Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Guide

A master’s in rehabilitation counseling is necessary in order to become fully licensed and work as a rehabilitation counselor in all 50 states. However, many states permit the practice of vocational rehabilitation counseling, a subspecialty for working with those who have disabilities in an employment context, with an undergraduate degree. The type and level of the degree you need to earn in order to find work as a rehabilitation counselor will therefore vary according to the type of counseling you wish to practice and the state where you wish to work. Continue reading to learn more about rehabilitation counseling degree programs as well as career opportunities and licensing options for rehabilitation counselors.

Table of Contents
Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
Undergraduate Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling
Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling
Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling
Professional Certifications for Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Holders
US News & World Report’s Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs of 2019
What Jobs Can You Get with a Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
Other Degrees in Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions

Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework

Undergraduate Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling

An undergraduate degree in rehabilitation counseling, which may be an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, is the entry-level preparation for a career in this field. With a rehabilitation counseling undergraduate degree, you are prepared for work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor in many states. You can also qualify for support roles in rehabilitation counseling, such as behavioral health technician or counselor’s aide. An associate’s degree typically takes 60 credit hours or two to four years of study depending on whether you are a full-time or part-time student. A bachelor’s degree typically takes 120 credit hours or four to six years of study depending on attendance status.

A rehabilitation counseling undergraduate program will include foundational liberal arts courses as well as courses in the sciences and courses specific to counseling. This combination of courses will prepare you for entry-level counseling practice as well as for graduate study. Common courses in an undergraduate rehabilitation counseling program include:

  • Behavioral Health and Analysis
  • Career Counseling in Rehabilitation
  • Counseling Ethics
  • Disability and Society
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse Counseling
  • Group Counseling Methods
  • Introduction to Rehabilitation
  • Rehabilitation Psychology
  • Treatment Planning
  • Vocational Rehabilitation

Master’s Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling

In order to be admitted to a master’s in rehabilitation counseling program, you will first need to earn your bachelor’s degree. It is also common for master’s degree programs to require a minimum GPA (3.0 is typical), letters of recommendation, and a minimum score on a graduate entrance exam, such as the GRE. Master’s in rehabilitation counseling programs typically take 60 credit hours to complete in order to fulfill state licensing requirements, though you can find programs that range from 40 credit hours and up. Many schools offer bachelor’s-to-master’s programs in rehabilitation counseling, which can allow you to earn both degrees on an accelerated timeline.

Master’s in rehabilitation counseling degree programs typically focus on clinical skills and knowledge in order to prepare graduates for licensure and counseling practice. These focus areas will be the same in an on-campus or an online rehabilitation counseling degree. Courses you can expect to take include:

  • Counseling Techniques for Rehabilitation Counselors
  • Diagnosis and Assessment
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Medical Aspects of Disabilities
  • Mental Health Counseling and Consultation
  • Methods in Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Psycho-Social Impact of Disabilities
  • Research in Disabilities
  • Research and Program Evaluation
  • Vocational Rehabilitation, Case Management, and Employment

Doctorate in Rehabilitation Counseling

If you are interested in working in academia or research, a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling will probably be part of your education plan. While it can prepare you for counseling licensure in some states, a doctoral degree in rehabilitation counseling will go beyond master’s-level practice and include more research-based courses as well as in-depth study of the theories of counseling.

Earning a PhD is academically challenging, and will usually require students to write and defend a thesis. Including coursework, it usually takes from three to seven years to earn a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling. Academic courses that are typical for doctoral counseling programs include:

  • Doctoral Rehabilitation Counseling Practicum
  • Graduate Statistics
  • Grant Writing
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Psychiatric Rehabilitation
  • Qualitative Research
  • Special Topics in Rehabilitation Counseling
  • Supervision in Counseling
  • Rehabilitation Administration and Leadership
  • Research in Rehabilitation

Certificate in Rehabilitation Counseling

Certificates in rehabilitation counseling are usually found at the graduate level. These can be used as “bridge programs” to fulfill state licensing requirements in states that require 60 graduate credit hours for those who completed a lower-credit-hour master’s degree. A graduate certificate also offers an opportunity to add a specialty area of practice to your professional competencies, as certificates typically consist of a cluster of closely-related courses.

Program lengths for rehabilitation counseling certificates vary, though 15 to 30 credit hours, or one to three years of study depending on attendance status, is common. Courses you may find in such a program include:

  • Career Development
  • Clinical Interventions in Crisis Management
  • Disability Assessment
  • Educational Aspects of Disabilities
  • Leadership, Consultation, and Advocacy
  • Occupational Analysis and Career Counseling
  • Placement Services and Techniques
  • Rehabilitation Counseling for Military Veterans
  • Substance Abuse Seminar
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Systems Design

Professional Certifications for Rehabilitation Counseling Degree Holders

Rehabilitation counselor certification requirements vary by state, though in most states you should expect to complete at least some formal education in order to qualify for jobs and/or licensure in this field. In the following states, you may work as a vocational rehabilitation counselor with a high school diploma or associate’s degree, but must earn a master’s degree and be licensed to work as a rehabilitation counselor: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, New York. North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington, and Wisconsin.

In Tennessee, you can qualify to become a Vocational Specialist with an associate’s degree but must have a master’s degree to become a rehabilitation counselor. In Maryland, you can become registered as a Rehabilitation Practitioner with a bachelor’s degree. In all other states, you will need to earn a master’s degree to work as a vocational rehabilitation or rehabilitation counselor. Note that in many of these states, rehabilitation counselors must earn the same degree and license as mental health counselors.

With a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling, you can also qualify to sit for the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification (CRCC) Certified Rehabilitation Counselor Exam (CRCE) and earn the CRC credential. While it is not a license, the Certified Rehabilitation Counselor credential is a widely-recognized accomplishment that is held in high regard by employers. Some states, such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Utah also recognize the credential as part of the licensing process for rehabilitation counselors. The following states may also accept the CRCE exam for general counselor licensure:

  • Select One
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Illinois
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • North Carolina
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Washington DC
  • West Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

The following table provides a comparison of common licence titles and certifications for rehabilitation counselors. As noted above, requirements for rehabilitation counselors vary widely by state. Licensure and certification can also be defined differently by different employers. As a result, although earning a higher-level degree will typically qualify you for other roles where a lower degree is common, this will not always be the case. Check with your state’s licensing board for full requirements.

Counseling License TypeHS Diploma Commonly Required*Associate’s Degree Commonly RequiredBachelor’s Degree Commonly RequiredMaster’s Degree Commonly Required
Certified Professional Counselor (CPC)Yes
Clinical Professional Counselor (CPC)Yes
Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (CMHC or MHC)Yes
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC)Yes
Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC or MHC)Yes
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC)Yes
Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)Yes
Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LPCC)Yes
Rehabilitation Counselor or Licensed Rehabilitation Counselor (LRC)Yes
Rehabilitation PractitionerYes
Vocational Rehabilitation CounselorYes

*While in some states vocational rehabilitation counseling may be practiced with a high school diploma, employers generally look for candidates who have an associate’s degree or higher.

US News & World Report’s Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs of 2019

US News & World Report has ranked the top graduate schools for rehabilitation counseling degree programs in the US in 2019. The ranking below is based on peer assessments, hiring surveys, admissions selectivity, and school resources.1

  • Michigan State University (#1 tie)
  • University of Wisconsin–Madison (#1 tie)
  • George Washington University (#3)
  • Pennsylvania State University–University Park (#4 tie)
  • San Diego State University (#4 tie)
  • University of Arizona (#4 tie)
  • University of Wisconsin–Stout (#4 tie)
  • Virginia Commonwealth University (#4 tie)
  • University of Kentucky (#9 tie)
  • University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill (#9 tie)
  • Southern Illinois University–Carbondale (#12 tie)
  • University of North Texas (#12 tie)

What Jobs Can You Get with a Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?

As licensing requirements and scope of practice for rehabilitation counselors and vocational rehabilitation counselors vary widely by state, be sure to check with your state licensing board for full and up-to-date requirements. As you plan your educational path, you may also find it worthwhile to view job listings for rehabilitation counselors in your area in order to compare common employer requirements with state licensing options.

Prospective rehabilitation counseling specialists with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree may qualify for vocational rehabilitation counseling positions in some states. In other states, an undergraduate degree in rehabilitation counseling will qualify you for related support roles. Depending on the content of your degree and your state’s licensing guidelines, you may also qualify for a substance abuse counseling credential.

A master’s in rehabilitation counseling will typically qualify you for licensure as a rehabilitation counselor or a mental health counselor with a specialty in rehabilitation counseling. Even in states where vocational rehabilitation counseling is permitted with a lower-level degree, the master’s degree is considered the entry level for licensure and therefore professional-level counseling practice. In addition to the degree, you will usually need to earn supervised professional experience (which is typically paid) and pass a qualifying exam to earn your license.

A PhD in rehabilitation counseling is preparation for careers in academia teaching counseling practice to others and in research. Jobs that are posted for those with a doctorate in rehabilitation counseling therefore tend to focus less on the role of the counselor as a practitioner and more on the role of the counselor as a scholar. However, if your doctoral program meets state licensing guidelines, you may find work as a licensed counselor with a PhD in rehabilitation counseling.

Visit our guide to rehabilitation counseling careers to learn more about possibilities with a degree in rehabilitation counseling.

Other Degrees in Counseling

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you earn a master’s in rehabilitation counseling online?

Yes! There are many schools that offer a master’s in rehabilitation counseling online. In online rehabilitation counseling programs, you will typically take some or all of your classes online and then complete any required supervised internship experiences in your local area. However, program requirements do vary and some schools may require a mix of on-campus classes and/or short-term residencies. Be sure to check with the programs you are considering before committing to a degree plan.

Do I need a rehabilitation counseling master’s degree to work as a rehabilitation counselor?

Whether or not you need a rehabilitation counseling master’s degree depends on the licensing guidelines of the state where you wish to work as well as the type of work you wish to do. As a general rule, you will need a master’s degree in order to enjoy the full scope of practice recognized for rehabilitation counselors. However, it may be possible to work in vocational rehabilitation counseling or in other counseling support roles with less than a master’s degree.

What is the difference between a rehabilitation counseling degree and a vocational rehabilitation counseling degree?

A rehabilitation counseling degree includes coursework on all aspects of rehabilitation counseling and prepares you for licensure and work as a rehabilitation counselor. A degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling will prepare you specifically for the subfield of rehabilitation counseling that deals with work-related disabilities and adaptations.

Why get a degree in rehabilitation counseling?

Since it is often a requirement for licensure, a degree in rehabilitation counseling is typically a requirement for jobs in this field. Earning a master’s degree can also qualify you for licensure, which typically brings with it a higher average salary. However, only you can ultimately decide whether a degree program is the best fit for you and your goals.

Do you need a master’s in order to be admitted to a PhD in rehabilitation counseling?

Many PhD programs prefer applicants who have completed a master’s degree, since completing a master’s degree is an indication that the applicant has more than a foundational knowledge of counseling. However, there are PhD in rehabilitation counseling programs that will consider applicants with a bachelor’s degree. These programs are typically longer in length as they will cover the foundational graduate work typically found in a master’s degree before building on this work with doctoral-level courses.

1. US News & World Report Best Rehabilitation Counseling Programs, 2019: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-health-schools/rehabilitation-counseling-rankings