College Counseling Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Students in counseling degree programs are introduced to various core counseling concepts in preparation for a variety of careers in counseling. Graduate courses in college counseling may teach students the skills to work with college-bound students while other master's degree programs in counseling may focus on psychology and child development, and working with college-level students.

Essential Information

There are two kinds of college counselors. The first is a high school counselor who assists students in finding and applying to a college and planning for adapting to college life. This profession requires a graduate certificate in college counseling or a master's degree in school counseling. Graduate certificate programs may consist of fewer courses and be shorter in duration than a full master's degree program. The second kind of counselor, requiring a master's degree in counseling with a focus on college counseling, advises and guides college students in areas that range from planning a career to crisis intervention.

School counselors at the public high school level must generally obtain licenses, for which a master's degree is required. Certifications are available through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Continuing education is required to retain these credentials.

  • Program Levels: Graduate certificate; Master's
  • Program Fields: Graduate certificate in College Counseling; Master's degree in School Counseling; Master's degree in Counseling with specialization in College Counseling.
  • Prerequisites: A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for entry into graduate certificate and master's in counseling programs. Master's in School Counseling programs may often require a degree in psychology or a related field and some teaching experience. Master's in Counseling with specialization in college counseling programs may require a bachelor's in the social sciences or humanities as well as specific prior coursework.
  • Online Availability: Some graduate certificate programs are offered online.

Graduate Certificate in College Counseling

Certificate programs in college counseling are primarily designed to prepare school teachers and counselors to guide college-bound students. Some programs aim to aid students who wish to establish a private college counseling practice. Students in these programs gain information and strategies for working with high school students and their parents.

Certificate programs for college counselors generally only offer 4-6 courses, plus a practicum. Courses often include topics such as:

  • Helping college-bound students
  • Online aid and information for college and career counselors
  • Processes in college admissions
  • Financial aid for college
  • Career assessment tools
  • Counseling techniques

Master's Degree in School Counseling

A master's degree in school counseling allows a counselor to advise in college preparation areas, as well as personal and social development problems, academic needs and family problems. Master's degree programs teach how to counsel individuals, groups and families.

Core counseling courses are the primary requirement in some programs, with a minimal number of courses specific to school counseling. Other programs are just the opposite. In addition to a practicum, areas that may be covered in coursework include:

  • Appraising students
  • Assessing and intervening with at-risk students
  • Counseling in schools
  • Ethics and professional issues for school counselors
  • Family counseling
  • Multicultural counseling

Master's Degree in Counseling with Specialization in College Counseling

Master's degree programs that specialize in counseling in a college setting prepare students to work in a variety of areas. These may include academic advising, career counseling, therapeutic counseling, student affair administration, admissions and multicultural affairs. Some programs allow students to complete extra coursework in lieu of writing a thesis or research paper.

All programs have required core counseling courses, similar to those mentioned for the master's in school counseling. College-counseling specific courses might include:

  • College students in the U.S.
  • Leading and administering student affairs
  • Managing student support services
  • Methods of treatment
  • Psycho-pharmacology
  • Student development during college

Employment Outlook

Employment growth of 12% was anticipated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for school, vocational and educational counselors between 2012 and 2022. The average wage for these counselors in May 2014 was $56,040 per year.

Continuing Education

As a rule, teachers who have only a certificate in school counseling are not eligible for state licensing as school counselors; this career generally requires a master's degree. Therefore, the first step in continuing education for many college counselors in high schools is to work on a master's degree in school counseling.

Graduates with master's degrees in school counseling or in counseling with a school counseling specialization will be eligible to test for credentialing as a National Certified School Counselor (NCSC) with the National Board for Certified Counselors. Almost all states have their own certification requirements, with a few allowing the NCSC as an option. Most states have continuing education requirements for renewal of certification. Most commonly this is every five years, but may be a little as three years or as much as ten.

Popular Careers

Although school counselors will usually work in a school as a counselor who performs a variety of counseling functions, there are jobs available that are limited to only one counseling area. Examples are:

  • Guidance counselor
  • Prevention specialist
  • Student assistant program counselor
  • Family worker
  • Behavior analyst

College counselors are often considered part of the school administration. They may work in student personnel or student affairs, even in the admissions department. Job titles may include:

  • Academic counselor
  • Clinical counselor
  • Director of student life
  • Enrollment counselor
  • Residence hall counselor

Continuing Education

Graduates are usually eligible to take exams for National Certified Counselor (NCC) credential from the National Board for Certified Counselors. Beyond that and depending on the job path a graduate wishes to follow, a doctorate degree in counseling and student personnel, student personnel administration or a related topic may be helpful.

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