There are many online master's degree programs in school guidance counseling available, but most also require an internship or practicum at a local school, as well as brief on-campus residencies. A fully online alternative is a master's degree in psychology, which may cover similar topics that are relevant to aspiring guidance counselors, but does not necessarily involve campus visits for practical training.
Applicants to an online school guidance counseling program must have a bachelor's degree. Once enrolled, students will study the role of the school counselor, legal and ethical issues, group counseling and assessment methods, current research in the field, and research methodology. A thesis or research project may conclude the program.
State-required licensure, also known as certification, is acquired through the completion of the master's degree program. However, some states further require school counselors to have teaching experience or hold a teaching license.
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Master's Degree in School Guidance Counseling
This program prepares attendants to assume leadership and advocate roles in K-12 educational settings. Participants learn to deliver and manage school counseling programs that meet the personal, social and educational needs of students. They also gain the skills and knowledge to provide counseling, early identification and prevention services in order to help children and adolescents achieve optimal development. The graduate-level curriculum covers crisis management, disaster response and coping strategies. It provides the academic foundation needed for certification as a professional school counselor.
An online master's program typically requires 2-2.5 years to complete and is composed of approximately 36-72 credit hours. Online coursework provides theoretical, professional and clinical instruction to prepare individuals for certification. Although the majority of coursework can be completed online, most programs require students to complete a 100-hour practicum and a 600-hour internship in a local school setting under the supervision of a licensed school counselor. The majority of programs also require one or two short residencies on-campus that range from 4-6 days.
Common Coursework for a Master's Degree in School Counseling
Coursework within an online graduate degree program for school counseling provides advanced knowledge in counseling principles, ethical practices and psychological foundations. Students prepare to work in geographically, socially and culturally diverse K-12 educational settings.
Life Planning and Career Development
Instruction provides an overview of the factors that play a role in career development and occupational choices. Topics include diversity issues, impact of technology, sources of information and assessment procedures.
Students participate in the group counseling process through role-playing and case study analysis. Exercises cover the principles and theories of transference, resistance, group climate and stages of human development (potentially with an emphasis on young adults).
Multicultural Counseling and Psychology
This course examines the theoretical backgrounds of major cultures around the world. Topics include various methodologies, research tactics and issues in cross-cultural psychology. Students learn to tailor their counseling strategies to different client populations.
Graduates are qualified for employment opportunities with public and private elementary, middle and secondary schools. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for school counselors are projected to increase by 8% from 2014-2024. As of May 2015, the BLS listed the median annual wage for educational, guidance, school and vocational counselors as $53,660 (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
Most states require school counselors to be certified. Although requirements for certification vary by state, candidates typically need to have a master's degree in the field and must complete continuing education credits on an ongoing basis. Some states require counselors in public schools to hold a teaching certificate and have several years of teaching experience in addition to the counseling certification.
Master's degree programs can provide training for aspiring school guidance counselors through online courses in the theory and practice of psychology and counseling, especially as it relates to young people, as well as real-world internships. After finishing, graduates may seek state certification so that they can get a job in a school.