How to Become a College Counselor

  1. Complete a bachelor’s degree in a behavioral, social science field, or another field
  2. Earn a master’s degree in counseling, psychology, or social work
  3. Complete graduate and postgraduate internship experience for licensure requirements
  4. Pass any required exams and apply for licensure
  5. Apply for and earn additional certifications
  6. Continue your education and stay up to date on college counseling trends and changes

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. 

Sponsored Online Counseling Programs

Northwestern University


Earn a CACREP-accredited master’s in counseling online from top-9 ranked1 Northwestern University.

1U.S. News & World Report: 2022 Best National University Rankings 

  • CACREP Accredited
  • Earn your MA in Counseling from Northwestern in as few as 18 months
  • Accelerated full-time, traditional, or part-time tracks available

New York University


Aspiring mental health counselors are prepared to pursue licensure with NYU Steinhardt’s MPCAC-accredited online counseling master’s. Students can earn their degree in as few as 21 mos. GRE not req. 

  • Prepare to become a mental health counselor
  • Accredited by the MPCAC
  • As few as 21 months to complete
  • GRE not required 

University of Southern California (USC)


The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education offers a Master of Education in School Counseling online for aspiring K-12 school counselors. The program can be completed in less than two years and there is no GRE requirement.

  • No GRE required 
  • Prepares you for school counseling credential 
  • Bachelor’s degree required


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 employ licensed counselors, social workers, and/or psychologists to help students experiencing emotional difficulties, depression, mental illness, substance abuse or other personal problems. 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, social science field, or another field.

Earning your bachelor’s degree in a counseling related field may help you  explore helping professions in terms of foundational knowledge, basic skills, and different types of research with diverse populations, but a bachelor’s in any field will allow you to pursue a master’s degree, which is a required to become a licensed counselor.

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 from a CACREP-accredited university, or an accredited program in 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.

What should you look for in an online master’s in counseling program?

Discover the important factors to your online counseling degree with these guides.

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 and apply 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.

Pepperdine University

Graduate School of Education and Psychology


Master of Arts in Psychology

Pepperdine University’s online Master of Arts in Psychology program prepares students to pursue doctoral study or a career in human services.

  • Open to all undergrad majors
  • No GRE required 
  • Can be completed in about 18 months


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 composed 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 (23%) between 2020 to 2030 and earn a median salary of about $48,520  per year. Employment of psychologists is projected to increase (8%)  from 2020 to 2030 with an median salary earning of $81,040 per year. The field of social work is expected to grow 12%  between 2020 and 2030.

Licensed social workers earn a median salary of over $50,390 per year. These salary averages will vary depending on school funding and allocation of services at each college/university.

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Online Master’s in College Counseling Programs

Edinboro University

Master of Arts in Counseling

Edinboro, Pennsylvania

Name of Degree: Master of Arts in Counseling

Enrollment Type: Full-Time

Length of Program: 2 years

Credits: 60-63


Art Therapy Counseling, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling, College Counseling, School Counseling

Admission Requirements:

  • Personal essay
  • Unofficial/official transcript
  • Two letters of recommendation
  • CV/resume
  • Disposition rating form
  • TOEFL/IELTS/CAEL (for international applicants)
Learn more about the Master of Arts in Counseling from Edinboro University

Indiana Wesleyan University

Division of Graduate Counseling

Master of Arts in Counseling

Marion, Indiana

Name of Degree: Master of Arts in Counseling

Enrollment Type: Full-Time and Part-Time

Length of Program: 1.5+ years

Credits: 36-48


 Addictions, Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Marriage and Family Therapy, School Counseling, Student Development Administration, Community Care 

North Carolina State University

College of Education

Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development

Raleigh, North Carolina

Name of Degree: Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development

Enrollment Type: Part-Time

Length of Program: 3 years

Credits: 60

Concentrations: N/A

Admission Requirements:

  • Official transcripts
  • Bachelors degree
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • TOEFL (for international applicants)
Learn more about the Master of Education in College Counseling and Student Development from North Carolina State University

Last updated: May 2022