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Master’s in School Counseling Degree Guide

Earning a master’s in school counseling is an important step towards launching a career as a school counselor, as a master’s degree is a requirement to become licensed as a school counselor in most states. Some states may allow you to become provisionally or temporarily licensed before completing a graduate program, but completing a school counseling master’s program is generally required in order to receive a permanent license. On this page, you’ll learn more about school counseling programs, the career and salary outlook for school counselors, and more.

Quick Facts

  • There are 458 colleges and universities with counselor education/school counseling and guidance services programs.1
  • 3 schools offer a certificate in school counseling.1
  • 1 school offers an associate’s degree in school counseling.1
  • 3 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in school counseling.1
  • 456 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in school counseling.1

*For not-for-profit schools with counselor education/school counseling and guidance services degree programs.

Table of Contents
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?
Best Value Schools with On-Campus School Counseling Degree Programs
Best Value Schools with Online School Counseling Degree Programs
US News & World Report’s Best PhD in Student Counseling Programs
Other Notable School Counseling Programs
School Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
Professional Certifications for Degree Holders
What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?
Other Degrees in Counseling
Frequently Asked Questions

Why Earn a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

Because school counselors work with children, they are licensed similarly to teachers. School counselor licensure is overseen by the respective state board of education, and in nearly all states, school counselors must earn a master’s degree in school counseling or a master’s in counseling that includes relevant school counseling coursework. A handful of states, including Alaska, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and North Dakota, recognize alternate pathways, which typically involve earning teacher licensure plus experience and then returning to school to earn a graduate certificate in school counseling. In all cases, however, you should expect to complete at least some graduate-level work. There are numerous school counseling programs from which to choose that can qualify you for licensure or certification.

In addition to working with students’ mental health needs, school counselors are often expected to provide academic guidance as well as career guidance. A master’s in school counseling, which typically takes at least 35 credit hours depending on the program and your state’s requirements, is therefore the kind of high-level preparation required for working with the various support needs of children and adolescents in school settings. It is also possible to earn a PhD in school counseling, which can prepare you for state licensure as well as advanced roles in research and academia.

Best Value Schools with On-Campus School Counseling Degree Programs

The following table was designed to help you find the not-for-profit colleges and universities with the best value based on the net price and overall graduation rate. We included schools that offer a school counseling master’s degree with an undergraduate graduation rate of 80% or better and an undergraduate net tuition cost under $20,000 per academic year. High graduation rates are indicators of overall student success, and a low net price is an important consideration for many students.

SchoolSchool Counseling Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
University of FloridaM.Ed./EdS and MAE/EdS in School Counseling#34 tie90%50%$11,313
University of North Carolina at Chapel HillM.Ed. in School Counseling#29 tie89%43%$11,649
Florida State UniversityMS/EdS in School Counseling#57 tie83%45%$13,318
North Carolina State University-RaleighM.Ed. in School Counseling#84 tie81%43%$14,771
University of GeorgiaM.Ed./EdS in Professional Counseling (School Counseling)#50 tie86%53%$15,539
College of William and MaryM.Ed. in Counseling-School Counseling#40 tie91%46%$15,622
Rutgers University-New BrunswickEdM in School Counseling#62 tie80%26%$16,295
University of Maryland-College ParkM.Ed. in School Counseling#64 tie86%44%$16,790
James Madison UniversityM.Ed. in School CounselingNR84%41%$17,753
University of VirginiaM.Ed. in Counselor Education#28 tie94%52%$17,845
Virginia TechMAEd in Counselor Education#74 tie84%56%$18,349
Clemson UniversityM.Ed./EdS in School Counseling#70 tie83%45%$19,508

Best Value Schools with Online School Counseling Degree Programs

Due to rising demand, more schools are offering online school counseling programs that are either fully online or hybrid, mixing together online courses with traditional, on-campus coursework for added scheduling flexibility. The below table provides a comparison of not-for-profit colleges and universities that have online school counseling programs based on the school’s overall undergraduate graduation rate and average undergraduate net tuition cost. We included schools with a graduation rate of 60% or better and a net price of $20,000 or less per academic year. Considered with other factors, these are common indicators of programs that support quality academics and student success.

SchoolOnline School Counseling Graduate Degree(s)US News National Rank1Grad Rate*2% Tenured Faculty3Net Price**2
Truman State UniversityMA in School CounselingNR72%49%$12,351
Central Michigan UniversityMA in Counseling: School Counseling#240 tie62%41%$14,372
North Carolina State University-RaleighM.Ed. in School Counseling#84 tie81%43%$14,771
Fitchburg State UniversityMS in Counseling: School CounselingNR61%29%$15,309
Salem CollegeM.Ed. in School CounselingNR60%19%$15,560
University of ArizonaMA in Counseling: School Counseling#117 tie64%56%$15,594
College of William and MaryM.Ed. in Counseling-School Counseling#40 tie91%46%$15,622
University of MaineMS in Counseling: School Counseling#202 tie60%38%$16,984
Grand Valley State UniversityM.Ed. in School Counseling#228 tie66%38%$17,184
Kansas State UniversityMS in School Counseling#162 tie64%44%$18,002
Oregon State UniversityMCoun in School Counseling#139 tie67%36%$18,625
Johnson UniversityMA in School CounselingNR63%N.Av.$18,684
Lewis UniversityMA in School CounselingNR64%15%$18,899

US News & World Report’s Best PhD in Student Counseling Programs

US News & World Report ranks the best doctoral school counselor degree programs in the US based on peer assessments, hiring surveys, admissions selectivity, and school resources. This ranking of the top school counseling graduate programs focuses on doctoral programs, but may help you identify factors indicating quality master’s programs as well. According to the list, the best PhD programs in student counseling in the US are:4

  • Ohio State University (#1)
  • University of Maryland-College Park (#2)
  • University of Florida (#3 tie)
  • University of Missouri (#3 tie)
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison (#3 tie)
  • University of North Carolina-Greensboro (#6)
  • Pennsylvania State University-University Park (#7)
  • University of Georgia (#8)
  • University of Central Florida (#9)
  • Boston College (#10)
  • Georgia State University (#11 tie)
  • University of Iowa (#11 tie)
  • Vanderbilt University (#11 tie)
  • Indiana University-Bloomington (#14 tie)
  • University of Minnesota-Twin Cities (#14 tie)
  • University of North Texas (#14 tie)

Other Notable School Counseling Programs

School Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework

A master’s in school counseling can be either an educational master’s degree focusing on school counseling or a mental health counseling degree with an emphasis on school counseling. Common titles include a master’s in school counseling, a master’s in mental health counseling with a specialization in school counseling, and a master’s guidance counselor degree. It is important to note that some states will accept various types of school counselor degrees, while others only recognize one or the other for school counselor licensure. In either case, the curriculum will emphasize courses that teach the skills and knowledge needed to work with children and adolescents in K-12 schools. You may also have the opportunity to take courses in school counseling for college-level students and/or adults.

Prerequisites that are typical for admission to a school counseling master’s program include having a bachelor’s degree with a history of strong academic performance. In some states and programs, this degree should be in education as you will need to become licensed as a teacher prior to pursuing school counselor licensure. In other states and programs, the bachelor’s degree can be in any subject. A minimum GPA of 3.0 or better is another common requirement. You can also expect to be asked to provide letters of reference and may need to post a minimum score on the GRE or other exams used for graduate admissions.

Depending on state requirements, master’s in school counseling programs are usually at least 35 credit hours in length; 48 credit hours is common, though some programs are longer. This will take most students between two and three years full-time of study to complete. To fulfill licensing requirements, the coursework will usually include a practicum or field experience. Other courses you can expect to see in such a program include:

  • Assessments and Testing
  • Career Counseling and Development
  • Counseling Children and Adolescents
  • Counseling Theories and Techniques
  • Diagnostic Techniques in School Counseling
  • Group Counseling Theory
  • Human Growth and Development
  • Program Evaluation
  • Research and Statistics in School Counseling
  • Strategies for Crisis Intervention

Professional Certifications for Degree Holders

Although licensure requirements for school counselors differ from state to state, the minimum requirement for full licensure is an advanced graduate certificate in school counseling or, more commonly, a master’s degree. Most states have also instituted experience requirements; these can include experience as a classroom teacher, experience working in school counseling while under supervision during the master’s program, and experience under a provisional license after graduating from a master’s program.

Beyond licensure, earning your master’s in school counseling can qualify you for professional certifications. These include the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential as well as certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). In many states, certification through the NBPTS qualifies educators for a higher salary tier and/or a higher-level of licensure.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Master’s Degree in School Counseling?

A master’s degree in school counseling is a highly-targeted career path that typically leads to a school counseling career. However, counselors who follow this pathway are not limited to working in K-12 schools. Private and charter schools, colleges and universities, and trade schools and adult programs all have a need for qualified counselors.

If you live in a state that recognizes the master’s in mental health counseling as a pathway to school counselor licensure, it is possible for you to become dually-licensed in school counseling and mental health counseling. With dual licensure, you may have career opportunities in private counseling or group counseling that are the same as a traditional mental health counselor in addition to school counseling career possibilities.

Other Degrees in Counseling

Frequently Asked Questions

What degree do you need to be a school counselor?

In order to become a school counselor, you must typically earn a master’s degree in school counseling or a master’s degree in mental health counseling that includes school counseling coursework. Although some states do recognize pathways that involve a graduate certificate in school counseling rather than a school counseling master’s program, these typically also hold additional requirements, such as experience working as a classroom teacher.

What degree do I need to become a guidance counselor?

In order to become a guidance counselor, you will need to follow the same pathway as a school counselor as states license these two types of counselors the same way. This means first earning a bachelor’s degree (which may need to be in education and lead to teacher certification, depending on your state) and then earning a master’s degree in school counseling. You would then apply for a license or, if already licensed, an endorsement, as a school counselor.

Can I earn a school counselor degree online?

Yes! Many school counseling programs are offered online and can provide you with the preparation needed to pursue a career as a school counselor. These programs may be fully online or hybrid, meaning they include a mix of online and in-person courses. Note that some programs may be almost entirely online but require an on-campus residency for a limited time, typically a week.

What can I do with a PhD in school counseling?

A PhD in school counseling is excellent preparation for a career in school administration, planning school counseling and guidance programs, and supervising school counselors. It can also prepare you for careers in research as well as higher education, such as working as a faculty member or administrator in a college or university.

Is there a difference between a guidance counselor degree and school counselor degree?

While individual programs may use different titles and have differing coursework, a master’s in school counseling and a master’s in guidance counseling will have significant overlap. Both are designed to prepare graduates for school counselor licensure, which means that both will have similar core courses meant to prepare you to work with the mental health and academic needs of school-age children.

References:
1. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
4. US News & World Report Best Student Counseling Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/student-counseling-rankings