Online Master's Programs in School Counseling

This page provides information about online school counseling master's degree programs. The following sections cover typical program curricula, the knowledge and skills students commonly gain, and guidance on finding the best program for your educational and career goals.

This page also explores job options for graduates, details necessary certifications, and includes a list of professional organizations and resources for students and practitioners. Students interested in pursuing online master's programs in school counseling can use the following information to begin researching programs and career paths.

Overview of an Online Master's Program in School Counseling

A master's in school counseling is ideal for students who want to positively impact children's lives by helping them succeed in the classroom. Specific courses and program characteristics vary by school, but most master's programs in the field cover the following topics.

Common Classes and Coursework

Introduction to School Counseling

This course covers the various roles of a K-12 school counselor, including advocate, collaborator, coordinator, and leader. Coursework addresses factors affecting educational equity, and learners develop skills in interviewing, building relationships, showing empathy, and using effective confrontation. Students learn to plan and implement comprehensive counseling programs that provide access to quality education and facilitate family involvement.

Counseling Theories

Students compare and contrast counseling theories and philosophies, considering each theory's application, effectiveness, goals, and future development. The course also outlines counseling history and trends. Through lectures, discussions, readings, and experiential learning, students prepare to develop their own counseling approaches.

Group Counseling

This class focuses on group theory and research, and students become familiar with a variety of group counseling techniques. Students learn to work with various age groups, including children, adolescents, and adults. Learners typically view lectures, participate in discussions, and complete group projects. Graduates can apply group counseling skills when assisting students as school counselors.

Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Students learn to identify existing and potential psychological disorders and substance abuse in students. Topics include assessment strategies, effects of medications, the etiology of addiction, and intervention approaches. Students gain knowledge and skills to help children with mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as those living in environments conducive to such issues.

Counseling Diverse Populations

Students in this course explore various behavior patterns and value systems. Learners examine how factors such as age, developmental stage, ethnicity, geographic origin, and language impact behavior. This information is crucial for school counselors who work with diverse student populations.

Skills You Will Gain

School counselors need particular skills and competencies to foster safe and effective learning experiences for K-12 students. Online master's programs in school counseling help learners develop the following skills.

  • Compassion and Empathy Working with children experiencing difficulties and stress requires the ability to empathize with their situations.
  • Interpersonal Skills Counselors work with students from a variety of backgrounds, each with a unique personality. It is therefore crucial for counselors to have strong interpersonal skills. Counseling professionals must also cooperate effectively with fellow staff members and other professionals.
  • Communication School counselors apply active listening skills to help students navigate problems. They also need effective speaking skills to explain clearly and in a way students can understand.
  • Acceptance and Multicultural Competency Counselors cannot be judgmental or biased; they must approach each student with openness and understanding. Multicultural competencies allow professionals to relate to all students, regardless of ethnicity, politics, race, religion, and socioeconomic background.
  • Self-Awareness Counselors must be able to set aside their own psychological baggage in order to assist students. This requires self-awareness of personal issues, as well as approaches for managing biases and personal challenges.
  • Adaptability Each student requires unique counseling techniques and approaches. School counselors must be flexible and willing to try new methods to help students.

Average Degree Length

Online master's programs provide flexible and affordable education for students who need to complete coursework on their own time. Distance learning is ideal for busy students with personal or professional obligations. Many programs offer virtual lectures, which may be live or recorded, along with interactive online discussions. Online students often pay in-state tuition rates, regardless of residency.

Students earning their master's in school counseling online typically complete about 60 required credits in two years

Students earning their master's in school counseling online typically complete about 60 required credits in two years. However, required internships, practicums, and field experiences can impact degree completion time. The student's enrollment status also affects the time necessary to earn the degree.

To minimize tuition costs and graduate as quickly as possible, learners can pursue asynchronous online master's in school counseling programs. These options allow learners to customize their pace of study, and students often graduate within one year. Students should also research each prospective institution's transfer policy; choosing a school that accepts transfer credits can reduce completion time and overall cost.

How to Find a Top Program

Students researching online school counseling master's degree programs should consider several program characteristics. Important features include accreditation, class size, internship opportunities, in-person and live elements, and student support resources.

  • Accreditation

    The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council award accreditation to quality programs. Accreditation indicates a program meets set standards and prepares students for work in the field.

  • Class Size

    Ideally, students should select a program with classes or cohorts of no more than 15 students. This size facilitates meaningful interaction with peers and individual attention from instructors.

  • Internship Placements

    Because internships play a key role in licensure and certification for school counselors, students should look for schools that help distance learners find local field experience opportunities.

  • Live Discussions

    Synchronous programs often provide virtual classroom experiences that include opportunities for discussion. Learners may also have access to a forum they can use to ask questions and share experiences.

  • Student Support

    The top distance learning programs support students through online resources such as academic and career advising, technology assistance, extended office hours, financial aid counseling, and digital library access.

School Counseling Careers After Earning Your Master's

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the largest percentage of school and career counselors (44%) work in elementary and secondary schools. The second-largest percentage (34%) work in postsecondary institutions. School and career counselors may also work in private practices and public agencies.

Career counselors help high school and college students select a major and formulate career goals and strategies. The growing demand for career counselors is due largely to the increasing number of colleges and universities establishing career centers to help students transition into the workforce.

Graduates must pursue additional education to work as school psychologists, who focus on students' educational development and mental health.

Elementary School Counselor

Counselors with a master's degree can work with children and families to assess students' strengths and weaknesses. These counselors also identify learners' behavioral issues and special needs. The BLS projects a 13% growth for this occupation from 2016-2026.

Average Annual Salary: $56,310

Middle School Counselor

Middle school counselors provide students and families with skills and strategies they need to navigate the middle school years. The BLS projects this occupation to grow 13% from 2016-2026.

Average Annual Salary: $56,310

High School Counselor

High school counselors help students prepare for college and the workforce. These professionals advise learners on personal issues. This position requires a master's degree, and the BLS projects high school counselor jobs to increase 13% from 2016-2026.

Average Annual Salary: $56,310

Career Counselor

Career counselors can work in high schools, postsecondary schools, private practices, and public agencies. These counselors help students develop career goals and understand job-hunting strategies. These counselors need a master's degree, and the BLS projects a 13% job growth for this occupation from 2016-2026.

Average Annual Salary: $56,310

School Psychologist

School psychologists must hold an education specialist or doctoral degree. These practitioners help students who have education or developmental disorders, including learning disabilities and behavioral issues.

Average Annual Salary: $76,990

Source: BLS

Additional Certifications for School Counseling

Virtually all U.S. states require school counselors to hold a master's degree in school counseling or a related area, along with a state-issued license, certification, or endorsement. Candidates for certification must complete a supervised internship or practicum, and some states require classroom teaching experience.

State Counseling License or Certification

Most public schools require counselors to hold a license, possess an advanced degree, and complete a supervised practicum or internship. Candidates for licensure must take an exam, such as the Praxis series. Exam requirements vary by state. Most states also require a criminal background check.

National Board for Certified Counselors Certification

NBCC certification indicates that the counselor meets national standards for the profession. Candidates for certification must hold a master's degree, have 100 hours of postgraduate supervised counseling experience, and have 3,000 hours of independent counseling experience. Candidates must also submit a professional endorsement from a colleague and pass an exam.

Teaching Credential or Certification

Some states require school counselors to hold a teaching credential or certification. While each state sets its own requirements for teacher certification, common requirements include a bachelor's degree, completion of a teacher preparation program, student teaching experience, and a passing score on an exam such as the Praxis. Qualifying candidates apply for their teaching credential from their state's board of education.

Professional Organizations and Resources for School Counseling Students

The list below includes professional organizations and resources for current and aspiring school counselors. Students and practitioners can take advantage of professional development courses, networking opportunities, statistics and data, and information about recent research.

  • American Counseling Association ACA supports counselors through advocacy and professional development activities. The association hosts an annual conference and provides free online classes, a job center, and a guide to school counseling laws and regulations.
  • American School Counselor Association ASCA provides a list of state licensing and certification requirements and offers continuing education webinars. The association also develops the national model of school counseling programs, which provides a framework for comprehensive, data-driven programs.
  • Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling Open to all counselors who work with children and adolescents, ACAC offers an email newsletter, networking opportunities, a member blog, a biannual journal, research grants, and presentations.
  • GoodTherapy This organization offers continuing education opportunities, including live web conferences and in-person events. Speakers include experts in counseling and therapy. Counselors can also access online continuing education courses.
  • International School Counselor Association This professional organization provides leadership and advocacy for the global school counseling community. Member benefits include collaborative online networking, professional development events and resources, and publications.
  • National Association for College Admission Counseling NACAC provides resources for high school counselors who help students transition to postsecondary education. Members receive access to networking opportunities such as college fairs and conferences, e-learning courses and webinars, research resources, and a listserv.
  • National Board for Certified Counselors NBCC offers national certification and advocates for counseling professionals. The organization also approves and lists continuing education providers, publishes a peer-reviewed journal and newsletter, and offers professional liability insurance for board-certified counselors.
  • National Education Association NEA comprises three million public school educators. The association provides advocacy and networking opportunities. Members can receive discounts, as well as resources on family and health issues, financial and retirement planning, and travel.
  • School Counselor Resources This organization reviews and evaluates learning materials, including school counseling publications and videos, to provide educational tools for elementary, middle, and high school counselors.
  • StopBullying This website from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers information and resources to help school counselors and other educators identify, respond to, and prevent bullying.
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