Master’s in Counseling Program Guide

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August 20, 2021

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Counselors provide guidance and support for people experiencing challenges, such as substance abuse, family and marital problems, and mental and emotional health issues. A master's degree in counseling prepares graduates for careers as marriage and family therapists, substance abuse counselors, school and career counselors, and social service managers.

Due to growing acceptance of the practice and the criminal justice system's recognition of counseling as a successful treatment method, counselors experience increasing demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 25% job growth for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors between 2019 and 2029, far exceeding the national average.

Our master's in counseling program guide offers information on career opportunities, earning potential, licensure requirements, and how to choose a program in this exciting field.

Should I Get a Master's in Counseling?

Students interested in helping individuals and groups face life's challenges and lead happier, more productive lives often find careers in counseling truly rewarding. Success in this profession requires patience, empathy, and exceptional communication skills. Fortunately, the old stigma against pursuing outside help for emotional or mental disorders continues to diminish, resulting in strong demand.

Most master's in counseling programs require about 60 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete.

According to the National Alliance on Mental illness, 20% of adults in America experience mental illness every year. As more individuals turn to counselors for support, the demand for these professionals continues to grow. The BLS projects 22% job growth for marriage and family therapists between 2019 and 2029.

An on-campus or online master's degree in counseling requires about 60 credits and takes two years of full-time study to complete. Some online accelerated programs can lead to a degree in 18 months. Most programs also require at least 600 hours of supervised practicums or clinical internships.

While some counselors may find work with a bachelor's degree, only those with a graduate degree can provide unsupervised, one-on-one counseling. To become a fully licensed professional counselor, graduates must complete 2,000-4,000 hours of supervised clinical experience and pass a state-specific exam.

Find the best online master's in counseling programs.

What Will I Learn in a Counseling Master's Program?

A counseling master's program provides instruction in advanced counseling practices and theories while developing students' critical thinking and decision-making skills. This program offers a combination of classroom learning, research, and practical applications.

Most programs require supervised practica and 600-700 hour clinical internships that help fulfill requirements for state licensure. While all programs vary, most offer core courses, such as group counseling theory and practice; diagnosis, assessment and treatment; and orientation and ethics.

Many programs offer concentrations that play an important part in each student's education and career trajectory.

Concentrations

Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Students learn the critical thinking skills needed to help clients overcome and cope with significant mental and emotional challenges. This concentration explores crisis intervention, advocacy, and contemporary issues impacting clients.
School Counseling
This concentration focuses on the social, developmental, and academic challenges that preK-12 students may experience. Degree-seekers learn how to effectively manage complex issues like bullying, low self-esteem, and learning difficulties.
Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling
This specialization focuses on the skills needed to modify behaviors and treat clients recovering from addictions and substance abuse. Students explore advanced theories regarding assessing and treating clients to promote positive, lasting change.
Rehabilitation Counseling
This concentration prepares students to help people with disabilities live independently and improve their quality of life. Specific areas of study may include students with autism, the elderly, and veterans.
Marriage and Family Therapy
This concentration focuses on the interpersonal dynamics of families and marriages. Students explore intervention strategies and specific issues related to blended families and domestic violence.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

How to Get Into a Counseling Master's Program

Applicants to master's in counseling programs must hold a bachelor's degree. Some programs prefer an undergraduate degree in behavioral sciences, psychology, education, or social work. Most programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.7-3.0.

In addition to submitting official transcripts from all postsecondary institutions they have attended, prospective students must include 2-3 letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a resume. Many programs also require a criminal background check.

Read Our Guide to Graduate Admissions

What Can I Do With a Master's in Counseling?

A master's degree in counseling prepares graduates to work in numerous fields, including research, human development, family therapy, and social justice. Counselors also work with diverse segments of the population, such as children and adolescents, veterans, and the elderly.

These professionals find careers in numerous settings, including hospitals, schools, correctional facilities, government agencies, and community service organizations. Others enter private practice as family therapists or mental health counselors. The BLS reports that marriage and family therapists earn a median annual salary of $51,340, while therapists who work for state governments earn $78,450 per year.

Below are several common career options for graduates with a master's degree in counseling.

Popular Career Paths

Popular Continuing Education Paths

How Much Money Can I Make With a Master's in Counseling?

PayScale reports that individuals with an MA in counseling earn an average yearly salary of $51,930. However, salaries vary based on the type of counseling as well as the industry and experience level. For instance, according to the BLS, school and career counselors earn a median annual wage of $58,120, while those who work in elementary and secondary schools make $64,960 per year.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Counseling Programs

Is a master's in counseling worth it? true

Yes. For individuals with a strong desire to help people overcome challenges and live their best lives, a master's degree in counseling can lead to a successful and fulfilling career. Professional counselors also need state licensure, which requires a master's degree.

How much does it cost to get a master's in counseling? true

The College Board reports that the annual tuition and fees for a master's degree at a four-year public institution costs an average of $8,950. A master's at a private nonprofit four-year college or university costs $29,670. Costs vary based on the type of college, state of residency, and online or on-campus instruction.

How long does it take to complete a master's in counseling? true

Most master's degrees in counseling require 60 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Some online programs offer accelerated tracks that can lead to a master's degree in 18 months.

What is the difference between an MA and an MS in counseling?

While both options offer similar coursework, a master of arts (MA) leans toward the humanities and liberal arts. In contrast, a master of science (MS) focuses more on research and statistics.

Is it better to get a master's in counseling or psychology?

A psychology master's program focuses more on research and psychometric assessments. Licensed clinical psychologists may work with people with serious mental illnesses, and most states require a doctorate. A master's in counseling focuses on holistic, practical skill sets that help clients through their unique challenges.

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