Doctorate in School Counseling Online

Degree Options & Potential Careers

A doctorate is the highest degree available to school counseling students. Learners pursuing a doctorate in the field can earn a Ph.D. in school counseling or a doctorate of school counseling. Ph.D. programs focus on research and allow for narrow specialization. A doctorate of school counseling prepares students for clinical work.

Doctorate-holders can work as educators, therapists, and researchers. This guide provides information about earning a doctorate in school counseling online, along with career outlooks, salary expectations, and professional organizations for graduates. The page also provides an overview of common program and admission requirements for online Ph.D. programs.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in School Counseling?

Earning a doctorate in school counseling online requires significant time and financial investments. However, degree-holders often receive professional and personal benefits. Earning a doctorate can increase career options and earning potential. Many graduates participate in cutting-edge research and start their own practice.

Career Outlook

Graduates with a Ph.D. often secure high-level positions in academia, counseling, and nonprofits. Degree-holders can also work as professors, therapists, and school counselors. Other doctorate-holders pursue administrative roles, such as counseling program director and vice president of student affairs.

Salary Potential

Professionals with a doctorate typically earn higher salaries than individuals with less education. According to PayScale, professionals with a master's in school counseling earn an average of $51,000 annually. In comparison, individuals with a Ph.D. in counseling earn an average of $63,000 per year. Individual salaries vary based on factors like position and geographic location.

Research Opportunities

While earning a Ph.D., students contribute to current research in school counseling. Doctoral students and degree-holders often conduct research that advances the field as a whole. Doctoral students can collaborate with peers to advance their knowledge and make discoveries.

Private Practice

Doctoral degree-holders generally have more career options than professionals with a master's. The knowledge and experience students gain during a doctoral program prepares them to open their own practice after graduation. These clinical counselors can set their own hours and choose their own clients.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in School Counseling?

Many careers are available to professionals with a doctorate in school counseling. Doctoral degrees often lead to the most advanced positions within an organization. This section covers fields and positions graduates often pursue after earning a doctorate in school counseling online.

Some graduates enter the medical field and work in hospitals, clinics, treatment centers, and medical offices. Doctorate-holders can also open their own private practice. Degree-holders in these settings need clinical experience and typically work with patients. Graduates can also become administrators in these workspaces, overseeing day-to-day operations or a specific area, such as fundraising or policy making.

Doctorate-holders can also work in government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. These professionals often advise lawmakers and provide expert advice about school counseling practice, impact, and needs. Some graduates pursue roles as policy makers to shape laws and practices for counselors across industries.

Graduates of school counseling Ph.D. programs often pursue roles in academia. Graduates can work as professors, conduct research in the field, and pursue administrative positions. Many school counseling professors split their time between personal research and teaching classes.

Additional options for professionals with a doctorate in school counseling include roles in consulting, industry management, and nonprofits. Consultants typically work across industries, advising organizations about policy and practice. Industry managers create policies that shape the school counseling field. Professionals in nonprofit organizations often work with individuals with disabilities and those with financial struggles. These professionals may work in the field or in office settings.

Vice President of Student Affairs

Most institutions prefer candidates with doctoral degrees for this position. The vice president of student affairs works closely with the school president, the board of trustees, and other members of the administration. Responsibilities of the vice president include creating a positive, welcoming environment for all learners and overseeing the educational and social experiences for students.

Associate Professor

These professionals work at higher education institutions. Most associate professors teach classes and conduct their own research. These educators develop lesson plans, refine curricula, and mentor students. Associate professors also create and test theories in their field, publish and review scholarly works, and stay current on industry trends.

Director of School Counseling

These directors run the counseling department on a school campus. These professionals oversee day-to-day operations of the department, which includes managing personnel, inventory, and scheduling. Many directors also maintain their license and provide counseling services.

Clinical Program Manager

Clinical program managers oversee clinical operations at counseling offices, hospitals, and other medical facilities. These managers handle staffing issues, resolve conflicts, oversee scheduling, and manage budgets. Some clinical managers also set policies, practices, and procedures for staff members. These professionals need clinical experience and excellent interpersonal skills.

Clinical Psychologists

Clinical psychologists work directly with patients. They diagnose issues and determine treatment methods. Psychologists need excellent communication, interpersonal, and critical-thinking skills. These professionals work with students of all ages. They must remain current in treatment methods, policies and laws, and new research.

School Counseling Ph.D. Program Overview

The following sections detail the process of earning an online Ph.D. in school counseling. The information below explores common admission criteria, typical curriculum components, program outcomes, and the importance of accreditation. Prospective students can also read descriptions of sample doctoral courses.

Course, degree, and admission requirements vary by school, so learners should research their prospective program's components and requirements individually.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Admission requirements vary by school. Many programs require students to submit an application form, 2-3 letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, official transcripts, and a resume. Most institutions also require GRE scores.

Applicants to school counseling doctoral programs need at least a bachelor's degree in school counseling or a related field. Most Ph.D. programs require applicants to hold a master's degree in a counseling field. Programs may also set a minimum GPA requirement, commonly 3.0.

Because some programs require applicants to have work experience in a counseling setting, students may need to obtain their counseling license before applying to a Ph.D. program. The amount of required experience varies, but many schools prefer applicants to have 2-3 years of professional counseling experience.

Students can find specific admission requirements on each prospective school's website.


Each doctoral program includes unique requirements and offers different courses and specializations. However, this section provides an overview of curriculum components common to most school counseling doctoral programs.

Students earning a doctorate in school counseling online typically complete 60-120 credits, which do not usually include general education coursework. Doctoral students take a series of core courses in counseling and education. These advanced classes explore the practice and theory of school counseling, along with methods for both school counseling and general counseling.

Doctoral students must typically complete a clinical practicum and a dissertation. The practicum involves supervised counseling practice in a professional setting. The practicum generally lasts two semesters.

A dissertation is the final project for most Ph.D. programs. Students research and write and comprehensive thesis about a school counseling topic. They must defend their thesis orally in front of professors before receiving their degree. Dissertations can take two years or more to complete.

Below are examples of courses school counseling students often take during their doctoral program.

Theories of Inquiry

This course covers methods of inquiry, including epistemology and hermeneutic interpretation. Students compare and contrast these strategies with inquiry methods in the sciences.

Integrated Models of Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Students explore psychometric theory and learn how to conduct patient assessments. This course covers best practices for using testing instruments.

Qualitative Research Methods

Students learn how to apply research methods in practical settings. The course covers data analysis, data collection, qualitative inquiry, and theories of qualitative methods.

Advanced Family Dynamics and Systems

This course explores family dynamics and systems in a counseling context. Learners discuss associated theories, relevant applications, and contemporary issues.

Advanced Group Dynamics and Processes

In this course, students learn about the theory and practice of group counseling. Learners also examine related social and ethical concerns.

Pedagogy of Counselor Education

This class covers foundational theories of educational philosophy. Students explore philosophical models and strategies, and the course emphasizes issues related to technology and consultation.

Ethics and Laws

Students learn about the ethical responsibilities of counselors and examine the laws governing school counseling. This course explores the relationship between ethical concerns and social responsibilities.

Special Topics in Counseling Education

Learners in this class examine contemporary issues that professional counselors often face. Students learn to address these issues in a professional, ethical way.

Program Outcomes

Ph.D. programs help learners become knowledgeable, skilled practitioners of school counseling. Graduates typically have a thorough grasp of counseling principles, philosophy, and theories.

Doctoral students explore group and individual counseling, and they learn how to counsel students of all ages and to support families. Learners gain experience through counseling groups and individuals under the supervision of a licensed, experienced practitioner.

School counselors must be proficient in diagnostics and treatment. Doctoral students learn to correctly diagnose mental health issues and learning disabilities and to provide appropriate treatments. Graduates of these programs generally understand the physiological, mental, social, and emotional factors related to these issues, along with ways to effectively resolve them.

Doctoral students also learn how to conduct and write about research. Students gain qualitative and quantitative skills in research and analysis, which graduates often use to pursue professional research projects.

Accreditation for Online School Counseling Doctoral Programs

Accrediting bodies are independent organizations that evaluate higher education institutions and programs. The two main types of institutional accreditation in the U.S. are regional and national. Regional accreditation is older and more prestigious than national accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education oversee these accrediting bodies.

Along with choosing a regionally accredited school, students can look for programs with field-specific accreditation. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs accredits departments and programs related to counseling.

School Counseling Professional Organizations

Professional organizations provide valuable resources for students, recent graduates, and experienced professionals. Many of these organizations offer career boards, continuing education options, and access to research. Additional benefits for members often include networking opportunities, advocacy, training, and conferences.

Members of professional organizations can choose their level of involvement. Some members only use online resources. Others attend networking events. Students and professionals can also benefit from volunteering, serving on a committee, or becoming a board member. These opportunities can help members become leaders in the field and gain access to career advancement opportunities.

Below are five professional organizations for school counselors. These national membership organizations maintain chapters across the country and offer online resources. These organizations accept both professional and student members.

American Counseling Association

  • ACA is a nonprofit, educational organization and is the largest association exclusively for professional counselors. ACA offers career advancement opportunities, continuing education resources, scholarly publications, and conferences.

National Board for Certified Counselors

  • The NBCC promotes national standards of education and experience for counseling professionals. The organization provides counseling resources, board certification information, continuing education opportunities, and specialty certifications.

American College Counseling Association

  • ACCA supports counseling professionals working in higher education. Members include counselors, psychologists, and social workers. ACCA offers job boards, interest groups, webinars, grants, and professional advocacy resources.

American School Counselor Association

  • ASCA supports school counselors and offers professional development options, including training and continuing education. ASCA also provides scholarly research and publications, advocacy, and networking opportunities.

Association of Child and Adolescent Counseling

  • ACAC focuses on counselors who support children and adolescents. The organization promotes equal access to mental health services, regardless of social or economic status. ACAC provides professional development, scholarly journals, and educational resources.