Online Schools with Masters in Guidance Counseling: How to Choose

Most states require guidance counselors to hold a master's degree; other certification and teaching experience may also be required depending on the state. Find out how to best make a choice to receive a guidance counselor master's degree.

There are a few different online degree options for students wanting a master's in guidance counseling. We discuss the various program types, licensure requirements, clinical work requirements and career goals students should consider when selecting a program.

How to Select an Online School for a Master's in Guidance Counseling

Guidance counseling involves working with children to aid and develop goals for their future. Though most commonly associated with high school, guidance counselors are also available to assist parents and teachers of elementary-aged children by observing and providing psychological insight into a child's growth and development. Online master's degree programs in guidance counseling are offered by professional psychology schools and 4-year colleges and universities. Students should weigh the program type and their career goals with licensure and clinical work requirements.

Program Type

Master's degree programs in school counseling or school psychology can prepare graduates for careers in guidance counseling. Such programs can lead to a Master of Science, Master of Arts or Master of Education and are available in hybrid format; courses are typically offered online, but 1-year residencies and on-campus components are generally required. Students access assignments via an online classroom and regularly interact with classmates and faculty via online discussions and e-mail. Online programs allow students more flexibility than on-campus programs do, but there are generally still assignment deadlines and scheduled meeting times to help guide learning.

Licensure Requirements

Most school guidance counselors are required to have a license in their state of practice. Students enrolling in an online program need to ensure that the curriculum meets the standards for the state in which they wish to practice. Recognized programs may adhere to the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) or the National Association of School Psychologists (NCSP) standards for education, but some states, such as New Jersey, maintain their own credentialing requirements.

Clinical Work Requirements

Nearly all accredited programs, whether online or not, require students to participate in 1-year internships with guidance counselors. Online programs may assist students in coordinating an internship, but students should be wary of any program that waives field experience requirements. These are likely unaccredited programs that are not recognized by certifying organizations or state agencies.

Counseling Career Goals

Though school counselors exist at different levels of the educational spectrum, their roles vary significantly from elementary to high school. Curricula that emphasize elementary counseling roles typically prepare practitioners to observe students in a classroom setting and make educational recommendations to teachers or parents. High school guidance counselors, on the other hand, provide career guidance as students move from secondary education into post-secondary schools or the workforce. Some online curricula focus more heavily on one path or the other, though generally this distinction isn't made until a student partakes in an internship.

List of Online Guidance Counseling Master's Programs

Master of Education in School Counseling

One option for students interested in a career in guidance counseling is a Master of Education in School Counseling. Coursework can often be completed almost entirely online, but some short on-campus sessions may be required. Some form of internship, practicum or residency is also required for field experience. Online components include seminars and Web conferencing that may continue throughout the field experience requirement. Some such programs are designed specifically for educators interested in pursuing a career in guidance counseling. Students in this type of program take courses such as:

  • Counseling theory
  • Child and adolescent counseling
  • Appraisals and assessments
  • Abnormal psychology

Master's Degree in School Psychology or Counseling

Other online options for students interested in careers in guidance counseling are offered under a variety of degree names. Students might pursue a Master of Science (M.S.) or Master of Arts (M.A.) in School Counseling or School Psychology. Other programs lead to a master's degree in psychology, with a specialization in school psychology. Regardless of the degree title, such programs are very similar in content and focus.

Typically, these programs are offered online only through various for-profit schools or as a hybrid option that includes both on-campus and online instruction. Students might look for programs that utilize the National Association for School Psychologists (NASP) standards for curriculum development. Courses in these programs could include:

  • Human development guidance
  • Advocacy for diverse populations
  • Group counseling and psychotherapy
  • Crisis intervention and emergency management

Practicums and internships are typically required. Some programs include a final project as well.

Schools with Online Master's Degree Programs in Guidance Counseling

Capella University offers an online Master of Science in School Counseling program with a general school counseling concentration. This program requires 72 quarter credits, and courses are ten weeks long. Students do participate in practicum and internship experiences. Students must also complete two 6-day residencies.

Texas A&M University has an online Master of Education in School Counseling program that requires 36 credit hours and can be completed in two years. Students complete a practicum, but do not have to write a thesis. Students must have an affiliation with a school upon admission to meet the practicum requirements.

The University of Massachusetts Boston has an online Master of Education in School Counseling degree program that must be completed on a full-time basis. It is a 60-credit-hour program that includes field experiences, a practicum and an internship in addition to online coursework. This program also requires a 2-week on-campus residency at the start of the program. Applicants will need a minimum of one year of work, volunteer or research experience in human services to be admitted.

Students need to consider licensure requirements and counseling career goals as they search for the right online master's degree program in guidance counseling. They should also keep in mind that many programs require internship or practicum experiences and cannot be completed fully online.

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