How Much Does a Counselor Make?

The answer to the question “How much does a counselor make?” can vary significantly, depending on a number of factors including an individual’s career choice. It may also depend upon whether that person has a master’s degree, since higher education may open the door for a wider array of job opportunities. 

In addition, counselor salary for different individuals will vary by state, city, specialization, employer and experience level. In short, becoming a counselor enables you to earn a wide spectrum of salaries in a variety of different specialties, each of which engages unique domains of expertise.

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What Does a Counselor Do?

Counselors are people who help others. Across specialties and state lines, they empower clients to overcome obstacles—thereby improving their overall quality of life.

Responsibilities in the profession vary from role to role, as do counseling methods. While some counselors focus on mental health, others are trained to provide services to people with addictions, as well as children and adolescents, couples and families, military veterans and more. Your counseling salary will depend on which role you decide to pursue.

How to Become a Counselor

Here are some common steps you can take to become a counselor:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s degree is typically required for most counseling professions.
  • Pursue a master’s degree in counseling: Although not always required, online master’s in counseling degree programs help aspiring counselors obtain necessary professional skills and knowledge.
  • Complete practicum and/or internship hours: Gain real-life experience in the field. Required field hours vary depending on the counseling career. 
  • Choose a counseling career path: Pinpoint what you’re most passionate about—whether that’s school counseling, substance abuse counseling, rehabilitation counseling or another specialization. Once an area of interest has been identified, begin to research master’s in counseling salary for positions within that specialization.
  • Obtain counseling licensure and/or certification: Meet the specific requirements for your state. The process of obtaining licensure varies from state to state, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the relevant terms.
  • Advance your practice through continued learning: Stay on top of innovations within the field, with the goal of providing the best care possible. Completing continuing education credits may be one way to do so. You may also consider Ph.D. programs in counseling, of which there are a wide selection.

Ultimately, counselor salary will depend upon the level of knowledge and experience the job applicant has accumulated throughout their career.

School Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Day by day, a school counselor is responsible for providing students with the academic and social resources/tools to succeed after graduation. People in this position help students and other clients develop their skills, understand the different occupations available to them and pinpoint educational programs that can lead to their desired career.

Nearly all states require school counselors to hold a master’s degree in counseling, psychology or other related fields in order to practice their profession. These master’s programs are designed to teach the essential skills of the profession and often require that prospective counselors complete an internship providing hands-on work in a real job setting. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median school counselor salary in 2021 was $60,510, and employment of school counselors (and career counselors and advisors) is projected to grow 11% between 2020 and 2030. Note that school counselor salaries vary by state and employer, among other factors.

Mental Health Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Becoming a mental health counselor prepares you to work with other healthcare providers to determine the best course of action for treating a client. Mental health counseling involves providing mental and emotional support to individuals suffering from mental health issues or navigating difficult situations.

Individuals in this role evaluate clients’ mental and physical health, identify problematic behavior and assess their readiness for treatment. They also assist clients in developing skills and behaviors necessary to recover from addictions or modify their behavior.

According to the BLS, the median mental health counselor salary in 2021 was $48,520, and employment of mental health counselors is projected to grow 23% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Substance Abuse Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

A substance abuse counselor treats clients who experience addiction to alcohol or drugs, paving the path to recovery. They can support a client by setting treatment goals and maintaining accountability, communicating better recovery and coping methods and helping them transition back into careers and relationships.  

These counselors must diagnose, collaborate, treat then assess. After diagnosis, they plan a number of sessions that will walk the client through their thoughts and behaviors, accustom them to healthier alternatives and allow them to be accountable for their own actions. They can then monitor the client’s progress and assess how far along they are on their recovery journey. Along with friends and family, substance abuse counselors inevitably become a part of the support network that clients can rely on.

As noted previously, the median substance abuse counselor salary in 2021 was $48,520 and the job outlook for substance abuse counselors is the same as that of mental health counselors. An estimated 41,000 substance abuse, behavioral disorder and mental health counselor job openings are projected each year from 2020 to 2030.

Licensed Professional Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Licensed professional counselors (LPCs) provide mental health services that focus on behavioral, emotional and mental issues in various healthcare settings. Depending on the state, they may be called a licensed clinical professional counselor, licensed mental health counselor or something similar.

As an LPC, you may work with individuals, couples, families and groups to provide counseling for learning disabilities, substance abuse and psychoanalysis. A counselor’s education and training are focused on delivering client-centered therapy.

Depending on location, employer and years of experience, licensed professional counselor salary varies.

Career Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Career counselors use aptitude and achievement assessments to help students or clients evaluate their interests, skills and abilities. These counselors help to develop realistic goals for their students and clients, as well as evaluate their backgrounds, education and training. They guide students in making decisions about careers, such as choosing an occupation and the type of degree to pursue. 

Individuals in this role also help students to select and apply for educational programs in order to obtain the necessary degrees, credentials and skills needed to succeed in professional settings. They also assist with locating and applying for jobs, teach how to interview and network for jobs and inform about strategies that will be helpful in finding openings and writing a resume.

The median career counselor salary is the same as the median salary for school counselors, according to 2021 BLS salary data. The highest-paid 10% of these professionals earned a median salary of more than $98,190. Similarly, employment of career counselors is projected to grow 11% through 2030.

College Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

College counselors assist students with choosing a major, as well as determining the jobs they would be qualified to perform in earning a degree for their chosen major. Counselors in this role help with locating and pursuing positions by instructing students about how to search for jobs, write resumes and approach job interviews. College counselors frequently specialize in counseling students in one area of the college experience, such as admissions or financial aid.

In some ways, the work of a college counselor is similar to that of school and career counselors. According to the BLS, school and career counselors working in junior colleges, colleges, universities and professional schools earned a median salary of $49,430 in 2021. 

Rehabilitation Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Rehabilitation counselors help clients with disabilities to develop strategies to live independently. They may do this through individual and group-based counseling. Counselors in this role consult with other professionals—such as doctors, therapists and psychologists—to assess a client and develop a personalized treatment plan. They may arrange medical services for the client and help their employers understand the individual’s needs and abilities.

In addition, rehabilitation counselors locate resources that can benefit their clients and maintain and analyze records so they can make decisions about adjustments to treatment plans, as necessary. Most critically, individuals in this role serve as advocates for disability rights, ensuring that their clients can live in a community and perform their job of choice.

According to the BLS, the median rehabilitation counselor salary in 2021 was $38,560, and employment of rehabilitation counselors is projected to grow 10% between 2020 and 2030.

Child Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Child counselors assess children to evaluate their interests, skills and abilities. In doing so, they’re best equipped to help the child develop realistic goals to strive for while guiding them to make decisions about schools to attend and careers they’re interested in pursuing. 

Individuals in this role also treat children who have a variety of mental health conditions, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal impulses. These mental health conditions may be a result of bullying at school, strained relationships or significant life changes at home. They assist with relationship problems that exist both at school and in the home.

You may find child counselors in schools, nonprofits, social services agencies and more, sometimes collaborating with school counselors and staff. As such, the average child counselor salary varies widely.

Crisis Counselor Salary and Job Outlook

Crisis counselors assist overwhelmed clients with retrieving a sense of control in the aftermath of a personal crisis, disaster or traumatic event. Individuals in this role work on a discrete individual basis with their clients to ensure their safety and overall stability.

More broadly, crisis counselors work to provide their clients with emotional support by offering measured feedback and assistance on how best to live life in the wake of a crisis. Overall, these counselors help to solve problems and assist individuals in obtaining available resources.

Depending on the industry, a crisis counselor salary can vary.

Last updated May 2022.