How to Become a College Counselor

Contrary to some beliefs, college counseling does not directly entail the work with admissions or even academic advising. A college counselor is typically an individual with at least a master’s level education in counseling, psychology, social work or education. Each college counselor may be involved with different responsibilities that are pertinent to the college counseling centers mission. Whether college counselors are providing individualized attention to a student, running a small group session, or assessing risk for the student population, the college counseling center assists students through addressing their presenting concerns and promoting greater wellness. It’s a powerful opportunity for professional counselors as they have the ability to impact the lives of people on the cusp of adulthood, often facing a wide array of choices and opportunities. 

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What does a College Counselor do?

A college student may encounter a number of different counselors in the course of their study. The first such professional they are likely to encounter is an admissions advisor who offers guidance applying to the school and enrolling in classes. Next the student may work with a financial aid advisor for help with applying for loans and scholarships. Throughout their schooling, most students will have access to an academic advisor who will offer help selecting courses and a major, staying on track for graduation, and getting support if struggling in a class. While these encounters are critical to a student’s college success, these are not the roles of a college counselor.

Some universities have counseling centers which empoy licensed counselors, social workers, and/or psychologists to help students experiencing emotional difficulties, depression, mental illness, substance abuse or other personal problem. The George Washington University and the University of Kentucky counseling centers, for example, staff licensed psychologists, clinical social workers, licensed professional counselors, and master’s level interns. The Academic Senate for California Community Colleges summarizes the goal, purpose, and value of college counselors in that they assist students in educational, vocational, and personal goals. Every college will entail different responsibilities for their college counseling centers. Brian Van Brunt, EdD, the past-president of the American College Counseling Association (ACCA) describes three main roles that college counselors engage in - counseling, consulting and prevention programming, and assessing risk. College counselors attend to these roles within individual and group counseling sessions, conduct outreach and prevention activities (attending to mental health awareness, substance abuse awareness, and suicide prevention), and assessing risk of harm to self and/or others.

Steps to Become a College Counselor

Step 1: Complete a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral or social science field.

Earning your bachelor's degree in a counseling related field creates a primer that allows you to explore helping professions in terms of foundational knowledge, basic skills, and different types of research with diverse populations.

Step 2: Earn a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work.

As a requirement for any licensed counseling career, a graduate degree in counseling, psychology, or social work furthers your undergraduate education to fine tune your counseling skills, theoretical approaches, understanding of systems, psychology of human development, and current trends grounded in past research.

Step 3: Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for licensure requirements.

To become a licensed professional counselor in any field, individuals must pursue graduate and postgraduate supervised clinical hours to apply for a state recognized license to practice.

Step 4: Pass any required exams for licensure.

Some counseling graduate programs and states require the passing of the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Mental Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE) as well as other types of exams.

Step 5: Apply for and earn additional certifications.

Additional certifications are available in a wide array of specialties such as theoretical approaches, work with different populations, or provide additional learning opportunities.

Step 6: Continue your education and stay up to date on college counseling trends and changes.

Maintaining your licensure for professional practice as a counselor is required by most states to remain licensed. Attending workshops, presentations, conferences, or even participating in research helps to further your career as a college counselor and assists in your approaches to your work with students.

What are the licensing and certification requirements?

Professional licensure and/or certification is required for college counselors providing services in a counseling center. Counseling licensure requirements typically include the completion of a counseling master's degree program from an accredited university, two years of supervised clinical experience and a passing score on a state-administered licensing exam. Practicing college counselors may also be required to take continuing education to maintain licensure. Specific licensure requirements vary by state. See state counseling license requirements.

Certification is offered through the National Board for Certified Counselors and the National Association of School Psychologists.  Certification demonstrates your experience, education and level of counseling skills.  Association membership, American College Counseling Association (ACCA), includes access to advocacy resources, conference invitations and materials, discounted services, and continuing education programs for college counselors. Requirements and fees vary based on the organization and membership level you select.

Career Outlook for College Counselors

College counselors are comprised of a few different professions: mental health counselors (licensed professional counselors), psychologists, and social workers. As such, the job outlook for each will vary within the post-secondary setting. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for the following: For mental health counselors, employment is expected to rise 19% between 2014 to 2024 and earn an average of about $42,000 per year. Employment of psychologists is projected to increase 20% from 2014 to 2024 with an average earning of $70,000 per year. The field of social work is expected to grow 12% between 2014 and 2024. Licensed social workers earn, on average, about $45,000 per year. These salary averages will vary depending on school funding and allocation of services at each college/university.

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Edinboro University

Program Overview

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in College Counseling
  • Program Length: Two to three years depending on enrollment status
  • Instruction Methods: Asynchronous

Program Requirements

  • 60-63 credits
  • The student must satisfactorily complete a comprehensive examination.
  • Capstone Project
  • 12-credit internship of 600 hours of on-site experience.

Admission Requirements

  • Online graduate application and fee
  • Official transcripts from accredited institutions
  • Three letters of reference and contact information
  • Writing sample of up to 500 words
  • Admissions interview
Indiana Wesleyan University

Program Overview

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in College Counseling
  • Program Length: 2 ½ to 5 years
  • Instruction Methods: Asynchronous

Program Requirements: 48 credits

Admission Requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university
  • Official transcripts
  • An undergraduate grade point average of 3.0
  • Six credit hours in Psychology, of which three credit hours must be in Abnormal Psychology (Developmental Psychology for Student Development Counseling and Administration).
  • Six credit hours in Bible.
  • GRE Score with a minimum 146 on verbal
  • Autobiography
  • Three recommendations, at least one from a professor and one from a supervisor/professional
New York University

Program Overview

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in Mental Health and Wellness
  • Program Length:1 ½ to 2+ year depending on enrollment basis.
  • Instruction Methods: Asynchronous and Synchronous

Program Requirements:

  • 60 Credits
  • Completion of 700 hours of field work

Admission Requirements:

  • Completed online graduate application
  • Application Fee: $75, priority application timelines are $45
  • Statement of Purpose: Introduction of your goals, interests, career plans and reasons why you are pursuing a master's degree in counseling.
  • Current Resume or Curriculum Vitae
  • Transcripts from every postsecondary school uploaded. If admitted, you will need to provide official copies.
  • Two letters of recommendation from academic references.
  • If your native language is not English, you will need to submit TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores.
Learn more about NYU's online counseling program, request information directly from Counseling@NYU.

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North Carolina State University

Program Overview

  • Program Name: Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development
  • Program Length: Three years
  • Instruction Methods: Asynchronous

Program Requirements

  • 60 Credits
  • Internship

Admission Requirements

  • Official transcripts verifying baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution
  • Online and Department Application with fee
  • Resume
  • GRE or MAT scores
  • TOEFL for International Students
  • Three Academic Recommendations
Northwestern University

Program Overview

  • Program Name: Master of Arts in Counseling
  • Program Length: 18 months to three years
  • Instruction Methods: Asynchronous and Synchronous

Program Requirements

  • Enrollment in:
    • The Standard Curriculum: 24 courses OR
    • Bridge to Counseling Program: 27 courses included coursework to orient students to key theories of the field
  • 200-hour Practicum
  • 600-hour Internship

Admissions Requirements

  • Bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university
  • Unofficial transcripts
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • Current Resume
  • Statement of Purpose
  • One Supplemental Essay
  • Recent Photo
  • Official scores of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if post-secondary work was outside the United States
Explore more on starting your counseling career from Northwestern University requesting information from Counseling@Northwestern.

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