Earning a Master’s in School Counseling Online

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School counselors play a vital role in the intellectual and emotional development of students. However, as school districts across the U.S. face budget shortfalls, they may reduce counseling staff to save money. For this reason, aspiring school counselors should prepare themselves for a tighter job market by improving their qualifications with an online school counseling degree. This article discusses important aspects of earning this degree, including application requirements, financial aid opportunities, job outlook, and average salaries.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

Professionals complete an online master's in school counseling for different reasons. Some want to pursue administrative roles in their schools or districts. Others earn the degree to specialize in a counseling subfield or to pursue work as academic advisers or college counselors.

Why Get a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

Pursuing Specialization

Many school counseling master's programs offer one or more specializations. These specializations (e.g., addiction counseling, military families and culture, and crisis and trauma) let students tailor their education to their interests and career goals. In a specialization track, approximately one-fourth to one-third of courses relate to the specialization.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Graduates from master's in school counseling online programs convey skills and expertise. In many public school districts, administrators need an advanced degree and work experience. With career advancement often comes a salary increase. Before committing to a program, research local employers' hiring policies so that you can select the program and specialization aligned with your goals.

Online Learning Technology

Online learning technology allows students to work at their own pace, viewing lectures and completing work at convenient times. This technology connects students with professors and peers through chat software, discussion boards, and other tools that make the classroom experience portable. Many universities provide 24/7 technical support to help students with online learning software.

Prerequisites for Online School Counseling Programs

Many online school counseling degrees possess similar prerequisites. This section outlines common application requirements for these programs.

    • Work Experience: Few programs require work experience. However, applicants with work experience show dedication to the profession, making their applications more competitive. Additionally, these students bring professional perspectives into the classroom, which can enhance all students' learning.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Many programs require GRE scores with the application. Scoring a 157 on the GRE puts you ahead of at least 75% of all graduate school applicants, making you a competitive applicant.
    • Coursework: Online master's in school counseling programs typically do not require specific bachelor's courses from applicants. However, like with work experience, applicants who took counseling courses in college enjoy a competitive advantage over applicants who did not.
    • Recommendations: Most programs require 2-3 academic or professional recommendations. Recommendations should come from college professors or work supervisors who can speak to your work ethic and ability to succeed in graduate school. Give your writers at least three weeks' notice to complete the letters.
    • Essays: Applicants often need to write one or more essays, usually on an assigned topic. Programs typically ask students to describe their career goals and how earning a master's degree would fulfill those goals.
    • Interviews: Universities rarely interview all applicants; many programs only interview applicants whose applications require further review. Standard interview questions concern applicants' professional and academic experiences and how they might react to hypothetical situations as counselors. For online programs, interviews occur over Skype or a similar platform.
    • International Students: International students who live in non-English-speaking countries must pass the TOEFL or a similar English proficiency test and possess a bachelor's degree from an internationally recognized institution. These applicants may need to pay an additional fee for universities to evaluate their transcripts. Some schools use earlier application deadlines for international students to give admissions counselors more time to perform transcript verification and review.

How Much Can I Make with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

School counselors, on average, earn $55,410 per year. To earn a salary approaching $70,000 per year, you need an advanced degree and significant work experience. As you review the careers and salaries in the next section, keep in mind that reported salaries represent an average and that graduates often pursue nontraditional careers.

Traditional Careers for Master's in School Counseling Graduates

Career Stats Description

School Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 14.2%

School counselors work in primary schools, secondary schools, and colleges. They work with students to identify issues affecting students' social and academic development, and develop ways to overcome those issues.

Ideal for: Candidates who want to work with students, teachers, and parents to ensure that students become productive members of society.

Career Counselor

Median Pay: $55,410

Job Growth: 14.2%

Career counselors work with students of all ages, focusing on students' futures. They work with students to identify interests and help them explore potential career paths. Some career counselors work independently or for job placement organizations.

Ideal for: Empathetic individuals with strong interpersonal skills.

Nontraditional Careers for Master's in School Counseling Graduates

Career Stats Description

Postsecondary Teacher

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 9.4%

Postsecondary teachers work in colleges and universities. Besides teaching classes, they develop new courses, attend academic conferences, and publish original research. Other job duties include mentoring and advising students. Many postsecondary positions require a Ph.D., but some candidates can find work at community colleges with a master's.

Ideal for: Teachers who want to make an impact on their academic field.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master’s in School Counseling

Several factors affect the cost of an online master's in school counseling, such as whether a student studies full time or part time. A student's residency can also impact the cost of a degree. Scholarships, grants, and other financial aid opportunities can significantly lower out-of-pocket expenses.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants, and Scholarships

Below are five scholarships and grants exclusive to students earning degrees in school counseling or education. Each resource includes an embedded link with more information about requirements and deadlines.

What to Expect from a Master’s Level Online School Counseling Program

The following section outlines what to expect from a master's in school counseling online program. Full-time students can graduate in 1-2 years, depending on the program. To graduate, students complete major milestones, such as capstone experiences and internships. Many programs' core curricula share common courses; you can personalize your education through a specialization. To work as school counselors, candidates must meet their state's licensure requirements.

Major Milestones

  1. Complete Core Curriculum

    As a program's first year ends, most students complete final core curriculum courses before moving on to specialization courses.

  2. Practicums

    Practicums introduce you to the different environments where school counselors work and the duties they perform. During practicums, you shadow counseling professionals and complete assignments based on your experiences.

  3. Internship

    All state-certified and licensed counselors must complete an internship during their counselor preparation programs. Depending on your state's requirements, you may spend up to one semester working full time in a school under an experienced counselor's guidance.

  4. Capstone Course

    Typical capstone experiences include a master's thesis wherein students perform relevant research and present findings.

  5. Apply to a Doctoral Program

    If you plan to further your education beyond a master's, you should apply to doctoral programs during your final semester. These applications typically require transcripts; recommendation letters; and, in some cases, research proposals.

  6. Apply for Counseling Certificate or License

    All states require that school counselors possess a license. As you finish your program, you submit paperwork to your state's department of education. Your program's director or other staff can assist you with this process.

Coursework

Online school counseling programs offer unique curricula. However, most programs share a similar core curriculum. Below, are five common courses in online school counseling degrees.

Introduction to School Counseling

In this course, students learn counseling's history in U.S. schools and various counseling job duties. Students also examine the latest challenges facing the counseling profession.

Multicultural Counseling

Counselors must know how to work in diverse environments. Course topics include theories of multicultural interaction and how socioeconomic status impacts students' educational experiences.

Child Counseling

In this course, students learn counseling best practices for different age groups. The course also emphasizes how to work with students, teachers, and families to improve students' social and academic development.

Career Counseling

Students in career counseling courses study relevant counseling theories and examine career counseling best practices at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The course stresses emotional intelligence skills.

Internship

Nearly all programs include an internship wherein students work alongside practicing counselors in a school setting.

Licenses and Certifications

To work as a counselor in a public school, candidates must meet their home state's licensure or certification requirements. Though requirements vary by state, they typically include completing a state-approved counselor education program, passing one or more exams, and submitting to a background check. Once you earn your first license, your state's interstate reciprocity agreements may grant you the ability to work as a counselor in multiple states. Review the bullet points below on how to fulfill common requirements for licensure.

    • Supervised Experience: Most states require that licensure applicants possess supervised experience in a school setting. Students gain this experience through undergraduate or graduate programs. Each state sets a required number of hours. Most states require 300-600 hours.
    • Counseling Exam: Many states use the PRAXIS exam series to determine whether counselor candidates possess the necessary skills and knowledge to succeed on the job. If you live in a state that uses the PRAXIS, begin studying for the PRAXIS II: School Guidance and Counseling Exam. Some states use state-specific exams to judge licensure applicants' readiness.
    • Minimum Education Requirement: All states require that licensed counselors possess a bachelor's degree. Many states require that licensure applicants hold a master's in school counseling. Some states license counselors with master's degrees in other subjects as long as they complete a nondegree school counselor education program.
    • Background Check: All educators, administrators, and school staff must pass an FBI or local law enforcement background check. A background check involves providing fingerprints and identifying information at a police station or other authorized facility.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations offer school counselors benefits such as networking, job, and professional development opportunities. Online master's in school counseling students should consider joining 1-2 organizations. Many counseling organizations provide free resources and discounted student memberships. Below, are five professional organizations and five resources that can enhance your master's program and future counseling career.

  • American School Counselor Association: School counselors from all academic settings may join the ASCA. The association provides professional development opportunities and advocates for the counseling profession at local, state, and federal levels.
  • American Counseling Association: ACA members include counselors who work at schools, government agencies, and private practices. Student membership benefits include a career center, professional development courses, and internship opportunities. The ACA boasts a specialized section exclusively for school counselors.
  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling: ACAC works to ensure that all children can access mental health services. Counselors who work with children may join. Members benefit from networking opportunities, research grants, and publications.
  • American Mental Health Counselors Association: AMHCA provides school counselors with tools to help children struggling with mental health issues. Membership benefits include health insurance discounts and professional development webinars.
  • American College Counseling Association: ACCA provides resources to counselors who work in colleges and universities. Prospective members can join the ACCA and ACA with a unified membership. ACCA members receive publications, grant opportunities, and conference invitations.
  • National Education Association: The NEA represents 2.9 million teachers throughout the United States. Although counselors cannot join, the NEA website includes information about the latest trends in education.
  • Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development: AMCD members work to ensure that marginalized groups receive greater access to counseling services. Members receive professional development opportunities and access to 25 national offices.
  • The American Academy of Grief Counselors: A division of the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP), AAGC offers counselors certification programs and professional development courses. Counselors do not need to join AIHCP to take AAGC courses.
  • National Association for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors: NAADAC represents more than 100,000 members who counsel people with addiction disorders. The association awards certifications to counselors. Members receive access to publications, professional development opportunities, and an exclusive career center.
  • The National Board for Certified Counselors: NBCC-certified counselors often receive a higher salary and more advancement opportunities than those without certification. The NBCC website describes the certification process and provides extensive information on each state's counselor licensure requirements.