Whether they work in an elementary, high school, or college setting, school and career counselors play an integral role in the academic and social development of students. They work collaboratively with all stakeholders -- including, parents, teachers, and administrators -- to ensure that students acquire the knowledge and skills necessary to leave school as productive and well-adjusted young adults. Employment forecasts suggest that the need for school and career counselors remain strong. School and career counselor positions are projected to see a 13% employment growth rate between 2016 and 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The demand for school counselors and their skills stands to increase due to a low student-to-counselor ratio of 482-to-1 during the 2014-2015 school year across the U.S. The American School Counselor Association recommends a 250-to-1 ratio. This page provides an overview of doctorate programs for school counseling. It covers a range of topics, including the admissions process, certification and licensure requirements, and what learners need to know about school counseling careers.

Should I Get a Doctorate in School Counseling?

Whether they chose a doctorate of philosophy (Ph.D.) or a doctor of education (Ed.D.), school counselors who earn a doctorate increase their career potential. A doctorate in school counseling paves the way for careers as advanced practitioners, researchers, faculty and counselor educators, program evaluators, counselor supervisors, and school counseling program directors.

But the decision-making process can frustrate learners who must consider several factors. Making the choice between an online or on-campus degree counts as one of them. Working professionals choose online doctorate degrees because they offer flexibility while students juggle career, family, and other obligations. On-campus doctorate degrees may offer less flexibility, but they provide a learning format that suits those who prefer a more structured environment. They also give students enhanced access to professors and peers, research libraries and school facilities, and campus activities.

While in a doctorate in school counseling program, students acquire advanced skills in areas such as program development, evaluation, career development, supervision of counseling, counselor education, and leadership. They also participate in internships and networking events. School counselors with doctorates could earn a salary well above the $55,410 median annual average wage for the profession. The highest 10% in the field earn more than $91,960.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in School Counseling?

The BLS notes that in addition to addressing rising school enrollments at the K-12 level, counselors will find job growth at universities and agencies that assist the unemployed, professionals looking for a career change, and military personnel. For success in this field, counselors must complement their doctorate degrees in school counseling with a range of competencies, such as analytical skills, interpersonal communication, and compassion. Several occupations stand out for those with a doctorate in counseling.

School and Career Counselor

School counselors work with students in elementary, middle, and high schools to develop their academic and social skills. They also work as career counselors at postsecondary institutions and career centers. They try to identify students' aptitudes and hindrances and plan interventions to address shortcomings. They begin their careers with master's degrees, as well as licensure or certification if they work in public schools.

Median Annual Salary: $55,410*

Faculty/Counselor Educator

School counseling faculty teach the next generation of teachers and school counselors at colleges and universities. They develop curriculum, instruct students, assess and grade their lessons and assignments, and work as researchers. They often hold teaching experience before they pursue licensure or certification as school counselors and further their education with doctorates.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000*

Director of School Counseling

Directors oversee counseling programs on school campuses, performing managerial duties and counseling as needed. Many begin their careers as school counselors, or as teachers with state licensure or certification if they work in public schools. They later earn a doctorate in school counseling for administrative and school leadership roles.

Median Annual Salary: $64,771*

School Therapist

School therapists help students in elementary, middle, and high schools address emotional and behavioral issues. They may also help students develop college and career plans as part of the student's overall development. They begin their careers with a master's degree in counseling or psychology, and some go on to earn doctorates in school counseling. They must complete state certification or licensure requirements to work in public schools.

Median Annual Salary: $55,410*

Program Evaluator

Program evaluators conduct assessments of school counseling programs at the secondary and postsecondary levels to determine their effectiveness in serving students. They hold at least a master's degree with years of subject matter expertise, and some have worked in educational settings as educators or school counselors.

Median Annual Salary: $56,728*

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics and PayScale

How to Choose a Doctorate in School Counseling Program

Individuals who pursue a doctorate in school counseling usually commit three to seven years to earning the degree, depending on the program and whether they enroll full time or part time. Students take between 60 and 150 credits in coursework covering topics such as advanced counseling theory and practice, instructional theories and methods, group counseling, assessment, educational administration, and counselor supervision. Since states generally require practicum or internship experience for school counselor licensure, schools incorporate these components into doctoral programs. Many students already work as school counselors and hold licensure, and doctoral programs may allow school counselors to complete field experiences at their home schools. Once students complete their academic and field experiences, schools require a thesis or final project to culminate the program.

Students who cannot pay the cost of tuition out of pocket need to investigate their financial aid options, including scholarships and federal loans or grants. The cost of the degree depends on a number of variables, including the program, location, and whether faculty deliver it online or on campus. Online programs save students money in room and board, transportation, childcare, and other related expenses. Online learners may still need to travel to the school to complete residencies, internships, and other on-campus requirements, which may add to the cost. If an individual plans to relocate for an on-campus degree, the cost of living serves as an additional expense that they must add to tuition and fees. Regardless of whether they choose an online program or an on-campus one, programmatic accreditation should serve as a key factor in deciding which school to choose.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctorate in School Counseling Programs

While postsecondary institutions hold accreditation from a national or regional accrediting agency, many college programs also hold accreditation from specialized agencies. Counseling programs in the U.S. and worldwide receive accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational programs (CACREP).

CACREP accreditation ensures that programs meet stringent standards established by the profession. Additionally, counselors planning to work in public schools need state certification or licensure and cannot secure it unless they possess the necessary credentials from a CACREP-accredited program. If they want to transfer from a non-accredited program to one that holds CACREP accreditation, their credits may not transfer.

Doctorate in School Counseling Program Admissions

Accredited doctoral programs administer the same admissions process for online and on-campus programs. They require the same coursework prerequisites, minimum GPA, standardized tests, and other documents. As students decide which programs to apply to, they should consider their career objectives and personal circumstances. They should also examine several factors as they draw up a list of schools, including program curriculum, cost, financial aid options, location, and acceptance rate. Students should go to each program's website to familiarize themselves with the admission process. When in doubt, contact the counseling department or admission department for guidance. The list below includes the prerequisites that students need to apply to doctorate programs in school counseling.


  • Master's Degree: Schools require a master's degree in counseling or a closely related field such as psychology or social work. Some programs may require supplemental courses prior to enrollment for those holding a non-counseling master's degree.
  • Professional Experience: While doctoral programs may not require professional counseling experience, licensure and certification guidelines in some states require at least two years of teaching experience for guidance counselor certification.
  • Minimum GPA: Doctoral programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Some schools allow students to offset deficiencies with excellent standardized tests or work experience in the field.
  • Standardized Test: Many doctoral programs require that students submit scores from the GRE or MAT. Some programs offer waivers that exempt applicants if they meet certain requirements.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Beginning in May, applicants should plan for a 12-month application process, with decisions coming sometime the following April. Some doctoral programs in counseling use rolling admissions to accept applications year round. Others use set deadlines with multiple admission dates throughout the year.
  • Transcripts: Once learners begin the application process, they should order transcripts online, in person, or in writing. Some colleges charge a fee while others provide them at no charge.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants should request about four letters of recommendation from former professors, employers, or advisers. Give the writers time to fulfill your request -- about six weeks to two months. Follow up so that they don't forget.
  • Test Scores: The majority of programs require the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and some accept the the Miller Analogies Test (MAT). Each program defines the score threshold for entry. Students should investigate the program's admissions statistics to determine where they stand. They can often find those details online.
  • Application Fee: Learners should budget between $50 and $100 for each application. Some schools offer fee waivers that applicants should use when available to reduce costs.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctorate in School Counseling Program?

Students should carefully review each school counseling program's curriculum to ensure that it closely matches their career and personal objectives. Learners typically complement their classroom experience with a practicum of about 100 hours and a 600-hour internship designed to deepen their skills. Since doctoral programs require a significant investment of money and time, finding the right program ensures that students successfully complete all requirements to begin the next chapter of their school counseling careers.

Courses in a Doctorate in School Counseling Program

Doctorate programs for school counseling vary in the curriculum they offer. Students should evaluate each program to ensure degree requirements meet the certification or licensure requirements established by the state in which they intend to practice. Below lists some courses students can expect to take.

Advanced Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy

This class examines contemporary theories in counseling and psychotherapy to promote learners' understanding of clinical applications. Students study theoretical systems to foster their ability to articulate a defensible approach to clinical practice and research. The class prepares students for their roles as advanced school counseling practitioners.

Career Development and Vocational Counseling

This class introduces the various theoretical and applied approaches used to counsel students about careers and vocations. Learners participate in curriculum development and instruction, and the class prepares students for their roles as advanced school counseling practitioners.

Advanced Group Counseling

This class prepares counselors with the skills needed to lead counseling groups in school settings. Learners participate in role-plays, curriculum development, instruction, and supervision.

Theory and Process of Counselor Supervision

This course evaluates the learner's role as a counselor supervisor. Students study theories of counselor development, supervision methods, the counselor-supervisor relationship, and supervision ethics. It trains students for their roles as counselor supervisors.

Counseling Program Evaluation

This class immerses students in research methods, statistics, and program evaluation for counselors. They learn how to design, implement, and analyze quantitative and qualitative research. It also addresses the needs of those pursuing careers as program evaluators.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in School Counseling?

Doctoral programs in school counseling require between 60 and 100 credits for degree completion. Assuming students enter a doctorate in school counseling program with a master's degree in counseling that requires no supplemental coursework, they can complete an Ed.D. in three years.

Some programs allow students to use credits from a CACREP-accredited master's degree to fulfill a small portion of their doctoral degree, thereby shortening the time frame. Part-time students take the longest to complete the degree, though they may enroll in summer terms to make up some of the credits. Other factors that impact degree completion include family obligations, research requirements, the dissertation process, and qualifying exams.

How Much Is a Doctorate in School Counseling?

Once students know that they want to pursue a doctorate degree in school counseling, they must examine the cost of tuition and how to pay for it. The price of the degree depends on several factors, including whether students want to take an online degree or an on-campus one. Online programs save students money on room and board, tuition, transportation, and other related costs. Students who choose to pursue an on-campus degree must decide whether they want to attend an in-state or out-of-state college.

Those who plan to enroll in an out-of-state program could pay higher tuition than if they stay in their own state. Some schools offer in-state rates for online programs. However, online students still need to budget for residencies and the cost of field experiences if they plan to travel to another state to complete those requirements. The school's location also plays an important role in the cost of programs, as does the program's reputation. Based on an average of a small sampling of programs, students should expect to pay about $550-$650 per credit for tuition, excluding all fees.

Certifications and Licenses for Doctorate in School Counseling Graduates

National Certified School Counselor

The NCSC, offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC), ensures that school counselors meet stringent requirements established by the organization. NBCC-certified counselors work with students at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. To achieve certification they must hold a master's degree, two years of post-graduate experience in school counseling, and the national certified counselor credential.

National Certified Counselor

The NBCC administers the NCC, which is considered the premier counseling certification. Counselors in all specializations pursue the NCC as it demonstrates their competency, enhances their reputation, and increases their opportunities for job placement and career advancement.

Licensed Professional Counselor

Those who hold the LPC achieve the pinnacle in credentialing in the counseling field. To pursue the credential in their state, counselors must complete at least a master's degree, practicum hours, supervised counseling experience, and pass the national counselor examination. Certificate holders provide mental health and substance abuse care to clients, including children.

Resources for School Counseling Graduate Students

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational

The CACREP accredits counseling programs in all specialities. Students can use the organization's website to access information about graduate program choices, the counseling curriculum, and certification or licensure.

The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision

Dedicated to counselor education and supervision, the ACES provides a wealth of information, such as publications, research, and mentoring opportunities. ACES also offers membership to graduate-level counseling students.

Teachers Pay Teachers

For counselors and counseling students, Teachers Pay Teachers offers resources focused on several school counseling topics, including career development and character education. Many resources cost little or nothing.


Counselors and counseling students can access free resources on the Guidance Section of GradeBook.org, which focuses on practice at the middle school through college levels. Topics covered include life skills, bullying, careers for students, and information about careers for guidance counselors.

University Counseling Jobs

This site provides a repository of positions in behavioral and mental health at postsecondary institutions. Job seekers can access postings submitted by employers who want to hire counselors and therapists; job seekers respond for free.

Professional Organizations in School Counseling

Professional organizations serve as an invaluable resource for both students and those currently practicing in the counseling field. They provide professional development opportunities through annual conferences, webcasts and podcasts, and continuing-education programs. Members often receive magazines, journals, and other publications as part of their membership benefits. Professional organizations also provide unrivaled opportunities to meet luminaries and peers in the field through networking events such as conventions and regional meetings.

American Counseling Association

The world's largest organization representing the counseling profession, the ACA sponsors 20 divisions that reflect the specializations in the field. Member benefits include access to the organization's journals, annual conferences, liability insurance, and a discounts program

American School Counselor Association

The professional organization for school counselors, ASCA keeps members up-to-date on the latest developments in guidance counseling. Members enjoy access to several publications, attend professional development events, and network in person and through ASCA SCENE, a virtual networking forum.

Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling

An information and support network for counselors, which includes school counselors and counselor educators, ACAC promotes understanding of the unique needs of children and adolescents. Members can access publications, educational materials, and participate in networking events.

Chi Sigma Iota

An international honor society, CSI boasts a membership count of about 125,000 counselor educators, professional counselors, and students. The organization promotes research, scholarship, and professionalism in counseling by providing members with information concerning research, publications, grants, and other resources.

National Education Association

This organization offers extensive member benefits, including tools and resources, networking events, discussion forums, and discounted online professional development.