Guidance Counseling Degree Programs and Majors

There are a limited number of bachelor's degree programs available in counseling. 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.

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.

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. 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. Candidates participate in internships and complete a dissertation to graduate.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's, master's, and doctorate.
  • Prerequisites: Undergraduate degrees require a high school diploma or equivalent. Master's degrees require a bachelor's degree, standardized test scores, a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Doctoral programs have similar requirements and may demand a master's degree in a related field.
  • Program Length: Bachelor's program, 4 years. Master's program, 2 years. Doctoral programs may vary.
  • Other Requirements: An internship, final exam, thesis or dissertation may be required for graduation. Professionals need to have state licensure.

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. The most common four-year bachelor's degree awarded in counseling is the Bachelor of Arts (B.A.). Counseling B.A. programs often provide students with clinical opportunities. Students may be required to take counseling prerequisites and undergraduate general education courses before being admitted into a counseling degree program. Some programs also ask applicants to submit a writing sample detailing their interest in counseling.

Undergraduate counseling degree programs teach general counseling theories and techniques. 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

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 before becoming licensed by the state.

Applicants are generally required to submit school transcripts, standardized test scores, a personal statement and letters of recommendation.

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. Master's degree programs allow students to specialize a certain type of counseling, such as school counseling which focuses on assisting with 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

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. To enter a Ph.D. program, students need to have a master's degree in guidance counseling, acceptable GRE scores, and letters of recommendation from former professors.

Doctoral counseling 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. Common coursework subjects include:

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

Popular Career Options

Most states require guidance counselors have at least a master's degree. The careers listed below are popular options for Ph.D. graduates:

  • University professor
  • School administrator
  • Educational consultant

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

People who hold a master's degree in counseling are eligible to become licensed school counselors. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( predicted job growth of 12% between 2012 and 2022 for school and career counselors. According to, secondary school guidance counselors earned a median income of $50,101 annually in July 2015, and elementary school guidance counselors earned a median income of $42,948 in July 2015.

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