The best master’s degrees in school counseling

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Introduction to school counseling

School counseling can be a challenging but rewarding career. It provides opportunities to work with students — supporting their education, their mental health and their well-being across a diverse range of ages, and social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

School counselors can find themselves guiding young people through a range of issues, from peer pressure and family problems to relationship issues and addictive behaviors. A master’s degree in school counseling is usually required to pursue this career path, and some states have additional licensure requirements, all of which are covered in this article.

Should I get a master’s in school counseling?

There are various postgraduate programs available in school counseling. Which one works for you will depend on your individual needs and requirements. When choosing a program, however, there are a few questions you need to address to make sure you are choosing the right pathway. Consider the following questions when comparing potential programs.

School counseling involves a broad skill set and various duties and responsibilities — many of which are not directly related to counseling. School counselors work closely with students, teachers, parents, and school administrators. They may be involved in planning programs, leading presentations, facilitating parent education, and organizing interventions for at-risk students.

What career options are available if I choose this program?

After completing a school counseling program, the majority of graduates do go on to work as school counselors. Depending on the program, you may also be qualified to work as a career counselor, advisor, family counselor, or school psychologist. Make sure your program gives you the options you need. You should also check if the state you want to work in requires extra steps after completing the program to meet state licensure requirements.

Best master’s degrees in school counseling

There are many options for completing a master’s degree in school counseling, and programs can be completed online, on-campus and via hybrid learning. Here are a few of some of the top master’s degrees available.

  • University of Florida

    University of Florida Gainesville, Florida
    University of Florida

    With a total enrolment of over 50,000 students, the University of Florida provides a campus-based M.Ed./Ed.S and MAE/Ed.s. program in School Counseling, approved by NCATE (National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education) and CACREP (Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs).  

    Graduates of the program are well-equipped to work in private or public elementary, middle, or secondary schools. They are trained in individual and small group counseling, presenting to large groups and classrooms, and leading parent education groups. The program requires a minimum of 72 credit hours, studied over 2.5 years if studying full-time, and applicants usually need an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.5 to be considered for admission.

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  • Indiana University

    Indiana University Bloomington, Indiana
    Indiana University

    Indiana University is a well-respected, regionally accredited institution, with a total enrolment of around 50,000 students. The university provides a M.S.Ed. in Counseling and Counselor Education, completed via a hybrid learning model. Consisting of 48 credit hours, this degree equips graduates with the skills needed to work in school counseling in any educational setting, from pre-K to post-secondary institutions. Skills developed during the program include:
    Individual and group counseling.

    • Preventative, developmental, and remedial intervention strategies.
    • Working successfully within a diverse and multicultural school environment.


    Graduates will also develop specialist knowledge in psychopathology, diagnostic classifications and psychopharmacology, as relevant to school counseling. Applicants with a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or a postgraduate GPA of 3.3 from a US institution can apply for the program without taking the GRE. For all other applicants, GRE scores are required.

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  • University of Maryland

    University of Maryland College Park, Maryland
    University of Maryland

    The University of Maryland offers an M.Ed. in School Counseling, involving 60 credit hours, one 100-hour practicum, and two 300-hour internships, which take place in local urban public school systems.  

    The program is on-campus and specializes in preparing fully-equipped school counselors to work in diverse urban school environments, focusing on access, equity, and social justice.  

    The program’s modules include:

    • Multicultural issues in counseling.      
    • Introduction to mental disorders.      
    • Counseling the chemically dependent.   

    These modules equip graduates to deal with various issues and improve student outcomes by facilitating solutions to a broad range of problems.
     
    Master’s students attend full-time and complete the 60 credit course in 2 years. Upon graduation, they are well prepared to work in diverse K-12 urban educational settings. Applicants will need to provide undergraduate transcripts, recommendation letters, a resume, and a statement of purpose.

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  • University of Colorado

    University of Colorado Denver, Colorado
    University of Colorado

    The University of Colorado Denver offers over 100 high-quality, in-demand degree programs in 7 schools and colleges, serving around 20,000 students. The school offers a Master of Arts in Counseling, School Counseling MA,License, accredited by CACREP and delivered via hybrid learning with classes both online and on campus.  

    The recommended time to complete the 63-credit program is 3–4 years. Core modules within the program include:  

    • Counseling theories
    • Career development
    • Multicultural counseling issues for individuals and families  

    A practicum and internship are required for those on the school counseling track, which follows the state licensure requirements for both the LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) and Colorado Department of Education license as a school counselor. Applicants to the program will need a GPA of at least 2.75 at the undergraduate level and a course in introductory statistics is a prerequisite. Applicants will also need to go through an interview process that includes a writing assignment and a group exercise.

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  • Oregon State University

    Oregon State University Corvallis, Oregon
    Oregon State University

    Oregon State University offers a Master of Counseling (M.Coun.), accredited by CACREP and NCATE, and Oregon’s Teacher Standards and Practices Commission (TSPC). The program follows a hybrid teaching model with 50% of online classes and 50% via classroom meetings held over 2 weekends each term. There are also online practicum and internship requirements that will require ‘real time’ online attendance at specific times.  

    The program requires at least 75 credit hours and is generally taken over 3 years. The university aims to produce exceptional school counselors equipped to deliver comprehensive counseling services to students at all levels. Minimum admission requirements include a 4-year undergraduate degree with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.0. However, applicants with a lower GPA will be considered if they submit a GRE score.

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  • University of Georgia

    University of Georgia Athens, Georgia
    University of Georgia

    Serving around 38,000 students, the University of Georgia offers a dual M.Ed./Ed.S in Professional Counseling (School Counseling), to produce graduates equipped to work as school counselors in elementary, middle, and secondary schools. CACREP accredits the program and on completion of their degree, graduates qualify for initial certification as a school counselor in the state of Georgia. To receive full licensure, graduates are required to participate in extended supervised counseling experiences and pass an examination.  

    The school is committed to supporting students throughout their degree and licensure process. Recent data shows that 100% of graduates from this program found positions as school counselors, both within Georgia and out-of-state.  

    Applicants will need a GPA of at least 2.5 at undergraduate or graduate level. The state of Georgia also requires that school counseling candidates pass the GACE Program Admission Assessment, or provide proof of exemption before they commence field experiences in their program of study.

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  • University of Iowa

    University of Iowa Iowa City, Iowa
    University of Iowa

    The University of Iowa is a public research university with a total enrolment of around 33,000 students. The university offers an M.A. in School Counseling based on campus and offers a CACREP-accredited degree program for school counselors wishing to work with students at elementary, middle and high school levels.  

    All student graduates are eligible for K-12 school counselor licensure in Iowa — although students who do not already have teaching licensure will be required to take extra coursework to meet these requirements. As part of the course, all students devise a study plan with a faculty member, usually lasting 2 years, although it is possible to devise an extended plan taking longer than this.  

    Generally speaking, a bachelor’s (or equivalent) degree with a GPA of at least 3.0 is needed for admission, along with GRE scores and an interview with faculty. However, the university stresses that all relevant qualifications are considered, and the criteria for assessing suitable candidates are flexible.

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  • Vanderbilt University

    Vanderbilt University Nashville, Tennessee
    Vanderbilt University

    Vanderbilt University offers various online and campus degrees, including its online Master of Education with School Counseling Specialization. The program requires 48 credit hours and offers in-depth knowledge and training for students aiming to work as K-12 school counselors.

    While most classes are online, students are required to attend 2 immersion experiences on campus, and a total of 3 internships that take place during normal school hours. Online classes are live and generally take place from 4 pm Central Time.

    Graduates of the program develop a thorough and comprehensive body of knowledge in the behavioral sciences while acquiring a range of skills, including individual counseling, supervision, group work, diagnosis, and assessment. Those wishing to apply will need a bachelor’s degree with transcripts, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and a letter of recommendation.

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  • Augusta University

    Augusta University Augusta, Georgia
    Augusta University

    Augusta University offers students the opportunity to study for an M.Ed. Counselor Education degree with a school counseling track. This institution provides a lot of flexibility, with courses offered in the evenings, at weekends and the option of online or hybrid learning to accommodate those in full-time work.

    Those aiming to become school counselors will follow a 48-credit hour program, which will include a practicum and internships. Students will graduate fully equipped to support K-12 students in their academic, personal, and career-related endeavors.

    The program is nationally accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and is approved by the Georgia Professional Standards Commission. Candidates should have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 and either a MAT score of at least 388 or a GRE score of 300 or more (or 146 or more on the verbal subtest). Successful applicants must also present an acceptable score on the GACE or proof of exemption based on SAT, ACT, or GRE scores.

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Career outlook

The job outlook for those holding a master’s degree in school counseling is currently very good, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting job growth of 8% between 2019-2029.   As you browse the program pages listed above, you may notice that an employment rate of around 97%–100% is often quoted, based on recent graduating cohorts.

Salary growth and career path for school counselors

As of March 2021, the average annual salary for school counselors was $51,052, with entry-level school counselors earning approximately $44,000, and those at the peak of their career earning approximately $66,500.

Financial aid

As well as all the standard options for financial aid open to graduate students like FAFSA, there are some scholarships and funding options available for this specific program, usually for outstanding students with a GPA of at least 3.0. Take some time to search for national and regional school counseling scholarships, and don’t forget to ask your chosen school if there is in-school funding or bursaries available for your program.