Best Online Master's in School Counseling Programs (2023)

Overview of an Online School Counseling Program

For many young students, navigating the education system can be daunting. They are faced with social issues, challenging coursework, and tough decisions regarding the direction of their lives after grade school. School counselors are hired by institutions to guide students through these issues by offering advice and mentorship. If you're interested in this career path, you'll need to earn a master's degree in school counseling.

Online school counseling programs at the master's level can take students one to three years to complete, and they require 30 to 75 credit hours.

Before applying to school at the master's level, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a similar subject, such as teaching, counseling psychology, social work, or simply counseling. Some students earn their bachelor's in school counseling before going on to study for a master's in secondary education in order to work at the university level.

Earning a master's degree online is a valuable option for your future career prospects as a counselor. It's also considered a well respected degree in line with traditional on-campus learning. By attending an online school counseling program, you'll learn important skills in interventionism and behavioral assessment techniques, and you'll study the detailed history of the U.S. education system. You'll use data to drive your counseling studies and look at modern counseling strategies for an increasingly diverse student body.

Common Courses for a School Counseling Major

Coursework in school counseling online programs cover the specific skills and knowledge you'll need to become a licensed counselor. You'll study social and cultural issues, human growth development, career development, and how to apply research and data to your profession.

Below is a list of five courses that are commonly found among the best masters in school counseling programs:

Ethics and Legal Issues in School Counseling

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This course covers the ethical standards of modern-day school counseling while also looking at this field through an historical, philosophical, and cultural lens. You'll discuss the trends of school counseling as well as the profession's ethical standards put forth by prominent organizations in the education industry.

Lifespan Development

Lifespan development looks at the emotional, social, and cognitive processes of human growth. This course provides insight into basic developmental phases in order to provide a better understanding of what young students go through at a biological level.

Research in School Counseling

Here, students will take a data-driven approach to counseling by investigating and analyzing research in school counseling. They are introduced to the scientific practice of research and the relevant terminology, before being assigned their own research projects, where they'll write their findings in a report.

Child Therapy and Assessment

This class takes the proven methods of adolescent psychology and applies it to an education environment. You'll look at intervention techniques and assessment practices while keeping in mind a student's home environment, cognitive issues, and family structure to provide constructive therapeutic techniques.

School Counseling Techniques

This course covers the hard skills needed to be an effective and ethical school counselor, including interview best-practices, observation techniques, data collecting, and writing comprehensive reports.

School Counseling Concentrations

Some online master's in school counseling degrees offer concentrations that allow you to more closely study a niche within the field or create additional skills that will better your employment opportunities.

For example, some programs may offer a bilingual extension, which looks at education practices and theory in a commonly spoken language, such as Spanish.

(Video) School counseling: online master’s degree

Others offer mental health concentrations that focus on the practice of addressing cognitive and behavioral issues that many young students face during their education.

Career Outlook

School counseling degrees are designed to teach students the skills to operate as a professional counselor in an educational institution. School's are unique environments, especially when compared to psychologist offices, rehabilitation centers, or social work agencies.

Professionals in this field are hired by both public and private schools, where they monitor student behavior, provide academic and social guidance, and administer aptitude tests.

School counselors earn an annual median salary of $60,510 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When you compare this to the $58,260 average salary for all occupations in May of 2021, you can see that school counselors earn only slightly more each year.

There were 322,000 school counselors working in the U.S. as of 2020. The BLS projects that there will be 37,000 more jobs added before 2030, giving school counselors an 11% job outlook. This is faster than the average occupation's growth rate which sits at around 8%.

Do You Need a Master’s To Be a Guidance Counselor?

Typically, you are required to obtain a master's degree in school counseling before applying to become a licensed guidance counselor. Additionally, the skills and knowledge you'll gain from a graduate program are necessary to be an ethical, fair, and effective counselor for young students.

Public school counselors, specifically, are required to have a state-issued credential in order to practice. Unfortunately, this credential's title varies from state to state. Some states call it a certification or a license, others call it an endorsement.

What Licensure and Certification Do You Need?

States generally require a master's degree — along with a license — to work as a school counselor in grades K-12. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is an excellent resource for each state's requirements when it comes to working as a certified counselor.

Every state has their own requirements in education, practical experience, and even background checks. Some states, such as Alaska, may also require you to take cultural coursework related to their region, including a specific set of credit hours dedicated to multicultural and Alaskan studies. Once you meet said requirements, you'll be eligible to apply for a state license in school counseling. From there, you can begin applying for full-time employment in both state-funded and private schools.

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If you're looking for more professional accolades, a certification provides a designation for an individual's achievements in the field. You can choose to earn a National Certified School Counselor certificate or complete the National Counselor Examination from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). These will help boost your credibility and knowledge through additional coursework in trauma, abuse, addiction, and family counseling, as well as program evaluation and human development.

Choosing an Online Master's in School CounselingProgram

Accreditation verifies the legitimacy and efficacy of an institution. Verifying your school's accreditation status should be your first step in choosing the right program.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the main institution that accredits graduate programs in school counseling. Their rigorous standard looks at everything from a program's learning environment to how a program evaluates its students. Furthermore, all of OnlineU's recommendations for master's degrees in school counseling come from accredited institutions.

Aside from accreditation, there are other facts to consider as well. If you have credits from another university, you should ensure they will be properly transferred to the new program. Credits are a valuable asset for master's students, so it's important that you check your school's transfer policy before committing to said program.

Another thing to think about is how the application of online learning differs from on-campus learning and what requirements there might be for your online degree. Most school counseling master's degrees require in-person practicums or internships. So while the majority of your coursework will be online, you will also need to gain on-site work experience from an approved employer. For those studying out-of-state, you'll need to ensure there are local institutions where you can complete your internship.

If you are looking to graduate from your master's fast, see our article about accelerated learning options and how to graduate from college early.

Is a Master's in School Counseling Worth It?

There are several things to think about before choosing an online master's in school counseling. With so many hoops to jump through, and a hefty cost along the way, you might be asking yourself if it's worth it.

Let's take a look at the various pros and cons of earning a master's in school counseling:

Potential Benefits

School counseling can be a very fulfilling and satisfying career. This is primarily because your responsibilities revolve around assisting and guiding children and young students through their most formidable years.

Teachers and counselors receive more time off than other occupations. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, teachers work approximately 185 days per year compared to the average occupation which works around 230 days per year.

Some school counselors are eligible for federal loan forgiveness plans. Once you're employed as a school counselor, you may qualify to have your master's degree loan forgiven by the federal government through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.

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Potential Drawbacks

Grade school counselors are often considered underpaid. Even though their role in public schools is vitally important, counselors receive only a modest salary of $60,510, which is even less than the $61,820 salary of high school teachers.

School counseling can be a stressful undertaking. According to recent research compiled by NBCC's academic journal, The Professional Counselor, school counselors report that stress and burnout contribute to "a negative influence on the services they provide to students."

A growing ratio of students-to-school-counselors could mean your job becomes less effective. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) reports that the national ratio of students-to-school-counselors in 2021 was 415-1, which is much higher than their recommendation of 250-1.

Resources

As a graduate student, you may look for assistance in a variety of ways — from student loans to scholarships. As mentioned above, there are several organizations that offer helpful resources to school counseling graduate students.

ASCA provides a list of state requirements for certification and membership opportunities for master's graduates, where you can receive professional liability insurance coverage, among other benefits.

NBCC offers two professional certificates which are relevant for aspiring school counselors.

CACREP offers resources for accredited educational programs in the field of school counseling.

At the American Counseling Association (ACA), you can apply for a membership that offers career and continuing education resources, discounts for relevant services, counseling-related content, and advocacy projects on behalf of professionals in the field.

Bottom Line

Earning a master's degree in school counseling is a costly endeavor that can take years to complete. The subject matter deals with sensitive topics related to adolescent behavior and the corresponding therapeutic techniques that are used in a school environment. There are plenty of support networks and organizations that are designed to help students with their studies and career steps thereafter. Upon graduation, you'll likely find yourself earning a modest salary, which can feel more balanced when considering all the days-off you receive and the help you're able to provide your students.

If you're unsure about pursuing a master's in guidance counseling online, you may also look into graduate programs in educational leadership, elementary education, special education, or health education.

FAQs

Is an online masters in counseling worth it? ›

Yes, a masters in mental health counseling is worth it for many students. The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting 12% job growth in community and social service occupations over the next 10 years, much faster than the average for all occupations.

How do I become a school counselor in MA? ›

Steps to Becoming Licensed
  1. Get your bachelor's degree.
  2. Get your master's degree.
  3. Pass the Communications & Literacy sections of the MTEL.
  4. Apply for your Initial License through the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE). ...
  5. Move your Initial License to a Professional License.

What is the best degree for counseling? ›

Counselors must earn a four-year undergraduate degree, and typically a master's degree, in order to begin their practice.
...
Doctoral Programs
  • PhD in Counseling Psychology.
  • PsyD in Counseling Psychology.
  • EdD (Doctor of Education) in Counseling Psychology.
  • PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy: General Family Therapy.

What is the difference between a MA and a MS in counseling? ›

An MS degree is best suited for students who have earned a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field, while a master of arts in counseling is ideal for students with a general bachelor's degree, such as English. These programs are designed to incorporate lab work, scientific research, analysis, and evaluation.

Is a masters in counseling difficult? ›

A master's program in counseling is challenging, time consuming and most easily conquered with single-mindedness of purpose. However, if you must work while attending school, then by all means work.

Do you need to take the GRE for masters in counseling? ›

GRE scores are not required for admission to the school counseling master's program if you have a 3.25 GPA in a baccalaureate program and/or 15 credit hours of completed graduate coursework in good standing.

Who is Capella University accredited by? ›

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (hlcommission.org), an institutional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Is Capella University a good school? ›

Accreditation. Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which is a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Regional accreditation is considered better than national accreditation, mostly because the education tends to be of higher quality.

What's the difference between a counselor and a therapist? ›

Counselors tend to offer short-term care, while therapists tend to offer long-term care. Therapists can be more past focused and counselors more future focused. Counselors often have a set number of sessions, and therapists often work on an ongoing basis. Therapists are more likely to treat mental health conditions.

How long does it take to become a counselor? ›

Generally speaking, becoming an LMHC requires a solid base of psychology, therapy, and counseling training. The entire process can take anywhere from three to five years, based on your time commitment, internship hours, and post-grad supervised experience.

How many years of school does it take to be a therapist? ›

Most therapists need a bachelor's degree (which takes four years to earn on average), and then a master's degree (which takes about two to three years on average to earn) or a doctoral degree (which takes about five to seven years on average to earn).

Can I be a school counselor with a bachelor's degree? ›

What degree do you need to become a school counselor? All school counselors must hold a bachelor's degree and a master's degree. Bachelor's degree learning paths may include psychology, counseling, social work, education psychology and sociology, though this is not required to earn a master's degree.

How do I become a school social worker in Massachusetts? ›

Becoming a School Social Worker in Massachusetts

Earn a Master's degree in Social Work or Counseling from an accredited institution. Complete a practicum comprised of at least 900 hours of social work, including a minimum of 450 hours working with children, adolescents, and their families in an academic setting.

How do I become a school counselor in NY? ›

Educational Requirements for New York School Counselors

Completing a New York-registered graduate school counseling program. Earning a bachelor's degree and finishing at least 30 hours of graduate courses. Holding national certification by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS)

Is it better to study Counselling or psychology? ›

Generally, a psychologist is paid a higher salary than a counsellor due to their level of education. According to SEEK (as at July 2022), a counsellor salary sits at around $80,000 a year, whereas a psychologist's salary averages just over $93,000 a year.

Is an MA better than a MS? ›

A master's degree can be either a Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Science (MS) and provides in-depth learning beyond a bachelor's degree. The key difference between the two degrees is that the former focuses on arts and humanities while the latter is geared more toward scientific and technical fields.

Can I become a Counsellor with a Masters in psychology? ›

'Your core practitioner training should be at the minimum level of a diploma in counselling or psychotherapy at minimum of level 4, but could be a bachelor's degree, master's degree or doctorate. 'Your course should be at least one year full-time or two years' part-time classroom-based tuition.

Do counselors make good money? ›

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $56,310 per year in 2018 for school and career counselors. Employment in this field is expected to grow 23 percent through 2026, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations.

What is a masters in counseling called? ›

Master of Science (MS) in counseling degrees prepare graduates to become licensed professional counselors (LPCs) in their home states.

Is a Counselling degree worth it? ›

A Master's in Counselling could be in the books if you're keen on helping others understand and cope with difficult issues to improve their lives. It's a rewarding profession, with the added benefit of job security. A study has found that demand for mental health services has spiked.

Are online psychology degrees respected? ›

Online psychology degrees are respected as long as they come from good schools. Employers respect online psychology degrees from accredited colleges and universities. Accreditation is very important. Accreditation means your degree comes from a school that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Are online psychology degrees legit? ›

Yes. Many schools offer online psychology degrees. However, while a program may offer online coursework, all graduate psychology programs require in-person internship or practicum experiences.

Is a Counselling degree worth it? ›

A Master's in Counselling could be in the books if you're keen on helping others understand and cope with difficult issues to improve their lives. It's a rewarding profession, with the added benefit of job security. A study has found that demand for mental health services has spiked.

Do counselors make good money? ›

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median annual salary of $56,310 per year in 2018 for school and career counselors. Employment in this field is expected to grow 23 percent through 2026, which is much faster than average compared to all occupations.

What is the best accredited online school for psychology? ›

Best Online Bachelor's in Psychology Degree Programs
RankSchool NameSchool Logo
1University of Central FloridaOrlando
2University of Florida - OnlineGainesville
3Florida International UniversityMiami
4University of UtahSalt Lake City
21 more rows

Is psychology better to take online or in person? ›

The results indicated that there was an overall higher satisfaction from students enrolled in a traditional classroom setting. What the Lovelands' found was that students evaluated their online course off of different factors than which they would have looked at if the course was face-to-face.

Is Capella University accredited for psychology? ›

Capella University's PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and MS in School Counseling programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) through March 31, 2028.

Can I study psychology online for free? ›

Psychology Courses. Take free online courses in clinical, developmental and social psychology from top institutions on edX. Learn human behavior, psychological disorders and more.

Is Capella University a good school? ›

Accreditation. Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which is a regional accreditation agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Regional accreditation is considered better than national accreditation, mostly because the education tends to be of higher quality.

Can I do a psychology degree at home? ›

You can gain an accredited qualification with our wide range of psychology courses all from the comfort of your own home, with studying fitting around your busy lifestyle.

Are counselling jobs in demand? ›

Paid counselling work is in great demand, as the number of qualified counsellors continues to steadily increase. This is mainly due to the caring and nurturing aspect of the profession, that attracts and encourages individuals already working in caring professions to re-train to become counsellors.

Is counselling a stressful job? ›

The work of a counsellor can be very intense and demanding. You'll support clients through emotional issues on a daily basis, which can lead to burnout if you let stress, performance pressure and overwork build up.

Which counselling courses are accredited? ›

BACP accredited courses

BACP is recognised as the leading accreditation body for training courses in counselling and psychotherapy.

Where do counselors make the most money? ›

California

How can I make a lot of money as a counselor? ›

How to Diversify Your Income as a Therapist
  1. Write a Book. ...
  2. Contribute to a Publication or Blog. ...
  3. Consider Public Speaking. ...
  4. Teach a Class In Person. ...
  5. Teach a Class Online. ...
  6. Create a Website and Blog. ...
  7. Offer Group Therapy Sessions. ...
  8. Become a Consultant.
Oct 21, 2016

How can a therapist make 6 figures? ›

How do you scale to multiple 6 figures in private practice?
  1. Charge more.
  2. See more clients.
  3. Work more weeks per year.
  4. Reduce your expenses as much as possible.
  5. Offer higher-end services - retreats, intensives, group work that have a higher price point and help more people in a shorter amount of time.
Jan 11, 2016

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