The Best Online Master’s in School Counseling
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School counselors play an integral role in the educational support system by guiding students through critical turning points in their lives.
Common areas where counselors play a role include academic development, career and college development, and social development.
Nearly every state requires school counselors to hold a master's degree and a state license. The best candidates also hold a bachelor's degree in a relevant field. Students who pursue a master's in school counseling enter a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% increase in demand for this role through 2028. Students should note that wages and job availability vary by geographic location. Job availability also fluctuates by industry and target population.
This page provides information about the top online master's programs in school counseling, including how to select one, curricula and licenses, career trajectories, and professional organizations.
The Best Online Master’s in School Counseling Programs
Online Master's in School Counseling Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
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Featured Master's in Counseling Programs
Choosing an Online Master's in School Counseling Program
Colleges and universities create their own curricula, so students pursuing an online master's in school counseling need to research prospective programs to determine if coursework satisfies local licensure requirements. Students should also consider other factors that may influence their own personal goals. Some factors to consider:
- Program Cost: School counseling programs vary in cost. For instance, students may want to consider in-state programs over out-of-state programs, as out-of-state students often pay higher tuition rates.
- Transfer Policies: Students who have transfer credits from previous graduate-level study should be sure to thoroughly research the transfer policy at any possible school. Being able to transfer credits can save you time and money in a master's program.
- School Size and Type: When selecting a program, students should consider their learning style. The size and structure of a school can influence the student experience. For example, students who need more individualized attention may prefer a smaller school.
- Program Length: Online school counseling programs vary in length. For instance, some institutions may follow traditional semesters, while others offer year-round accelerated programs.
- On-Campus Requirements: While fully online programs do not require in-person attendance, except for internships and field experience, hybrid programs may require in-person attendance for coursework.
- Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: An online master's in school counseling usually requires a thesis, and the best programs typically require field experiences to satisfy licensure requirements.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in School Counseling Program?
Each university creates unique programs based on its own core educational values, so school counseling master's programs often emphasize different aspects of the field. For instance, focus areas may include college and career readiness, restorative justice, or trauma-informed practice.
In addition to specialzations, accredited school counseling programs cover fundamental knowledge and skills students need to qualify for licensure. While actual titles vary, courses usually include legal and ethical issues in counseling, human development theory in school counseling, research methods and data analysis for counselors, and the counseling process.
Aspiring school counselors can earn certificates through organizations like the National Board for Certified Counselors, which reinforces their professional credibility and create a competitive advantage. National certification can also lead to higher wages and professional advancement.
Online Master's in School Counseling Curriculum
This course explores counseling techniques and theories that apply to children and adolescents. Student outcomes include identifying common emotional and behavioral disorders, evidence-based interventions, cultural and environmental factors that impact treatment, and emerging trends. This course may include a final exam or special project. Students can use this opportunity to focus on their ideal target population.
School counselors often provide career development. This course emphasizes development theories and strategies for decision-making. Topics include relationships between roles of life and career development, cultural influences, and relevant assessments. Course objectives include identifying a healthy work-life balance. This course often requires a comprehensive final exam.
School counselors need to understand interpersonal influences on behavior, developmental stages of a group, and theoretical approaches for counseling groups. This course emphasizes group leadership skills. Learning outcomes include demonstrating knowledge and competence in both advanced and fundamental counseling skills. This course often includes a group project.
This course explores the relationship between ethical standards and legal regulations in counseling. Students also explore regulations for professional counseling practices, identify professional issues that impact counselors, and study ethical and legal standards in school counseling.
School Counseling Certifications and Licenses
An accredited master's in school counseling is required to earn a state license. Students must pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) offered by the National Board for Certified Counselors, which includes 200 multiple-choice questions. Topics include social and cultural diversity, human growth and development, group counseling and group work, and research and program evaluation.
Requirements vary by state. Students should visit their local department of education website to determine specifics. Requirements typically include logged contact hours. For instance, states may demand a specified number of practicum hours acquired under a licensed practitioner, or two or more years of teaching or counseling experience.
Students should also consider reciprocity guidelines if their career goals include moving to a different state. Professionals may need to complete additional coursework for applied experiences before earning reciprocity. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards also offers a voluntary certification that recognizes K-12 professionals who demonstrate skill with standards-based evidence.
Accreditation for Online Master's in School Counseling Degree Programs
Accrediting agencies establish a minimum standard of quality for educational institutions. Other universities, licensing boards, and employers use these standards to verify that students have been trained properly. Regional accrediting agencies are generally considered more prestigious than national accrediting agencies, which typically only accredit trade and specialty schools.
Transferring to another institution may prove difficult if your school is not regionally accredited, so it's important to check the accreditation status of your institution. There are six regional accrediting agencies. Additionally, students may want to compare state licensing requirements to ensure they qualify to take the exam upon graduating.
Students should also consider programmatic accrediting agencies to verify the quality of a particular school counseling master's degree. For school counselors, these agencies include the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs and the Master's in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.
School Counseling Careers
Students who earn a master's in school counseling have multiple career options. For instance, this degree can prepare graduates for a career in school psychology, where they can address learning and behavioral disorders. Depending on the school, students may need to also earn a doctorate.
Similarly, a master's in school counseling can also prepare students for a career as a substance abuse counselor, especially when working with adolescents. These counselors may work in mental health treatment facilities, where their responsibilities include educating patients' families on intervention methods. A few more job options are explored below.
School counselors help students establish and reach academic goals. These professionals usually work in elementary and secondary schools. For instance, high school counselors may examine students' career interests to help them identify what they should study in college.
School counselors also help students apply for financial aid, write essays for scholarships, write resumes if they're immediately entering the workforce, and find internship opportunities. School counselors may also administer aptitude tests or collaborate with relevant stakeholders, including parents, teachers, and other team members. This role typically requires a master's degree and an unencumbered state license.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
Career counselors primarily work with adolescents and young adults to make career or academic decisions that help students reach their career goals. Typical duties include small group or individual counseling, mock interviews, and classroom instruction. These professionals may also administer aptitude tests, advise clients on how to address conflict, or build professional networks.
Career counselors often work in high schools, colleges, or universities. However, placement firms or alternative schools also hire career counselors. This role requires a master's degree and an unencumbered license. Practitioners need to earn continuing education credits periodically to keep their licenses.
Median Annual Salary
Projected Growth Rate
School Counseling Professional Organizations
The counseling field demands ongoing research to solve modern problems. School counselors benefit from memberships in professional organizations, which provide active global networks and access to cutting-edge research and practices. Additionally, professional organizations allow graduates to collaborate with seasoned practitioners and receive mentorship.
Frequently Asked Questions
Earning a master's in school counseling prepares graduates to help students develop social and academic skills in school. Professionals often work in K-12 schools or postsecondary institutions.
BLS data indicates that school counselors earn a median annual salary of $56,310. However, students should survey local rates to identify their true earning potential.
Both K-12 and postsecondary schools typically require school counselors to hold an unencumbered state license, which requires applicants to earn a master's degree.
Students can earn an online master's in school counseling in two years with full-time attendance. Part-time students should anticipate earning their degrees in four years.
School counselors typically need to hold a master's in school counseling or education psychology. It is also often acceptable to earn a master of education with a school counseling specialization.
Students need to earn a bachelor's degree in a relevant field from an accredited institution, then go on to earn a master's degree in school counseling. Most states also require specialized state licensure.
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