In the past, individuals were required to teach for a few years before becoming a school counselor. While some states still adopt this for certification and licensure, the requirements for others is the completion of a master’s degree in school counseling.
As any online degree in counseling, an online school counseling graduate degree promotes the understanding of student development, developing counseling skills, and increasing one’s knowledge on academic, personal/social, and career topics. Other coursework that most online master’s degree in school counseling require include: foundations in school counseling, school counseling program development, child and student developmental theories, and/or learning and behavioral disorders.
When researching for your online school counseling degree, you should consider several factors: accreditation, student support, school internship placement assistance, class size, live discussions, and an alignment with the American School Counselor Association’s National Model.
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The Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Programs (CACREP) and the Masters in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council (MPCAC) accredit online counseling programs that meet specific standards that are important in shaping future professionals. Accredited programs may set the foundation for licensure in many states, ensuring future school counselors are best prepared for their work with students.
What is CACREP Accreditation?
CACREP school counseling accreditation is awarded to programs that meet their general standards as well as examine the some key aspects to the CACREP accredited curriculum:
Various Models of School-Based Collaboration and Consultation
Assessments Specific to Grades PreK-12 Education
School Counselor Role as a Leader, Advocate, and System Change Agent
Interventions to Promote Academic Development
Promotion of Equity in Student Achievement and College Access
What is MPCAC Accreditation?
MPCAC accredits a handful of school counseling programs across the United States. These standards are more general but a bit more comprehensive. Curriculum standards for MPCAC accreditation include:
Evidence-based Theories and Practice of Counseling & Psychotherapy
Multiculturalism and Diversity
Biological Basis of Behavior
Development Basis of Behavior
Social, Organizational, Community Basis of Behavior
Is there student support for online students?
Students attending graduate coursework on campus may be able to check in with their advisors, financial aid representatives, or other support services personnel. For online students, connecting with these critical supporters may become more difficult. However, some online school counseling programs have support for online students specifically, sometimes with extended office hours, virtual meeting times, and online resources.
Is there school counseling internship placement assistance?
Your internship experience is essential to post-grad licensure or certification. Internships will also give you the opportunity to practice your learned skills in real time, under a licensed and approved supervisor. Even if you have experience working in mental health or education, securing an internship site can be difficult to navigate. Some universities have distance learning internship placement teams to help you, no matter where you live, with securing your next experience.
How big are the class sizes?
Not only should your classes be intimate, but having a smaller amount of peers in your cohort, or team, can help you develop professional and meaningful relationships that can transcend your online school counseling program. When the ratio is 15:1 or less between students and instructors, professors may also be able to provide more one-on-one discussion and face time with you.
What is the type of online learning environment?
Synchronous learning allows students and instructors to meet at a designated time, possibly once a week - virtually. In these live discussions, online school counseling students can “meet” face-to-face in a format mimicking on-campus interactions. For online school counseling degree students, this type of learning can really help to share experiences, theoretical questions, or ask for supportive resources.
Do the courses have an ASCA National Model Influence?
For any online master’s in school counseling, you want to make sure that their curriculum and values align with the ASCA National Model: A Framework for School Counseling Programs. School counselors development and deliver school counseling programs that promote student development in academics, personal/social, and careers. Through these programs, school counselors advocate for equitable access to education, provide developmental support in the three previously mentioned domains, and use data to drive decision making.
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Depending on the age level of the students, school counselors — who are also sometimes called guidance counselors — perform different functions.
In elementary school, which typically includes grades K-5, they observe student behavior. The role of an elementary school counselor may include:
Helping students set academic and social goals
Working with those who are developmentally delayed or behaviorally challenged
Working with teachers and the administration to adjust curriculum when needed for Particular students
Informing parents and discussing significant issues with them
Dealing with signs of drug or alcohol abuse
Monitoring how marginal, lower-income, and minority students cope with daily life as students
Counseling students who have a parent who has died or is in prison
In junior high school or middle school, which typically includes grades 6 or 7 through 8 or 9, the counselor’s responsibilities to students cover all of the elementary-school issues but also include preparation for high school; counselors work not only with teachers and parents but also with community partners.
In high school, typically grades 9 or 10 through 12, those responsibilities grow to include teen life issues as well as college and career planning. Their priorities cover academic and social issues, life skills, and coordination with teachers and administrators. They may coordinate college-campus visits and help students who are applying to schools for financial support.
School counselors may teach classes on social issues, such as sex education. They may do vocational counseling, present information to the student population on bullying, and work with students and parents in mental-health situations, providing referrals to outside resources when needed. They may develop school programs to improve study habits and time management or give individual assessments to students that show promise or difficulty in specific areas.
Counselors at all levels develop written plans for their schools based on local student achievement goals and the American School Counselor Association’s (ASCA) School Counseling Standards. These standards include ethical guidelines, professional standards and competencies, and the ASCA’s “Mindset and Behaviors for Student Success: K-12 College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Every Student,” which lists 35 standards to assess student development and increase achievement.