Masters in Counseling: A Summary
A masters in counseling is considered the entry-level preparation for qualification as a professional counseling practitioner. The master’s degree is the foundation for national certification or state licensure as a counselor, and as of today almost all counseling positions in schools and agencies look for graduates of a masters program. Masters in counseling is the counseling practitioner’s degree—it qualifies you to work and to apply the skills of assessment and clinical intervention in many settings. Graduate-level programs provide the advanced training and the necessary credentials to assume increased responsibility and roles of leadership. Most masters’ programs are two years of full-time study, or 48 semester hours, or three to five years if taken part-time.
Counselors provide therapy for children, adolescents, adults, or families with mental health disorders and addiction, disability and employment needs, school problems, and trauma. Developing and implementing treatment plans, as well as evaluating clients’ physical and mental condition, are often requirements of counselors. Each specialty has its own unique responsibilities and challenges, which makes the field of counseling wide open with a promising and rewarding future.
Various Degrees and Specialties
Apart from a general master in counseling there are other masters in counseling degrees with a variety of different specializations to choose from. When selecting a school’s counseling program it’s important to consider your area of specialty and the areas that school offers. Schools that offer only a few programs will limit your educational opportunities. If you know the focus you wish to take you can select a program with that specialty, but if you’re still unsure of what field you wish to work in it would be important to select a masters in counseling that has a large variety of options.
A few of these different degrees in counseling are:
- Masters in Addiction/Rehab Counseling (MS)
- Masters in Career Counseling (MS)
- Masters in Clinical Counseling (MS)
- Masters in Counseling (MS, MA, M.Ed.)
- Masters in Counseling Studies (MS)
- Masters in Forensic Counseling (MS)
- Masters in Marriage/Family Therapy (MS)
- Masters in Mental Health Counseling (MS)
- Masters in Pastoral Counseling (MA)
- Masters in Professional Counseling (MA)
- Masters in Trauma & Crisis Counseling (MS)
Other areas of specialties include: clinical psychology, child psychology, community psychology, counseling psychology, counseling psychology, general psychology, health and wellness psychology, leadership coaching psychology, mental health psychology, sports psychology, education psychology, guidance and counseling, school counseling, and school psychology.
With all the options available it may be a bit difficult to choose which area of specialty is perfect for you. If you’re having trouble, asking yourself these questions can help narrow your search:
- What are you qualified for? (for example, are attached certificates required for your desired position?)
- What is the population you prefer to work with? (children, adolescents, adults, older adults)
- What are the job opportunities available in your preferred geographic region?
- What is the drive and passion you feel toward a particular kind of professional identity?
- What is the relative strength of the faculty, resources, and support within the various specialties available?
- What is the match between your personal strengths and weaknesses and those of a particular specialty? (for example, immediate intervention versus longer term counseling relationships)
Online Master in Counseling Programs
Online programs in counseling are very flexible, which makes it easy for people who already have a career to maintain their job while going to school. Flexibility and convenience are important components to online degrees. If you do not live near a school that offers your intended specialty in counseling, you can go online and seek out the same education from a distance. Online schools offer numerous degree programs and you’re bound to find a counseling program that fits exactly with your desires and goals. Additionally you can pursue that degree entirely from your home and without commute time. Online programs also offer a personalized education—you can study at your own pace and on your clock. No longer do you have to work your schedule around school. Finally, the cost of graduate school is a big thing to consider. Online schools allow students to save money. The programs are often less expensive than on campus-based colleges and universities, and you can save money on transportation and other school expenses. Some programs even follow a hybrid model that combines online instruction with a face-to-face teaching environment. This way, you get the best of both methods of study.
Choosing an Online Masters in Counseling Program
Just as there are many options of specialties within counseling programs, there’s also a surplus of different online masters in counseling programs. Trying to decide on a program can be a bit confusing. No matter the specialty you wish to study, there is still considerable variation among different graduate school programs as to their faculty, philosophy, and specialty areas. These factors, as well as training levels, accreditation, and location, need to be considered.
First, know what your goals are. This can originally help in eliminating schools that don’t have programs with the same interests as you. A part of knowing what your goals are is also knowing what your philosophy of counseling is. It’s important to get a program that has the same belief system as you, as you most likely want to be trained by professionals who have the same philosophical viewpoints as yourself.
Another important question to ask yourself in your search is: are the school accredited and nationally ranked? Accreditation is a stamp of approval from a recognized U.S. based agency that ensures schools are compliant with federal standards—you would be at a major disadvantaged if you had a degree from a non-accredited school. Employers and future graduate programs look at the programs you have studied from and consider accreditation a must. There are certain national and regional agency’s websites you should use to check on a school’s accreditation. A few national agencies include:
National rankings are done by U.S. News analysis. Graduate school rankings are based data from the following school and program statistics: admissions, academics, student body, cost, career and salary statistics, and notable alumni. Although it’s a good resource to look at, if you find a program you love that isn’t ranked it’s still good to consider it. You don’t have to go to a ranked school, and some great schools can be overlooked. A comprehensive search is the best way to find the right program for you.
Funding is another important factor to consider. What funding options are available to you at each program? Are scholarships, grants, and financial aid a possibility? Scholarships and grants are awarded based on different criteria including academic major, extracurricular activities, academic achievements, and financial need. Sometimes essays or projects are a part of winning a grant or scholarship. The first thing to do is to make a list of schools you with to attend, and to check with the different program’s financial aid offices and find out what possibilities exist. Other sources to explore include:
- Professional associations
- Your employer (Employee Based Awards)
- Scholarship-focused nonprofits
- Foundations (Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, etc.)
- Advocacy and political organizations
- Large corporations (Pepsi, Xerox, Microsoft, etc.)
- Religious organizations
- Social/community clubs and organizations
- Service organizations (Rotary, Elks, Lions, etc.)
Some specific scholarship research information for counseling specializations:
- Marriage and Family Counseling: The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) Minority Fellowship Program offers minority scholarships to qualifying students. The AAMFT encourages academic excellence and professionalism for counseling students.
- Rehabilitation Counseling: The Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) awards grants to institutions providing scholarship assistance to student interested in pursing a career in rehabilitation. Employment in support of the public rehabilitation program is required as a part of receiving the scholarship.
- Occupational Therapy: There are numerous scholarship options offered to graduate students through the American Occupational Therapy Foundation. On their website you’ll also find a list of state association scholarships that are available for you.
There are many more scholarship options out there. You should research your counseling specialization with the word “scholarship” next to it and find out other potential financial possibilities.