How to Choose Your Online Master's in Counseling Program
Completing a master’s degree program in counseling is the first step needed to become a professional counselor. Although there are some bachelor’s level degrees with a focus in counseling, in order to become a licensed professional counselor, you must complete a graduate level education.
Whenever you make a decision about your education, there are specific factors you should consider. When researching online counseling programs, these factors include accreditation, online student support services, clinical placement assistance close to home, small class sizes, and live online classroom discussions.
Factors to Consider in Choosing Your Online Counseling Program
Master's in counseling programs that are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (CACREP) typically meet state licensing requirements. CACREP accreditation implies that university counselor training and educational programs have met the minimal professional standards to practice as an independent counselor.
The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (CACREP) recognizes the quality and standards of counselor education programs that are set by the profession. Through a self-assessment, counselor education programs submit information pertaining to learning environment, the professional counseling, professional practice, evaluation of the program, coursework offerings, counseling career-specific content, and doctoral standards for counselor education and supervision programs. CACREP accreditation rests with the counseling degree program and not the university. This is an important distinction to make for universities that offer several counseling degree programs.
MPCAC Accredited Programs
The Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredits programs in the psychology and counseling field that are science-based in education and training. MPCAC also promotes the integration of science and clinical practice while preparing counselors in scientifically-based, cultural responsive counseling services.
Student Support Services for Online Students
For on-campus students, support services are often within a walk to another building. For online students, finding faculty and staff support may be through the phone or other virtual communication. When researching online counseling degree programs, you want to make sure that the university offers services that meet their online students’ needs, such as flexible hours, online resources, and/or virtual meeting times.
Clinical Placement Support for Distance Learners
What can be considered a top concern for online counseling program students is the support for finding clinical placements. These experiences are required for counseling licensure in all states. All accredited and valuable online counseling programs require an internship where you will use your learned skills and theories with clients. Because you may be learning online from across the country for a university whose campus is over 1,000 miles away, having clinical placement support that is relevant for your home of address is integral. Some universities have online-specific placement support services, helping you to find clinical sites for practice within driving distance from your home.
Online Small Class Sizes
For some, when they think about college, an immediate thought is large lecture halls where students get little one-on-one attention. For online counseling programs, a small class size increases intimacy and learning opportunities. When doing your research, ask counseling programs what their instructor-to-student ratio is. Classes with 15 or less students may increase your one-on-one learning while also developing professional and academic hearty relationships with your online counseling peers.
Live Discussions - Synchronous Learning
Some online counseling programs offer both synchronous and asynchronous learning where you can work as a part of a team during live discussions and offline at your own pace, respectively. Live discussions for online programs provide you the opportunity to “meet” face-to-face with your peers and instructor, bringing the on-campus experience to you through your computer. In synchronous learning formats, you are able to practice your counseling skills and ask real time discussion questions, sparking further learning and understanding.
Online counseling programs often mirror and replicate their on campus counterparts to ensure continuity between programs. Core curriculum offered in online formats should directly reflect those offered by faculty on campus, if the program is accredited online and on campus. Faculty may instruct both on campus courses and lectures as well as moderate online counseling degrees.
The quality of an online counseling program is a significant and warranted concern for many students thinking of pursuing their master’s degree through a distance learning program. However, online counseling programs that are CACREP or MPCAC accredited meet the same and additional standards that are set forth for on campus counterparts.
Online degree programs are typically stereotyped as boring, unengaging, and unmotivating. Watch a video, take a test, check your grades, rinse, repeat. However, the innovative and immersive online learning environment has become the hallmark of programs offered by universities. These programs allow virtual interaction with classmates and instructors from all over the country and world, easy access to knowledgeable advisors and campus resources, and incomparable networking opportunities.
The greatest asset of online learning is convenience. Many schools allow you to create your own schedule so you can attend classes, complete clinical training or even take exams when and where it is most convenient for you. This allows you to balance your education with your work schedule, any family obligations or even while traveling abroad―allowing you to never miss a beat!
Deciding on your counseling career can occur before or after completion of your degree program. If you already know which field you would like to pursue, search for online counseling programs that offer the specialty, such as online school counseling programs. If you are unsure about which career you would like to pursue, review our guides on 10 different counseling careers! Most online counseling programs, when accredited, will offer some of the same basic counseling coursework. Keep in mind, however, that career specific online counseling programs may better prepare you for post-graduate counseling licensure.
Role: Focus on helping individuals make decisions about career paths through exploring their interests, strengths, and skills. Skills: Active Listening, Speaking, Reading Comprehension Average Salary: $57,620, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Professional or clinical counselors address challenges that children and adolescents experience such as learning disabilities, behavioral concerns, identity crisis, social issues, or eating disorders through skill-based learning individual and group counseling. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation Average Salary: $44,580, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Guiding college students through their academic, social, and personal goals while addressing mental health, substance abuse, suicide prevention, or relationship challenges. Skills: Active Listening, Speaking, Reading Comprehension Average Salary: $51,260, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Assisting individuals dealing with loss, illness, or experiencing significant change through individual and group sessions. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation Average Salary: $45,323, PayScale.com
Role: Providing psychoeducational and therapeutic support, through engaging in assessments, treatment planning, crisis management, while taking a client-centered approach. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation Average Salary: $46,050, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Working with military personnel and their families by providing psychoeducational services to promote mental health and addressing challenges of the military lifestyle. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation Average Salary: $42,894, GlassDoor.com
Role: Evolving from religious counseling to pastoral psychotherapy, biblical or pastoral counseling provides support and guidance for individuals with spiritual influences. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Service Orientation Average Salary: $46,050, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Addresses conditions of clients with physical, emotional, developmental, or mental disabilities to develop treatment plans for adjustment or healthy development. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Monitoring Average Salary: $38,740, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Supporting child and adolescent development in individual and group meetings with a focus on the academic, personal, social, and career growth. Skills: Active Listening, Speaking, Reading Comprehension, Social Perceptiveness Average Salary: $65,070, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Role: Help clients achieve and maintain abstinence, reestablish their lives and use healthy coping skills through commonly used aversion therapy, solution-focused brief therapy and social skills training. Skills: Active Listening, Social Perceptiveness, Speaking Average Salary: $44,160, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics