Becoming a Counselor in Iowa

Iowa licenses school counselors and mental health counselors at the master's level. If you’re considering the profession, you have plenty of time to explore before making a commitment.

It can be a good idea to take steps as an undergraduate to confirm your career choice and make yourself competitive. You will not have specific coursework requirements, though, until later.

CACREP Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs:


If you are a High School Student or hold a Diploma / GED in Iowa:

Step 1:

Decide on an undergraduate major. There can be advantages to majoring in a human services field, but it's not a requirement. Select a subject that interests you and work to maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or above. Learn about undergraduate counseling degree options here.

An undergraduate degree in Psychology is common preparation for graduate school in the field of counseling.

Step 2:

Get some experience working with your target population. The state does not require school counseling students to have education degrees, but schools do favor students who have considerable experience working with children. The University of Iowa, for example, likes to see a year of post-baccalaureate experience with young people. You might consider programs like Americorps Iowa.

If you’re interested in mental health counseling, you may find internship or volunteer opportunities through your school; you might, for example, participate in a student-run clinic that offers mental health services to needy individuals in the community.

If you have a Bachelor’s Degree:

Step 1:

Look ahead to see admission requirements. You will need to write a professional statement. You will be evaluated on your writing ability as well as your commitment to the profession. You may also be required to take the GRE.

Step 2:

If you're interested in becoming a school counselor in Iowa, you will select a master’s program at either the elementary (K-8) or secondary (5 - 12) level.

There must be a human relations component and an exceptional learners component. You must have a practicum of at least 500 hours as well as coursework in content areas required by Iowa Board.

If you are interested in mental health counseling, you will need to enroll in a CACREP-accredited counseling program or one that is the equivalent. CACREP-accredited mental health programs are transitioning to 60 semester hours.

Most of your program will be planned for you. You will take classes in human development, diversity, psychopathology, and treatment planning, among others. Your program may allow for an elective sequence in an area of interest, for example, aging or substance abuse. Check out some master's in counseling program options here.

Step 3:

After you complete your mental health counseling program, you can apply for temporary permit that will allow you to work while you accrue your experience hours. You won't need to apply for the temporary permit to work if you fall under the Iowa Code 154D.4,2,b. exemption.

If your program includes a thesis and you have finished all requirements but the thesis, you may begin.

Step 4:

Full licensure as a mental health counselor requires 3,000 hours of supervised practice. This will take place over a period of at least two years. You will have a clinical supervisor who consults with you and documents your hours.

Supervision must be board approved. At the onset, you will submit a form that gives the name and qualifications of your supervisor; it will also describe your work setting and duties.

Step 5:

You will need to pass a licensing exam before you apply for permanent licensure as a mental health counselor. You may opt for the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the certification exam administered by CRCC.

*Find more detailed information on counselor licensure in Iowa here.

As a school counselor, you won't need to take a licensing exam. You will get an institutional recommendation and submit to a background check.

Counselor Licensing Agencies in Iowa:

Iowa Board of Educational Examiners

Iowa Board of Behavioral Science

A Sample of Schools Offering Bachelor's and Master's Programs

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