Bachelor’s of counseling program guide
What is counseling?
Counselors help clients to resolve physical, social, emotional, school- and work-related issues. They use multiple strategies to teach people how to cope with stress, reduce anxiety, and manage mental health issues.
This means they encourage clients to focus on their strengths to improve mental health and overall wellbeing.
Many counselors take a holistic approach, choosing to concentrate on ‘wellness’ rather than ‘illnesses. This means they encourage clients to focus on their strengths to improve mental health and overall wellbeing.
Counselors can work in a number of different locations, such as family services, mental health units, addiction centers, school, government, and private practice. A counselor’s place of work is mainly influenced by their area of interest and the clients they wish to work with.
Is a counseling program right for you?
Before signing up for a bachelor’s in counseling, it pays to check whether counseling is the right profession for you—and whether you are right for counseling. A desire to help others is an excellent starting point. Other important attributes include:
- logic – the ability to analyze information and draw appropriate conclusions
- communication – speaking, listening, and writing skills
- integrity – good counselors are discrete and trustworthy
- patience – it often takes time to see results
- interpersonal relationships – counselors need to work well with other people
- observation – it is crucial to be able to interpret people’s expressions and actions
- problem-solving – the job involves collecting and evaluating information to find treatments or solutions
If you have some of the above attributes, then a counseling program may be for you.
Differences between counseling and counseling psychology
Before we discuss undergraduate degree options, we should mention that counseling is not the same as counseling psychology. While it’s true that both professions aim to improve a client’s life, there are clear differences.
A counseling psychologist usually works with serious mental health conditions, for example in medical clinics, or other clinical settings. They are often involved in academia and research, either as a sideline, or full time.
Licensed clinical or professional counselors do diagnose and treat mental health problems, utilizing the DSM-5, the diagnostic bible in mental health.
Meanwhile, counselors tend to focus on a client’s emotional or relationship issues. Their sessions typically involve discussing a client’s problems and using various methods to improve their skills in these areas. Licensed clinical or professional counselors do diagnose and treat mental health problems, utilizing the DSM-5, the diagnostic bible in mental health. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Programs (CACREP) provides accreditation for counseling programs that ensure students are trained and competent in this role.
Another important difference is that a counseling psychologist typically requires a doctorate degree. For counselors, a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or therapy is usually adequate for licensure and to start working with clients.
Why get a bachelor’s degree?
An undergraduate degree is the first step to becoming a counselor. Some colleges offer bachelor level programs in counseling, many do not. This shouldn’t deter you though, because while a bachelor’s is a requirement to become a counselor, it does not necessarily need to be in counseling. Undergraduate students often major in psychology, sociology, or related fields.
For would-be counselors, an undergraduate degree is a route into a graduate program, where it is possible to specialize in a specific area of counseling to get your license.
Note: some schools offer bachelor’s degrees in psychology with courses and even concentrations in counseling. It is important to be aware of this, as when researching courses you may think you are reading about a bachelor’s in counseling when it is actually a degree in psychology.
For would-be counselors, an undergraduate degree is a route into a graduate program, where it is possible to specialize in a specific area of counseling to get your license. Therefore, your choice of program at undergraduate level may be mostly influenced the school you wish to attend.
Applying to a bachelor’s program
Applying to a 4-year bachelor’s program involves submitting several documents to a university’s admissions office. They include:
- application, including any required processing fee
- ACT or SAT scores
- transcripts from high school and any colleges you’ve attended
- letters of recommendation
Most programs prefer a high school GPA of at least 3.0. In some cases, high SAT or ACT scores can compensate for lower grades.
Community colleges typically charge less, and some students decide to take this option to complete general education courses before applying to transfer to a 4-year college and program. For those wanting to take this option, it is recommended that you check with the university that the courses you take at community college can be transferred as credit to for your desired degree program.
Program of study
There are 2 main options when it comes to studying counseling as a major: a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) – in counseling. Some schools also offer a combination of psychology and counseling as one major.
The main difference between a B.A and B.S is that a B.A. commonly consists of more humanities courses with elective options from various liberal arts field, while a B.S. is more science based. The option you choose often depends on the school and available coursework options.
Both the B.A. and B.S. in counseling programs are designed to introduce the essential skills required in professional practice. Students learn about counseling theories, social issues, and how to treat a range of people with diverse backgrounds.
Coursework typically includes topics like:
- diversity issues, including cultural sensitivity
- introductory counseling skills, including individual and group settings
- human development
- abnormal psychology
- addictive behavior
- family relationships
- couple counseling
- crisis intervention
- professionalism and ethics
One of the main aims of a bachelor’s in counseling is to provide students with a solid foundation for their graduate studies. Therefore, the curriculum tends to be rather broad. Some schools offer concentrations that allow students to focus on a topic of interest.
Specialty areas often include:
- mental health – explores topics like clinical interventions and assessment of mental disorders
- substance abuse – prepares students to help those struggling with addictions
- art therapy – teaches how to use creativity and art in a therapy setting
- school counseling – introduction to working with children and teens in a school setting
- marriage and family counseling – prepares students to help families with relationship issues
BA in school counseling, and BA in mental health counseling
While researching program options online you may find programs advertised as ‘bachelor’s in school counseling’, or ‘bachelor’s in mental health counseling’. This can be exciting if you wish to work in either of these areas but look closer and these degrees are usually either a bachelor’s in psychology or bachelor’s in counseling — with an element of school or mental health counseling included. These courses may foster skills in your chosen field, but they are often not as specialized as the title implies. The real specialization comes later, at master’s degree level.
Choosing an accredited university
Studying at an accredited college is essential to be sure of the quality of course offerings. Accreditation typically influences credit transferability. It can also determine whether you’re eligible for financial aid from the federal government.
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes the agencies responsible for accrediting schools and programs. On their website you can check whether a school is accredited. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provides similar information. It is strongly recommended that you only enroll in a university after verifying that it has regional or national accreditation.
Online study opportunities
Taking classes online can be an appealing option for students who have work or family responsibilities. Distance learning provides greater flexibility to students as they cover the same curriculum provided in a traditional classroom.
Counseling programs incorporate internships to provide students with practical experience.
Most online counseling programs are offered in a hybrid format. This format combines online classes with in-person course requirements. Counseling programs incorporate internships to provide students with practical experience.
Many public and private organizations offer funding to help counseling students pay for their degrees. The Federal Student Aid website is an excellent starting point for your financial aid research. You can find out about scholarships, grants, loans, work-study, and more. Filling out the free application for federal student aid enables you to discover which opportunities you qualify for.
What can I do with this degree?
A bachelor’s degree in counseling doesn’t qualify graduates to become counselors or psychologists—for this you need to complete further study—but it does provide many other opportunities in the job market.
Some of the possibilities include:
Health education specialist or community health worker
Work within communities to improve the health of its inhabitants. The role often involves providing informal counseling and social support.
Probation officer or correctional treatment specialist
Provide social services to help rehabilitate offenders who are on parole or probation. Candidates with a bachelor’s in criminal justice may receive preference, but counseling degree graduates are also eligible due to the crossover in required skills.
Social and human service assistant
The professionals provide support and assistance to clients with various issues and backgrounds. They can be found working in fields such as psychology, social work, and rehabilitation.
Licensure and certification
In general, counseling licenses can only be issued to individuals with a master’s degree or higher. There are some certifications that can be obtained with a bachelor’s degree, which may help advance your career. These include:
This certification may be necessary to work as a health education specialist.
An optional certification that demonstrate your expertise in working with teens who struggle with addictions.
This is a voluntary national certification for those interested in substance abuse counseling.
Similar to the previous program, this certification indicates a higher level of expertise and experience.
This certification requires a bachelor’s degree plus 3 years of experience in sexuality counseling.
Opportunities for further education
After your bachelor’s degree, you may wish to enroll in a master’s in counseling right away— this is the quickest way to become licensed.
If you’re still unsure whether this is the career for you, or just want to take a break before making such a large commitment, a post-baccalaureate certificate may be an appealing option.
Such programs help to increase your expertise and strengthen your resume. Several universities offer these certificates. Available topics often include:
- alcohol and drug counseling
- marriage and family therapy
- college and career counseling
- patient counseling
Some of these programs provide master’s level credits that can be applied to a future graduate degree. Some courses also qualify you to sit for specific certification exams.
A professional and educational organization that offers a job-listing database. It also provides education opportunities like webinars and podcasts.
Offers opportunities for mental health professionals to network. Licensed counselors can earn continuing education credits through AMHCA webinars.
An independent certification organization that offers the national counselor examination for certification and licensure. It also provides resources for those who aspire to become nationally certified counselors.
Provides certification to sexuality counselors and organizes an annual conference. The site also lists scholarship opportunities.
Meet our counseling expert
Meet our counseling expert
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor
Rayelle Davis is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Nationally Certified Counselor, and Board Certified Telemental Health Provider specializing in addictions and trauma. She is also a Doctoral Candidate in the counselor education and supervision program at Duquesne University where she works as an adjunct faculty member and clinical supervisor for master’s level counseling students. She is passionate about mental health education and reducing related stigma. Her research focuses on the cultural trauma of the Appalachian region of the United States. She has presented at various professional conferences and received research awards from Duquesne University and the American Counseling Association. She owns her own practice in western Maryland where she resides with her family.