Overview of an Online School Counseling Program
For many young students, navigating the education system can be daunting. They are faced with social issues, challenging coursework, and tough decisions regarding the direction of their lives after grade school. School counselors are hired by institutions to guide students through these issues by offering advice and mentorship. If you're interested in this career path, you'll need to earn a master's degree in school counseling.
Online school counseling programs at the master's level can take students one to three years to complete, and they require 30 to 75 credit hours.
Before applying to school at the master's level, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a similar subject, such as teaching, counseling psychology, social work, or simply counseling. Some students earn their bachelor's in school counseling before going on to study for a master's in secondary education in order to work at the university level.
Earning a master's degree online is a valuable option for your future career prospects as a counselor. It's also considered a well respected degree in line with traditional on-campus learning. By attending an online school counseling program, you'll learn important skills in interventionism and behavioral assessment techniques, and you'll study the detailed history of the U.S. education system. You'll use data to drive your counseling studies and look at modern counseling strategies for an increasingly diverse student body.
Common Courses for a School Counseling Major
Coursework in school counseling online programs cover the specific skills and knowledge you'll need to become a licensed counselor. You'll study social and cultural issues, human growth development, career development, and how to apply research and data to your profession.
Below is a list of five courses that are commonly found among the best masters in school counseling programs:
Ethics and Legal Issues in School Counseling
This course covers the ethical standards of modern-day school counseling while also looking at this field through an historical, philosophical, and cultural lens. You'll discuss the trends of school counseling as well as the profession's ethical standards put forth by prominent organizations in the education industry.
Lifespan development looks at the emotional, social, and cognitive processes of human growth. This course provides insight into basic developmental phases in order to provide a better understanding of what young students go through at a biological level.
Research in School Counseling
Here, students will take a data-driven approach to counseling by investigating and analyzing research in school counseling. They are introduced to the scientific practice of research and the relevant terminology, before being assigned their own research projects, where they'll write their findings in a report.
Child Therapy and Assessment
This class takes the proven methods of adolescent psychology and applies it to an education environment. You'll look at intervention techniques and assessment practices while keeping in mind a student's home environment, cognitive issues, and family structure to provide constructive therapeutic techniques.
School Counseling Techniques
This course covers the hard skills needed to be an effective and ethical school counselor, including interview best-practices, observation techniques, data collecting, and writing comprehensive reports.
School Counseling Concentrations
Some online master's in school counseling degrees offer concentrations that allow you to more closely study a niche within the field or create additional skills that will better your employment opportunities.
For example, some programs may offer a bilingual extension, which looks at education practices and theory in a commonly spoken language, such as Spanish.
Others offer mental health concentrations that focus on the practice of addressing cognitive and behavioral issues that many young students face during their education.
School counseling degrees are designed to teach students the skills to operate as a professional counselor in an educational institution. School's are unique environments, especially when compared to psychologist offices, rehabilitation centers, or social work agencies.
Professionals in this field are hired by both public and private schools, where they monitor student behavior, provide academic and social guidance, and administer aptitude tests.
School counselors earn an annual median salary of $60,510 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). When you compare this to the $58,260 average salary for all occupations in May of 2021, you can see that school counselors earn only slightly more each year.
There were 322,000 school counselors working in the U.S. as of 2020. The BLS projects that there will be 37,000 more jobs added before 2030, giving school counselors an 11% job outlook. This is faster than the average occupation's growth rate which sits at around 8%.
Do You Need a Master’s To Be a Guidance Counselor?
Typically, you are required to obtain a master's degree in school counseling before applying to become a licensed guidance counselor. Additionally, the skills and knowledge you'll gain from a graduate program are necessary to be an ethical, fair, and effective counselor for young students.
Public school counselors, specifically, are required to have a state-issued credential in order to practice. Unfortunately, this credential's title varies from state to state. Some states call it a certification or a license, others call it an endorsement.
What Licensure and Certification Do You Need?
States generally require a master's degree — along with a license — to work as a school counselor in grades K-12. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) is an excellent resource for each state's requirements when it comes to working as a certified counselor.
Every state has their own requirements in education, practical experience, and even background checks. Some states, such as Alaska, may also require you to take cultural coursework related to their region, including a specific set of credit hours dedicated to multicultural and Alaskan studies. Once you meet said requirements, you'll be eligible to apply for a state license in school counseling. From there, you can begin applying for full-time employment in both state-funded and private schools.
If you're looking for more professional accolades, a certification provides a designation for an individual's achievements in the field. You can choose to earn a National Certified School Counselor certificate or complete the National Counselor Examination from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). These will help boost your credibility and knowledge through additional coursework in trauma, abuse, addiction, and family counseling, as well as program evaluation and human development.
Choosing an Online Master's in School CounselingProgram
Accreditation verifies the legitimacy and efficacy of an institution. Verifying your school's accreditation status should be your first step in choosing the right program.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the main institution that accredits graduate programs in school counseling. Their rigorous standard looks at everything from a program's learning environment to how a program evaluates its students. Furthermore, all of OnlineU's recommendations for master's degrees in school counseling come from accredited institutions.
Aside from accreditation, there are other facts to consider as well. If you have credits from another university, you should ensure they will be properly transferred to the new program. Credits are a valuable asset for master's students, so it's important that you check your school's transfer policy before committing to said program.
Another thing to think about is how the application of online learning differs from on-campus learning and what requirements there might be for your online degree. Most school counseling master's degrees require in-person practicums or internships. So while the majority of your coursework will be online, you will also need to gain on-site work experience from an approved employer. For those studying out-of-state, you'll need to ensure there are local institutions where you can complete your internship.
If you are looking to graduate from your master's fast, see our article about accelerated learning options and how to graduate from college early.
Is a Master's in School Counseling Worth It?
There are several things to think about before choosing an online master's in school counseling. With so many hoops to jump through, and a hefty cost along the way, you might be asking yourself if it's worth it.
Let's take a look at the various pros and cons of earning a master's in school counseling:
School counseling can be a very fulfilling and satisfying career. This is primarily because your responsibilities revolve around assisting and guiding children and young students through their most formidable years.
Teachers and counselors receive more time off than other occupations. According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, teachers work approximately 185 days per year compared to the average occupation which works around 230 days per year.
Some school counselors are eligible for federal loan forgiveness plans. Once you're employed as a school counselor, you may qualify to have your master's degree loan forgiven by the federal government through Public Service Loan Forgiveness.
Grade school counselors are often considered underpaid. Even though their role in public schools is vitally important, counselors receive only a modest salary of $60,510, which is even less than the $61,820 salary of high school teachers.
School counseling can be a stressful undertaking. According to recent research compiled by NBCC's academic journal, The Professional Counselor, school counselors report that stress and burnout contribute to "a negative influence on the services they provide to students."
A growing ratio of students-to-school-counselors could mean your job becomes less effective. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) reports that the national ratio of students-to-school-counselors in 2021 was 415-1, which is much higher than their recommendation of 250-1.
As a graduate student, you may look for assistance in a variety of ways — from student loans to scholarships. As mentioned above, there are several organizations that offer helpful resources to school counseling graduate students.
ASCA provides a list of state requirements for certification and membership opportunities for master's graduates, where you can receive professional liability insurance coverage, among other benefits.
NBCC offers two professional certificates which are relevant for aspiring school counselors.
CACREP offers resources for accredited educational programs in the field of school counseling.
At the American Counseling Association (ACA), you can apply for a membership that offers career and continuing education resources, discounts for relevant services, counseling-related content, and advocacy projects on behalf of professionals in the field.
Earning a master's degree in school counseling is a costly endeavor that can take years to complete. The subject matter deals with sensitive topics related to adolescent behavior and the corresponding therapeutic techniques that are used in a school environment. There are plenty of support networks and organizations that are designed to help students with their studies and career steps thereafter. Upon graduation, you'll likely find yourself earning a modest salary, which can feel more balanced when considering all the days-off you receive and the help you're able to provide your students.
If you're unsure about pursuing a master's in guidance counseling online, you may also look into graduate programs in educational leadership, elementary education, special education, or health education.