Bachelor’s of counseling program guide

HomePsychologyBachelor’s degree in counseling

What is counseling?

Are you thinking about pursuing a career in counseling? Counselors work with clients to improve their overall wellness, focusing on aspects of well-being that typically include:

  • Emotional
  • Vocational
  • Physical
  • Organizational
  • Social
  • Educational
  • Developmental

Counselors use multiple strategies to teach clients how to cope with stress, reduce anxiety, and manage mental health issues. A counseling program may be right for you if you have strengths in the following areas:

  • Logic – analyzing information and drawing appropriate conclusions
  • Communication – speaking, listening, and writing
  • Integrity – discretion and trustworthiness
  • Patience – waiting to see results
  • Interpersonal relationships – working well with other people
  • Problem-solving – collecting and evaluating information to find treatments or solutions
  • Observation – interpreting people’s expressions and actions

Counselors help their clients deal with interpersonal relationships. They can assist people in resolving physical, social, emotional, school- and work-related issues. These professionals may also advise clients regarding career development.

Several career pathways exist for those who earn an undergraduate degree in counseling. We’ll look at those options after explaining what’s involved in the bachelor’s program.

How to get into an undergraduate counseling program

Applying to a bachelor’s program in counseling usually 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 from past teachers

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 than 4-year universities. As a result, you may wish to take your general education courses there to save money. If you choose this option, make sure you select your 4-year college and program as early as possible. Check with the university to be certain that the courses you take at the community college will be accepted for your desired degree program.

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. Its website allows you to find out whether a given school is accredited. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation provides similar information. We suggest you only enroll in a university after verifying that it has regional or national accreditation.

Program of study

An undergraduate counseling degree introduces students to the skills necessary in professional practice. Coursework typically includes topics like:

  • Human development
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Beginning counseling skills, including individual and group settings
  • Addictive behavior
  • Family relationships
  • Counseling couples
  • Crisis intervention
  • Professionalism and ethics
  • Diversity issues, including cultural sensitivity

Many schools offer concentrations that allow you to focus on a topic of your 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

What are the costs?

Tuition and fees can vary significantly from one school to another. These costs differ according to factors like:

  • In- or out-of-state
  • On- or off-campus
  • Public or private

Average costs for yearly tuition and fees are as follows. These numbers show approximately how much you’ll pay living off-campus and commuting:

  • Public 2-year community college (in-district): $3,770
  • Public 4-year university (in-state): $10,560
  • Public 4-year institution (out-of-state): $27,020
  • Private 4-year university: $37,650

If you choose to live on campus, you’ll pay for room and board in addition to tuition and fees. Total yearly costs are on average:

  • Public 2-year community college (in-district): $12,850
  • Public 4-year university (in-state): $22,180
  • Public 4-year institution (out-of-state): $38,640
  • Private 4-year university: $50,770

Online study opportunities

Taking classes online can be an appealing option for students who have work or family responsibilities. Distance learning provides greater flexibility while still allowing you to study the same curriculum as you would in a traditional classroom.

Most online counseling programs are offered in a hybrid format, meaning classes are online, but in-person learning is also required. Counseling programs require internships to provide students with practical experience.

Financial aid

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 (FAFSA) will enable you to discover which opportunities you qualify for.

What can I do with this degree?

Though a bachelor’s degree in counseling doesn’t make you a psychologist, it provides many other opportunities. Here are some of the possibilities, with their respective yearly salaries:

Licensure and certification

In general, states issue counseling licenses only to individuals with a master’s degree or higher. However, there are some certifications that you can obtain with a bachelor’s degree. They may help you advance your career. They include:

Certified Health Education Specialist (CHES)

This certification may be necessary to work as a health education specialist.

National Certified Adolescent Addictions Counselor (NCAAC)

An optional certification that can show your expertise in working with teens who struggle with addictions.

National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level I

A voluntary national certification that can show your skills in substance abuse counseling.

National Certified Addiction Counselor, Level II

This program certifies a higher level of expertise and experience in substance abuse counseling.

AASECT Certified Sexuality Counselor

This certification requires a bachelor’s degree plus 3 years of experience with sexuality counseling.

Opportunities for further education

After you complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling, you may wish to enroll in a master’s or doctorate program right away. Doing so is the quickest way to become a licensed counselor.

However, maybe you’re not sure that’s what you want or prefer to take a break before taking on such a large commitment. In that case, you may want to consider a post-baccalaureate certificate.

Such programs help you increase your expertise and increase professionalism. If you search online for post-baccalaureate counseling certificates, you’ll find several universities that offer them. Available topics include:

  • Alcohol and drug counseling
  • Marriage and family therapy
  • College and career counseling
  • Patient counseling

Some of these programs provide master’s level credits to apply towards a graduate degree if you choose to pursue one in the future. They may also qualify you to sit for specific certification exams.

American Counseling Association (ACA)

The ACA is a professional and educational organization that offers a job-listing database. It also provides education opportunities like webinars and podcasts.

American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA)

This association offers opportunities for mental health professionals to network. Licensed counselors can earn continuing education credits through AMHCA webinars.

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) is 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.

The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) provides certification to sexuality counselors and organizes an annual conference. The site also lists scholarship opportunities.