Master of counseling degree guide

HomePsychologyMaster’s degree in counseling

Introduction to counseling

Counseling is a profession where you work with clients to identify solutions to problems and help them attain their goals. You may address social, emotional, and physical health concerns. A counselor employs various techniques to assist clients in changing their behavior, finding a new perspective, or improving how they cope with stress.

The main qualification for this role is a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. These degrees typically teach you how to apply psychological theories in a practical setting. Counseling psychology looks at different schools of thought. These could include psychodynamic, person-centered, or cognitive-behavioral approaches.

If you’re looking to enhance your communication skills, you might be interested in a counseling program. Studying counseling can also improve your ability to listen objectively and without judgment.

You might enjoy studying counseling if you want to help others. It could be a fit if you’re already good at problem solving, talking, and listening to others but also want to gain new skills based on the latest research. The largest employers of counselors are elementary and secondary schools. That means this course of study could suit you if you have the desire to work with young people.


Generally, a master’s in counseling psychology takes 2 to 3 years to complete. You may find some accelerated programs where you can earn your degree in 1 year. At the other end of the spectrum, some part-time programs take 4 to 5 years to complete. Your credit hours might vary depending on the concentration. Typically, you’ll need 45 to 60 credit hours.

The majority of counseling master’s degrees include classes on psychotherapy theories and counseling basics. Alongside those foundational elements, you’ll likely cover ethical and legal considerations. Most programs then move on to methods and strategies for counseling. You can generally expect modules on group psychotherapy, in addition to modules like assessment, outreach, and advocacy.

Many programs offer courses on cultural diversity in counseling. Other classes cover different categories of clients. These modules focus on family, marriage, education, substance abuse, and mental health conditions. You may also learn about research in psychology and counseling. Overall, the courses will help you to identify and enhance the required skills for counseling. These include self-reflection, empathy, and unconditional positive regard for clients.

It’s likely that you’ll need to complete a practicum and an internship. Plus, you’ll need to meet the minimum requirement for contact hours in your counseling master’s program. The supervised practicum allows your university to evaluate the application of the skills you’ve learned. As counseling involves working with clients, the internship is a vital part of the experience. It gives you the opportunity to practice your methods and strategy and helps you to work independently in a clinical setting.

Understanding the psychological approaches for counseling is essential for a career in this field. The practicum and internship, in particular, are useful for building up client hours. This client contact time is necessary for licensing and entry level counseling roles.

Program concentrations

When choosing a master’s in counseling psychology, it’s crucial to find out what you might want to specialize in. Your program might offer various concentrations or electives. Universities typically allow you to choose between 2 areas of study. However, there are more than 2 specializations for counseling.

Program concentrations that you could find in your program include school or education, clinical mental health, and family or marriage counseling. Each specialization impacts the opportunities available to you after earning your degree.

Education electives typically focus on providing support to students in an academic setting. They cover career advice and working with young people.

A clinical mental health specialization generally teaches you about helping clients overcome issues like stress, depression, and anxiety. You can expect to take classes on clinical diagnosis, psychopathology, and treatment and intervention. In the future, you might use that knowledge and those skills in a healthcare setting.

Family or couples counseling focuses on social dynamics, relationships, conflict resolution, and communication. Knowledge of this could equip you to work in an existing family counseling practice or set up your own.

Online/hybrid vs. offline

There are opportunities to study for a master’s degree in counseling online. In this distance learning format, the theoretical aspects are hosted via video classes and digital modules. However, it’s important to note that you may need to complete an internship and practicum, which will require in-person work at a healthcare provider or other location.

Because of the internship element, most programs are likely to be hybrid or campus based. These involve classes and group work at the university, with some elements available for completion online. Hybrid and online programs could benefit you as they are often more flexible. That means you could balance your studies with a full-time job or family commitments without enduring a lengthy commute.


The majority of programs will require you to possess a bachelor’s degree in a relevant subject like rehabilitation, human development, social work, psychology, education, and family studies. Some universities provide bridge programs that allow you to take introductory classes in the first quarter if you don’t have an appropriate undergraduate degree.

The minimum requirement for these programs is typically a 3.0 GPA, and you’ll need to provide your official transcripts. Alongside those and your application form, you’ll likely need to submit 2 recommendation letters, a statement of purpose, and any test scores, such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).


Accreditation is carried out by independent bodies to review the quality of schools and their programs. Specific organizations are set up to evaluate and use peer review for particular subjects, like counseling. The benefit of this certification is that students can recognize which universities meet professional standards. Peer review also looks at student services and financial stability.

The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) reviews institutions offering counseling degree programs. Another common route for accreditation is through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). You can look out for the logo of either of these bodies on the university website or curriculum information pages.

Certificate opportunities

Although this guide deals specifically with master’s degrees in counseling, it’s critical to note that the type of certificate you can earn varies by program. It’s possible to find master of arts (M.A.), master of science (M.S.), and master of education (M.Ed) counseling programs.

Continuing education

After earning your master’s degree, you could consider a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in counseling. If you prefer to focus on clinical training, you might be interested in a doctorate of psychology (Psy.D) in counseling psychology. This course has a different range of possibilities from counseling master’s programs, as it prepares you for independent practice, assessment, and treatment of those with mental health issues.

Career options

A master’s degree in counseling psychology could put you in an excellent position to work as a counselor. You might also gain transferable skills for other professions, but working with clients as a licensed professional counselor (LPC) is one of the main outcomes for graduates of these programs. LPCs typically earn an average annual salary of $48,648.

There’s plenty of variety in counseling roles, which could include:

  • Rehabilitation
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Substance abuse
  • Occupational
  • School or education
  • Couples
  • Families
  • Hospital work

Costs of the degree

Students may need to pay an application fee as well as general program fees. Tuition costs vary by institution. Costs begin at around $54,000 or $550 per credit for online and some hybrid courses. Campus-based programs can cost around $116,00 for standard and accelerated programs, whereas bridge programs can cost $130,000.

Financial aid

You could be eligible for financial support for your counseling course. The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) could help you determine whether you qualify for financial aid or a direct federal loan.

If you’re specializing in particular areas, you might find grants from independent organizations. One example is the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA). It offers sums to students who will progress to healthcare or rehabilitation counseling roles. Alternatively, if you’re specializing in addiction counseling, you could be eligible for financial support from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Licensing or certification

Generally, you’ll need a license to practice in order to start your career as a counselor. Requirements for licensure depend on which state you will practice in. Most of them stipulate that applicants have a master’s degree in counseling or psychology. You’ll also need to demonstrate your qualifications under supervision and meet the minimum number of experience hours.

LPC is the most common title for licensed counselors. However, in some states, you’ll become a licensed professional clinical counselor (LPCC) or a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC) once certified. The American Counseling Association website has a tool that directs you to your state licensure board. Typically, you’ll take the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) or the National Counselor Examination (NCE).

The National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) provides the option for voluntary certification. Certification as a National Certified Counselor (NCC) demonstrates that you uphold certain professional standards. There are 3 specialist certifications to choose from, including school counseling, clinical mental health, and addiction.

American Counseling Association
This counseling membership body is a resource for professional information and provides information on state licensing boards.

Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
The main accrediting body for schools providing counseling courses.

Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC)
The website for an additional accreditation council that specializes in counseling.

National Board for Certified Counselors
A national body that provides information and the means to certify as a National Certified Counselor voluntarily.

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