What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

In public and private schools at all levels, school counselors play an important role in supporting the general well-being of students. Some school counselors help evaluate students for learning or mental health issues, and help them cope with social or behavioral difficulties. They also work closely with families on these issues, especially when students are younger. School counselors at the high school level may specialize in career planning to help high school and college students map out their professional pathway.

Online programs for a master’s in school counseling offer the same quality coursework and education as traditional on-campus programs, and are often more convenient for working professionals who may have daily commitments related to work or family that prevent them from attending classes in person. While browsing through online programs for school counseling, it’s important to find the program that aligns with your interests and career goals.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in School Counseling

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR
School Counseling Students learn about the theory and practice of counseling and teaching and take classes on topics such as crisis intervention, team leadership and coping strategies. School counselor at the elementary, middle or high school level
Bilingual Counseling Focuses on theories in multicultural and bilingual counseling. To take classes in this concentration, students typically have to be bilingual and grow familiar with common problems that English language learners face. Guidance counselor in a bilingual school or classroom
Career Counseling Prepares students help students in high school or colleges find jobs and careers that are best for them based on their strengths, skills and interests. Career counselor, college counselor, school counselor

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in School Counseling

Specific classes and courses vary from school and school and program to program, but those completing an online master’s in school counseling will find there are some required courses that are common to most of the programs they investigate. Below is a list of common courses featured in an online master’s in school counseling program.

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Counseling Techniques Gives a comprehensive overview of the current best practices in the field related to counseling techniques. More than one counseling technique course is usually required.
School Finance Learn to see the nonverbal warning signs of students and families and how to ask the appropriate corresponding questions to help them. Assessment also often includes collaborating with educators and school administrators.
Internships Provides essential hands-on, supervised work experience before jumping fully into a counseling career.
Crisis and Trauma Counseling Equips students with the skills, techniques, knowledge and strategies for crisis management and trauma with clients. Help develop coping skills, manage stress, identify at risk individuals, and recognize disorders.
Ethics and Legal Issues Ethical and legal restrictions are a part of a school counselor’s career – they are designed to protect students, families and counselors and these classes provide an overview of some of these ethical and legal issues. It’s important for aspiring counselors to understand their rights and their clients’ rights.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

The length of time it takes to earn a master’s in school counseling is going to vary by school and specific program type, but in general, they require anywhere from 30-60 credits to graduate. Some programs also include a licensure component, which may require additional time. Internships, fieldwork and capstone projects can also impact completion time.

Some online master’s in school counseling programs are run as a cohort format, which is often a slower pace but provides a more traditional classroom feel, and you complete each course with the same group of people throughout the entire program. Other programs may offer an independent format, in which students take on as many or as few credits per semester as they can handle.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in School Counseling Prepares For

Licensing requirements and certifications vary widely by state and type of institution. In order to practice school counseling at public elementary and secondary schools, counselors must receive a national license that covers all 50 states in the United States. In order to sit for this national licensing exam, candidates in most states have to complete a set number of supervised clinical hours, and most online master’s degrees in school counseling satisfy this important requirement. Other states may have additional requirements to practice, including a teaching license or 1-2 years of work experience.

Counselors who work at the college level as career counselors or school counselors who work at private schools do not typically need a license.

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
School Counselor in a State As stated above, license requirements vary from state to state. Make sure the program you’re interested in fits the criteria for the state you want to practice in. Many programs will provide a helpful list of state-specific restrictions to help you decide.
National Certified School Counselor Given by the National Board for Certified Counselors, the NCSC proves that students meet the group’s standards. Counselors earn the certification by applying, but they have to hold a national certified counselor certification to qualify.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in School Counseling

When choosing where to enroll, accreditation should be an important consideration. If a school or program is considered accredited, it means that it meets minimum standards of quality set forth by peer institutions, the government or related industry groups. Accreditation also makes a difference when it comes to employment, as many school counseling jobs require you to have completed a master’s degree program from an accredited institution. In general, schools can hold one of three types of accreditation: regional, national or programmatic.

Regional accreditation typically applies to traditional brick-and-mortar colleges that offer four-year degrees – some of these degrees may be online. National accreditation typically applies to online schools, distance learning programs and vocational education.

Programmatic accreditation is important for school counseling, because it derives from private industry groups who decide whether or not certain master’s programs in school counseling provide the education needed to succeed as a school counselor.

The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs provides accreditation for programs that lead to students becoming a licensed school counselor. The Department of Education (DOE) oversees this organization to ensure they’re providing accreditation properly.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in School Counseling Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Graduates of school counseling programs that provide a master’s degree qualify for dozens of school counseling jobs. Individual eligibility varies according to your chosen specialty, licensure status and other specific criteria – but in general, it’s much easier to get a job as a school counselor with a master’s degree, and many schools require their counselors to hold advanced degrees.

A bachelor’s degree in school counseling can help get your foot in the door in a particular school district, where you could work as an assistant to the main school counselor or in some other private settings, but most public school districts require a master’s degree for these types of positions.

Expected Salary

In addition to more favorable job prospects, individuals with a master’s degree in school counseling can enjoy a higher salary rate compared to their bachelor’s counterparts. Below are some expected annual salaries for various jobs you can obtain with a master’s degree in school counseling. Students should keep in mind that these numbers are averages – salaries vary by job type and experience level.

Source: PayScale.com

Geographical location also affects salary significantly. Two school counselors who essentially perform the same job may earn different salaries depending on the state where they work and live. Check out some of the top average salaries compiled by the Bureau of Labor Statistics by state for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors. Most of them are found on the west coast or in the northeast. These states’ annual mean wage for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors all fall within the range of $60,810-$72,190.

Education, Guidance, School, and Vocational Counselors' Annual Mean Wages by State
Figures in US Dollars per year

Source: Bureua of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Depending on where a school counselor chooses to work, their master’s degree qualifies them for many jobs at different types of workplaces. A few of these career opportunities are outlined below.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
School Counselors School counselors work at the elementary, middle and high school level to help students develop the academic and social skills they need to succeed in school. They may visit individual classrooms and provide whole-class lessons on important social skills. They typically work at public or private schools. $55,410 per year 13%
Career Counselors Career counselors work at high schools and colleges and help students choose appropriate careers for them based on their interests, strengths and skills. They may work at high schools, colleges, career centers and in private practices. $55,410 per year 13%

Professional Organizations

As an aspiring school counselor, it’s important for students to make professional connections and learn about different approaches to school counseling. One of the best ways to do this is through participating in activities put on by professional organizations in the school counseling field. Listed below are four of the country’s most prominent school counseling organizations. They host networking events, maintain active job boards, and provide resources to practicing school counselors.

American School Counselor Association: This is a national association that serves school counselors working at all education levels. Counselors who become members enjoy benefits such as discounts on professional development courses, complimentary liability insurance (an important benefit for counselors who deal with crises or traumatic situations) and a free subscription to two of their online publications.

American Counseling Association: The ACA has more than 56,000 members and is the largest organization to represent professional counselors in the world. Their website provides an online resource library, government publications and many links to various professional development opportunities.

International School Counselor Association: This organization works with schools across the globe and offers both individual and organizational memberships. The ISCA also hosts a conference each year at a different location.

National Education Association: The NEA includes 3 million worldwide members working at various educational levels, from preschool to postsecondary. They provide resources for teachers, including lesson plans, grants and annual conferences.

Financing Your Online Master’s in School Counseling

While online degrees are generally less expensive, many students still need financial aid to help them offset the cost of their education. A good first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form, which provides you with information about grants, scholarships and other financial aid options provided by the federal government. You can also usually find private grants and scholarships available through private companies, nonprofit organizations or at the school whose program you’re interested in applying to. Be sure to check out the resources available at your chosen school or program in addition to those listed below.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

American School Health Association

Award: $500 (four available)

Deadline: April

Eligibility: Be pursuing a school counseling career in the K-12 community, attending an accredited program and have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.

ASCA Foundation Scholarship Program

Award: $1,000 (10 available)

Deadline: October

Eligibility: Offered through the American School Counseling Association (ASCA) Foundation, this program awards up to 10 $1000 awards to graduate students pursuing careers in school counseling or guidance services. Must be attending an accredited U.S. graduate school, have a minimum GPA of 3.0, and supply a letter of recommendation and resume.

Betty W. Robbins Endowed Scholarship

Award: Up to $2,000 annually

Deadline: February

Eligibility: Students pursuing graduate studies in school counseling, school psychology, mental health, special education, speech pathology or other related fields. Must be a U.S. citizen residing or attending an accredited program in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri or Tennessee.

Carla Mulkey Memorial Graduate Scholarship

Award: $500

Deadline: September

Eligibility: Graduate students pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in school counseling. Qualified applicants must be members of the Colorado School Counselor Association, have completed a year of graduate courses, have a cumulative GPA of 3.5 and be attending an accredited program in Colorado.