Online and Campus School Counseling Programs
Due to factors such as rising rates of bullying and teen depression and increasing academic pressures, school counselors who are trained to work with children, adolescents, and teens are in high demand. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends a student-to-counselor ratio of 250-to-1, a mark which all states except New Hampshire and Vermont miss; the national average ratio is 442-to-1.1 The educational path to becoming a school counselor involves earning a bachelor’s degree plus a master’s degree, typically in school counseling (depending on state requirements, a master’s in another area of counseling may be sufficient). Due to the projected demand for school counselors, there are many on-campus and online school counselor degree programs from which to choose.
School Counselor Degrees and School Counselor Certification
School counselor degrees, which can be found in traditional on-campus, online, and hybrid formats, are typically found at the master’s level. To prepare for this career, you must therefore begin by earning a bachelor’s degree. Many future school and guidance counselors choose a bachelor’s program related to education, while others may choose to major in a subject more closely related to counseling, such as psychology, social work, or sociology. Master’s programs in school counseling have various titles, including Master of Arts (MA) in School Counseling, Master of Science (MS) in School Counseling, Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling, Master of Arts in Education in School Counseling (MAEd), and Master of Science in Education in School Counseling (MSEd).
The number of credit hours required may vary according to the program and state requirements for licensure, though 48 credit hours (about two years of full-time study) is a common degree length. All programs will also follow a similar curriculum in order to prepare students for the diverse role of the school counselor, which includes supporting students’ academic and career as well as social and mental health needs. Following graduation, you will be qualified to take your state’s exams for prospective school counselors and earn your school counselor certification. Many states use the Praxis Professional School Counselor series of tests, though some states, such as California and Texas, have their own tests. You may also seek recognition through the voluntary National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) credential maintained by the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC).
Best Master’s in Student Counseling Programs
US News & World Report ranks doctoral student counseling programs based on peer assessments performed by faculty at other institutions, professional assessments by hiring schools, and other factors. To help you evaluate these programs, we researched these schools to provide further details on the programs offered, counseling-related accreditation, graduate tuition per credit hour, and more. Note that graduate tuition per credit hour is based on tuition for in-state students; tuition rates for out-of-state students may be higher.
|School||Grad Degree(s)||US News Best|
|Accreditation*2,3||% Tenured Faculty4||Online Program?||Grad Cost per Credit Hour**|
|Ohio State University||MA Educational Studies, Counselor Education;|
PhD Educational Studies, Counselor Education
|University of Maryland-College Park||M.Ed. School Counseling;|
PhD Student Affairs
|University of Florida||M.Ed./EdS School Counseling;|
MA School Counseling;
PhD School Counseling
|University of Missouri||M.Ed. Mental Health Practices in Schools (online);|
EdSp Mental Health Practices in Schools (online);
M.Ed. Educational Psychology;
M.Ed. School Counseling (online)
|University of Wisconsin-Madison||MS Educational Specialist: School Psychology;|
EdS Educational Psychology;
PhD Educational Psychology
|#3 tie||CACREP, APA||48%||No||$944|
|University of North Carolina-Greensboro||MS Counseling: School Counseling;|
PhD Counseling and Counselor Education
|Pennsylvania State University-University Park||M.Ed. Career Counseling;|
M.Ed. School Counseling;
PhD Counselor Education;
PhD Educational Psychology
|University of Georgia||EdS Professional School Counseling;|
M.Ed./EdS Professional Counseling-School Counseling;
PhD Education: Counselor Education and Supervision
|University of Central Florida||EdS Education: School Counseling;|
MA Counselor Education: School Counseling;
M.Ed. Counselor Education: School Counseling;
PhD Counselor Education
|Boston College||MA School Counseling;|
PhD Counseling Psychology
|Georgia State University||EdS School Counseling;|
M.Ed. School Counseling;
PhD Counselor Education and Practice
|University of Iowa||MA School Counseling;|
PhD Counselor Education and Supervision
|Vanderbilt University||M.Ed. Human Development: School Counseling (online)||#11 tie||CACREP||39%||Yes||$1,938|
|Indiana University-Bloomington||EdS School Psychology;|
MSEd Counseling and Counselor Education: School Track;
PhD in School Psychology
|#14 tie||CACREP, APA||42%||No||$434|
|University of Minnesota-Twin Cities||MA Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology;|
MA Educational Psychology;
PhD Educational Psychology
|University of North Texas||M.Ed. School Counseling;|
MS School Counseling;
PhD Counseling Psychology
|#14 tie||CACREP, APA||55%||No||$278|
See Table Notes and References at bottom of page.
Profiles of Traditional School Counseling Programs
Loyola University Maryland offers two 48-credit hour pathways towards earning a master’s in school counseling: a thesis-based Master of Arts (MA) in School Counseling and a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling in which students take two electives (six credit hours) in lieu of a thesis. Both the M.Ed. and MA include a 100-hour practicum as well as a 600-hour internship, and both programs lead to school counselor licensure in Maryland. The MA thesis is particularly designed for those who wish to become practitioner-researchers and/or are considering doctoral study. Other than the thesis or electives, all other courses between the two tracks are the same and include titles such as Research and Evaluation in Counseling, Human Growth and Development, and Cross-Cultural Counseling. While the degree cannot be completed online, some courses are available in a hybrid format, potentially reducing required travel to campus.
Marquette University is home to a Master of Arts in School Counseling (MASC) program that is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP). The curriculum takes a developmental perspective on the function of school counseling that places an emphasis on growth, development, and quality of life by focusing on strengths and resources. The practicum component of the curriculum typically begins in the second semester of study, with an intensive internship experience continuing throughout the second year of study. Students may complete the 48-credit hour program on a full- or part-time basis. Those who are currently enrolled in Marquette University’s undergraduate degree in educational studies may be able to complete both the bachelor’s and master’s programs in five years. Marquette University also offers a doctoral program in counseling psychology that can prepare graduates for school psychology careers in college and university settings. Prospective students interested in this track are encouraged to first complete the master’s in school counseling program.
The University of Maryland-College Park (UMD) offers a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling that qualifies students to become certified school counselors in Maryland and potentially other states. The curriculum focuses on leadership, advocacy, and systemic change in K-12 settings, particularly those in urban centers. This 52-credit hour degree program includes a 100-hour practicum and two 300-hour internships in school districts surrounding the UMD campus. Courses students can expect to take include Family and Social Support Systems, Multicultural Counseling, and Career Development: Theory/Programs. Fellowships, assistantships, scholarships, and grants specific to the College of Education and the University of Maryland are available for qualifying students. Applications for the program are accepted in the fall, with an early December deadline for the following fall semester start date. The school also offers an APA-accredited PhD in Student Affairs that may be of interest to prospective school counselors.
Through the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, students can earn a Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling and Student Personnel Psychology (CSPP). The CSPP degree plan prepares students to seek certification as school counselors and pursue careers in K-12 settings as well as to work in admissions and advising in higher education settings. The two-year, full-time program takes at least 48 credit hours to earn. During the second year, students spend two to three days per week at a practicum site working in counseling under supervision. Students may take the degree under a thesis option and complete a master’s thesis or under an exam option, in which students complete a written and oral exam at the close of the second year of study. UMN also offers a PhD in Educational Psychology designed for those who are interested in research and academic careers, as well as professionally-oriented (non-certification) master’s degrees in learning and cognition/educational technology and social, psychological, and developmental processes.
At the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, students can earn a Master of Science (MS) in Counseling with a concentration in School Counseling. The curriculum emphasizes experiential learning, with practicum placements beginning in the first semester of study. Students will also complete a 600-clock hour internship in a local school based on their desired grade level(s). Core courses include The Counselor as Scientist-Practitioner, Counseling Diverse Populations, and Application of Measurement and Clinical Appraisal Techniques. Graduates are prepared to seek school counselor licensure in North Carolina and beyond, as well as to work in roles in college recruiting and advising, in education administration, and in community agencies and similar settings. The program is housed with the University of North Carolina-Greensboro’s School of Education, which has a nearly 100-year history of preparing leaders in education. A PhD in Counseling and Counselor Education is also available.
The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and Human Development maintains a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Counselor Education program that prepares students to work as school counselors with children in private and public K-12 schools. The program, which is accredited by CACREP, is designed to be completed in two years with full-time study. The program offers a unique concentration in School Mental Health Leadership that can be earned with just three additional courses: Mental Health in Schools, Psychopathology, and Family Theory and Therapy. Completing this optional track should qualify students to seek Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) licensure (once experience requirements are met) as well as school counselor certification in Virginia. Admission to the M.Ed. in Counselor Education is competitive and is based in part on past academic performance, GRE test scores, and an in-person academic interview.
Profiles of Hybrid and Online School Counseling Programs
New York University (NYU) offers an online Master of Arts (MA) in Counseling and Guidance through its Steinhardt School of Counseling. The curriculum explores the role of the school counselor through the lenses of equity and social justice, preparing future counselors to advocate for students from diverse backgrounds. The program offers two specializations: general school counseling or bilingual school counseling. The bilingual counseling specialization offers specific preparation for working with students learning English as a second language. With full-time study, the 48-credit hour program can be completed in as few as 18 months (six consecutive terms). A counseling lab, practicum, and internship are built into the curriculum to provide students with hands-on learning opportunities. Students will also complete at least one on-campus immersion experience on NYU’s New York City campus in order to take part in in-person networking with faculty and peers. Graduates are prepared to become certified school counselors and work with elementary, middle school, and/or high school students.
The online Master of Arts (MA) in School Counseling offered through the University of Denver’s Morgridge College of Education can be completed in as few as 24 months with full-time study. Mock counseling sessions are included in many of the 18 courses that comprise the curriculum, as well as knowledge-building in the areas of research and program evaluation. Students will also complete a minimum of 600 hours of internship experience across two semesters of the program. Distance learners may arrange to complete this internship in local schools. While aside from the internship experience the degree can be completed entirely online, a voluntary on-campus immersion experience is offered that can help students develop stronger connections to faculty and peers. Graduates are prepared to work with school-aged children from preschool to grade 12. The program intends to seek accreditation by CACREP in late 2020.
The University of Missouri offers three online school counseling programs: a Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Mental Health Practices in Schools; an Education Specialist (EdSp) in Mental Health Practices in Schools; and an M.Ed. in School Counseling. The M.Ed. in Mental Health Practices in Schools is designed as a professional development degree for those who are already certified and does not lead to certification as a school counselor. In the 34-credit hour program, students learn about identifying and responding to atypical behaviors, communicating and collaborating with stakeholders, and developing and implementing evidence-based programs. The EdSp in Mental Health Practices in Schools is also a professional development program that does not lead to initial licensure. It covers much of the same coursework as the M.Ed., but only requires 31 credit hours to earn. In contrast, the 60-credit hour M.Ed. in School Counseling is designed to lead to first-time school counselor licensure in Missouri. This program can be completed in three year by taking just one eight-week course at a time. The University of Missouri also offers numerous on-campus master’s and PhD programs that may be of interest to those considering a career in school counseling.
The University of Southern California (USC) offers an online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling that prepares graduates to become credentialed school counselors in California serving students in grades K-12. The program emphasizes the issues faced in modern schools and the skills needed to support student wellness socially, emotionally, and academically. 49 credit hours are required to complete the degree, which may be pursued through full-time or part-time study (two to three years). In addition to college and career readiness, students learn about approaches to counseling through trauma-informed practice and restorative justice. The M.Ed. in School Counseling program is housed within USC’s Rossier School of Education, which has an international reputation for academic and research quality. While the program is based in California, students from other states are welcome to apply; reciprocity with the California school counselor credential may be possible for those who are attending from out of state.
School Counseling Degree Requirements and Coursework
In order to succeed as a school counselor, candidates should be empathetic, compassionate, and adaptable. Strong personal ethics and the ability to adhere to district, local, and state rules and laws regarding mandatory reporting, student confidentiality, and parental rights are crucial for this career. School counselors who wish to work in school districts where a large proportion of students speak languages other than English at home may benefit from becoming bilingual.
To be admitted to a master’s in school counseling program, candidates must have a bachelor’s degree, typically with a GPA of 3.0 or above. Prerequisite courses may or may not be required; some programs prefer candidates who have an undergraduate background in education, psychology, or a closely related field. Many programs require prospective students to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE), though not all do. A CV, statement of goals, and letters of recommendation are other common requirements.
Courses you might take in a master’s in counseling program include:
- Advanced Foundations of Education
- Career Counseling
- Counseling Skills and Techniques
- Crisis and Trauma Response and Interventions
- Group Counseling and Dynamics
- Life Span Development
- Multicultural Counseling
- Professional Issues and Ethics in Counseling
- Research and Evaluation Methods
- Special Education and the School Counselor
School Counseling Programs
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: Are there online school counseling certification programs?
Answer: Yes, there are many online school counseling programs that can lead to state certification to work in K-12 schools. Most of these programs are designed as master’s degrees. However, if you already have a master’s degree, you may be able to qualify by completing a certificate program. Check with your state board of education for guidelines.
Question: What are the common school counselor requirements?
Answer: In order to become a school counselor, you will typically need to have a master’s degree in school counseling, pass your state’s required exams for school counselor certification, and apply for a credential or license before you can begin applying for school counselor jobs. School counselor requirements by state will vary, so it’s best to check with your state board of education for current school counselor qualifications.
Question: How long does it take to become a school counselor?
Answer: To become a school counselor, you should plan to complete at least six years of formal education – four years for your bachelor’s degree and two years for your master’s degree. Studying part-time will lengthen the amount of time it takes to earn these degrees. After graduating from a master’s in school counseling program, you will typically be eligible to sit for your state’s qualifying exams right away. Once you receive your test results, you can apply for your credential (note in some states, you must apply for a credential before you can receive permission to test).
Question: How do I become a school counselor in a college or university setting?
Answer: School counselors who work with adults (ages 18 and up) on college and university campuses are usually licensed as mental health counselors. However, pursuing a dual degree program that leads to licensure as a mental health counselor as well as licensure or certification as a school counselor can be good preparation for this career track.
Table Notes and References:
*The American Psychological Association (APA) only accredits PhD programs, while CACREP accredits both master’s and PhD programs.
**Grad cost per credit hour is based on 2019-2020 tuition costs for master’s in school counseling programs. Tuition for PhD or other programs will vary.
1. US News & World Report Best Student Counseling Programs: https://www.usnews.com/best-graduate-schools/top-education-schools/student-counseling-rankings
2. Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) Accredited Programs: https://www.cacrep.org/directory/
3. American Psychological Association (APA) Accredited Programs: https://apps.apa.org/accredsearch/
4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
1. American School Counselor Association, Student-to-School Counselor Ratio 2017-2018: https://schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/Ratios17-18.pdf