This page provides information about school counseling master's degree programs, including curricula, benefits of a graduate degree, potential job options, and requisite certifications. School counselors assist students with academic and social development at all ages and stages. A shortage of counselors results in an ineffective student to counselor ratio and makes this career a promising choice.
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Why Get a Master's Degree in School Counseling?
Earning a master's degree in school counseling comes with many benefits. Most importantly, almost all states require a master's degree from an accredited program to become a licensed school counselor, making this degree crucial for employment.
Allows You to Help Students Succeed
A master's degree prepares graduates to become licensed school counselors who help students succeed. Counselors work directly with students to help them with academic, social, development, emotional, and behavioral issues.
Qualifies You to Become a Licensed School Counselor
While a few states allow bachelor's degree-holders with additional education and experience to become licensed school counselors, the majority requires at least a master's degree in school counseling or a related field.
The Field's Job Outlook Is Stronger Than Average
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth in school counseling jobs between 2018 and 2028, a slightly faster rate than the projected growth of all occupations.
Example Courses in a School Counseling Master's Program
Master's degree programs teach prospective school counselors how to assist and advise students, including methods and theories that promote academic and social development, individual and group counseling, and multicultural competency. Students also learn how to engage students' families, school staff members, and community organizations to help students succeed. Additional class topics include addressing bullying, addiction counseling, and advising students with behavioral issues and disruptive home environments.
While curriculum focuses vary by program, the courses listed below comprise core requirements in a typical master's in school counseling degree program.
Introduction to School Counseling
Addressing factors affecting educational equity, this course covers the K-12 school counselor's roles as an advocate, collaborator, coordinator, and leader. Skills developed include interviewing, building relationships, empathy, and effective confrontation. Students learn to plan and implement comprehensive counseling programs that provide access to quality education and facilitate family involvement.
Students compare and contrast different counseling theories and philosophies in the context of application, effectiveness, goals, and future development. The course also outlines history and trends. Through class lectures and discussion, along with readings and experiential learning, students develop their own theoretical approaches to use in their future careers.
This class focuses on group theory, research, and experience through a variety of techniques. Students learn to work with groups ranging from children and adolescents to adults. Instruction delivery includes lectures, discussions, video recordings, readings, and group projects. School counselors use group therapy in schools to address a host of issues.
Mental Health and Substance Abuse
This class covers the identification of existing and potential psychological disorders and substance abuse in students. Topics include assessment strategies, effects of medications, the etiology of addiction, and intervention approaches. Students gain knowledge and skills to help children with mental health and substance abuse issues or those living in environments where such issues exist or might develop.
Counseling Diverse Populations
In this course, students explore different behavior patterns and value systems impacted by age, developmental stage, ethnicity, gender, geographic origin, language, lifestyle, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class. School counselors work with diverse populations in K-12 schools.
School counseling students gain critical practice skills through practicums, internships, and clinical hours. A practicum generally consists of 100 hours of supervised on-site field experience, 2-3 days a week, in which students primarily observe and assist school counselors but may also provide supervised counseling services to students.
Most states require students to complete 600 supervised internship hours, typically at a K-12 institution. Interns usually work full-time and learn job skills by participating in the school's daily activities, including counseling individuals and groups in a more independent capacity than in a practicum. Many state licensure boards also require 2-3 years of postgraduate counseling and/or teaching experience.
Accreditation means that an independent agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation evaluates a school or program and confers accreditation on those that meet set standards. Nationally accredited schools usually include for-profit institutions, while regionally accredited schools encompass nonprofit or state-owned colleges and universities.
Most states only license school counselors with a degree from programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Students should ensure that their chosen program carries CACREP approval.
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in School Counseling?
A master's degree in school counseling allows graduates to become licensed school counselors. According to the BLS, 44% of school counselors work in elementary and secondary schools, followed by postsecondary institutions at 35%. The remaining percent find employment in healthcare, at public social services agencies, or within private practice.
Master's degree-holders pursue careers as elementary, middle, and high school counselors or as career counselors at secondary and postsecondary schools and social service agencies.
Common Work Environments
- Elementary, middle, and high schools
- Colleges and universities
- Social services
- Private practice
Career Advancement in School Counseling
Virtually all states and most public school systems require school counselors to obtain licenses. Requirements vary by state. Students can find information about licensing in particular states on the American School Counselor Association's website.
Typical requirements include:
- A master's degree in school counseling or a related field with school counseling coursework from an accredited program
- Internship, practicum, and/or clinical experience related to school counseling; some states require experience teaching in a classroom or a teaching credential
- Passing a state exam, such as the Praxis series
- Passing a criminal background check
State licensing permits counselors to provide direct services to students.
The optional National Certified Counselor certification administered by the National Board of Certified Counselors indicates that a counselor meets the national standards set for general counselors.
Applicants must hold a master's degree that includes coursework relevant to school counseling; complete 100 hours of postgraduate supervised counseling experience over a minimum period of two years; complete 3,000 hours of independent counseling over a minimum period of two years; submit a professional endorsement from a colleague; and pass either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling examination.
Pursue a Doctorate Program in School Counseling
Students with a master's degree may wish to obtain a school counseling doctorate, which leads to increased salaries and career options. A school counseling Ph.D. prepares graduates for careers mentoring and teaching future school counselors. Potential positions include counseling program directors, counselor supervisors and educators, and university faculty and researchers.
Join a Professional Organization
The following links to professional organizations and resources can help graduates of school counseling master's programs find professional development courses, job listings, networking opportunities, and information about recent research.
- American Counseling Association The ACA supports counselors through advocacy and professional development activities, including an annual conference, free online classes, a job center, and a guide to school counseling laws and regulations.
- American School Counselor Association The ASCA lists state licensing and certification requirements, offers continuing education webinars, and develops the national model of school counseling programs, which provides a framework for comprehensive, data-driven programs.
- Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling Open to all counselors who work with children and adolescents, ACAC offers an electronic newsletter, networking opportunities, a member blog, a biannual journal, research grants, and presentations.
- International School Counselor Association This professional organization provides leadership and advocacy for the global school counseling community. Member benefits include collaborative online networking, professional development events and resources, and publications.
- National Education Association NEA supports its three million members of public school educators through advocacy, networking opportunities, and its member benefits program that provides discounts and resources on family and health issues, financial and retirement planning, and travel.