There are times when an abundance of options can be overwhelming. This is true when you are trying to decide on the right counseling degree for you, as the program you pick can have a significant impact on your career path and your future clients. Choosing the right degree program when you are planning to attend on-campus classes can be challenging enough, but when you open your choices up to the myriad of online programs that allow you to earn your degree from any institution no matter where you are located, it's easy to feel like your head is spinning.
Do not let the pressure get to you. Choosing the best-fit counseling program for you starts with knowing your options and knowing yourself. So, take a deep breath, sit yourself down with a cup of coffee or tea and let’s dig into the types of degrees you have at your fingertips. And, as a bonus, pull out a notebook and spend some time jotting down your answers to a list of questions designed to help you reflect on what you are looking for from your career.
Counseling degree options
Counseling degrees start with the overall degree type and then break down into various specializations. Starting with degree type, these are your choices:
- Associate’s degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
In order to work with clients, you are going to need at least a master’s degree, which is an element that makes counseling unique compared to other professions. Both the associate’s and bachelor’s levels leave you with limited options when it comes to finding a job. Typically, only specific fields, such as addiction or substance abuse counseling, human relations and some family services areas will allow you to practice without a master’s degree or additional certifications.1
A master’s degree is the sweet spot if you want to practice with clients as a professional counselor and are looking for the widest variety of job opportunities. Most programs will give you the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of counseling to work with specific populations and disorders.
Doctoral programs are a best fit for those looking to dig into clinical practice (Psy.D., Ph.D. and Psy.D.) or for those who want to become a psychological researcher. A doctoral degree is the path to take if you want to become a licensed psychologist.1 Before pursuing a doctoral degree, you may be required to have a master’s and work experience.2
Considering that a master’s degree in counseling is the ideal degree choice for most people looking to pursue a career as a licensed counselor, we will explore the specializations you can choose to pursue.
Master’s degree specializations
You have a variety of program specializations to choose from depending on the types of client you want to work with. The following are the most common counseling specializations:3
- Addiction Counseling
- Career Counseling
- Clinical Mental Health Counseling
- Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling
- College Counseling and Student Affairs
- Marriage, Couple, and Family Counseling
- School Counseling
- Rehabilitation Counseling
The specialization you decide on will also depend on the types of disorders you want to work with, and the environments you envision yourself working in day in and day out. Let’s consider these elements for a few of the specializations listed above.
Addiction counselors work with individuals and families affected by addictive disorders related to alcohol, drugs, food, gambling, sex and more. They can be found working in community agencies that offer substance abuse counseling services or in private practices.
Clinical Mental Health Counselors work with individuals, couples and families affected by various mental and emotional disorders and can typically be found in community-based mental health centers, hospitals or private practices.
School counselors work primarily with students from kindergarten through high school and sometimes their families. They work in private and public school systems at the elementary, middle and high school levels.
The specializations highlighted above should help give you a better idea of where a master’s degree in counseling can take you.
Online counseling degrees
Online degree programs come with a number of benefits. Many master’s students are also working professionals, and online programs provide them with the flexibility they need to be successful. As a student enrolled in an online program, you do not have to worry about commuting back and forth to a campus. Best of all, you do not have to put your life on hold while you are working on your degree—you will not have to relocate or be limited by the schools within your current area.
To make the most of an online program, ask questions to learn how students interact and are kept engaged. In a world where “Zoom fatigue” is on the rise, you will want more from a program meant to help you before a licensed counseling professional. The learning management system the program uses, as well as how you communicate with your peers and instructors, are important elements of an online program.
Self-reflection: Which counseling degree is right for me?
Now that you know more about your options, you need to figure out what type of counseling appeals to you. Your answers to the following questions can help you narrow your list of counseling programs and ultimately lead you to a program that is the best possible fit for your future career.
- Who do you want to counsel?
- What type of work settings appeal to you?
- What kind of hours are you looking to keep?
- Are you drawn toward a particular type of counseling? Why might this be?
- Who can you talk to about my counseling interests? Is there anyone you can connect with who currently works with the areas you are interested in to give real-world insights?
You do not have to have all the answers right now, but with proper research and self-reflection, you will be able to find the right counseling program to set you on your path to a successful and fulfilling career as a licensed counselor.
Forge your career path as a counselor with Marquette
The online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Marquette University is your flexible and convenient path to a rewarding career as a supporter of individual clients and a positive presence in your community. Our online program offers the same course work as our on-campus CACREP-accredited master’s program.
Read more about our values driven curriculum and hands-on practicum courses, and learn more about how we support our students in their career pathways as clinical mental health counseling students at Marquette.
- Retrieved November 3, 2021, from teach.com/online-ed/counseling-degrees/which-counseling-degree-is-right-for-me/
- Retrieved November 3, 2021, from cacrep.org/for-students/student-faqs-2/#FAQ2
- Retrieved November 4, 2021, from cacrep.org/for-students/student-faqs-2/#FAQ5