What to Know About a Bachelor's Degree in Counseling

A bachelor's degree in counseling can give you an advantage when applying for entry-level employment in fields related to psychology and counseling. Job growth in these areas remains particularly positive for graduates with a bachelor's or master's degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), especially in rural areas or communities underserved by mental health practitioners.

As more states seek treatment and counseling services for drug offenders -- as opposed to jail time -- the demand for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors has risen. The BLS projects employment for these counselors to grow much faster than the average occupation at a rate of 23% between 2016 to 2026. Research also shows increasing demand for school counselors due to rising student enrollment as well as a greater number of counselors needed to work with military veterans.

In addition to entry-level employment, a bachelor's degree in counseling can also prepare you to pursue a master's degree, which can open up more job opportunities and help lead to state licensure.

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What Is a Bachelor's in Counseling?

A counseling degree suits learners interested in helping people with mental health issues or behavioral problems. Counseling programs cover fundamental principles and theories related to counseling and psychology. Degree candidates also develop soft skills needed by professionals in the counseling field, including interpersonal and listening skills, compassion, and patience.

Working directly with clients or other professionals, counselors must learn how to develop and nurture good interpersonal relationships. Counselors also need to know how to listen and communicate effectively with clients. Graduates can find employment providing therapeutic advice for those struggling with family conflicts, drug addiction, and/or spiritual crises.

Professionals who pursue an online bachelor's degree in counseling can advance their education while continuing to work full time. Alternatively, an on-campus counseling program may appeal more to students who recently graduated high school or desire more face-to-face interaction and socialization with professors and other students. Some educational institutions also offer job placement and career assistance to degree candidates.

While pursuing a bachelor's degree in counseling online or in the classroom, students can network with other counseling students and professors who hold years of experience in the field. Some counseling degrees also require participants to carry out internships, giving degree candidates the chance to practice counseling in a professional setting.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Counseling?

A counseling degree offers graduates several career paths in the psychology field. Individuals can work in settings that include schools, mental health centers, and prisons. In some roles, counselors may need to work nights, evenings, and/or weekends. Additionally, some counselors work alone while others join a team of other professionals. According to the BLS, many people who overcome personal addictions seek out employment in the counseling field. Employers sometimes view these individuals as especially helpful and insightful.

  • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor: Advising people who suffer from alcoholism, drug addiction, and/or other mental or behavioral problems, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors provide treatment and support to help clients modify problem behaviors and recover from addiction. Although educational requirements vary, most employers require candidates to possess a bachelor's degree or higher.
  • Mental Health Counselor: Providing treatment to individuals, families, couples, and groups, mental health counselors treat clients with a variety of conditions. They may also help individuals deal with mental and emotional health issues and relationship problems. Many mental health counselors work with a specific population, such as children, the elderly, or college students. Most of these positions require a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field.
  • Rehabilitation Counselor: Working with clients to manage the social, personal, or psychological effects of disabilities, rehabilitation counselors help people with physical, emotional, or developmental disabilities live more independently. While most employers require a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling or a related field, some hire workers with a bachelor's degree.
  • Social and Community Service Manager: These professionals work with community members and other stakeholders and supervise social service workers. These managers also coordinate social service programs and engage in administrative work. While some positions require a master's degree, most employers seek job candidates with a bachelor's degree and work experience.
  • Social Worker: Social workers help clients with a variety of problems, including adoption, terminal illnesses, and school bullying. These workers may also advocate for increased resources for at-risk communities. While a bachelor's degree in social work remains the most common educational requirement, some employers also hire workers with a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Bachelor's in Counseling Salary

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate
Substance Abuse and Behavioral Disorder Counselor $43,300 23%
Mental Health Counselor $43,300 23%
Rehabilitation Counselor $34,860 13%
Social and Community Service Manager $64,100 18%
Social Worker $47,980 16%

Source: BLS

How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Counseling

Before choosing a specific counseling program, students should consider several factors. For example, degree candidates should look closely at a program's overall length. Whether a student attends school full time or part time affects how long it takes to graduate. Although full-time degree candidates typically finish sooner, completing a counseling degree on a part-time basis may allow learners to continue to work while attending classes.

Students should also determine if a bachelor's degree in counseling program offers classes online or only on campus. An online bachelor's degree in counseling offers many benefits. For example, degree candidates pursuing a counseling degree online may be able to enroll in asynchronous classes and complete coursework at their convenience. This flexibility gives students more time for work-related or familial responsibilities.

Degree candidates should also look at tuition rates and fees when choosing where to pursue a counseling or psychology degree. Some educational institutions offer in-state tuition rates to all learners pursuing a counseling degree online, regardless of their state of residence. Additional factors, including technology fees, books, commuting costs, and room and board, can also increase degree-related costs. An online bachelor's degree in counseling may feature an on-campus practicum, requiring distance learners to travel to school. The location of an educational institution can also affect housing costs and employment opportunities after graduation.

Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Counseling

A college or university receives accreditation for meeting certain educational standards. Two main types of accreditation exist: institutional and specialized/programmatic accreditation. While institutional accreditation normally applies to an entire school, programmatic accreditation tends to recognize individual programs or departments. Additionally, institutional accreditation can be regional or national, with regional accreditation being more prestigious.

The American Psychological Association (APA) Commission on Accreditation stands as the primary accrediting authority for professional education and training in psychology. When researching accreditation status, degree candidates may also come across the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, which accredits master's and doctoral programs in counseling.

Students should make sure to pursue a counseling degree from an accredited institution, and potential employers may only accept degrees from APA-accredited programs. A counseling program's accreditation status can also affect a student's ability to transfer credits when changing schools or applying to master's programs.

Bachelor's in Counseling Program Admissions

Students interested in pursuing an online bachelor's degree in counseling follow an admissions process that differs somewhat from on-campus programs. Online counseling degree programs usually review applications on a first-come, first-serve basis through a rolling admissions process. With rolling admissions, educational institutions can accept applications for several start dates throughout the year. This lets working adults with busy schedules apply any time, offering more flexibility during the application process.

In contrast, on-campus programs usually maintain stricter deadlines, giving applicants a specific window to submit required documents; students need to pay close attention to these deadlines. Applicants should alo plan ahead for specific application requirements, such as mailing transcripts or recommendation letters, which can take weeks to submit. Additionally, according to U.S. News & World Report, students should plan to apply to at least 4-8 colleges or universities.


Minimum GPA: Counseling programs sometimes require incoming students to hold a minimum 2.0 GPA. However, degree candidates may get around this requirement with a certain number of transfer credits or high test scores.

Admission Materials

  • Application: The amount of time needed to complete an application varies based on the school. Degree candidates interested in certain institutions can save time by filling out the Common Application; this online college admissions tool allows candidates to apply to multiple institutions at once.
  • Transcripts: Applicants typically need to send copies of their official transcripts to prospective colleges or universities.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Some counseling programs may require applicants to submit recommendation letters. If this is the case, plan on contacting potential letter writers at least five weeks before application deadlines.
  • Test Scores: Applications typically require test scores from either the SAT or ACT. Depending on the program, applicants may need to earn minimum test scores.
  • Application Fee: Educational institutions usually require an application fee. Fees tend to range from $30-$50. However, some schools waive these fees for service members, military spouses, or students who meet certain financial aid requirements.

What Else Can You Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Counseling?

Some counseling programs offer concentrations or specializations, which let degree candidates narrow their program of study to pursue a specific career. The section below describes some common concentrations in counseling programs. However, specific concentrations and details vary based on a student's chosen school and program.

Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor's in Counseling

Concentration Description Careers this concentration prepares for
Mental Health Counseling Preparing students for entry-level positions, the mental health counseling concentration focuses on human services. Students seeking to continue education in graduate school and pursue a career as a mental health counselor may find this concentration especially appealing. Common coursework includes introduction to human services, family systems, and research methods and program evaluation. Entry-level positions at various human service settings, including mental health agencies, homeless shelters, and group homes
Marriage and Family Counseling With a focus on marriage and family counseling and therapy, this concentration teaches students foundational counseling knowledge. Degree candidates also learn about psychotherapeutic theories and assess family, couple, and individual cases through evidence-based practice. Entry-level careers in the psychology field related to marriage and family counseling
Christian Counseling This concentration helps degree candidates pursue a career in Christian counseling and other non-clinical positions in the field. Designed to promote an understanding of faith and science, this concentration offers skills-based training from a Christian perspective. Common coursework includes introductory classes on the Old Testament, New Testament, and Christian doctrine. Non-licensed Christian counselors, case managers, lay ministry Christian counselors, or employment in the area of mental health services
School Counseling In the school counseling concentration, students learn how to apply foundational counseling knowledge in schools and other educational institutions. Students practice assessing cases and design interventions for children and adolescents. Degree candidates also learn how to apply theory and skills to behavioral health topics for diverse populations. Entry-level careers related to the psychology field in school settings
Addiction Counseling A concentration in addiction counseling teaches learners to treat clients dealing with dependency and addiction issues. This concentration focuses on substance use disorders; addiction and treatment; and how children, adolescents, and adults struggle with various disorders. Degree candidates also study methods to help prevent relapse and stop destructive behaviors. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors; entry-level positions in private practices, rehabilitation clinics, and mental health centers

Courses in a Bachelor's Program in Counseling

Courses in counseling programs provide students with a foundation in psychology-related topics and explore both theory and practical applications. Degree candidates also complete classes that cover social science research methods. The list below contains sample classes taken by many students pursuing a bachelor's degree in counseling. However, specific courses may differ depending on the college or university.

  • Introduction to Counseling: This course introduces degree candidates to basic counseling issues and topics, including perception, self-image, and experience needs. Degree candidates learn how these topics relate to helping clients. Introduction to counseling also provides learners with an understanding of the psychological process and communication styles.
  • Abnormal Psychology: This class introduces students to the study of normal and abnormal behavior. Using case studies, degree candidates compare psychoanalytic theory with other psychology theories. Learners also study psychological topics, including basic needs, disorders, and psychotherapy.
  • Crisis Intervention: Emphasizing short-term crisis interviewing and counseling, this course introduces degree candidates to the study and practice of crisis intervention. Degree candidates learn about advanced interviewing techniques and crisis intervention models. Students also examine assessment strategies for various mental health topics, including substance abuse, depression, suicide, and trauma.
  • Social Science Research Methods: Using observational studies, experimental designs, and surveys, degree candidates learn the basics of social science research methods. Students also discuss ethical issues in social science research and learn how to collect and analyze data, use research tools, and report research findings.
  • General Psychology: Providing an overview of human behavior, this course covers various psychology topics, including cognition and perception. Students learn about psychology's history and growth as a science.

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

To earn a bachelor's degree in counseling, students typically complete about 120 credits over the course of four years. However, learners pursuing an online bachelor's degree in counseling may have the opportunity to take classes at their convenience, which can allow them to graduate more quickly. Additionally, learners who complete courses during the summer may also finish ahead of schedule.

Some accelerated programs give degree candidates the chance to earn their counseling degree in less than four years. However, learners typically need to meet certain academic requirements to qualify for accelerated programming. Colleges and universities may also give students the opportunity to apply previously earned college-level credits towards their graduation requirements, helping students finish a program sooner and spend less on tuition. However, the approved number of transfer credits varies based on the educational institution.

How Much Is a Bachelor's in Counseling?

Costs for a counseling degree vary based on the type of educational institution and program. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), tuition and required fees for a four-year degree in the U.S. total an average $8,800 for in-state residents at public colleges and universities. Alternatively, tuition and required fees increase dramatically to about $25,000 for out-of-state residents at public educational institutions. Tuition and fees rise even further at private colleges and universities, exceeding an average $29,000. Tuition for a bachelor's degree can also vary by location.

Other factors that affect the cost of a counseling degree include a program's length and type. Students completing an accelerated program or learners who transfer credits may finish a degree earlier than expected, reducing the total cost. Additionally, online counseling programs may offer in-state tuition rates to out-of-state degree candidates.

Students should also consider additional fees beyond tuition, including books, technology fees, and room and board. By completing a counseling degree online from home, you can avoiding costs related to commuting and living on campus.

How to Become a Counselor

To become a counselor, candidates must meet certain state requirements. While these requirements vary by state, counselors typically need to hold a master's degree in counseling and accrue ample supervised clinical experience to earn a professional counselor license. Counselors must also complete continuing education credits on a regular basis and pass a state-issued exam.

For substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors outside of private practice, some states do not require a graduate degree. Aspiring professionals can find employment with only a bachelor's degree, but they must also pass a specific exam. The Addiction Technology Transfer Center Network provides information about state requirements for substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor licensure.

  • National Certified Counselors: Overseen by the National Board for Certified Counselors Inc. and Affiliates (NBCC), NCCs must hold a master's degree, pass an exam, demonstrate postgraduate counseling work, gain supervised postgraduate counseling experience, and receive a professional endorsement.
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors: Board-certified counselors receive CCMHC status after meeting certain supervision, experience, education, examination, and ethical requirements. Applicants must hold NCC certification, a master's degree, and pass the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination.
  • National Certified School Counselors: After meeting stringent supervision, experience, education, examination, and ethical requirements related to school counseling, counselors can apply for NCSC status. Professional counselors must already hold NCC certification and a master's degree. Candidates for NCSC certification must also have completed graduate-level coursework related to family and children counseling.
  • Certified Clinical Mental Health Counselors: Board-certified counselors who adhere to the highest standards of practice in clinical mental health counseling qualify to become CCMHCs -- a certification offered by NBCC. For the CCMHC specialty, applicants must already hold NCC certification; a master's degree; and meet specific experience, education, exam, and supervision requirements.
  • Master Addictions Counselors: Created jointly by the American Counseling Association and NBCC, this certification is awarded to exemplary addiction counselors. To receive MAC status, a candidate must hold an NCC certificate, pass an exam, and have completed a master's program with coursework related to addictions counseling.

Resources for Counseling Students

  • MentalHealth.gov: Providing access to mental health information and resources, MentalHealth.gov serves as a public education website. The site covers various mental health topics, including suicidal behavior, eating disorders, and substance abuse.
  • National Institute of Mental Health: Part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the NIMH serves as the leading federal agency for research on mental disorders. The NIMH's website provides information related to mental health, funding opportunities, and conferences.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: An agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, SAMHSA leads public health efforts to advance behavioral health across the nation. The agency offers publications, resources, and grants.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors: Established in 1982, NBCC serves as the premier credentialing body for counselors, ensuring that board-certified counselors adhere to high standards. NBCC awards board certification and many specialty certifications.
  • The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification: The world's largest rehabilitation counseling organization dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with disabilities, CRCC sets the standards for rehabilitation counseling services through a nationally accredited certification program.

Professional Organizations in Counseling

Joining a professional organization in counseling can give current students and recent graduates many benefits. For a membership fee, professional counseling associations provide members access to continuing education classes, job listings, and networking opportunities at annual conferences.

  • American Counseling Association: Founded in 1952, ACA works to grow the counseling profession. The world's largest association representing professional counselors, ACA offers continuing education discounts, job opportunities, and access to professional publications.
  • The American College Counseling Association: The premier professional organization for counseling professionals working in higher education, ACCA offers members many benefits, including access to publications, grant opportunities, and national college counseling statistics and research findings.
  • American Psychological Association: With more than 115,000 members, including researchers, clinicians, and students, APA represents the leading psychology professional organization in the U.S. Members receive discounts on publications, products, and continuing education classes.
  • American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy: Representing more than 50,000 marriage and family therapists, AAMFT provides its members with access to online continuing education classes, job listings, and networking opportunities.
  • The Association for Addiction Professionals: Founded in 1972 as the National Association of Alcoholism Counselors and Trainers, this association provides education, clinical training, discounts, and certification to mental health professionals.
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