College Counseling Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Students in counseling degree programs study core counseling concepts in preparation for a variety of careers in counseling. Some master's programs in college counseling may teach skills for working with college-bound students, while others may focus on psychology, child development, and working with college students.

Essential Information

There are two kinds of college counselors. The first is a high school counselor who assists students find and apply to colleges and plan 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 requires a master's degree in counseling with a focus on college counseling. These counselors advise and guide college students in areas that range from planning a career to crisis intervention.

School counselors at public high schools must generally be licensed, which means a master's degree is required. Certification is available through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Continuing education is required to retain these credentials.

  • Program Levels: Graduate certificate; master's degrees
  • 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 required for graduate certificate and some master's degrees. Some master's in school counseling programs may require a bachelor's in psychology and teaching experience; some master's in counseling with specialization in college counseling programs may require a bachelor's degree in social science or humanities.
  • 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 either within the school system or privately. Students in these programs study strategies for working with high school students and their parents. These programs generally comprise 4-6 courses plus a practicum. Courses often include:

  • 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

With a master's degree in school counseling one can advise students in college preparation and academic areas, and in personal, family and social development problems. Master's degree programs teach how to counsel individuals, groups and families.

In some programs the focus is on counseling with a certain number of school counseling courses required. 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 in college counseling prepare students to work in a variety of areas including academic advising, career counseling, psychotherapy, student affairs administration, admissions and multicultural affairs. Some programs allow students to complete extra coursework in lieu of a thesis or research paper. All programs require core counseling courses which 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 take the credentialing test 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 licenses are renewed is every five years, but it may be as fee three years or as much as ten.

Popular Careers

Although school counselors usually perform a variety of counseling functions, there are jobs available in specific counseling areas, for example:

  • 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, or 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 doctoral degree in counseling and student personnel, student personnel administration or a related topic may be helpful.

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