Online associate's degree programs in counseling are scarce. Online associate's degree programs in psychology are more common. Most states require at least a master's degree in order to work as a counselor, so an online associate's degree program would be a first step toward that goal.
Many associate's degree programs in psychology can be completed entirely through online study. Students can access lectures and course materials as their schedules permit, although there are established deadlines, and communicate with instructors through e-mail. It is important to note that in some cases, in-person attendance may be required for orientation or pre-admission testing.
Psychology Associate's Degree
Online psychology associate's degree programs provide beginning education to aspiring certified counselors. Some programs are available completely online. Psychology students learn historical and foundational theories, principles and topics related to the study of human behavior. Typically, the only prerequisite is proof of a high school diploma or its equivalent. Any previous college coursework may need to demonstrate a minimum grade point average (GPA) for acceptance. In addition, credit may be given for life experience or college-level exam program (CLEP) testing. Graduates are typically awarded an Associate of Science (A.S.) in Psychology or Social Psychology.
Program Information and Requirements
Online associate's degree programs take approximately two years to complete. Some require that students attend a virtual orientation to explain the online program. Students access the class objectives, instructor notes, reading, research assignments and practice exercises online. They may need to log in a specified number of times per week, albeit on their own schedule. Instructors typically give guidance, reviews, exam results and answers to questions via e-mail, voicemail or fax.
Students may need to access school-specific programs or websites. If this is the case, the school provides a personal ID and e-mail account. Some programs provide a technical support phone number and e-mail address via which students can receive help 24 hours a day.
List of Common Courses
Online associate's degree programs focus on introductory theory and principles, as well as specific concentrations such as abnormal or social psychology. General education coursework is also included in the credit requirements, just like in traditional programs. Common courses are outlined below.
Students explore the methods and techniques, history, biology and foundations of psychology. They also study topics in hormones, brain functions, behavioral relationships, personality, motivation, emotions and cognition.
This course teaches social, behavioral, biological, humanistic, cognitive and humanistic traits in personality. Students also research evidence, theories and the dynamics of human behavior in personalities.
This class focuses on the development of physical, social and physiological changes from birth until death. It emphasizes human needs in accordance with life stages and the differences and similarities in various groups.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment for mental health counselors was expected to increase 20% between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, the BLS states that the median annual wage for counselors ranges from $41,880 for those specializing in mental health to $53,660 for those in educational, vocational and school settings (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education, Licensure and Certification Information
Prospective counselors must continue their education and achieve a master's degree to become a licensed counselor in most states. Online bachelor's and master's degree programs are available in various psychology or counseling concentrations; credits from a completed associate's degree program may transfer forward to expedite the continuing education process.
Voluntary certification is also available through the National Board for Certified Counselors. Candidates must pass a qualifying exam. Some states waive their own certification exam for those who pass this test. Specialty areas include addiction counseling, clinical mental health and school counseling.
Students who want to become counselors can start by earning an online associate's degree in the field, which provides general education as well as basic courses in personality and development. From there, they can continue on the path to licensure by enrolling in a bachelor's and then a master's degree program.