Counseling Degrees

Counselors provide emotional, behavioral, and mental health support to clients. Depending on the field, counselors may diagnose mental disorders and engage in various forms of talk therapy with clients. Those interested in learning about and analyzing human cognition and behavior, and who are drawn to help people in need, may want to consider a degree in counseling. Counseling jobs can be lucrative as they are increasingly in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors will grow by 23 percent between 2016 and 2026. This rate is much faster than the average rate for all occupations.

Students may pursue bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degrees in counseling. To become licensed and practice mental health counseling, you need at least a master's degree. Graduates with a bachelor's in counseling may be able to secure jobs in the field, such as mental health case manager. Behavioral disorder and substance abuse counselors working outside of private practice may become licensed in some states with a bachelor's degree in counseling. A doctorate counseling degree will widen the career scope. This page will help you choose the path that's best for you should you decide to become a counselor.

Completing Your Counseling Degree Online

As you evaluate types of counseling degrees, you may consider the prospect of earning your counseling degree online. Students in online counseling programs take courses in the same subjects as those in traditional programs, and graduate with the same credentials. However, earning an online counseling degree often means lower tuition and less expensive textbooks. Online students also save on living, commuting, parking, and childcare costs.

If you need flexibility in your studies, consider an online counseling degree. Most programs offer coursework asynchronously, meaning you can complete assignments at your convenience. This is ideal for working professionals or those with busy families. Some programs adhere to a self-paced learning model while others favor a cohort-based approach.

Online counseling degrees may also require internships or practicums, just like programs at brick-and-mortar schools. Students in online programs find and secure their own internship or practicum sites with approval from their instructor or program administrator. Students in these arrangements continue to learn classroom material online through digital lectures, assignments, and exams, and complete internship or practicum requirements at local healthcare facilities. A site supervisor may send reports to the student's school to verify that the student has performed the appropriate tasks and satisfied all requirements.

Bachelor's in Counseling

A bachelor's degree can lead to a fun and rewarding career. To apply, students must have a high school diploma or GED, SAT/ACT scores, and sometimes letters of recommendation or a resume. Bachelor's programs generally take four years to complete. You may earn your degree on a traditional campus or choose one of the bachelor's in counseling programs available entirely online. These degrees typically do not require an internship component, though some may involve field experience or participation in graduate-level research.

Licensed mental health counselors must have a master's degree. Some areas allow behavioral disorder or substance abuse counselors with bachelor's degrees, working outside of private practice, to become licensed. A bachelor's degree in counseling may also lead to a career as a social and human service assistant, substance abuse counselor, behavioral disorder counselor, or social and community service manager. You may decide to earn a master's or doctoral degree in counseling to qualify for a wider range of careers.

Bachelor's Degree in Counseling


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Time to Completion: Four years
Average Degree Cost: $24,000-$88,000
Earning Potential: $33,000-$64,000
Sample Career Options: Social and Human Service Assistant;
Substance Abuse or Behavioral Disorder Counselor;
Social and Community Service Manager

Master's in Counseling

To qualify for admission to a master's program, you first need a bachelor's degree in counseling or a related field. A master's in counseling program will usually take about two to three years to complete. Although coursework can be completed entirely online, most counseling programs require students to complete an internship or practicum program. These field experiences are conducted at an approved facility in a student's local area. Students in master's programs often must submit a thesis or other culminating project to graduate.

Graduates with a master's degree in counseling have met the educational requirements to become licensed to practice counseling. They must pass licensing exams and accrue the required hours of supervision and client experience to earn licensure, but a master's degree is sufficient for this process. Graduates can work as mental health counselors, marriage and family therapists, social workers, or school counselors. Alternatively, a master's degree in counseling can provide helpful groundwork for continued education.

Master's Degree in Counseling


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Time to Completion: Two to three years
Average Degree Cost: $16,000-$60,000
Earning Potential: $40,000-$50,000
Sample Career Options: Mental Health Counselor, Marriage and Family Therapist, Social Worker

Doctorate in Counseling

To qualify for admission to a doctorate in counseling program, you generally need a master's degree in counseling. Some schools may require you to have a professional counseling license and may request that you submit a resume and letters of recommendation. Earning your doctorate degree in counseling takes about five years. You can complete this degree online, although your program may require some residency terms or field experience such as clinical supervision or a research project. Some programs require a dissertation.

A doctorate in counseling allows graduates to become licensed and work as clinical psychologists. Graduates with doctoral degrees can also pursue careers in research and academia, including academic administration. Students may choose to earn a doctorate in counseling if they wish to be experts in the field and reach the pinnacle of academic achievement.

Doctorate in Counseling


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Time to Completion: About five years
Average Degree Cost: $27,000-$47,000
Earning Potential: $76,000-$92,000
Sample Career Options: Psychologist, Postsecondary Teacher, Postsecondary Education Administrator

Related Programs

Degrees in fields such as psychology, therapy, and human services may lead to the same or similar career paths as counseling. All involve the study of human behavior and how various services are useful in the management of individual and social needs. They diverge when it comes to the specifics of how the knowledge of human behavior is meant to be applied. A bachelor's degree in any of these fields qualifies students for an advanced degree in counseling. Though a master's degree is the minimum level required to become licensed as a counselor, some students choose to earn a doctoral degree in order to become a psychologist. Visit this page to learn more about the differences between a counselor and a psychologist.


Bachelor's in Psychology: A bachelor's in psychology gives students an introduction to science and critical thinking as they relate to the study of human behavior.


Bachelor's in Human Services: Students earning a bachelor's in human services study psychology and human development in addition to social policy and methodologies in human services.


Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy: The curriculum in a marriage and family therapy master's degree focuses on counseling interventions to treat a variety of common presenting client issues.


Doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy: Students earning a doctorate in marriage and family therapy build upon the knowledge from a master's program with the addition of teaching and supervision skills.


State Certification and Licensure

Licensure and certification requirements in the counseling field vary depending by state and jurisdiction. States may differ on the minimum degree a counselor must have, the licensing exam they must pass, or special training requirements. Be sure to research the licensing requirements for your desired position in the state in which you'd like to establish your career. Below you will find helpful information about the counseling licensure requirements in each state.

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