Master's in School Counseling Program Information

Do you enjoy working with children and adolescents? Do you also like the idea of helping young people develop and grow emotionally and socially so they can live healthier and happier lives? If so, earning a school counseling degree might propel you in the right direction. Pursuing a career in this rewarding line of work allows you to contribute to the greater good, attain job security, and earn a healthy salary.

The BLS projects a 13% rate of growth for school and career counselors from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average.

The demand for school counselors is projected to experience huge growth in the coming years, making it an exciting field with many opportunities for new graduates and early career professionals. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 13% rate of growth for school and career counselors from 2016-2026, which is much faster than average.

Earning a school counseling master's helps you gain the skills, experience, and credentials to work as a professional school counselor in several educational settings, from kindergarten to college. Professionals interested in school counseling as a career change might find online counseling programs intriguing for their flexibility and convenience. However, on-campus school counseling programs often appeal to students coming straight from an undergraduate program who know they want to enter a licensed school counselor position that requires a master's degree.

Entering an accredited school counseling master's program allows students to gain many skills to support the emotional and social well-being and growth of children and adolescents in academic settings. Students learn counseling and therapeutic theories and techniques. They also gain skills in communication, collaboration, and problem-solving. Coursework includes practical assignments, small group discussions, and the opportunity to engage in field experiences in K-12 schools. Students take classes such as school counseling program development and classroom management; human growth and development; and introduction to the school environment. Many programs allow learners to choose a concentration in areas such as bilingual counseling, family counseling, or mental health.

Benefits of school counseling programs go beyond the skills and diploma necessary to qualify for a career as a professional counselor. While enrolled in your program, you can network with classmates and instructors and use these valuable connections in the future. When students near graduation, their program also often helps them with internship and job placements, and other career services such as resume and interview coaching.

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

Most individuals who earn a master's in school counseling work in public or private educational settings as school or career counselors. Within the school counseling field, graduates can pursue many opportunities, specializing in areas such as mental health, bilingual counseling, or family counseling. They can also practice as a general school counselor. Professionals can work with young children to support emotional and behavioral development, or provide college and career support to high school and college students. School counselors need empathy and compassion, as well as analytical, listening, speaking, and interpersonal skills.

School counselors encourage students to succeed in school by helping them develop their academic and social skills. They also provide assistance to students dealing with emotional, social, mental health, and behavioral issues that threaten their success as healthy individuals. School counselors evaluate students' interests and abilities; provide guidance lessons and counseling; and work with parents and teachers to create plans to help students succeed.

Aside from evaluating student performance, school counselors may also help students develop effective study habits, overcome behavioral problems, report possible cases of abuse, and maintain records. They sometimes tackle complex issues such as bullying, suicide, addiction, and abuse. Most school counselors work in elementary, middle, and high schools. Some school counselors work at the college level. When they specialize in career counseling, they also sometimes work at career or workforce development and training centers. Some work in healthcare or social service agencies.

Salaries for School and Career Counselors by Industry
Career Salary
Elementary and Secondary Schools; State, Local, and Private $62,990
Other Educational Services; State, Local, and Private $49,570
Junior Colleges, Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools; State, Local, and Private $49,150
Healthcare and Social Assistance $37,300

Many students find it challenging to decide which school counseling master's program to attend. You must consider several factors to find the best school for you. The most significant considerations vary by individual, but some of the most important typically include program length, location, cost, and curriculum type. Several characteristics can affect program length. For example, if you already hold a bachelor's degree in counseling, if the program runs year-round, and if you attend part-time or full-time.

Most programs offer an expedited, one-year master's to individuals who already hold a counseling bachelor's. Attending school full time, enrolling in the summer, and taking as many credits as allowed can shorten the amount of time you spend earning your master's. Not all programs offer these opportunities though, so do your research beforehand.

You also must decide to attend either an online or on-campus program. Both offer pros and cons, depending on your individual situation. If you choose an online program, the school's physical location often becomes less relevant. If your program requires field experience, you can usually satisfy this requirement at a nearby school.

Curriculum types, including courses, concentrations, internships, and final projects should also be considered. Different school counseling programs hold different guiding theoretical perspectives and approaches to education. If you know that you want to pursue a specific concentration, make sure the school you apply to offers it, or at least some classes in that area.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in School Counseling Programs

When researching school counseling programs, consider programmatic accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). School accreditation requires a college or university to meet minimum standards. In programmatic accreditation, academic programs demonstrate they meet fundamental standards within that specific field. CACREP provides accreditation to graduate-level counseling programs and sets minimum standards that counseling programs must meet. This ensures that students receive a quality counseling education and learn what they need to know to gain employment.

CACREP periodically evaluates accredited programs to ensure students continue to receive the education required to succeed as a professional counselor. Many states require that you hold a master's degree from a CACREP-accredited college or university to qualify for state counseling licensure. If you earn your school counseling degree from a program that does not hold CACREP accreditation, you may experience difficulty landing a professional counseling job.

The admissions process for school counseling programs varies from place to place. Every master's in school counseling program requires applicants to hold a bachelor's degree, almost always from a regionally accredited institution. Most schools do not stipulate that applicants' bachelor's degrees be in counseling, but if you hold a degree in that field you may have a better chance of acceptance.

If you hold a degree in an unrelated field, you may need to take some prerequisite courses to strengthen your application or before starting classes in the program. Most programs also include a minimum 3.0 GPA as a prerequisite for acceptance. Applying for an on-campus program typically involves a more detailed process than online programs.

Many students apply to several master's programs to increase their odds of acceptance to at least one. Make sure you hold a legitimate interest in every program to which you apply. Once your acceptance letters roll in, consider each school's pros and cons before deciding.

Prerequisites

  • Bachelor's Degree: All applicants must hold a bachelor's degree. Your bachelor's can usually be in a field other than counseling, but you may need to complete coursework prerequisites.
  • Professional Experience: Most school counseling master's programs do not require applicants to hold any school counseling work experience. However, students with professional experience usually present stronger applications.
  • Minimum GPA: Most programs require students to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA, depending on the program's competitiveness. Students can often offset this requirement by emphasizing other parts of their application.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Graduate school programs do not use the Common App, which you may have used for your undergraduate applications. Instead, you must complete each individual application separately. Application length and questions vary by program.
  • Transcripts: Applicants must submit transcripts from any previously attended college or university. You can request transcripts through your previous school's registrar's office, typically for a small fee.
  • Recommendation Letters: Most master's programs ask students to submit three recommendation letters. Undergraduate professors who know you well, especially those in a counseling-related field, write the best letters. Give them at least two weeks to write your letters.
  • Test Scores: Some school counseling master's programs require students to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Schools typically do not require students to achieve a minimum score, but instead look at the applicant's GRE score in combination with other parts of their application.
  • Application Fee: Graduate school application fees vary by program, but typically cost more than undergraduate applications. A $50 fee is common, but some schools charge substantially more. Students with financial hardship can request a fee waiver.

What to expect from your master's in school counseling program varies by school, including the type and variety of classes, concentrations, and instructors. Students interested in studying specific areas of school counseling can explore program offerings before enrolling. Keep in mind that even if your program does not offer specific classes or concentrations, you can still pursue your interests through class projects and internships.

Concentration Description Careers
Mental Health School counseling students who specialize in mental health learn to support students dealing with mental health problems. They learn to assess mental disorders and suicide risk in children and adolescents. They also explore mental health policy and crisis management, and work with families to create plans of care or make referrals. Mental Health Counselor
Art Therapy Choosing an art therapy concentration gives school counselors experience using art therapy as a tool in diagnosing and treating children. They explore ways of encouraging patients to express themselves using art, and learn how to analyze these expressions. They learn the foundations of art therapy, which include transpersonal psychology and meditation. Art Therapist
Family Counseling A family counseling concentration helps school counselors understand how to build better relationships with their students' families. They learn how to approach problems in the context of family relationships. Students take classes such as theory of family therapy and group counseling. Family Counselor
Bilingual Counseling School counseling students who choose a concentration in bilingual counseling must be fluent in another language. They learn about typical issues facing students for whom English is a second language. They explore issues such as diversity and multiculturalism in school counseling. Bilingual school counselors work in schools with large populations of English language learners. Bilingual School Counselor
Career Counseling Students who specialize in career counseling work in high schools helping students determine their desired careers. They also help students determine what education and experience they need for their future careers. They arrange internships and other field experiences for students. Career Counselor

Courses in a Master's in School Counseling Program

Courses offered by master's in school counseling program vary by school. Typical courses include counseling for children and adolescents; school counseling program planning; and school counseling research. Most programs also include an internship or practicum requirement that gives students real-world experience. See below for a sample curriculum.

School Counseling Program Planning

Students learn to use and apply the American School Counselor Association (ASCA) National Model in creating and managing a successful secondary school counseling program. They learn to use data to plan, implement, and evaluate a school counseling program. The course incorporates relevant contemporary issues in education, such as education reform and school improvement plans.

Counseling Children

Students explore counseling theories and practice as they relate to elementary-school-age children. The counseling interview remains a major course component, allowing students to refine their interviewing skills. They also learn techniques for creating successful counseling relationships with children.

Counseling Adolescents

This course explores major theories and practices of counseling in the context of adolescents as clients. Students learn to develop intervention techniques typically successful with clients in this stage of life. Issues explored include substance abuse, eating disorders, suicide, and relationship conflicts.

School Counseling Research

Students learn about using an evidence-based practice model in school counseling. They learn about research design, implementation, and evaluation and create their own research project related to the field of school counseling. Students explore a variety of research methods and receive an introduction to statistical analysis.

School Counseling Internship

Students complete an internship in an elementary or secondary school counseling department for academic credit. They typically must spend 600 supervised hours at their internship site, participating in the counseling department's daily activities, including individual and group counseling. Students keep an internship journal and write a final report.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in School Counseling?

School counseling programs vary in length, but most students earn their master's in school counseling in two years of full-time study. Students who attend school part-time generally take three to four years to finish. If you already hold a bachelor's in counseling, many programs let you earn your master's in just one year. Most school counseling programs require students to complete 30-45 credits to graduate.

If you want to complete your degree as quickly as possible, look for programs that offer a fast track, let you double up on credits, and that run year-round. On the other hand, working professionals and students with family responsibilities often need the flexibility of a program that lets them take fewer credits. Many online programs offer options that work for people who want to take their time and those in a hurry to graduate.

Keep in mind that the longer you take to complete your degree, the costlier it becomes. Most programs charge students tuition per term, rather than per degree. Additionally, tuition usually costs more per credit for part-time enrollment, with the cost per credit decreasing the more credits you take each term.

How Much is a Master's in School Counseling?

The price tag for a master's in school counseling differs by school. In general, graduate school tuition costs more than undergraduate tuition. A 2018 study by the Urban Institute found that graduate students borrow three times as much ($18,210 annually) in student loans compared to undergraduate students ($5,460 annually). Not all of this money goes toward tuition. Your true degree cost includes student housing, technology fees, supplies, and other living expenses.

The cost for a master's at a private institution generally far exceeds a public university's tuition. Additionally, you pay a premium to attend a public school as an out-of-state resident. Research public universities where you can pay in-state tuition for the most affordable master's programs. Counseling master's students in the most affordable programs pay $400-$500 per credit, while the most prestigious schools charge graduate students upwards of $1,500 per credit.

Many online programs charge all students the same tuition rate. Also, keep in mind that many graduate students qualify for tuition waivers in exchange for working as graduate research and teaching assistants. These types of work-exchange programs typically exist at on-campus programs.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in School Counseling Prepares For

State School Counselor License

Each state's department of education creates its own rules and regulations about how to become a licensed school counselor. Although requirements vary, in many states you must hold a master's in counseling and pass an exam to work as a school counselor. Some states require school counselors to earn a teaching certificate.

National Certified School Counselor

The National Board for Certified Counselors awards the NCSC certification to school counselors with the highest standards of practice for the profession. Applicants must hold an NCC and complete required coursework and supervised school field experience. They must also work as a school counselor for two years post-graduation and pass either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.

American School Counselor Association Specialist

ASCA offers a specialist designation to professional school counselors. You can earn the credential by taking self-paced online continuing education courses such as bullying prevention specialist, students with special needs specialist, and cultural competency specialist. In each specialist training, you read articles; watch or listen to webinars and podcasts; and take quizzes. The specialist designation remains valid for five years.

American Counseling Association Clearinghouse

The clearinghouse section of ACA's website holds a treasure trove of helpful resources for counselors, including counseling syllabi, interventions, and activities. Only ACA members can access this resource.

Elementary School Counseling Resources

Prospective elementary school counselors can find many helpful counseling resources, including counselor blogs and websites; counseling tools; award opportunities; and free publications.

CACREP

Graduate counseling programs receive their accreditation from CACREP. Students can use the CACREP website to find master's in school counseling programs that hold CACREP accreditation.

School Counselor Resources

This site offers several publications and supplemental learning materials for professional school counselors. The American School Counselor Association's National Model guides the resources chosen.

National Board for Certified Counselors

NBCC provides many voluntary certifications to professional counselors in the U.S. At their website, students can learn how to earn a certification or pursue state licensure.

Professional Organizations in School Counseling

Joining a professional organization for school counselors offers varied benefits to new professionals, counseling students, and recent graduates. An important part of being a professional school counselor includes staying informed about new ideas and practices in the field. Joining a professional organization allows you to stay current on industry news. You also receive opportunities for networking, access to job boards, and discounts on continuing education credits.