degree. Most states require counselors to hold a master's degree at minimum to qualify for licensure, and a bachelor's is necessary to enter these programs.
Working professionals interested in changing careers might find the flexibility and convenience of an online counseling program appealing, while on-campus bachelor's programs tend to attract high school graduates. A bachelor's in counseling prepares students to enter graduate counseling programs. Here, students learn to think critically, build communication skills, and gain an understanding of important counseling theories and concepts.
Besides obtaining these critical skills, earning a counseling degree give you the opportunity to make professional connections by networking with class instructors, peers, and counseling practitioners. Professional relationships formed while in school often lead to valuable job opportunities after graduation. Most students also benefit from their school's career services department where they find available jobs and internships, resume help, and interview workshops.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Counseling?
Graduates with counseling degrees can pursue a wide variety of career paths in and related to the counseling profession. The counseling field attracts individuals devoted to helping others live healthier, happier lives. Most counselors specialize in a specific population, such as children, families, or people with mental health issues. Although the occupations listed below generally require a master's degree, earning your bachelor's in counseling represents an important first step towards getting your counseling license. With a bachelor's degree, you can often find work providing support and assistance to certified counselors.
- School and Career Counselors
School and career counselors help students achieve academic success by offering counseling for emotional, social, and mental problems. These professionals work in K-12 schools and other educational settings. Career counselors serve in career centers, colleges, and private practice to help individuals find employment.
Median Annual Salary: $55,410*
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Counselors who specialize in substance abuse, behavioral disorders, and mental health help clients learn to live healthy and happy lives. These professionals work in community health centers, hospitals, and private practice. Some employers only require a bachelor's degree for work in substance abuse.
Median Annual Salary: $43,300*
- Rehabilitation Counselors
Rehabilitation counselors help those with physical and mental disabilities live as independently as possible. Professionals develop treatment plans, locate resources, and advocate for client rights. Rehabilitation counselors also help clients find jobs and housing. Many of these counselors work with community rehabilitation centers, youth centers, and senior centers.
Median Annual Salary: $34,860*
- Marriage and Family Therapists
Therapists specializing in marriage and family help clients work through problems with family members or their spouses. Marriage and family therapists use a family-centered approach to help clients identify problems and create strategies to overcome or manage them. These professionals also connect clients to other resources, maintain files and records, and coordinate treatment between facilities.
Median Annual Salary: $48,790*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Counseling Program
Many prospective students find the process of choosing the right bachelor's in counseling program difficult or overwhelming. Start by making a list of the criteria most important to you before you start your search.
Some factors to consider include program length, cost, accreditation, and location. Also think about more specific program characteristics, like curriculum, classes, specializations, internships, practicums, and final projects offered or required. Some students consider an internship requirement essential to gain practical experience. Other students lack the time or interest to enroll in a program with too many out-of-class demands.
If you want to specialize in a particular area of counseling, find a program that offers that concentration. If you cannot find a counseling degree with your concentration, look for programs offering classes related to your interests. The variety and number of courses available varies substantially by program.
The completion time for a degree can influence the decision for some students, particularly working professionals who want to complete a program as quickly as possible. Some counseling degrees, particularly those online, offer a fast-track option that lets students take more credits each term. Also, see if your program offers courses year round. Conversely, some students with jobs and other responsibilities prefer a program that offers the flexibility to take fewer courses when life gets busy.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Counseling Programs
When researching potential counseling programs, make sure you choose a regionally accredited college or university. When a school holds regional accreditation, you can be confident in the institution's educational quality. During the accreditation process, schools must demonstrate top standards to an outside, independent accrediting agency. Attending a school that holds regional accreditation also means you can qualify for federal financial aid and that most other colleges and universities will accept transfer credit from your school. Most master's in counseling programs only accept applicants who hold a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited school as well.
Undergraduate counseling programs do not receive programmatic accreditation. However, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) provides programmatic accreditation to master's and doctoral counseling programs.
Bachelor's in Counseling Program Admissions
The admissions process varies by school. Most schools hold admissions policies that require a minimum GPA for eligibility. You also usually need to submit proof that you hold a high school diploma or GED, along with all transcripts. Many schools also ask that you submit ACT or SAT scores, and some require applicants to meet a certain score for consideration. Some schools also ask for letters of recommendation, personal statements and essays, and a resume.
Only you can decide how many schools to apply to, but many students apply for up to eight. Make sure to apply to colleges that you truly hold an interest in attending. Include some that you feel very confident about your chances of acceptance and others that might seem like more of a stretch.
- Minimum GPA: Most programs require students to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. Sometimes, students with lower GPAs can offset this requirement by submitting high SAT scores.
- Application: Application requirements and lengths vary. To make the application process easier, you can use CommonApp, a website that allows you to apply to multiple colleges by filling out one universal application.
- Transcripts: You need to submit your high school and/or college transcripts, typically available from your school online for a small fee. Some schools offer alumni free transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Often, an institution will ask students to submit letters of recommendation. Ask people who can speak about your academic work, such as past teachers. Give your references at least two weeks to write their letters.
- Test Scores: Students coming straight from high school usually need to submit ACT or SAT scores; ost schools accept either. Usually, schools do not require a specific test score, but rather look at your score in the context of the rest of your application.
- Application Fee: Typical college application fees fall around $40, but some can reach up to $100. If paying for application fees poses a struggle for you, contact the admissions office and request a fee waiver or reduction.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Counseling Program?
Details of what you can expect from your bachelor's in counseling program vary by school. In general, each institution provides a broad introduction to the profession of counseling, exploring its history, major theories, and practice. Many programs offer concentrations that allow students to focus more closely on an area of interest.
|Substance Abuse||Completing a substance abuse concentration prepares students to work with clients struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Students learn about evidence-based practices, cycles of addiction, and how best to support individuals struggling to end their harmful relationships with substances. Students take classes like trauma and addiction, addiction and the family, and substance abuse counseling.||Substance abuse counselor|
|Mental Health||A mental health concentration explores topics like suicide risk assessment, crisis management, mental health policy, clinical interventions, and assessment of mental health disorders. Students complete a field education experience at a local mental health agency to fulfill the requirements for this concentration.||Mental health counselor|
|School Counseling||Classes required as part of this concentration include introduction to school counseling; counseling children, adolescents, and their parents; and school-based developmental counseling and prevention. Students learn what it takes to work as a school counselor and gain experience in counseling children and adolescents.||School counselor|
|Art Therapy||Students with an art therapy concentration learn how to use art and creativity in the context of a therapeutic setting. Typical classes for this concentration include foundations of art therapy, psychology of meditation, and transpersonal psychology. Students with this concentration can use the skills learned in any type of counseling or work as an art therapist.||Art therapist|
|Marriage and Family Counseling||Students within the marriage and family counseling concentration learn how to help families work through a variety of relationship issues, including divorce, infidelity, and infertility. These students take courses like family therapy theory, counseling couples, and group counseling. Classes also tackle topics like diversity, sexuality, and gender in counseling.||Marriage and family therapist|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Counseling Program
Offered courses depend on what counseling program and school you choose. Most undergraduate counseling programs focus on giving students a broad overview of the counseling profession, including history, contemporary issues, and main theories and practices. The sample curriculum below includes several commonly available classes.
- Introduction to Counseling
Students receive an overview of the theory, practice, and history of the counseling profession. Topics explored include professional credentialing and licensure requirements, ethical principles, the counseling relationship, and numerous counseling theories. A major assignment in this course includes a career statement essay where the student explains why they want to become a counselor.
- Diversity Issues in Counseling
In this course, students explore the way that cultural, social, and personal issues impact diverse groups of people. Students also learn how to provide counseling services in a culturally sensitive way. This course investigates the ways that personal beliefs, attitudes, and biases play out in counseling.
- Methods of Counseling
This practice-oriented course teaches basic interviewing and counseling techniques. Students learn the theories and techniques for guiding a counseling session, helping the client define their problems, and articulating goals. At the end of the course, learners hold an understanding of the counseling process and how to lead it.
- Crisis Intervention
Students receive an overview of the theory of crisis intervention. This course emphasizes short-term counseling and crisis intervention. Topics explored include advanced interviewing techniques, crisis intervention models, and assessment tools for problems, such as suicide, depression, substance abuse, sexual or physical abuse, and trauma.
- General Psychology
An introduction to psychology, this course covers the major theories, methods, vocabulary, and principles of studying human behavior and the human mind. Students explore the discipline's history and evolution over time. Topics discussed include human development, emotions, learning, memory, neuroscience, and psychopathology.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Counseling?
Most full-time students complete their bachelor's degrees in counseling within four years. The credits required for a counseling bachelor's fluctuates between 120 and 180 credits, depending on whether the school operates on a quarter or semester system.
The time it takes to complete a bachelor's degree varies depending on personal factors and which program you choose. Full-time students who take as many credits as possible each term and attend school year-round can finish more quickly than part-time students who take summers off, for example. The program you select can also impact how quickly you graduate.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Counseling?
The cost of a bachelor's in counseling depends on a variety of factors. One of the biggest determinants of the cost of your degree lies in what type of school you choose. Earning your bachelor's degree from a two-year community college proves relatively affordable, with an average cost of $3,400 per year, according to the College Board. If you go to a four-year public institution, tuition runs about $9,400 annually. Tuition balloons substantially for students who attend private colleges and universities, at a cost of $32,400 each year.
Students must also consider the price of education beyond their tuition bill. This includes housing, books, computers, and other student fees. Students with children need to establish how they plan to pay for childcare. If you go to an on-campus school, you might need to pay for parking and the cost of commuting.
Although thinking about the cost of earning your bachelor's in counseling can seem overwhelming, most students qualify for financial aid opportunities, including grants, scholarships, work study, and student loans.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Counseling Prepares For
- State Counseling License
Licensure requirements to practice counseling varies by state. Typically, to become a licensed counselor, you must hold a counseling degree, complete a supervised internship, and pass an exam. To find out licensing requirements in your state, see the American Counseling Association's licensure/certification by state page.
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I
Earning the NCAC I certification requires at least a high school diploma or GED, a current state license to work as an addictions counselor, three years of work experience, 270 hours of training in substance abuse disorders, and a passing score on the NCAC I examination.
- National Certified Adolescent Addictions Counselor
The NCAAC prepares you to work as an adolescent addictions or substance abuse counselor. To earn the NCAAC, you must hold a bachelor's or higher in a counseling-related subject and a current state license. You also need at least five years of supervised work experience, 270 hours of substance abuse education, and a passing score on the NCAAC exam.
- National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II
The NCAC II prepares you to work as an advanced addictions counselor. Eligibility requirements include holding a bachelor's degree in a counseling-related subject, current state license, accumulating five years of addiction counseling work, 450 hours of education and training, and passing the NCAC II exam.
- Sexuality Counselor Certification
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) offers a sexaulity counselor certification. Applicants should hold a bachelor's degree and three years of professional counseling experience. They must also be AASECT members, complete at least 90 hours of education in sexuality, and perform field experience.
Resources for Counseling Students
CACREP provides accreditation to graduate counseling programs on a global scale. On CACREP's webpage, students can find accredited programs and information about counseling licensure.
NBCC offers a variety of national certifications for U.S. counselors. Students can find information about how and why to earn counseling certification.
The leading federal agency for mental health research, NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health. Students can find mental health statistics, funding opportunities, and research publications.
APA represents members involved in research, scholarly work, and psychiatric practice in more than 100 countries. The APA website includes extensive information about mental health disorders.
The APA created this document to help prospective students and the public understand the differences between these related, but distinct, types of professionals. The document also explains where counselors fit into this field.
Professional Organizations in Counseling
Joining a professional organization in counseling presents many opportunities for students and recent counseling graduates, including annual conferences, continuing education programs, career services, and exclusive access to job boards. If cost concerns you, know that most professional organizations offer discounted memberships to students and recent graduates.
ACA promotes and advocates for the profession of counseling. They offer continuing education opportunities, an annual conference, listservs, a career portal, and a variety of counseling publications. ACA represents every type of counselor in every practice setting.
ASCA represents school counselors in both the U.S. and abroad. Services offered include publications, professional development, advocacy, research, and an online professional networking site.
AAMFT helps advance the practice and profession of marriage and family therapy. This organization represents more than 50,000 professional marriage and family therapists.
A membership organization for professional rehabilitation counselors, ARCA works to improve the lives of people with disabilities. They also provide leadership and raise public awareness about the profession of rehabilitation counseling.
A division of ACA, ACC brings together counselors interested in using creative approaches to counseling. ACC hosts the ACA-ACC Creative Interventions and Activities Clearinghouse database, which is accessible to members only.