Becoming a Counselor in Pennsylvania
Wondering if counseling is a viable career choice? It can seem like long journey when you’re just beginning postsecondary education. You will need a master's degree to work as a professional counselor or school counselor, but you can perform some counseling roles – and get paid – along the way. Here are some tips on beginning a career in counseling.
CACREP Accredited Online Master's in Counseling Programs:
If you are a High School Student or High School Grad in Pennsylvania:
You can select any course of study at the undergraduate level, but some may have advantages. If you don’t have an education background and you decide to go into school counseling, you may have a few additional courses to take when you do your master’s program. Pennsylvania requires courses in instruction of ELL students and inclusion of students with disabilities. Read up on selecting an undergraduate major for counseling here.
What if you're considering mental health counseling? You're more likely to get a technician-level job in mental health if you have education in psychology, substance abuse, or other human services. A bachelor's degree in Psychology is common preparation for graduate school in the field of mental health counseling. This may help you learn about the profession and also strengthen your application. You might want to look at the site of the Pennsylvania Certification Board and decide if you want to pursue this type of work en route to grad school.
Whatever major and minor you opt for, aim for a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Your GPA is especially important during your final semesters -- schools may be more inclined to forgive lower grades during the beginning of your college career.
If you already have an Undergraduate Degree
As you prepare for grad school application, get some experience (if you haven’t already). Whatever part of the state you live in, there are multiple opportunities.
You might seek volunteer or paid opportunities with the Mental Health Association of Southeastern Pennsylvania. Recovery Coach positions are paid. These are for individuals who have a mental health diagnosis or have had addiction problem in the past. Compeer is a volunteer program where individuals develop a one-on-one relationship with someone who has a serious mental illness.
There are also internship opportunities with Central Pennsylvania Red Cross.
The admission process may have multiple steps. Schools typically ask for a resume and references. They may invite you to campus to assess your writing and communication skills and determine if you're a good fit.
If you are interested in school counseling, you will enroll in a graduate program that includes a practicum and internship.
If you want to become a Licensed Professional Counselor, you will need a program of 60 semester hours. (Master's programs of 48 semester hours are acceptable, provided you make up the additional coursework.) You may opt for any of several counseling specializations. You can become a professional counselor in Pennsylvania with a degree in a closely related field like art therapy.
Take licensing exams. The Board accepts several licensing exams for the professional counselor designation. The one you typically take is the National Counselor Examination. However, you make take a different exam if you specialize in a field like addictions counseling or art therapy.
If you are a school counselor, you will take the Praxis.
You will need to complete a period of supervised practice before you can get your professional counseling license. You may count part-time work (15 hours a week or more) provided you are in the position for at least six months.
You will need to submit a curricula vitae and recommendation letters to the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists, and Professional Counselors as part of the licensing process.