Online Master’s Programs in School Counseling

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Earning a master’s in school counseling prepares graduates for meaningful careers in a growing industry. The best candidates hold a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field. Applicants should possess an affinity for helping learners in K-12 settings to develop the social, emotional, and academic skills that lead to success. Students should specify target populations as job requirements vary.

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects above-average growth in employment for school counselors. This page discusses program curricula, specialization options, culminating experiences, career opportunities, and professional organizations. It also explores school selection techniques and how to pay for school. FIND PROGRAMS

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What to Know About Online Master’s in School Counseling Coursework

School counselors should possess specific skills and competencies that lead to safe, effective learning experiences for students. The best master’s in school counseling programs develop compassion, empathy, interpersonal skills, acceptance, multicultural competencies, adaptability, and communication skills.

On average, a master’s in school counseling requires 60 credits. Full-time students typically earn their degree in two years, while part-time learners might need four. Universities offer multiple program formats, including traditional in-person and online options.

Distance learning also offers multiple options. Synchronous learning does not limit students to geographic location, but learners in synchronous courses must attend virtual classes at set times. Hybrid learning allows students to learn independently, but it requires in-person attendance for some classes. Alternatively, asynchronous learning provides optimal flexibility, allowing students to learn on their own time. Distance programs may offer accelerated options that allow students to graduate faster.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in School Counseling Program?

Accredited master’s in school counseling programs include fundamental coursework, but students should note that colleges and universities develop their own curricula. Applicants should examine programs closely to select the best school, as coursework and program emphases vary. The five options below reflect potential courses schools may offer:

  • Counseling Children and Adolescents

    This course examines relevant counseling theories and techniques, including intervention for students with behavioral and emotional disorders. As a survey course, students must understand fundamental counseling skills. This course also requires applied practice by developing empirically supported, applied interventions. Outcomes include understanding the cultural, environmental, and developmental factors impacting children.

  • Group Counseling

    Group counseling explores group theory and research. Students apply group counseling techniques to case study scenarios. This course also emphasizes strategies for interacting with students of different age groups and ethnicities. Class activities include lectures, discussions, and group projects. Other topics include ethics and law.

  • Counseling Theories

    Counseling theories teaches various approaches to psychotherapy and counseling, including assessment, intervention strategies, and cultural relevance. It also outlines current trends through lectures, discussions, readings, and experiential learning. Other tasks include comparing and contrasting counseling theories and philosophies, determining theory effectiveness, and identifying concepts for future developments.

  • Counseling Diverse Populations

    In counseling diverse populations, learners explore how various behavior patterns and value systems impact learners. Pertinent factors include age, developmental stages, ethnicity, geographic origin, and language impact behavior. As an advanced course, outcomes include understanding the impact of research data and best practices for ethical school counseling.

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse

    This course prepares students to identify existing and undiagnosed psychological and substance abuse in students. Mental health and substance abuse also emphasizes assessment, diagnostic skills, treatment plan development, and levels of care for clients’ family members. Potential topics include the etiology of addiction, effects of medications, and intervention approaches.

What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in School Counseling Program?

Colleges and universities provide advanced elective courses that allow prospective school counselors to develop specialized knowledge and skills that can provide a competitive advantage in niche areas of the job market. Students should note that program outcomes vary by school. Therefore, students should consider their career goals when examining program options.

  • The Image in Mind: Theory and Approaches Regarding the Use of Expressive Arts in Therapy

    This course teaches students about the theory and practice of images in therapeutic settings. Learners practice making meaning through multiple case studies. Tasks and topics may include drawing, clay work, or metaphor role play. This course also encourages students to identify their own personal strengths and resistances in therapeutic settings.

  • Human Sexuality

    This course teaches school counselors to address sexuality from psychological, biological, and social perspectives. Potential topics include idealism, behaviors, and sexual attitudes. Instructors might also discuss basic physiology, sexual orientation, gender diversity issues, and communications. Course outcomes include increased knowledge of developmental and scientific components of sexuality.

  • Special Education

    Special education provides an overview of strategies, terminology, and common issues regarding children or adolescents with exceptional needs. Pertinent topics include the history of special education, social systems, and legislation. Other emphasis areas include etiology, assessment, social issues, and identification of special needs. Course outcomes include developing specialized counseling plans for students with special needs.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

An advanced degree, a master’s in school counseling requires extensive field experience. However, state requirements vary. Students should turn to their state’s department of education website to find out the number of hours required. Field hours include direct client contact with small groups, classrooms, and individual clients. Students must also work directly under administrative supervisors.

This degree requires students to pass the national counselor examination, which includes 200 multiple-choice questions. This exam assesses human growth and development, social and cultural diversity, group counseling and group work, career counseling, assessment, research and program evaluation, and ethical practice.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in School Counseling Program?

Students earning a master’s in school counseling should research prospective programs to ensure that their education qualifies them for licensure. Learners may want to begin this research by identifying which agencies accredit their prospective schools.

Higher education accrediting agencies establish a minimum quality standard. Students earning a master’s in school counseling should consider programs that hold accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). CACREP only accredits master’s and doctoral programs in counseling and related specialities. Employers also trust schools holding accreditation from the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.

Prospective students should also verify credit transferability, even if they plan to stay at one school. If it is hard to transfer credits from a school of choice, learners should reconsider their options. Likewise, students should examine schools’ support services offerings.

Best Master’s Programs in School Counseling

  1. Wake Forest University
    Location

    Winston-Salem, NC

    Founded in 1834, Wake Forest moved from its initial location in Wake Forest, North Carolina, to its current home in Durham in 1956. Wake Forest hosts undergraduate and graduate programs in Durham, Reynolda, Bowman Gray, Charlotte, and online. The university serves more than 8,000 learners each year through six colleges and schools, boasting an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

    The school's online master's degree in school counseling holds accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, and the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction.

    Learners complete 60 credits of coursework, exploring topics like human growth and development, social and cultural foundations, helping relationships, and group work. Students also build knowledge of counseling theories, models, research, and analysis through 12 credits of foundation coursework. Eighteen credits of core classes in basic counseling techniques, group and family counseling, and cultures and counseling prepare students for school counseling concentration coursework.

    During 22 credits of advanced practice courses, learners participate in two internships while studying appraisal procedures, issues in school counseling, ethical and legal counseling, and addictions counseling.

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and submit GRE scores, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and transcripts. They must also complete phone and virtual interviews.

  2. Creighton University
    Location

    Omaha, NE

    Founded in 1878, Creighton holds membership with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities. With a main campus in Omaha, Nebraska, Creighton delivers educational programs through nine schools and colleges, providing more than 8,000 learners with undergraduate and graduate programs infused with Jesuit traditions and the Catholic faith.

    Creighton's online master of science in school counseling and preventive mental health includes 36-39 credits that full-time students can complete in two years. Learners choose from concentrations in elementary school counseling, secondary school counseling, and preK-12 guidance counseling.

    All learners complete coursework in line with standards set by the American School Counselor Association. Core classes include ethical guidelines for school counselors, action research in school counseling, and data-driven perspectives in school counseling. Learners also study group counseling approaches for children and adolescents in various settings while learning about diagnostic practices and mental health challenges.

    Each concentration includes coursework that emphasizes issues specific to that subset of school counseling, as well as two internships. Through internships, learners complete the 600 hours of practical experience required for certification as a school counselor in Nebraska. Students without a teaching certificate must complete additional curriculum and instruction coursework to meet requirements put forth by the Nebraska Board of Education.

    To apply to this online school counseling program, candidates must submit transcript information, a resume and personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and a background check. They may also need to complete an interview and submit standardized test scores.

  3. Gwynedd Mercy University
    Location

    Gwynedd Valley, PA

    Located in Gwynedd Valley, Pennsylvania, GMercyU has a main campus near Philadelphia. As one of 17 Sisters of Mercy colleges and universities, GMercyU provides academic programs rooted in Catholic values and faith. GMercyU is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    The online master's in school counseling degree at GMercyU combines 30 core credits with 30 school counseling certification credits. The program aligns with the American School Counseling Association's National Model. This program prepares students for licensure as a K-12 school counselor in Pennsylvania.

    School counseling classes explore topics like disabilities in school counseling settings, the needs of English language learners, intervention techniques, and group counseling and facilitation skills in school counseling. Learners also participate in three internships. During their first internship, students complete 100 hours of practical experience. The remaining two internships include an additional 600 hours of supervised experience. Students must also complete two weekend residencies during the program.

    Designed for part-time learners, students can complete their school counseling master's degree in 3.5 years. GMercyU also offers a 24-credit, post-master's certificate option for students with a master's in counseling who want to work as school counselors.

    Applicants to this online master's in school counseling program need an accredited bachelor's degree, and they must have completed coursework in psychology, research methods, and statistics. Applicants also submit two letters of recommendation and a personal statement and complete an interview. Students with a cumulative GPA below 3.0 must submit GRE scores, as well.

  4. Prescott College
    Location

    Prescott, AZ

    Founded by Congregationalists leaders and funded by the Ford Foundation, Prescott College began offering educational programs in 1966. Located in Prescott, Arizona, the school offers undergraduate and graduate programs to over 800 learners and holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.

    Prescott College's online master of education in school counseling program includes 36 credits of coursework, several on-campus residencies, and practical experience requirements. Learners study topics like foundations of school counseling, counseling theories, and research practices for school counselors. The program also includes a supervised school counseling practicum.

    Prescott College's program builds knowledge and skills applicable to school counseling positions at the preK-12 level. The school counseling curriculum prepares students for licensure in Arizona. Out-of-state residents should consult their state's requirements for certification and licensure.

    On-campus residencies include weekend colloquia. During colloquia, learners attend workshops and seminars, discuss research, and participate in interactive peer learning activities.

    Applicants to this online master's program must submit two letters of recommendation, a personal statement about educational goals and readiness for the program, a resume, and transcripts. Learners can transfer up to 15 credits into this program.

  5. Concordia University Wisconsin
    Location

    Mequon, WI

    CUW is an affiliate member of the nine-institution Concordia University System and embraces the Lutheran faith within its educational community. Founded in 1881, CUW offers over 100 undergraduate and graduate programs to nearly 8,000 learners each year.

    The online master of science in education in professional and school counseling includes 45-60 credits. Students can complete professional or school counseling licensure tracks. The professional counseling concentration is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Safety and Professional Services and prepares students for professional counselor licensure. The school counseling track is approved by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and prepares students for school counseling licensure in Wisconsin.

    School counseling coursework emphasizes social and cultural foundations, group work, and human growth and development. Students participate in a 200-hour supervised practicum and produce a portfolio to demonstrate expertise in service standards put forth by Wisconsin. The professional counseling program includes coursework in comparable fields while emphasizing core counseling competencies. Professional counseling students complete a 600-hour internship -- including 240 hours of direct client contact -- and a portfolio.

    Applicants to this program must submit a personal essay, a resume, two letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Learners need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA.

  6. North Carolina State University
    Location

    Raleigh, NC

    Part of the University of North Carolina System, NC State is a land-, sea-, and space-grant institution. Located in Raleigh, NC State is one of three schools that constitute the Research Triangle, serving more than 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students each year. NC State holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    The school's online master of education in college counseling and student development prepares students to work as counselors in higher education, providing academic and career services. Learners also develop the knowledge and skills needed to assume advisor roles in student service agencies.

    This online master's degree comprises 36-42 credits. Students study topics like career counseling and development, multicultural counseling, and strategies for clinical assessment in counseling. Additional coursework in group counseling, multicultural lifespan development, and special problems in guidance accompany a practicum in counseling and an internship in college counseling and student development.

    During their practicum, learners participate in individual and group counseling and consultation at a school, college, or agency. The 600-hour internship builds on coursework and practical experience, placing students in a student affairs department to work as a counselor, student development educator, or administrator alongside qualified professionals.

    Applicants must live in North Carolina and submit three letters of recommendation, transcripts, and GRE or MAT scores. They must also complete a formal interview.

  7. Mercy College
    Location

    Dobbs Ferry, NY

    Based in Dobbs Ferry, New York, Mercy also hosts programs in Manhattan, the Bronx, Yorktown Heights, and online. Founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1950, Mercy continues to hold true to its Catholic origins, providing 90 degrees and certificates through five academic schools. Mercy is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

    The school's online master of science in counseling includes a specialization in school counseling with an optional extension in bilingual education. Students pursuing this 54-credit degree earn provisional certification as a school counselor. Learners can complete their online educational counseling degree in three years.

    The curriculum includes core counseling classes, two internships, six credits of bilingual and bicultural coursework, and three credits of college and career counseling classes. Learners study counseling ethics, human development, and research methods during the first year of the program. The second year emphasizes multicultural perspectives, career development, and group counseling in addition to a practicum.

    The third year covers assessment in counseling and college planning and preparation counseling. During this time, students also complete two internships in school settings. Students who add the bilingual extension take classes in bilingual education theory and complete their internships at bilingual school locations.

    Applicants must submit two letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and transcript information. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA for full admission. Provisional admittees must demonstrate a 3.0 GPA or higher over the first 18 credits of the program.

  8. Missouri Baptist University
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Opened as an extension of Hannibal-LaGrange College in 1957, MBU grew through the support of the Missouri Baptist Convention and opened its St. Louis campus in 1968. MBU provides undergraduate and graduate programs grounded in the Baptist faith.

    The 51-60-credit online master of arts in school counseling prepares students to work as elementary and secondary school guidance counselors and meets the requirements for certification in MIssouri.

    MBU's program emphasizes foundations of school counseling, counseling techniques, and counseling theories. Students study ethical, legal, and professional issues in counseling in addition to human development, substance abuse counseling, and career counseling.

    During a practicum, learners engage in clinical mental health counseling practice under the supervision of a counseling professional. The practicum incorporates 100 hours, including 40 hours of direct client contact. Students also complete a 600-hour supervised internship in elementary and secondary school settings. Students attend bi-montly internship classes to discuss and critique their counseling sessions.

    To become a certified school counselor in Missouri, students must hold a valid educator's certificate. Students with teaching credentials are exempt from classes in methods of teaching and inclusion, classroom and behavior management, and integration of literacy in concentration areas.

  9. University of St. Thomas
    Location

    Saint Paul, MN

    Established in 1947, UST currently offers nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate degrees that blend Catholic faith and educational excellence. With over 3,000 students, UST boasts an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

    UST offers a fully online master of education degree alongside a hybrid program that combines online and on-campus courses. Students can specialize in six areas, including counselor education.

    Counselor education students complete 36 credits. Required classes in educational research design and data analysis and educational research and scholarship accompany 30 credits of core classes. Learners study topics like guidance services, multicultural populations, and human growth development.

    The program also includes a practicum requirement that serves as part of a two-semester capstone. The practicum comprises at least 100 hours, including 40 hours dedicated to direct client service.

    Applicants need two years of experience in an approved counseling-related area for admission. They must also submit transcript information and a personal essay. Learners with an undergraduate GPA below 3.0 must submit GRE or MAT scores, as well.

  10. University of Alaska Fairbanks
    Location

    Fairbanks, AK

    The flagship institution in the University of Alaska System, UAF traces its origins to 1917. The land-, sea-, and space-grant university first operated as an agricultural college and school of mining. UAF now offers nearly 200 certificates and degrees through nine schools and colleges. The school serves over 8,000 students on its main campus in Fairbanks; at locations in Nome, Bethel, Kotzebue, and Dillingham; and online.

    UAF offers an online master of education in counseling that prepares students for counseling roles in school and community settings. The 48-57-credit curriculum emphasizes the role school counselors play in career guidance, along with the developmental processes and changes that children and adolescents experience. Students also build the skills needed to serve as college preparatory counselors and graduation success coaches.

    Required classes include foundations of counseling, counseling theories and applications, and child and adolescent development. Learners also study topics like appraisal practices, career development, and developmental interventions. Students can specialize in elementary and secondary education or K-12 education. All students complete two internships -- each of which includes 20 hours per week of field work -- and a non-thesis research project or a thesis at the end of the program.

    UAF's online master of education in counseling is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Educational Programs. UAF is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Career Opportunities With a Master’s in School Counseling Degree

A master’s in school counseling allows graduates to work with their desired student population. BLS data indicates that nearly half of school counselors work in elementary or secondary schools. Another 35% of professionals choose to work as career counselors at colleges and universities, while the remaining population of school counselors work for private practices and public agencies.

Students should note that a master’s in school counseling does not guarantee employment. The list below covers five potential options:


  • School Counselors

    School counselors work with K-12 students in elementary and secondary schools. Counselors strive to help young learners develop excellent decision-making and studying skills. At the high school level, counselors also help students prepare for college, financial aid applications, resume writing, and internship experiences. This role may require some professionals to administer aptitude tests or conduct student interviews. School counselors often collaborate with parents, teachers, and other members of students’ care teams.

    • Median Salary: $63,280
    • Currently Employed: 324,500
    • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%


  • Career Counselors

    Career counselors use aptitude tests to uncover their clients’ interests and skills. They also develop logical pathways to help clients reach their goals. Duties may include developing job search skills, locating jobs, updating clients’ resumes, mock interviewing, and role-playing. Career counselors may also teach clients to navigate conflict in professional environments and best practices for collaborating with others. At times, career counselors may assist clients in applying for additional credentials or educational programs.

    • Median Salary: $56,310
    • Currently Employed: 324,500
    • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +8%


  • Postsecondary Teacher

    A master’s in school psychology qualifies graduates to enter academia teaching entry-level courses in the field. Responsibilities include preparing lectures, leading class discussions, and creating assignments. Professors also grade assignments, provide feedback, and administer exams. Additional duties may include collaborating with other instructors to develop new courses or programs. Academia creates opportunities for scholarly work and research projects. This position also requires professionals to stay abreast on developments and innovations in their field.

    • Median Salary: $78,470 per year
    • Currently Employed: 1,350,700
    • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +11%


  • Behavioral Disorder Counselor

    Behavioral disorder counselors assist clients living with addictions. This may require multi-step programs to guide clients through the healing process. Responsibilities include teaching clients to cope, strategies for rebuilding relationships, and reestablishing clients’ careers. Clients may attend sessions by choice or receive court orders to attend. These sessions might include one-on-one or group interaction. Professionals with master’s in school counseling degrees can specialize in working with adolescent populations.

    • Median Salary: $44,630 per year
    • Currently Employed: 304,500
    • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +22%


  • Rehabilitation Counselor

    Rehabilitation counselors work with clients coping with mental, emotional, and developmental disabilities. These professionals can work with clients of all ages, but those with master’s degrees in school counseling may target adolescent and young adult populations. Duties include providing consultations, developing individualized treatment plans, arranging medical care, and locating additional resources. Other responsibilities include maintaining client records, adjusting treatment plans when necessary, monitoring progress, and advocating for clients.

    • Median Salary: $35,630 per year
    • Currently Employed: 119,700
    • Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +10%


What’s the Expected Job Growth for School Counseling Careers?

BLS data indicates that school counselor employment should expand by 8% from 2018 through 2028 — an above-average growth rate compared to other fields. This expansion should create 27,200 employment opportunities throughout the country. Job outlook should increase in elementary, middle, and high school institutions specifically. However, colleges and universities also need to hire counselors to assist with the growing number of students enrolling with career preparation.

Professional Organizations for Careers in School Counseling

Counseling professionals conduct ongoing research, which leads to new theories and innovations in the field. They may benefit from membership with professional organizations, which allow professionals to stay current on cutting-edge research and practices. Additionally, membership organizations allow both emerging and seasoned professionals to collaborate at national and global levels.

American School Counselor Association

  • The ASCA prioritizes students learning and success both academically and developmentally. The ASCA strives to support professionals in the field by providing cutting-edge resources, statistical data, annual conferences, and professional development.

Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International

  • Established in 1985, Chi Sigma Iota international honor society supports both academic and professional excellence in counseling. Memberships include networking opportunities, mentorship, online resources, leadership development, research opportunities, and fellowships.

National Association of College Admission Counseling

  • The NACAC supports higher education learners entering the field by connecting them with seasoned professionals. Members can participate in webinars, job fairs, collaborative networking events, and national conferences

Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development

  • The AMCD strives to foster professional growth and educational opportunities for counselors from diverse cultural backgrounds. AMCD membership provides leadership development, networking opportunities, growth workshops, mentorship, and a 25-state division network.

Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling

  • The ACAC supports all counselors working with children and adolescents. Organizational goals include promoting advocacy and advancing developmental prevention and intervention. Members access networking opportunities, a biannual journal, research grants, and presentations.

How to Pay for a Master’s in School Counseling Degree

Earning a master’s in school counseling requires a significant financial commitment, and many students cannot pay out-of-pocket. These learners should explore other options, such as federal funding, scholarships, fellowships, and paid internships. The section below expands on each funding method.


  • Federal Financial Aid

    Students should complete a FAFSA to see if they qualify for funding. The FAFSA is free for students, and funding availability varies depending on students’ income. Grants do not require repayment, but students should note that loan options do and collect interest.


  • Scholarships

    Scholarships do not require repayment. Foundations and multiple organizations in the private sector provide scholarships, often to support low-income students, specific cultural backgrounds, or students with disabilities. Some scholarships target students with excellent academic backgrounds or who want to study a particular subject.


  • Fellowships

    Graduate students qualify for for fellowship opportunities. Fellowships operate similarly to internships, allowing students to receive funding for labor. However, they often require a minimum GPA, and recipients gain access to mentorship and potential employment opportunities. Job duties may require students to conduct research relevant to the field.


  • Paid Internships

    School counseling students can apply for paid internships. Unlike scholarships, internships rarely include stipulations, allowing students to use the money as needed. Interns often work with seasoned professionals, which can lead to mentorship opportunities or future employment. Some employers may even offer additional contracts to further offset students’ tuition.


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