Online Degree Programs in School Counseling

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Help students flourish
in and out of the classroom

School counselors affect the lives of children in many ways, helping them deal with academic struggles, social pressures, family problems, and everything in between. School counselors must blend theoretical and professional knowledge with the ability to relate to children. Acquiring this skill set starts with a good education. With a wide array of online programs in school counseling available, students can select one that best fits their future career goals. Read on for more information.

School Counselors: Milestone Map

When researching degree and career options, it can be helpful to visualize what life might look like along different paths. The milestones below represent key moments an individual might experience as they study to become a school counselor.

High School

Receives support from school counselor during parents’ divorce

College

Earns bachelor’s degree in psychology, volunteers on suicide hotline

Entry-level Job

Becomes caseworker for nonprofit agency, placing kids from homeless families into school

Graduate Degree

Receives online Master of Education with emphasis in school counseling

Promotion

Takes job as high-school counselor in low-income area

Doctoral Degree

As part of doctoral degree, implements program to connect high-risk students with community mentors

School Counseling Degrees: The Online Experience

Online school counseling degree programs are an ideal way for students to continue their education while still managing their work and personal lives. Primarily offered at the graduate level, these programs are designed to accommodate students’ busy schedules while still offering the same caliber of education found in a traditional, on-campus program.

Typically, a school counseling degree program will require two to three years of study, blending online classes with in-person requirements. Most require some on-campus attendance, commonly in the form of intensives. These condensed courses allow students to engage face-to-face with professors and other students in order to better understand the interpersonal skills vital to school counseling graduates. Off-campus internships and practicums are also common elements of online school counseling programs.

Various forms of technology facilitate the process of online learning; students should expect to use Skype and online discussion forums, as well as a learning management system for downloading class materials and accessing lectures and presentations.

Online Degree Programs in School Counseling

Due to the specialized nature of school counseling, the majority of online degree programs are at the graduate level. Below is a guide to the most common degree types.

  • Master’s
    (2 to 3 years)
  • Doctorate
    (5 to 6 years)
  • Education Specialist
    (2.5 years)
  • Post-Master’s Certificate
    (3 years)

This program is aimed at those seeking to become counselors in K-12 schools, public or private. An online master’s program offers flexible scheduling, but does require some in-person attendance, including summer sessions, intensives and advising appointments. Typically consisting of 50 to 60 credit hours, a master’s in school counseling can be offered as a Master of Arts, Master of Science, or Master of Education. Distinctions in the degree types are reflected in the program focus; for example, a Master of Arts degree indicates a humanities-driven program. Also, it’s typical of a Master of Science program to require a thesis while a Master of Arts program does not.

An online doctoral degree in school counseling is best suited to those looking to become clinical supervisors or counselor educators. Over the course of about 150 credits, students can expect to undergo rigorous training in research while developing analytical approaches to counseling. Two options exist at the doctoral level: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Education (EdD). Students whose career aspirations lean toward academia and research will likely choose the PhD; conversely, an EdD would better suit those seeking active leadership roles in a school setting.

Some professionals may wish to pursue an online education specialist degree (EdS) in school counseling, which builds on their master’s knowledge, but doesn’t require the same commitment as a doctoral degree. In these programs, usually about 33 credit hours, courses typically focus on various aspects of counseling and how they are integrated into educational settings. Students should check the prerequisites of the program, as many require at least two years of experience.

Most online programs that offer post-master’s certificates in school counseling are for those who have already received their master’s, but have yet to become licensed in a specific state. However, some are restricted to fully licensed school counselors, and for these professionals, receiving a post-master’s certificate in school counseling provides a way to make the leap to the next step in a career. Students can expect to take high-level courses covering administration and leadership, problems and solutions facing today’s counselors, and methods for integrating the principles of counseling into school curricula. On average, these programs require a minimum of 12 to 20 credit hours, and can be competed entirely online.

Common School Counseling Degree Courses

Specific school counseling courses vary by program but share the goal of teaching the skills necessary to succeed in careers as counselors, advisers and instructors.

Counseling Theories

This course focuses on the history and practice of various theories of counseling.

Foundations of Counseling Children and Adolescents in Schools

Students learn to implement counseling principles and theories in a school setting. Emphasis is on cultural, social, professional and legal issues as they pertain to school-aged children.

Play Therapy

In this course, students explore the underlying theories of different styles of play therapy (play room, art, sand tray, etc.), as well as practical techniques for putting them to use. Students also learn how to use these strategies with children with different cultural backgrounds or physical limitations (such as hearing loss).

Group Dynamics

Group therapy involves many more variables than a one-on-one session. This course teaches students how to observe and use those factors to the benefit of the client.

Practicum

During the course of any master’s or doctoral program, students will be required to complete a certain number of hours of supervised work experience in a professional setting. Students use these real-world environments to develop their professional skills.

Choosing an Online School Counseling Program

With so many options for online school counseling degree programs, narrowing the choices may seem daunting. Proper planning and thought—and following a detailed checklist—can make the process easier. Below are some key aspects of school searching that will help in making a final decision.

  • Keep your future goals in mind. A career as a researcher in academia will necessitate a different educational path than one as a high school counselor.
  • Ensure the programs fulfill state licensure requirements, especially if the program is in a different state from where you plan to work.
  • Note all deadlines regarding the application process, and make sure you complete any necessary tasks on time.
  • Make sure you meet the prerequisites for master’s and doctoral degree programs, such as a previous bachelor’s degree or a certain number of years of work experience.
  • Verify that both the school and program are accredited.
  • Get a feel for the academic culture by touring the school and speaking to an admissions representative and students in the program.
  • Investigate what career services are afforded to online students.
  • Check into financial aid options offered by the school, as well as your eligibility through the FAFSA®, and make sure you can afford the program.

School Counseling Program Accreditation

Two kinds of accreditation come into play with online school counseling degree programs: programmatic and institutional. Programmatic accreditation is provided by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP) and focuses strictly on the program content. In contrast, institutional accreditation is granted by one of six regional accreditors and focuses on the institution’s overall attributes and compliance with state regulations.

To find out more, read our comprehensive guide on the importance of accreditation.

Getting Ready for a Doctorate in School Counseling

Preparing to enter a PhD or EdD program in school counseling takes some planning; creating a schedule for meeting certain benchmarks is a good way to streamline the process. Here is an example of a schedule for planning a doctoral education.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1

Begin researching online doctoral programs, and make sure you will meet all prerequisites for desired programs.

2 years
Step 2

Earn a master’s degree

1 year
Step 3

Take any qualifying examinations (may differ by institution)

1 year to 4 months
Step 4

Apply to desired doctoral program(s)

11 months

Step 5

Apply for applicable financial aid, such as scholarships, grants or loans.

9 months

Students wishing to strengthen their applications can take extra steps to improve their chances of being admitted to a program. Below are some options that may give prospective doctoral school counseling students an edge throughout the process.

  • Have a plan as an undergraduate. Pick a major like psychology that will prepare you for a graduate education in school counseling, and take classes in education as well.
  • Join a professional organization like the American School Counselor Association.
  • In high school or during your undergraduate years, look for a job or volunteer opportunity that gives you experience working with children, like tutoring.
  • Gain relevant work experience by taking an entry-level job that will expose you to counseling, such as being a caseworker.

Career Outlook and Salaries for School Counselors

School counselors play a vital role in the development of children and adolescents, whether it’s offering career counseling to high school seniors or aiding in the social development of elementary students. With a projected eight percent growth through 2024, the job outlook for school counselors is on par with the average of all professions, but it’s important to keep in mind that many schools are experiencing increased enrollment, which could create more opportunities. In addition, the need for career counselors at universities is expected to grow, keeping pace with the increased demand for on-site career centers. On average, school counselors make $60,500 a year, and work full-time; however, some school counselors do not work during the summer, which may affect earnings.

Career National Job Growth(2014-2024) National Median Annual Salary (2014) Minimum Education
School Counselor 8% $53,370 Master’s Degree
Kindergarten and Elementary School Teachers 6% $53,760 Bachelor’s Degree
Rehabilitation Counselors 9% $34,380 Master’s Degree
Social Workers 12% $45,500 Master’s Degree
Psychologists 19% $70,700 Doctoral Degree

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

State Licensure and Optional Certifications

After graduating from an online school counseling degree program, an individual’s next steps should be to look into professional licensing and professional certification options.

Getting Licensed as a School Counselor

Students may begin researching school counselor licensure guidelines by contacting their state’s regulatory board to find out specific requirements, as well as by looking into state-specific online resources. If looking at out-of-state programs, it is particularly vital to look into the licensure requirements for your state prior to settling on a degree program, as it typically must fulfill the state licensure requirements to be useful.

School Counseling Certifications

In contrast to a license, which gives a counselor permission to practice in a state, a certification indicates that a school counselor has met a national standard of excellence, often in a certain area. Here is a list of organizations that offer certifications for school counselors.

National Board for Certified Counselors

National Board of Professional Teaching Standards

Additional Online Counseling Degrees

A degree in school counseling can be the perfect fit for those who want to work in education or with children, but some may prefer a slightly different career path. If that’s the case, here are some similar online degree programs that students may consider:

Online Addiction Counseling Degree

Those who are interested in helping people with addiction or addictive behaviors may choose this degree program, which teaches students the theories of addiction and effective techniques for helping people combat it.

Online Mental Health Counseling Degree

If working in a clinical capacity seems more appealing than a classroom, then an online mental health counseling degree may be the right program. Students will conduct fieldwork and study the ways in which social, personal and family issues affect mental health.

Online Christian Counseling Degree

Students interested in bringing a Christian perspective to counseling in non-clinical capacities may choose this degree option, which teaches biblically based counseling theories and practices.

Online Resources for School Counselors