Online Master's Degree in School Counseling

Why Pursue an Online Master's Degree in School Counseling?

All states require school counselors to be licensed and to have at least a master's degree in the field before they can practice. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 44% of school counselors work in elementary or secondary schools, while 34% work in other types of educational settings, including professional or technical schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities. Several institutions offer a master's in school counseling on-campus and online, and since school counselors can work with different student populations, master's programs offer a range of courses. In general, enrollees in a master's in school counseling program can expect to study topics such as crisis intervention, educational leadership, human growth and development, and multicultural issues in counseling.

Professionals in this field often find that pursuing a master's in school counseling has advantages. It equips them with the necessary knowledge and skills to help students overcome academic, emotional, and psychological barriers. A master's in school counseling is also a prudent professional decision—employment opportunities are robust for this sector. Median salaries are quite high at $55,410, and BLS projects a growth rate of 13% from 2016 to 2026.

Choosing an Online School Counseling Program

Obtaining a master's in school counseling is a considerable investment of time and money, and the length of time it takes to earn one largely depends on whether a student enrolls on a full-time or part-time basis. Most programs take two to three years to complete. The field of specialization a student opts for may also impact the amount of time it will take them to complete the program. The average cost of a master's degree program at public universities in the United States today is $8,670 per year. This rate applies to in-state students only. Out-of-state students pay more and tuition at most private universities is typically much higher. Most graduate students qualify for some level of assistance from the government, the university itself, or private organizations. However, they must be enrolled in an accredited program to be considered for financial assistance. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) is the recognized accrediting body in the field. Attending a CACREP-accredited program often increases the likelihood of receiving financial assistance.

Online master's in school counseling programs have the same rigor and academic requirements as their on-campus versions. Some online programs have periodic on-campus requirements, while others can be completed without any campus visits. Regardless of whether they choose an on-campus or online master's in school counseling program, students can expect to learn about topics such as fundamental counseling skills, law and ethics for school counselors, and introduction to educational research.

Types of School Counseling Degrees

There are three kinds of post-baccalaureate degrees in the field of school counseling. The master of education (M.Ed.) is a common degree choice for school counselors. Most M.Ed. programs require applicants to have an undergraduate degree in education or psychology. It focuses on topics such as education theory and foundation of educational and psychological measurement. Some M.Ed. programs require graduates to complete a practical project, while others require a portfolio or a comprehensive exam.

A master of science (MS) program in school counseling focuses on the counseling aspect of the degree. The MS is more research-focused and most require students to complete a research project or write a thesis to graduate. Students enroll in courses on specialized counseling in elementary and secondary schools, and the philosophy, organization, and administration of guidance services.

Graduates who hold bachelor's degrees in fields other than education or psychology often pursue a master of arts (MA) degree in school counseling as a way to practice in the field. Most MA programs require a thesis to graduate.

These three degrees typically take two years of full-time study to complete. Starting salaries for M.Ed. and MA degree holders are at similar levels ($41,473 and $42,980, respectively), while the starting salary of an MS graduate is slightly higher at $47,851.

Entry Requirements

Requirements for admission into a master's in school counseling program differ among schools. For example, some schools require applicants to take the GRE (Graduate Record Exam) or the MAT (Miller Analogies Test) to be considered for admission. Most programs require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in the field of education or psychology. However, as stated above, holders of bachelor's degrees in other fields can still earn a master's in school counseling by enrolling in an MA program, rather than an MS or M.Ed. Most M.Ed. programs require candidates to have some type of experience in education, and teaching experience is often preferred. MS and MA programs typically do not have this requirement.

No matter the degree, schools prefer applicants with a history of academic excellence, and an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 is often one of the entry requirements. Other common admission requirements include letters of recommendation, an essay or statement of intent, and a resume.

Directory of Accredited Master's in School Counseling Programs

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Master's in School Counseling Licensure and Certifications

Every state has its own unique set of requirements for school counseling licensure. With few exceptions, states require license applicants to have completed at least a master's in school counseling degree. Some states, like Arkansas and Kansas, require applicants to have a teaching license (or at least be eligible for one) before they can be certified as school counselors. A majority of the states require applicants to pass a skills and knowledge test prior to licensure. Some states have their own state board exam for licensure, while others, like Pennsylvania, Oregon, and West Virginia, use the Praxis tests. Reciprocity agreements do exist among some states, but license applicants still have to meet the receiving state's requirements prior to licensure. Most states also require license applicants to have some form of practical experience in school counseling, such as an internship, supervised field work as part of a master's program, or actual work experience.

School counselors can opt to pursue the National Certified Counselor (NCC) designation from the National Board for Certified Counselors. NCC candidates must take and pass either the National Counselor Examination for Licensure and Certification (NCE) or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). NCCs have access to the organization's resources, including a peer-reviewed journal with the most current research in counseling. Although an NCC designation does not take the place of state licensure, achieving it is proof that a school counselor has met the national standards of the organization and is a highly qualified professional counselor.

What Can You Do With an Online Master's in School Counseling?

As previously stated, BLS projects a 13% growth rate in the field of school and career counseling from 2016 to 2026. Rising student populations at practically all levels of primary and secondary education have fueled the need for school counselors to help students successfully navigate the corridors of learning. On the college level, school counselors often take on specialized functions such as career counseling and professional skills assessment. They perform a crucial role in a college student's transition into the workforce and adulthood.

How Much Does a School Counselor Make With a Master's Degree?

School Counselor

A school counselor designs and implements a comprehensive counseling program that addresses a student's academic, social, emotional, and psychological issues. They work closely with teachers and school administrators to help students achieve their academic and career goals. School counselors also communicate with parents and establish a confidential, professional relationship with each student.

Median Salary: $48,728

Guidance Counselor

Guidance counselors often focus on a student's post-high school goals. They guide students in plotting the trajectory of this journey from early on by helping them choose classes and develop skills that support their educational goals. They also assist students with college or trade school applications and applying for scholarships.

Median Salary: $48,791

College Career Counselor

College career counselors help students correlate their interests and abilities with career options. They also assist students in locating internships, graduate studies opportunities, and on-the-job training programs that directly relate to their future career goals. They also provide job interview tips and advice on crafting resumes.

Median Salary: $46,897

Grant Program Coordinator

Most public and private schools need some type of funding or financial assistance to implement and enhance existing educational projects and initiate new ones. Grant program coordinators source these funds and write the grant applications to procure them

Median Salary: $47,105

Career Advisor

Careers advisors help clients, such as college students or military personnel transitioning to the general workforce, identify their strengths and interests so they can focus on a career goal. They may work in schools, career counseling centers, and private or government agencies.

Median Salary: $42,148

Paying for Your Online Master's in School Counseling

Some schools offer payment plans for graduate students who opt to pay for their degrees out of pocket. Payments are usually staggered over the course of the student's duration of study. There are third-party agencies that can provide this service for the schools, but they will often charge a higher interest rate for facilitating the process. For students unable to pay out of pocket, there are other options.

Financial Aid

Students must file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Application forms are available online, at college or university admission offices, and most public libraries. It typically takes 3 to 5 days for the government to process an electronic application and generate a student aid report (SAR). Mailed applications may take up to two weeks. The same information contained in a student's SAR is sent electronically to the list of schools on a student's application. Most schools disburse FAFSA funds once each semester, usually at the beginning of the term. Schools typically direct excess funds back to the student. Most colleges and universities compile a financial package for accepted students, which can contain federal loans, scholarships, and work-study programs. It is often wise for students to take out federal, rather than private, loans to fund their education. Federal student loans have a fixed interest rate that is lower than private loans. They are also subsidized, which means the U.S. government pays for the loan's interest as long as the student is enrolled. Additionally, students do not have to start paying back a federal student loan until after graduation.

Work-Study Programs

Only students with demonstrable financial need and enrollment in a college or university participating in the Federal Work-Study Program can apply for assistance through this route. Most students receive at least the current minimum wage, although graduate students are sometimes paid a higher hourly rate. Some schools disburse the funds directly to students as they earn it, while others apply the amount to the student's expenses. The program encourages students to seek employment in fields that are closely related to their area of study.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

Many companies now have tuition reimbursement programs as a way of attracting and keeping talented employees. Keep in mind that most of these programs will only reimburse students enrolled in courses that are directly or closely related to their line of work. Additionally, as the name suggests, the program only covers tuition reimbursement; the added costs of attending classes such as gas, parking, and course materials are often not reimbursable. Some companies require employees who take advantage of their tuition-reimbursement program to remain with the company for a certain number of years.

Grants, Scholarships, and Fellowships

Grants, scholarships, and fellowships do not need to be repaid. Grants are often need-based, meaning they are awarded to students based on their financial circumstances. Scholarships are often based on merit and are awarded to students who meet certain criteria such as academic excellence or athletic ability. This distinction is not always clear since some scholarships also take a student's financial circumstances into consideration. A fellowship is often awarded to graduate students in a specialist field so they can focus on their research.

Scholarships for Online Master's in School Counseling Degrees

American Addiction Centers' Behavioral Health Academic Scholarship Program $2,500 to $5,000

Who Can Apply: Open to undergraduate and graduate students in the counseling, nursing, psychology, or social work field. Applicants must submit a 500-word, first-person essay on the challenges of getting persons with addiction to seek treatment and propose solutions that address the problem. View Scholarship

Betty W. Robbins Endowed Scholarship Up to $2,000

Who Can Apply: Graduate students pursuing a post-baccalaureate degree in school counseling, school psychology, special education, or a related field can apply. Applicants be residents of Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, or Tennessee and work directly with special-needs children after degree completion. View Scholarship

Esther Katz Rosen Fund Scholarship $1,000 to $50,000

Who Can Apply: Applicants must be graduate students enrolled in an accredited school counseling, school psychology, or special education program. The scholarship is administered through the American Psychological Foundation. Candidates must submit a research proposal on the topic of working with the development of gifted children. View Scholarship

National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) Foundation Military Scholarship $8,000

Who Can Apply: Active duty members, military spouses, or military members who have served within five years from the date of application can apply. Applicants must be enrolled at the graduate level at a CACREP-accredited counseling program, and they must commit to serving in the military for at least two years after the completion of their degree. View Scholarship

Ross Trust Future School Counselors Essay Competition $1,000

Who Can Apply: Open to graduate student members of the American Counseling Association enrolled in a counseling-related degree program and seeking to establish a career in elementary or secondary school counseling after graduation. Applicants must submit a 500-word essay on the relevance of ethical standards in the counseling profession. View Scholarship

Resources for Master's in School Counseling Students

  • American Counseling Association (ACA) ACA's 56,000 members have access to educational conferences, journals, publications, and webinars on topics that impact the counseling field across multiple specialty areas. ACA has a special interest network specifically for professional counselors in school settings.
  • American School Counselor Association (ASCA) Members receive discounts to regional, national, and international conferences and have access to various resources, such as free sample lesson plans, handbooks, and industry publications.
  • Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling (ACAC) This organization provides its members with professional development opportunities and various educational materials and seeks to improve the standards of counseling practice with children and adolescents.
  • International School Counselor Association (ISCA) ISCA is a professional organization of counselors working in international schools. It provides a collaborative network for advocacy and leadership for school counselors in a global community.
  • National Career Development Association (NCDA) Career counselors gain access to industry-relevant resources that include print and online publications, credentialing information, training manuals, and indexed digital articles written by experts in the field.