What can you do with a master’s degree in counseling?

What can you do with a master’s degree in counseling?

Man counseling group of people.

Professional counselors provide hope and support for individuals navigating life’s challenges. Whether it’s guiding students through academic hurdles, helping individuals cope with mental health issues or assisting families in crisis, counselors play a vital role in fostering well being and resilience. As the demand for mental health services continues to rise, graduate programs in counseling offer aspiring professionals a pathway to meaningful careers.

The need for professional counselors

Professional counselors are needed to meet the mental health struggles of adults and youth. Recent surveys reflect the significant mental health challenges many Americans face.

• According to Mental Health America, more than 50 million American adults were experiencing symptoms of mental illness pre-pandemic. Post-pandemic, the American Psychological Association (APA) sounded the alarm on the long-term effects of pandemic stressors and collective trauma for many American adults.
• The United States Surgeon General has called adolescent mental health “the defining public health crisis of our time.” The office notes significant increases in certain mental health disorders in youth, including depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation. While these challenges existed prior to 2020, the global pandemic exposed the extent and severity of the crisis.

Demand for increased access to professional mental health services is a nationwide challenge. According to a report from the American Counseling Association, the U.S. behavioral health market is projected to grow by $49.3 billion in the next decade. “Demand for mental health services has outpaced the number of available professional counselors,” notes Leah Clarke, program director for the graduate program in counseling at Messiah University.

What to consider when choosing a master’s in counseling program

Graduate programs in counseling open doors to a diverse range of career opportunities. Considering these factors can help you make an informed decision when choosing a master’s program in counseling that aligns with your career aspirations and educational needs.

Some key considerations include:

Accreditation: Ensure the program is accredited by the counseling profession’s main accrediting body, the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). This accreditation ensures the program meets high standards of quality, aligns with national exams, and prepares you for licensure or certification.
Course delivery: Consider whether courses are offered primarily online, in-person or a combination of both and which option(s) best fit into your personal schedule. If courses are offered online, it’s important to note whether they are synchronous (students and faculty online and interacting at the same time) or asynchronous (course materials are available online for the student to utilize at their personal convenience).
Specialization: Within counseling are many areas of specialization. For example: Clinical mental health counselors work in settings like hospitals, outpatient clinics and private practices providing individual and group therapies. School counselors support students’ academic and emotional well-being and offer programming for educational and personal development. Marriage, couple, and family counselors help individuals or couples and families navigate relationship challenges and improve communication. Substance abuse counselors work with individuals struggling with addiction, offering therapy support and resources for recovery.
Curriculum: Evaluate the curriculum to see if it covers essential topics in counseling as well as elective topics that help you develop an area of focus in the field. A well-rounded curriculum prepares you for diverse counseling roles.
Clinical experience: Consider the opportunities for hands-on clinical experience, such an internships or practicum. Strong clinical training is crucial for developing counseling skills and gaining real-world experience with clients. Field experience placements often turn into job offers.
• Faculty expertise: Look for programs with faculty members who are experiencedcounselors, researchers and educators in the counseling field. Additionally, a low student-faculty ratio allows faculty to intentionally take a personalized interest in their students throughout the program.

Time investment

Graduate programs in counseling typically require a significant time investment. Programs can range from two to three years of full-time study, including coursework, practicum experiences and internships.

Many universities offer options for accelerated or part-time programs to accommodate students’ diverse needs and schedules. Online and hybrid learning formats provide flexibility for working professionals or those unable to attend traditional on-campus programs. It’s essential for prospective students to research and choose programs that align with their career goals, learning preferences and lifestyle.

Licensure or Certification

Licensure is a critical step for counselors to practice legally and ethically. The requirements for licensure or certification vary by state and country but typically include completing a master’s or doctoral degree in counseling from an accredited program, accumulating supervised clinical experience and passing a licensure exam.

Check your state’s licensure requirements.

School counselors can typically become certified immediately after graduation. Certification is a different process for this counseling career track.

Earning potential

While the primary motivation for pursuing a career in counseling is often the desire to help others, counselors can also enjoy rewarding earning potential. Salaries vary based on factors such as experience, credentials, location and specialization. According to the May 2023 national wage estimates from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for a counselor is $61,790.

Counselors working in settings like government agencies and schools tend to have higher earning potential. Private practice offers opportunities for counselors to set their rates and potentially earn higher incomes based on their client base and services offered.

Who should get a master’s degree in counseling?

A master’s degree in counseling is suitable for individuals who are passionate about helping others overcome mental health challenges and improve their overall well-being.

“The program is welcoming to people of all occupational and educational backgrounds,” says Clarke. “Our students have a wide variety of undergraduate degrees.”  

Clarke highlights several personal characteristics that are important for success in the field of counseling:

Self-awareness. It’s helpful to know your personal strengths and weaknesses and to be willing to grow in your understanding of yourself and others.
Comfort with diversity. It’s critical that counselors are willing to work with a variety of people experiencing a breadth of situations and challenges.
Curiosity. By being interested in people, their lives, their cultures and their backgrounds, a counselor listens well and welcomes opportunities to learn.  
Knowledge of the profession. It’s helpful if prospective students have some experience with and knowledge of the counseling field—whether in an educational setting, non-profit organization, human services agency or even their own work with a counselor.

If you’re seeking a master’s of counseling that is designed to help you become an effectivecounselor who can work with clients in a variety of settings, consider obtaining a Master’s of Counseling at Messiah University. Students in Messiah’s program will be prepared to serve others in the counseling process, develop leadership and advocacy abilities, and support reconciliation in communities and relationships. Distinctives of a Messiah University counseling degree include:

• Continuous accreditation from CACREP since 2012 demonstrates how the program has maintained standards in relation to student-faculty ratio and rigorous curriculum and assessment to support regular program improvement.
• A nationwide network of alumni and quality field experience sites provide students with invaluable professional connections within their field of study.
• Students learn from faculty with a variety of Christian perspectives and global experiences who embrace students’ diverse cultures, beliefs and backgrounds.
• All student advising is done by core faculty who assist students in creating a customized plan of study and career plan.
• Structured tele-mental health training is a part of the program, preparing students for the technological innovation that works alongside face-to-face counseling.