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Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling Guide

One of the first steps to becoming a licensed counselor is completing a bachelor’s degree. Most states require a graduate degree in counseling for licensure and a bachelor’s is required for admission to graduate counseling programs. Many bachelor’s degree options exist for aspiring counselors in counseling and related fields, such as psychology, sociology, social work, and human services. While a specialization is not necessary at the bachelor’s degree level, aspiring counselors can choose to take coursework in any of the major areas of counseling, such as mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, rehabilitation counseling, or substance abuse counseling based on availability at their institution.

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Why Earn a Bachelor’s in Counseling?

Bachelor’s degrees in counseling are offered at four-year colleges and universities and are designed to prepare graduates for entry-level careers in counseling settings or for further study at the graduate level. Counseling bachelor’s degrees may include required practicums, internships, or research projects or offer optional service-learning and study-abroad opportunities. Most degrees take students four years of full-time study to complete. There are also numerous part-time and online programs in counseling and related fields available.

To become a licensed counselor, you will likely need a master’s degree and relevant work experience. Master’s degree programs in counseling require a bachelor’s degree and may have specific coursework requirements at the undergraduate level. A bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field provides aspiring counselors with a foundation in many of the theories and models used in the counseling profession and may include an internship or practicum to gain experience. This degree also helps students learn about the counseling profession and provides exposure to some of the most common areas of specialty, including substance abuse and mental health counseling.

Others may choose to complete a bachelor’s degree in counseling or a related field to access employment opportunities in counseling organizations. Although a master’s degree is almost always required for full licensure, bachelor’s degree holders may find employment in support and assistant roles in community organizations, rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, and other related settings. They may also command a higher salary compared to those with associate’s degrees in counseling.

Choosing a Bachelor’s in Counseling Degree Program

Bachelor’s degree applicants can choose a counseling degree program in one of the five main areas of counseling that offers a generalized approach with optional areas of specialization. The five areas tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) are mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, school counseling, substance abuse counseling, and rehabilitation counseling.

Aspiring counselors at the bachelor’s degree levels do not need to choose an area of specialization, but they should begin thinking about their desired career path by exploring electives. Choosing a specialization happens at the master’s degree level, according to state licensure requirements.

Perspective counselors can also pursue undergraduate degrees in related areas, such as psychology or family studies, as they provide students with similar foundational learning opportunities. Undergraduate students should consider whether they meet specific coursework and GPA admission requirements for their preferred graduate degree programs before applying.

Admission Requirements

Most institutions admit applicants with no college or university experience directly from high school as freshmen. Applicants typically must send high school or GED transcripts and standardized test scores, such as the SAT or ACT, although these are now often optional. Each school determines the general admission requirements, such as the required GPA and test scores, and any additional requirements for the counseling program. Students with prior college or university experience may also be admitted as transfer applicants and are required to submit college or university transcripts as part of the application package. Admission criteria for transfer students vary, so be sure to confirm which application you should use for each school before applying.

Licensure With a Bachelor’s in Counseling

Counseling bachelor’s degree holders may qualify for employment as counselor assistants or other support roles in any of the major counseling fields: marriage and family therapy, school counseling, mental health counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling or other areas of the profession. Bachelor’s degree holders interested in substance abuse counseling may be eligible for licensure depending on state regulations. Examples of counseling-related licenses for those with a bachelor’s degree in counseling vary widely by state, but may include:

  • Certified Addictions Counselor (CAC)
  • Certified Addictions Practioner (CAP)
  • Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC)
  • Licensed Addiction Counselor (LAC)
  • Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC)
  • Licensed Drug and Alcohol Counselor (LDAC)
  • Licensed Substance Abuse Counselor (LSAC)
  • School Counselor (Initial License)*

*In a few select states only.

To learn more about state licensing requirements for the major counseling fields, refer to our guide to counseling licensure by state.

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Counseling

According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), there are 65 not-for-profit colleges or universities offering a bachelor’s degree in one of the five major counseling fields.1 Many individuals interested in the helping professions study related fields like psychology, sociology, women’s or cultural studies, or social work. Most undergraduate degrees are offered as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS); some degree programs may offer the opportunity to include a double major or minor in a related area or complete a practicum or internship. Earning a bachelor’s degree in professional counseling typically takes 120 credit hours to complete. There are numerous areas of specialization within counseling, but the five major areas recognized by the BLS are marriage and family therapy, mental health counseling, rehabilitation counseling, school counseling, and substance abuse counseling. Below, you will find more information about the bachelor’s degree options for aspiring counselors in each of these fields.

Marriage and Family Therapy

Licensure for marriage and family therapy requires a graduate degree, so few programs are offered at the undergraduate level. According to NCES, there are only five not-for-profit schools that offer a bachelor’s degree in marriage and family therapy.1 Therefore, many aspiring marriage and family therapists (MFTs) complete a bachelor’s degree in a related field such as child and human development, psychology, or human services, before pursuing graduate studies. Be sure that your chosen bachelor’s degree program meets the admission requirements for your preferred marriage and family therapy graduate degree. More information about programs in marriage and family therapy can be found on our degree guide.

Mental Health Counseling

Mental health counseling, which is also known as professional counseling or clinical counseling, encompasses a broad range of psychotherapeutic techniques provided in individual, family, or group settings. Since licensure as a professional counselor requires a master’s degree, most degrees in mental health counseling are at the master’s level. According to NCES, only six not-for-profit colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in mental health counseling.1 In related undergraduate degrees like psychology, sociology, or social work, students typically learn about mental, social, and emotional disorders throughout the life course. To learn more about clinical counseling degrees, refer to our Mental Health Counseling Degree Guide.

Rehabilitation Counseling

Counselors specializing in clients living with disabilities are known as rehabilitation counselors. According to NCES, only 12 not-for-profit schools offer a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation counseling.1 Therefore, students who want to enter the career typically get an undergraduate degree in a related subject like psychology or human services. Licensure requirements for rehabilitation counseling vary by state, but most states include rehabilitation counseling under the professional counseling umbrella which requires a master’s degree. There may still be jobs that do not require licensure available to those with a bachelor’s degree. Review our guide to rehabilitation counseling degrees to learn more about the degree options in this field of counseling.

Substance Abuse Counseling

Substance abuse counseling focuses on helping individuals recover from issues related to use, addiction, or chemical dependency. Each state has different requirements for licensure and while a bachelor’s degree may not be required, it can often provide an edge for employment purposes and lead to more advanced types of licensure. According to NCES, there are 45 bachelor’s degrees specializing in substance abuse counseling available. Alternatively, students can choose a general counseling degree that offers substance abuse counseling as a specialization.1 Our Substance Abuse Counseling Degree Guide provides more information about degrees in this area of counseling.

On-Campus Counseling Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Colorado State University

Colorado State University (CSU) offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Psychology with specialization pathways, including clinical/counseling psychology and addiction counseling, along with industrial/organizational, and mind, brain, and behavior concentrations. All students begin in the general psychology track and take courses in a range of science, math, social science, and writing subjects. Students can declare an optional specialization during the program, which narrows the psychology electives that can be taken. Clinical/counseling students complete a counseling skills lab and internship preparing them for careers in counseling and mental health or graduate-level training. Addiction counseling students complete a related internship and coursework in addiction treatment, which will qualify them to begin the process to pursue the Certified Addiction Counselor (CAC-I) credential in Colorado along with CAC-II or CAC-III certification. To be admitted, high school or GED applicants must submit an application package with transcripts, SAT or ACT results, and a personal statement and transfer applicants must submit college and high school or GED transcripts. Incoming freshman students can apply to begin in the fall or spring terms, while transfer students may apply for a fall, spring, or summer start date.

East Carolina University

Those interested in working with people with living disabilities may be interested in the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Rehabilitation Services at East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina. This degree program combines coursework from mental health counseling, addiction counseling, human services, and vocational rehabilitation to provide students with extensive knowledge of the rehabilitation counseling profession. During a required internship, students will apply theories to real-world situations and work directly with clients who have mental, physical, or developmental disabilities. The BS is a degree-completion program, which means students must complete at least 42 credits of core coursework at the undergraduate level before applying to complete the degree in rehabilitation studies. Admission requires a minimum 2.5 GPA and successful completion of two foundational rehabilitation studies courses. Students can also complete a minor with their degree plan, such as Alcohol and Drug Studies. For those wishing to continue their studies, ECU offers many graduate study options including a master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling, a master’s in Clinical Counseling with an emphasis in Addictions, a PhD in Counseling Preparation and Research, and graduate certificates in Rehabilitation Studies, Addictions Prevention & Treatment Studies, and Military and Civilian Trauma Studies.

New Mexico State University

At New Mexico State University (NMSU), students can earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Counseling and Community Psychology in four years of full-time study that focuses on mental health, intra- and inter-personal relationships, and multicultural awareness. The main campus is located in Las Cruces, but students can take classes at any of the five campuses in the state. Of the 120 required credits for the degree, 39 are taken as part of the general education core, 51 are taken in counseling and community psychology, and the remaining are electives. The program can be completed with a double major in a related field, , allowing students to work toward licensure as a Substance Abuse Associate. Applications are accepted from prospective students with at least a 2.75 GPA or acceptable ACT or SAT scores, while transfer students must have at least a 2.0 GPA in at least 30 college credits. Scholarships and financial aid may be available to new NMSU students.

Wayne State College

Located in Wayne, Nebraska, Wayne State College (WSC) offers BA and BS degrees in Human Service Counseling with slightly different core curriculum degree plans. Both degrees teach the foundational knowledge required to understand and assess human behavior, mental health, and well-being and prepare students for entry-level careers in counseling fields such as outreach, counseling, behavioral health, and rehabilitation. The curriculum requires 120 credits with at least 56 credits completed in the counseling major and a required internship. Students can also complete an optional addiction counseling specialization or choose to pair their degree with another major or minor in a related subject, such as psychology or family life studies. Additional service learning, study abroad, and research opportunities are also available. Applications are assessed on a rolling basis and students are advised to apply as soon as possible for the fall, spring, or summer term. Transcripts and SAT or ACT scores are required for candidates under 21 years; transfer applicants must send college transcripts. WSC prides itself on offering affordable tuition rates and advisors are available to help students apply for financial aid and scholarship opportunities. The university also offers a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling accredited by CACREP.

Online Counseling Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Oregon State University

Oregon State University (OSU) offers a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Human Development and Family Studies for those interested in school counseling or marriage and family therapy careers. This degree teaches students about family dynamics in contemporary settings, such as schools and communities, using an interdisciplinary approach. Courses cover family studies topics throughout the life course from children and youth development to parenting and the elderly. Students must complete 180 quarter credits and can complete all the required courses online or in combination with traditional courses at the OSU campus in Portland. OSU students can also complement their degree program with a related minor, such as education, psychology, or sociology. Start dates occur four times a year at the beginning of each quarter and courses are structured in 11-week sections. Admission to OSU online programs is competitive and new students must submit transcripts highlighting coursework requirements and proof of a high school diploma or GED, a resume, and test scores, such as the SAT. Transfer student applications are also accepted; however previous courses and grades will be reviewed and 45 of the last 75 credits must be completed at OSU to meet the academic residency requirement.

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University is a Roman Catholic institution located in St. Leo, Florida. Students can earn an online 120-credit Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Clinical Psychology that prepares them for entry-level human services and counseling careers. The degree curriculum includes 42 credits of core coursework plus a broad range of psychology courses and specialized coursework in counseling-related subjects, such as abnormal psychology and personality theory. The university fosters community among online students through online student services and clubs, such as the Psychology Association which has virtual meetings during the year. Courses are offered during the fall, spring, and summer terms in eight-week blocks; taking two courses at a time is considered a full-time course load. Six official start dates are offered throughout the year, so interested applicants can apply to start the program at any time.

Southern New Hampshire University

At Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), students can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Psychology – Mental Health in four years of full-time study online. This program is designed to teach students foundational psychological theories of counseling and mental health as well as practical skills such as assessment and intervention. Students have the option of completing a 150-hour internship or a 60-hour experiential learning project as part of the degree requirements. Six start dates are offered during the year for maximum flexibility; courses are taught in eight-week blocks using an accelerated format. Applications are submitted online with transcripts and proof of a high school diploma or GED. An SNHU admission counselor then helps new students prepare for the online learning environment before classes begin. SNHU also offers an online BA in psychology with other specializations related to counseling, such as addictions and child and adolescent development.

University of Cincinnati

Consider pursuing a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Substance Abuse Counseling at the University of Cincinnati (UC) to prepare for a career as a substance abuse counselor. Designed for working professionals, this program has a flexible structure and offers start dates in the fall, spring, and summer terms. Students are admitted either as freshmen for a 120-credit program or as degree completion students for a 60-credit program. All students must complete courses in substance abuse counseling topics including assessment and diagnosis, abnormal behavior, and counseling skills. UC supports online students by assigning an academic advisor and a student success coordinator who works with students to choose classes, familiarize themselves with the online learning format, and access other resources. Financial aid support is also available to UC students. For those interested in working in the substance abuse counseling field in Ohio after graduation, this degree program meets Ohio licensure requirements for Licensed Chemical Dependency Professional III (LCDC III).

University of Houston-Clear Lake

For those interested in substance abuse counseling careers, the Bachelor of Science (BS) in Addictions Counseling at the University of Houston-Clear Lake (UHCL) is a four-year degree program preparing students for addiction careers in Texas, such as earning licensure as a Licensed Chemical Dependency Counselor (LCDC). The program offers flexibility for full-time and working professionals through a hybrid format that combines the option to take on-campus and online classes. The degree teaches students about all stages of the addiction and recovery process as well as the psychological theories and models used to provide addiction counseling. Students must take 120 credits for the degree, which includes 78 credits in the major, through coursework such as pharmacology, treatment planning, and addictions and diversity. Start dates are offered in the fall, spring, and summer terms. Freshmen and transfer applicants can apply with high school transcripts and SAT or ACT scores or college transcripts using the ApplyTexas portal. UHCL also offers a Bachelor of Science in Psychology that may appeal to students interested in a wider range of counseling careers.

Careers With a Bachelor’s in Counseling

You can find more information about counseling careers in the major fields of specialization, including educational requirements, state rules and regulations, salaries, and job outlooks, on the following career pages:

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between a BA and a BS in counseling?

Most schools offer either a BA or a BS degree in counseling and some offer both. The main difference between these degrees is the coursework requirements. BA degrees typically require students to complete more coursework in arts, humanities, and foreign languages, whereas science degrees often have additional math, natural science, and statistics requirements. Some graduate counseling programs require specific courses such as statistics, so be sure to check the admission requirements for any counseling graduate programs to see if your bachelor’s degree meets the coursework requirements.

Can I become a licensed counselor with a bachelor’s degree in counseling?

A bachelor’s degree in counseling may enable you to find employment in entry-level assistant roles in counseling but further study will likely be required to earn licensure. In general, most types of counseling licensure require applicants to have either a master’s or doctoral degree. The counseling licensure process also typically requires many hours of post-graduate supervised work experience. One exception is for substance abuse counseling, which can require a high school diploma, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree plus work experience depending on state regulations. Individual states oversee the licensing of counselors. Aspiring counselors should visit their state board websites to determine the requirements for each license. Many states follow the guidelines established by the International Certification and Reciprocity Consortium (ICRC), which provides credit towards the work experience requirements for associate and bachelor degree holders. Contact the substance abuse counseling licensure body in your state for more information about these requirements.

Can I be a licensed school counselor with a bachelor’s degree?

No. A master’s degree is required for full state licensure, so many aspiring school counselors choose a bachelor’s degree in a related area, such as education, mental health counseling, child development, or psychology, to become more familiar with the subject matter and prepare themselves for further study. Some states require school counselors to be licensed educators with teaching experience; check state guidelines to determine the requirements in your state. For more information about school counseling degrees and requirements, visit our school counseling degree resource.

What are some considerations I should keep in mind during my undergraduate program if I’m planning to go to grad school to pursue a master’s degree in counseling?

Note that any relevant work experience or volunteerism in mental health or social work gained during your bachelor’s degree makes you a stronger candidate for graduate school acceptance. The more you can demonstrate your commitment to the helping professions, the more appealing your candidacy will be for future training, education, and employment opportunities.

Can I complete an online bachelor’s degree in counseling?

Many schools offer bachelor’s degrees in counseling that can be completed fully online or through hybrid means that combine online and on-campus requirements. Fully online degrees may be offered with synchronous or asynchronous course elements; synchronous elements require students to “attend” classes, discussions, or other activities online at specific times, whereas asynchronous courses allow students to work through course material independently on their own time. Hybrid programs offer some degree components to be completed online but may require students to attend specific courses on-campus throughout the degree or attend certain in-person degree elements, such as introductions, internships, or supervision. Keep in mind that if you do choose to attend an online counseling program, you should ensure the college or university is regionally accredited and reputable.

References:
1. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/