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Choosing the Right Online Counseling Degree Program
There are many factors to consider when deciding which university counseling program best suits your goals. Will you continue to work while studying? Do you have family obligations that require flexibility? Will work or personal commitments prevent you from relocating to the school that best fits your educational needs? If your answer is yes to any of these questions, you should explore the many online counseling programs now offered by brick and mortar universities across the nation.
Unlike some of the online-only colleges that focus on the credential, the dynamic online programs offered by these universities are immersive programs. Rich online curricula developed by renowned professors are matched with on-site clinical training to help you develop counseling skills.
Obtaining your master’s in counseling has never been more within your reach. While there are many different modalities to achieving your master’s degree, the route to becoming a licensed professional counselor in any form is a goal that can be achieved. Earning your online master’s degree in counseling offers flexibility in your education while holding you to the same standards as on-campus students. Online counseling degree students will enroll in the same coursework as their on-campus counterparts and take part in fieldwork experiences to include clinical practicums and internships.
Online vs. On Campus
The online counseling programs offered at universities match the quality and depth of their on-campus counterparts. They share a core curriculum, faculty, and award the same degree, but the online programs offer additional learning opportunities and flexibility that the on-campus experience cannot compete with.
- Core Curriculum
In general, whether you choose an online or on-campus program, there is a common core curriculum that includes foundations of counseling, individual and group process, psychology of human growth and development, counseling theories, abnormal psychology (mental health disorders), professional orientation to counseling, counseling and community agencies, behavior and personality assessment, counseling ethics, multicultural counseling, research and appraisal, practicum, internships, and others depending upon the counseling specialty. This ensures that you are learning the essentials of counseling, wherever you take the course.
The quality of any online program is a significant and warranted concern for many students thinking of pursuing their master’s degree through a distance learning program. Fortunately, there is a growing selection of Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) - accredited online programs to guarantee a quality education.
Online 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, 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!
Full-Time vs. Part-Time Study
Most online degree programs encourage students to learn at their own pace and thus offer both full-time and part-time options, allowing you to choose to enroll in a full semester schedule or taking a few courses at a time. They cover the same essential material but also give you a choice depending on your personal goals obligations, and availability.
- Full Time
For full-time students, an online master’s in counseling program will typically take two years to complete, similar to the brick and mortar campus timeline. If you are an advanced standing student, or someone who’s been granted credits from another institution, the program will usually take one year, or three semesters, to complete. Full-time programs trade a larger course load per semester for shorter enrollment time.
- Part Time
Part-time students may need two and a half to four years to complete their degree. Advanced standing students take approximately one and a half to two and half years to complete these programs. Part-time enrollment allows students to enroll in fewer courses per semester over a longer period of time. A majority of part-time programs use the cohort model.
Graduation requirements vary by university and state dependent upon licensure or certification requirements. Ultimately the timing will be largely dependent on you. Are you entering the program with transfer credits? Will you be taking courses during a summer semester? Some graduate schools offer accelerated online programs that may allow you to complete your degree in less time with summer courses or experiential learning credits.
Online vs. Hybrid Programs
Some, but not all, online programs are 100 percent virtual. Other programs are a combination of online learning and on-campus experiences. Be sure to check degree requirements and choose the program that best meets your needs for flexibility and hands-on learning.
- Online Programs
When you enroll in an online program, lectures, coursework, and interactions with cohort members and university staff is all virtual. You will be held to the same standards that are placed for on-campus students such as timely submission of coursework, exam completion, and participation. When it comes time to enroll in your field experience courses, a requirement of any counseling degree program, you will need to ensure that you meet requirements for both the university and state by pursuing required supervision hours by a licensed or certified, approved supervisor through your clinical site.
- Hybrid Programs
As partial online programs, hybrid programs offer some on-campus courses and/or experiences that are either mandatory or voluntary as a part of your degree fulfillment. Some universities and colleges may require that students attend a residency where they will meet other online and on-campus students in an effort to develop counseling skills, network with program peers, and meet university staff. While some programs offer access to academic advisors who can help you find fieldwork opportunities, others have mandatory short-length, intensive sessions on campus to fulfill your fieldwork requirement.
What Can You Do With an Online Counseling Degree?
There is a vast array of counseling specializations to contemplate as you earn your counseling degree. Figuring out the best career specialization for you can make the road to becoming a counselor easier and more straightforward to navigate. Each specialty demands a unique set of skills that a counselor needs in order to excel in their field. For instance, a grief counselor requires strong trust-building skills and ability to handle clients who may be going through complex feelings of loss and mourning. A school counselor, on the other hand, requires strong multi-tasking skills and excellent communication, as they will most likely serve as a facilitator between teachers, parents, and students as one of their daily responsibilities. When thinking about building upon your already established skill set, consider the following career choices: