Guidance Counseling Degree Programs and Majors

Get information on bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in school guidance counseling. Read on for information on prerequisites, curriculum and licensing requirements, as well as job growth predictions and salary expectations.

Essential Information

Guidance counselors, commonly known as school counselors, assist students with career planning, college preparation and academics. Guidance counselors often assist teachers and administrators in designing curricula and implementing school-wide standards for academics and behavior. There are a limited number of bachelor's degree programs available in counseling, and the most common degrees are offered at the master's and doctoral degree levels.

Bachelor's degree programs in counseling give students a foundational knowledge of counseling theory and technique. These programs require four years of study and often include an internship requirement. In addition to counseling-related courses, students must complete general education requirements.

In most states, school counselors must have at least a master's degree in counseling. They also must pass a state licensing exam and maintain continuing education requirements. Master's degree programs in school counseling give students information in areas such as family counseling and career guidance. An internship is usually required.

Doctoral programs in counseling are research-focused, with courses covering statistics and research methodology. Applicants need a master's degree. Internships and clinical work are included, and work on a dissertation makes up a big part of the program.

Bachelor's Degree in Counseling

Bachelor's degree programs in counseling provide a knowledge foundation that prepares graduates either for entry-level careers assisting licensed counselors or for advanced study. Undergraduate counseling degree programs teach general counseling theories and techniques but don't allow students to specialize in a particular type of counseling. The most common bachelor's degree awarded in counseling is the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), which takes full-time students four years to earn. Counseling B.A. programs often provide students with clinical opportunities.

Educational Prerequisites

Many programs ask prospective guidance counselors to take counseling prerequisites and general education courses in their first year of college, before being admitted into an undergraduate counseling degree program. Applicants usually need to meet grade requirements in their counseling prerequisite courses to be considered. Some programs also ask applicants to submit a writing sample detailing their interest in counseling.

Program Coursework

Students enrolled in counseling bachelor's degree programs learn about assisting individuals and groups. The curricula include courses occupational, educational and mental health counseling. Required classes cover:

  • Crisis intervention
  • Health counseling
  • Cultural diversity in counseling
  • Addiction counseling
  • Stress management

Continuing Education Information

Each state has unique licensure standards for guidance counselors. Nearly every state requires school counselors to hold a master's degree, but a few allow people who have a bachelor's degree to become licensed. Many states also ask that guidance counselors complete continuing education requirements.

Master's Degree in Guidance Counseling

Students who wish to pursue a career in guidance counseling often need to obtain a Master of Arts (M.A.) in Counseling. Guidance counseling degree programs help students develop an understanding of individuals based on unique developmental, ethnic and social situations. Guidance counselors also help students determine their academic goals and career paths. Graduates of school counseling M.A. degree programs have a solid educational background in psychology, social behavior and the juvenile justice system.

Educational Prerequisites

Admission into school counseling master's degree programs requires students to meet schools' minimum standards for acceptable undergraduate and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) performance. Additionally, students usually need to compose a personal statement and obtain letters of recommendation attesting to their academic aptitude.

Program Coursework

Unlike most bachelor's degree programs in counseling, master's degree programs allow students to emphasize a certain type of counseling. People who specialize in school counseling learn to work in all kinds of educational settings, assisting with issues like career planning and stress management. Students often take courses on the subjects below:

  • Social basis of counseling
  • Career development
  • Educational assessment
  • Human development
  • Counseling theory

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

People who hold a master's degree in counseling are eligible to become licensed school counselors in every state. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicted job growth of 19% between 2010 and 2020 for school and career counselors. According to, secondary school guidance counselors earned a median income of $49,820 annually in October 2013, and elementary school guidance counselors earned a median income of $44,306 in October 2013.

Professional Certification Continuing Education Information

A few states require guidance counselors to become certified teachers before they can earn a counseling license. People can become certified teachers by completing bachelor's or master's degree programs in education or by finishing a state-approved alternative certification program.

Doctoral Degree in Guidance Counseling

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in school counseling usually emphasize the theoretical and research-oriented aspects of counseling as well as the practical facets. Students learn about the research methodology used to develop new theories in school counseling. Programs often give students the opportunity to gain extensive research and clinical experience in addition to classroom instruction. This research is presented in a dissertation required to earn the doctoral degree in counseling.

Educational Prerequisites

To enter a Ph.D. program, students need to have a master's degree in guidance counseling and acceptable GRE scores. Most programs ask applicants to submit recommendations from former professors who can elaborate on the applicants' research skills and academic abilities.

Program Coursework

Students in guidance counseling Ph.D. programs take classes on advanced topics related to both counseling techniques and educational research. In addition to completing a dissertation, many students also take advantage of internship opportunities. Common coursework subjects include:

  • Educational statistics
  • Educational experimental design
  • Behavior management theory
  • Theories of education
  • Career aptitude testing

Popular Career Options

Those who complete school counseling Ph.D. programs can become licensed counselors or choose other advanced careers. The careers listed below are popular options for Ph.D. graduates:

  • University professor
  • School administrator
  • Educational consultant

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