If you enjoy working with children and helping them succeed, working as a school counselor may be the right option for you. School counselors also referred to as guidance counselors, are key players in the school system. They provide career counseling, mental health counseling, and social work service, and address some of the school’s most serious issues, such as drug abuse, suicide, and truancy.
However, these professional counselor can make a big difference in student outcomes by providing crucial school-based services. If a career as a school counselor seems like the right option for you, keep reading. This guide will take an in-depth look at the career of a school counselor and the benefits of online master’s degree programs.
Difference between online and traditional master’s in school counseling
If you are considering a career as a school counselor, you must work towards earning your Master of Education (M.Ed.) in School Counseling degree. In fact, nearly every school in the country now requires school counselors to have a least a master’s degree and obtain a state license.
However, before you head to graduate school, you must first complete an undergraduate program from an accredited college or university. You can earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree in psychology, education, social work, or related field. Bachelor’s degree programs typically take four years of full-time studies to complete. Undergraduate students can expect to take a mixture of general education classes as well as degree-specific courses, such as psychology, child development, and sociology.
Some students spend several years working in their specific fields, such as teaching and social work before deciding to enter a master’s degree program to become a school counselor. Other students, however, choose to enter a graduate program immediately after obtaining their bachelor’s degree. Despite which career path you choose, you should start applying to graduate school early to ensure admittance to an accredited master’s degree program.
Master’s degree programs for school counseling can be extremely competitive. Most schools look at several factors when admitting students, such as:
- Completion of an accredited undergraduate program in a related field
- Grade point average (GPA) of undergraduate program
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal essay
When choosing a graduate school, the most important thing is to check its accreditation. The online school counseling program should be accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACEP).
There are both traditional, in-class accredited programs available as well as online programs. However, there are some major differences between online and traditional master’s programs that should be considered. Understanding these differences can help you determine if online or traditional schooling is right for you.
Here’s a look at some of the main differences:
Traditional graduate programs are set in a typical classroom and are very structured. Classes are held at the same time every week and you are expected to attend all classes. Online schools, on the other hand, are held over online platforms, such as Zoom. These are either set classes that must be attended at the same time every week or posted lectures and assignments that can be viewed and completed at a time that is most convenient for you.
Participation in the traditional setting typically involves direct, face-to-face communication with the teacher. For example, the teacher may ask students questions during class or vice versa. Online students may also directly interact with the teacher and other students during Zoom sessions as well as indirectly through online group discussions or during online breakout sessions.
Believe it or not, direct communication with professors may be more difficult in a traditional setting. Professors are not always available before or after class and require students to meet with them during posted office hours, which may be inconvenient. Additionally, it may take a few days for these professors to respond to emails.
On the other hand, online teachers are used to online communication and often check their emails several times throughout the day. This frequent communication allows online students to obtain professor support as needed.
Most brick-and-mortar schools have state-of-the-art technology labs, which can come in handy during the course of your schoolwork. However, many online schools provide students with a variety of cloud-based technologies. Additionally, you may be able to make use of a computer lab at a college in your local area if you let them know you are attending an online school.
Online schools tend to have higher acceptance rates than traditional schools because they are not limited by space. This makes online training an ideal option for students who are struggling to gain admittance into a highly competitive program.
While not always the case, tuition at online schools tends to be lower than traditional graduate programs. This is because the school is able to save money by having the students complete their course studies online rather than on-campus.
Online and traditional graduate programs in school counseling tend to offer the same types of courses. However, with traditional schooling, students are limited to only the classes that fit into their busy schedules. On the other hand, online students have more flexibility with scheduling and are more likely to be able to take the specific classes they want.
Social interaction is definitely limited for online students. Traditional grad students can connect with fellow students during class or meet up with them later at the library, cafeteria, or student union building. Online students are limited to internet options, such as Zoom, Skype, or Facebook HangOuts.
Since classes are held on-site instead of online, grad students attending a traditional program will have to travel back-and-forth to school. In some cases, the commute may be too long and students may need to move closer to the school. On the other hand, online students have no commute time to worry about, except for during their internship.
Graduation requirements are typically very similar in both online and traditional schooling. Students in both programs will be required to complete a number of counseling-related courses and can expect to have a mixture of term papers, projects, and examinations to complete as well as an internship and maybe a practicum.
The job outlook for school counselors is very good. With the rising enrollment of students at all grade levels, including elementary, secondary, and higher education, as well as the heightened awareness of the importance of mental health wellbeing, the need for qualified school counselors is expected to rise over the next decade.
In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for school counselors is expected to rise by 8% over the next ten years, which is double the national average job growth of just 4 percent. Statistics show that there were 333,500 school counselors in 2019, but this number is expected to rise by 26,900 by 2029, bringing the total number of anticipated school counselors to 360,000.
Why choose an online masters in school counseling program?
Master’s degree programs typically take an average of two to three years to complete, and a graduate program in school counseling is no exception. While some students have no problem, and actually prefer, to move near the school of their choice and take time off work to attend a traditional, on-campus program, others have work and personal responsibilities that make attending a traditional graduate program impossible. Fortunately, there are numerous online school counseling programs available to help many students reach their dream of becoming school counselors.
There are many great benefits of attending an online master in school counseling program from an accredited institution, including:
- Work-life-school balance: Online schooling offers a high level of flexibility that may allow you to better balance your work, personal, and school life.
- No commute: The only time you will need to commute for online school is to attend your internship. However, you get to select the location of your internship, as long as it’s approved by the school. This flexibility allows you to complete your internship at a public or private school close to your home. It’s advised to start searching for internship opportunities early, so you have more options.
- Cost savings: Not only are online graduate programs typically less expensive that traditional programs, but you can also save money by living at home versus moving into an apartment near campus. Additionally, you will save on gas by not having to commute back-and-forth to school.
- Local internship: Taking an online school allows you to find an internship in your local area. This opportunity could lead to greater job options in your area and provide you with a great reference.
- Licensure: Completing an accredited online program enables students to obtain their license in school counseling
Despite being online, school counseling graduate programs can still be quite demanding.
First, students must take a variety of counseling-related educational courses, such as:
- Advanced psychology
- Adolescent counseling
- Career counseling
- Educational counseling
- Counseling theory
- Crisis intervention
- Clinical mental health counseling
- Group counseling strategies
- Educational psychology
- Multicultural counseling techniques
- Career counseling objectives
- Behavior psychology programs
Secondly, most colleges and universities require graduate students to complete one or two internship programs prior to graduation. These internship opportunities provide students with valuable hands-on training and supervision and must be completed in a school setting.
Online schools work directly with students to help them find an approved internship at a public or private school in their local area. If possible, it’s best to find an internship at the grade level that most interests you. For example, if you’re interested in secondary school counseling, try to find an internship at the junior or high school level.
Typically, students start by observing professional school counseling sessions. Once they have observed several sessions and are comfortable, students will work directly with students under the supervision of a licensed school counselor. This hands-on training gives students real work experience before graduation and helps them build valuable counseling skills. Additionally, their supervisor can provide invaluable tips and advice to help students further their careers.
While these internships can be extremely beneficial to student’s career success, they can also be quite time-consuming. Keep in mind that since you will be working in a school setting, your internship will likely cover daytime hours Monday through Friday. Depending on your specific situation, you may have to readjust your work schedule for one or two semesters. Always check the school’s internship requirements before entering into a graduate program for school counseling.
Thirdly, some schools also require school counseling graduate students to attend professional workshops, lectures, or seminars. For example, you may be required to attend an event sponsored by the American School Counselor Association. Some schools may allow you to attend an online seminar, while others require in-person attendance.
Finally, counseling is one of the unique online programs that may still require some type of in-person training. For instance, you may be required to attend a week-long intensive course in counseling. While not all schools have this requirement, it’s recommended to inquire about all graduation requirements before committing to an online graduate program in school counseling.
The reality is that an online school counseling graduate program can be just as demanding, if not more, than a traditional, on-campus one. Since online programs have become more common and more intensive over the years, most employers today view online and traditional degrees equally.
The only thing employers are concerned with is that the degree is from an accredited college or university. Without this accreditation, you may have a difficult, if not impossible, time finding a job as a professional school counselor. Additionally, you won’t be able to sit for your school counseling licensing examination without the completion of an accredited graduate program.
What you can do with an online master’s in school counseling?
As the name suggests, school counselors typically work in a school setting at the elementary, secondary, or university level. They can work for both private or public school systems and are usually part of the administrative team.
Guidance counselors offer a wide range of student-based services, including:
- Administer assessment tests and evaluate students’ skills and abilities
- Identify and address individual school behaviors that affect overall school performance, such as absenteeism, fighting, drug abuse, and incomplete homework
- Provide individual and group mental health counseling, as needed
- Provide crisis counseling as necessary, such as in the case of a student-related death
- Administer career aptitude tests
- Help students set school and career-based goals
- Oversee scheduling of classes for students
- Assist students with the college and scholarship application process
- Maintain and update student records
- Serve as a mandated reporter of all suspected cases of child abuse
- Assist students with the transition from school to the workforce
- Assist students seeking a career in the military
- Provide information and coordinate events pertaining to school and career-related issues, such as bullying, drug abuse, careers, and FAFSA filing
- Collaborate with parents, teachers, and school administers, including the school psychologist as needed
All school counselors begin their career by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as psychology, education, or social work. While some go on to graduate school immediately after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, many students choose to work in their given field for several years before going back to school. For example, a teacher may work in the classroom setting before going to graduate school for counseling.
After completing a CACREP (The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs) approved graduate program, students move forward to secure their state licensure in school counseling. Each state has its own licensing requirements that typically include a comprehensive background check and successful passage of the state licensing examination. The National Board for Certified Counselors website can provide more information about specific state licensing requirements.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average school counselor earns an annual salary of $57,040. However, these salaries vary slightly based on the workplace setting. Here’s a look at the average school counselor salary based on the workplace.
- Elementary or secondary school: $66,910
- Junior college: $61,880
- College or university: $52,180
Salaries also vary based on experience and education. For example, BLS records show that the lowest-paid 10% of school counselors, which primarily consists of entry-level workers, earn an average of $33,610 per year versus the top 10%, consisting of primarily seasoned professionals earn an average annual salary of $94,690.
Not all graduates of a school counseling master’s program choose to work in a school setting. The reality is that these professionals have a variety of career options available. Below is a look at some of the top alternative careers for school counselors with their corresponding average annual salary.
- Vocational rehabilitation counselor: $39,950
- Social worker: $50,470
- Mental health counselor: $46,420
- Substance abuse counselor: $39,060
- Professional counseling at private practice:$46,090
Affordable online master’s in school counseling programs
The only way to earn a school counselor licensure in the United States is to earn a master’s degree in school counseling. Unfortunately, this high-level training comes with high costs. In fact, a master program can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 to complete, depending on the school and the program.
But don’t let this high price tag keep you from reaching your dreams. There are several steps you can take to find an affordable master’s in school counseling program, including:
Do your research
The cost of graduate school varies greatly from college to college. The best way to find an affordable program that fits your budget is to do your research. Take the time to compare the costs associated with several programs that meet your criteria.
Be sure to include all extra fees, such as student activity fees or lab fees in order to obtain a fair comparison. This step will ensure you understand the true costs of each master’s program you’re considering and allow you to better compare these costs.
Consider online programs vs traditional college
While it’s not always the case, online programs tend to be less expensive than more traditional, on-campus programs. Additionally, online students don’t have to pay room and board or worry about moving to a location closer to the school of their choice. Instead, they can complete most of the program requirements right from the comfort of their own home.
Even internships can be done locally to minimize commuting costs. Saving money on both tuition and room and board costs can help to save money and make obtaining a school counseling degree more affordable.
Find an in-state vs out-of-state school
Some colleges and universities charge students living outside the state a higher tuition rate. While this is not always the case with online schools, it’s best to check these rates right from the start. If you’re planning to attend an on-campus program, you may want to find one located in your state to help you save money.
Seek out an accelerated program
During your search for a graduate school, you’ll find that some universities offer accelerated programs. Although the coursework is more intense and may include some classes, these programs typically allow students to obtain their degree faster. For example, instead of taking three years to complete, you may be able to finish an accelerated program in just 18 to 24 months.
Since these programs run for a shorter period of time, they are often less expensive than some other graduate programs. However, this is not always the case, so it’s important to always do your research and compare costs.
There are also several financial assistance options available that can help to make school more affordable.
Federal student aid
The federal government provides financial assistance to eligible students to help offset the cost of college. Even if you already received federal student aid in your undergraduate program, you may still be eligible for financial assistance for your graduate program. On the other hand, if you didn’t receive financial aid for your undergraduate studies, you may now be eligible.
The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) by the set deadline. This process will help to determine your eligibility and how much, if any, financial assistance you can receive.
There are literally hundreds of scholarships available to graduate students. The trick is to find them. Start by contacting your local high school to request information about any scholarship opportunities in your area. Next, contact the graduate school you will be attending to ask them for the same type of information. Finally, use the internet to research and identify scholarships that match your set criteria.
Keep in mind that most scholarship programs have strict deadlines, so be sure to submit all necessary paperwork and documentation by the due date. The best thing about scholarships is that, unlike a loan, this money doesn’t have to be repaid. However, competition to win scholarships is very competitive, so it’s recommended to apply to as many of them as possible.
One of the best ways to offset graduate school costs is to seek out a paid internship. These are not easy to find because many schools don’t have available funds. However, some private schools may offer paid internships.
Employer tuition reimbursement
If your workplace offers a tuition reimbursement program, it doesn’t hurt to ask if it covers graduate programs for school counselors. Not all employers do, especially if you’re not currently working within a counseling setting. However, if you’re a teacher or social worker, a tuition reimbursement program may be the perfect way to cover some of your tuition costs.
Before requesting tuition reimbursement from your employer, it’s important to understand exactly how the program works. Some employers may require you to work for them for a set number of years after obtaining reimbursement. It’s best to understand this detail prior to accepting any type of assistance because it may delay your ability to enter into a school-based program or limit your career options.
Some students may be eligible for guaranteed student loans backed by the federal government. These loans allow you to pay for college now and pay off the loan after graduation. Payments are typically based on your annual salary after graduation and updated on an annual basis. Even if you’re not eligible for a guaranteed loan, you may still be able to obtain school funding through your local bank.
If you work in a public school or other nonprofit organization, you may be eligible for the student loan forgiveness program. This program will help to reduce the amount of money you need to pay back on your loan based on how many years you work for a school or nonprofit. This program has strict guidelines, so it’s crucial that you understand all the necessary requirements before starting the program.
If you served in any branch of the United States armed forces, you may be able to obtain school funding through the GI Bill. This program will not only cover the cost of tuition, but will also provide you with funds for room and board, even if you are living at home. Best of all, this money does not have to be repaid. Rather you earned this financial support by serving your country.