Like teachers, school counselors help facilitate student learning and development. They can also address the wider range of support needs children and adolescents experience outside of the classroom. Counselors may work with students on meeting academic goals, choosing a college or channeling their interests into a career. They can also help students experiencing social or behavioral issues or conflict with peers.
K-12 counselors collaborate with teachers and other educators to plan services and monitor student progress. They may work with families as part of their role as well. The school counselor's intervention and crisis response skills also help administrators maintain a safe and healthy environment for all students on campus.
If you're interested in becoming a school counselor, read on for information that can help you choose the right master's program. Whether or not you have experience in education, this career offers exceptional opportunity for new graduates.
What Is a Master of Science in Education (MSE) in School Counseling?
It's a master's degree that prepares teachers and other educators for the dynamic role of school counselor. Many career changers with a passion for education also choose this profession and enroll in an MSE program as their first step to entering the field.
In a school counseling master's program, you will learn how to advise K-12 students who need short-term guidance or ongoing support during their formative years. Graduate students in this area of education learn about human development, relationships, group dynamics, conflict resolution, evidence-based practice and more. They also consider the larger mission of this work, studying counseling law, ethics and the key competences required to counsel students from all cultures and backgrounds.
Arkansas State University's online graduate programs in education are ranked among the best in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for 2020, an honor that includes A-State's Online Master of Science in Education in School Counseling. The program offers teachers and other working professionals a fast and affordable path to their degree. It also prepares students for school counselor certification exams and licensure in the state of Arkansas. Curriculum may meet school counselor preparation requirements in other states as well.
Applicants are advised to confirm A-State coursework meets their state's standards for school counselor preparation. Contact the education board or agency that oversees credentialing in your state for further information.
What Is the School Counselor's Role?
The school counselor's primary role is to provide academic, advisory and guidance support to K-12 students in educational settings. According to the American School Counseling Association (ASCA), this may include consultation with students on learning and grades, college and career plans and other life goals. School counselors can also provide short term emotional support to students in need, or work with them on behavior issues. Counselors often help school administrators address conflict between students as well, such as fighting, bullying and harassment.
Comprehensive school counseling programs can offer MSE graduates the chance to work with many different student populations. You might specialize by grade level, for instance, or in working with students interested in vocational training instead of a four-year degree. There is also a steady demand for counselors with expertise in special education or retention programs for students at risk of dropping out.
How Are School Counselors and Licensed Professional Counselors Different?
School counselors are licensed to work specifically with primary and secondary school students, so the scope of their practice is limited. While they are qualified to address a variety of student needs, they do not have the training and practice experience in mental health treatment that a licensed professional counselor (LPC) does. Therefore, school counselors are not expected to provide in-depth consultation for students experiencing complex emotional and behavioral issues.
They can provide short-term guidance and emotional support and help identify students who are experiencing significant issues. Trauma, depression, and substance abuse, for example, may require a level of intervention best handled by an LPC or a school psychologist. If there is not a licensed mental health professional assigned to campus, counselors may also make referrals to appropriate resources in the community. State and district policy will dictate counseling procedures in this circumstance.
To expand the scope of their practice, school counselors sometimes opt to continue their education and earn the LPC credential after their initial licensure.
Can I Become a School Counselor If I Don't Have a Teaching Certificate?
Yes, depending on your state. Several states accept school counselor license applicants who have not worked in education before.
New York and Nevada are among states that will only waive the requirement for applicants holding the National Certified School Counselor credential, but a number of others have no specific teaching certificate or experience requirement. This is true for much of the South, including Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Missouri also accepts candidates without teaching experience, but out-of-state applicants must become certified in another state first, typically the one where their MSE program is located. Once they have their initial school counselor certification, they can apply for license reciprocity in Missouri and be issued an equivalent credential for that state.
Counseling licensure law is subject to change, so be sure to consult your state education agency for the latest updates. Most states still require completion of a school counseling practicum or internship, usually as part of your master's program.
As a restaurant manager, I just wasn't making as big of a difference in people's lives as I wanted to. I feel like with working with kids, whether it be in high school, middle, or elementary, it will give me a better opportunity to help mold and shape their lives. That makes me feel good.
What Courses Will I Take For a Master's in School Counseling?
Master's coursework addresses the school counselor's responsibilities and prepares students for specific roles and job functions. Regardless of the counseling position you seek, MSE classes can give you the core knowledge and skills you'll need to work effectively with K-12 students.
A-State's online MSE in School Counseling comprises 16 courses that prepare you to work with individual children and adolescents, as well as groups of students. You'll learn how to develop a comprehensive school counseling program, from design to evaluation. You'll study:
- Human psychological and social development
- Counseling theory, technique and consultation
- Social and cultural foundations of counseling
- Legal and ethical standards in the profession
- Psychological testing principles and applications
- Statistics and research in counseling
Master's students have the opportunity to gain direct experience in the field, as well, through the required practicum course and two counseling internships. Each aspect of the 48-credit-hour A-State program helps students grow as professionals and meet ASCA standards and competencies.
A-State's MSE curriculum prepares graduates for school counselor examinations and licensure in the state of Arkansas. Students seeking licensure elsewhere should contact the education credentialing authority in their state for guidance and verify that coursework will qualify under state standards for school counselor preparation.
What Are the Application Requirements for School Counseling Master's Programs?
While the application process is similar among programs, requirements can differ substantially. Most programs require a bachelor's degree as well as official transcripts documenting your courses and GPA. Some only accept applicants with a teaching certificate while others accept career-changing professionals who do not have teaching experience. You may have to submit other supporting documentation as well, such as test scores or a personal essay.
Unconditional admission to the A-State online MSE in School Counseling program requires a bachelor's degree, official transcripts and a 3.0 GPA on your previous coursework. Applicants must also complete three short essay questions, submit two recommendations, and propose a potential site supervisor to work with during their internship.
Prospective applicants can also seek conditional admission if their GPA is at least 2.5 and they meet all other MSE program requirements.
Don't I Have to Take the GRE Before I Can Apply?
Not necessarily. Some schools do not ask for GRE scores and others waive that requirement for applicants with a high GPA or previous graduate school experience. It's also important to note that master's programs requiring the GRE often specify that scores can be no more than five years old. A number of aspiring graduate students end up having to re-take the exam because they have been out of school for a while.
A-State's online MSE in School Counseling program does not require the GRE for admission.
Learn more about our MSE in School Counseling online program
What Is Accreditation?
Accreditation is a review and approval process that helps ensure schools meet established standards in higher education. Colleges and universities are accredited by regional authorities, while degree programs are generally accredited at the national level by boards and professional organizations in their field.
The process is rigorous and multifaceted, looking at key aspects of school operations, finances and instruction. Reviewers consider the career outcomes students experience after graduation as well, reflected by pass rates on professional certification exams, the number of graduates employed in their degree field, and other factors. To learn more about accreditation, visit the U.S. Department of Education.
A-State's MSE in School Counseling is accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP), and the university is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Does Accreditation Impact Students?
Yes, in multiple ways. Here are three examples that illustrate why students should care about accreditation.
- You must be enrolled in an accredited institution or degree program to be eligible for federal financial aid, as well as state funding for graduate students. This rule applies to student loan repayment and loan forgiveness programs sponsored by the government too.
- The accreditation process helps protect students from fraud by ensuring that schools and their degree programs are financially sound and offering the right education for each career field.
- Graduates of unaccredited degree programs are often surprised to discover their career options are limited. This can be due to employer preference for accreditation as well as state laws requiring it for certain occupations. This is definitely the case in education, since teachers, administrators, school counselors and other certificated professionals can't qualify for licensure in most states without an accredited degree.
Why Does Accreditation Matter to Employers? Will They Check For It?
School districts and other employers are likely to verify this detail about your degree, just as they will examine your licensure and other credentials. They have a responsibility to make sure that all employees working directly with children and youth meet current state standards for their profession.
In Arkansas and most other states, degree program accreditation is required for school counselors.
What's The Difference Between an Internship and a Practicum?
Some state regulations use these terms interchangeably, but the difference is essentially their purpose.
A school counseling practicum course is often taken before the first internship, as students begin their transition to professional practice. It may involve research, projects or some initial counseling sessions. Students can also test their ideas and refine their skills while receiving feedback from peers and professors.
During the internship period, students gain direct experience performing the job duties associated with their new role as a school counselor. They spend time working with K-12 students on school campuses or in other community settings under the supervision of a licensed school counselor.
These two forms of practice experience work best together. A-State devotes three courses to this important element of a school counselor's education: a practicum and two internships.
How Do Online Students Complete a School Counseling Internship?
In their own community, usually, and often at the schools where they teach or their children study. When your school counseling master's program is online, you get to arrange your own site and supervisor.
Students considering A-State's online MSE in School Counseling program are asked to consider this aspect of their education during the application process. They are also asked to provide confirmation that a licensed counselor with the proper qualifications will be available to supervise their practice experience.
If you are new to education, however, don't panic. A-State applicants who are changing careers often find they have friends, family or other contacts in their local schools who can help pave the way for an internship experience.
There are occasions where I get to go to the elementary school, and I teach them about kindness and how to be a good friend. We were singing songs and jumping around and I thought, 'I can't believe that I'm going to get paid to do this for a living.'
Are a Certain Number of Clock Hours Required?
The number of clock hours in school counseling practice required for your master's degree will depend on state guidelines, as well as those of your master's program.
A-State's online master's in school counseling requires 700 clock hours of experience, divided between the practicum (100) and the two internship courses (600). At least 40 hours during the practicum and 240 hours during the internship must be spent in direct service, defined as supervised counseling experience with K-12 students in local school settings. Meetings and other learning activities are also encompassed in the hourly requirement.
A-State students experience consultation from the client's perspective by participating in 10 hours of personal group counseling as part of the second internship course.
This program is comprehensive, and at times challenging, but it is well worth the effort to become a well-prepared and well-equipped professional school counselor.
Are School Counselor Certification and Licensure Different?
Each term represents a required step on the path to becoming a school counselor, but in most states certification comes before licensure. A few states take a streamlined approach, however, condensing the steps into a single approval process. Regardless, here are the differences:
- Certification requires that you demonstrate your preparation for the school counselor's role. The state will verify your education, test your knowledge and confirm that your experience meets established state standards for professional school counselors.
- Licensure gives you authority to practice in your state. Once you have met all criteria for certification as a school counselor, you can apply for your professional license. Most states require periodic license renewal as well.
The American Counseling Association (ACA) provides a list of state agencies that handle credentialing for school counselors, which may help in determining the process that will apply to you.
Do Certification Requirements Vary Much By State?
Yes. Currently, there's no single standard or set of requirements for school counselor certification in the U.S. Each state legislature makes its own rules, and some update education policies every few years.
This can make things confusing for licensure applicants, especially those planning to work in a new state after earning their degree.
Here are a few examples that illustrate the diversity in state standards across the nation:
- California requires school counseling master's graduates to complete a basic skills assessment of their choice in addition to qualifying by degree. Options include California student placement tests, the SAT or ACT, or AP exams. Out-of-state applicants may also take an equivalent skills test, with approval.
- Connecticut requires 700 clock hours of verifiable practicum and/or internship experience for school counselors, while Illinois only requires 600. In Massachusetts it's 450 hours and in Missouri it's just 300. Georgia and many other states do not have a set experience requirement, but allow master's in school counseling programs to set their own clock hour minimums.
- Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and a number of other states ask for a recommendation from the applicant's degree program as part of certification. Nevada, Mississippi, Texas and Washington are among the states that do not require one.
Your state's education credentialing authority will always have the most timely and accurate information. It should be your primary point of contact for licensure questions.
What Are School Counselor Certification Requirements in Arkansas?
The path to becoming a school counselor in Arkansas is fairly straightforward:
- Earn a master's in school counseling. Your degree program must be accredited, approved by the Arkansas Board of Education, and meet all other criteria established by the state legislature.
- Pass the required certification exams. All candidates must take the Professional School Counselor (5421) Praxis test. Those without an active Arkansas teaching license must also take the Principles of Learning and Teaching Praxis test that corresponds with the grade level in which they plan to work — K-6 (5622), 5-9 (5623) or 7-12 (5624).
Arkansas is also among the states that do not allow school counselor candidates with a teaching certificate to "test out" for certification without completing a master's program.
Which States Offer License Reciprocity for School Counselors?
According to the American School Counseling Association, 41 states offer some form of license reciprocity, also referred to as license portability. It allows school counselors who move to a different state — or who simply want to work in a school across the state border from where they live — to do so without having to go through a full recertification process.
If your new state offers unconditional reciprocity, you can be issued an equivalent school counselor's license and begin working there soon after. If reciprocity is conditional, follow your new state's instructions to the letter to facilitate a timely approval. Materials needed to support your application may include official transcripts, recommendation letters or district service records.
In Arkansas, the Division of Elementary and Secondary Education handles reciprocity applications for all types of licensed educators. The state also prioritizes requests from veterans and military families.
What's the Career Outlook for MSE School Counseling Graduates?
January 2020 labor market analysis by Burning Glass Technologies indicates that the job market for academic and guidance counselors will grow 13% in the decade ahead. States with steady population growth and rising numbers of K-12 students may be in for some of the largest employment swings. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Washington, Nevada, Utah and Florida will experience a double-digit increase in public school enrollment through 2028.
The outlook for current master's students is also promising, with many employers welcoming new graduates. Burning Glass reports that 53% of advertised school counseling positions now require two years of experience or less.
of advertised school counseling positions require two years of experience or less.
– Burning Glass Technologies
Where Are School Counselors Currently In Demand?
Twelve-month academic and guidance counselor recruitment data compiled by Burning Glass Technologies in January 2020 shows strong need across the nation. Employers in the following cities are presenting some of the highest demand for school counselors.
What Do School Counselors Earn?
The latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018) indicates that the annual mean wage for elementary and secondary school counselors is $66,910, about 8% higher than for teachers. As reported in Education Week, the most recent report from the National Education Association lists the average teacher's salary as $61,730.
Arkansas school counselors earn an average of $67,791 per year according to figures published by the Arkansas Democrat Gazette in May 2018. The paper's Right2Know education database contains statewide salary data compiled by the City of Little Rock, which shows that many school counselors in the state also earn more. The highest individual salary reported is $94,900 annually, and the top five are for counselors working in the Rogers, Clarksville, Fort Smith, Little Rock and Lakeside school districts.
How Much Do School Counselor Salaries Differ By School District?
While districts employ similar formulas for compensation, pay rates for school counselors can vary significantly. Your location may have the biggest influence on your earning power, but sometimes the salary bump you can get just by changing districts is the quickest way to a raise.
Here are a few examples that illustrate the difference you may see in counselor salaries by city and state as well.
|School District||School Counselor Salaries|
|Hayward Unified School District, 2018-2019||$80,769||$96,629||$112,489|
|Chino Valley Unified School District||$58,802||$78,735||$98,668|
|Lake Washington School District||$66,399||$86,473||$106,546|
|Federal Way Public Schools||$62,768||$80,842||$98,915|
|East Baton Rouge Parish School District||$46,700||$82,290||$117,880|
|Iberville Parish School District||$57,989||$66,681||$75,372|
|Arlington Independent School District||$60,988||$81,675||$102,361|
|Spring Branch Independent School District||$61,450||$75,681||$89,912|
Source: School district salary schedules for 2019-2020
How Much Is Tuition for an Online Master's Degree in School Counseling?
Tuition rates can differ quite a bit by program. Your total tuition cost is most heavily influenced by your residency status at some schools and also determined by the number of credit hours required to earn the degree. Even within the same state you're likely to see variances and tuition rates that fit every budget.
The Mid-South serves as a good example of the tuition range you might find in any area of the country. Here's what school counseling master's program students are paying at programs across the region. Costs were sourced from university websites (January 2020).
|Institution||Degree Format||Hours Required||Tuition Cost Per Credit Hour||Total Tuition Cost|
|University of Missouri||Online||60||$386||$27,182|
|University of Arkansas||Campus||60||$431 in-state
|University of Southern Mississippi||Hybrid||48||$488||$23,424|
|Arkansas State University||Online||48||$317||$15,216|
Do Online Tuition Rates Usually Include Fees?
Not always. It depends on your school and program. Technology or distance education fees are the most common, as are extra charges that help support remote library access or other services for online students. While policies vary, graduate student fees may be assessed per credit, per course, or as a flat rate each term.
Learn more about our MSE in School Counseling online program
How Much Could Extra Fees Add to the Cost of My Degree?
Unfortunately, student fees are an education cost that's trending upward. The Atlantic reports that fees are rising at roughly three times the country's inflation rate, and The Washington Post notes that graduate students are among those hardest hit by this trend. While many schools work to keep extra charges to a few hundred dollars each term, fees of $1,000-$5,000 per year are also becoming common for grad students.
The good news is that you don't have to accept over-the-top fees to earn a master's in school counseling. With a little research, you can find a reputable program that's both academically rigorous and competitive on costs.
Master's students in A-State's online MSE in School Counseling program pay a flat $40 per credit that covers all required fees. It's even included in the tuition rate, for a total cost of $317 per credit.
Can I Get Financial Aid If I Study Online?
The financial aid application process is the same for all college students, whether they study on campus or online. You must attend an accredited school or degree program to be eligible, meet income guidelines, and satisfy other federal requirements. Just fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) to get started.
You can also pursue state-based funding opportunities, such as the Hugh Lovett Memorial Scholarship sponsored by the Arkansas School Counselor Association. The ACA Future School Counselors Awards support counselors during graduate study as well.
Can I Use Military Education Benefits For My Online Degree?
Yes, both veterans and active-duty service members can use military education benefits to pay for an online master's degree program. You can even transfer your benefits to a family member completing a school counseling degree. Your school or program must be accredited, and the institution you attend must be eligible to receive GI Bill funds and other military benefits. Visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to learn more.
A-State offers personalized support for veterans and other members of the military who are studying online, including help with benefit certification and processing. Veterans career site VIQTORY has honored A-State with a bronze ranking in its top Military Friendly schools list for 2019-2020, citing the school's achievement in building strong programs for service members and their families.
Are There Special Scholarships for Military Members or Veterans?
Yes. There are scholarships specifically for students who have served in a branch of the armed forces. You may also find grants and other funding opportunities. Check out the military section of the Federal Student Aid website. U.S. Veterans Magazine also publishes an extensive grant and scholarship list.
In addition to other funding available to military personnel studying at A-State, the school has created a new scholarship program for active-duty service members and their spouses.
Can I Earn a Master's in School Counseling and Still Work Full Time?
Yes. In fact, it's common for teachers making the transition to school counselor to continue in the classroom while earning their degree. Career changers and other education professionals pursuing this goal often keep working full time as well. Many are able to do so thanks to the convenience of online master's programs and the flexibility they offer.
If you are a teacher, you may even find that online graduate study plays to your strengths. Since you already understand how to manage your time, set priorities and self-motivate to achieve your goals, working with professors in a more independent manner may be a natural fit and easy on your schedule.
Many students from all backgrounds find they enjoy the freedom to study on their own and engage with classmates as needed, rather than take the time to attend class meetings on campus. Online courses don't have to interrupt important family and social time either.
If there is a little voice telling you that you should try it, my advice is to just go for it! If you are scared, good! If you are not sure how it will go, good! If you don't know what online learning is about, good! My advice is to try it, reach out to the school and your instructors. We are real people and would love to help you navigate the process.
How Fast Can I Earn My MSE in School Counseling?
Most master's programs in school counseling feature 48-60 credit hours in coursework, making the average time to completion roughly two-and-a-half to three years. This timeline can change, however, based on the number of credits you take each term, and whether you study year round.
If you're hoping to graduate faster, an accelerated online school counseling program may be the best choice. Teachers and career changers often find online study helps them move through coursework more quickly than they might in a traditional master's program.
Motivated students can finish A-State's 48-hour MSE in School Counseling online in just 16-18 months with year-round study, taking two courses per term.
How Often Will I Need to Study for Master's Courses?
Much depends on your study habits and preferences, but 12-15 hours per week is average for graduate courses in education. More or less may be required based on the subject you're taking. Be sure to give yourself extra time for research papers and end-of-term final projects.
How Do Online Master's Courses Work?
Online master's courses feature the same basic content as courses on campus. You can also expect the same type of instruction you might have in traditional classes, with lectures and discussions. The main difference is that you won't gather with your classmates or meet with your professors in person each week.
You will watch lectures on video, talk with peers on the discussion board and turn in assignments by uploading them to your course. Your professors will still grade your work and give you feedback, and when you need help, they'll respond.
Busy students often enjoy meeting with professors and peers online, because they don't have to take time out of their day to drive to campus. Interactive video chat tools like Skype and FaceTime make it easy to get together wherever you are.
Am I Ready to Study Online?
Online courses have many sophisticated features, but they're built around the same forms of technology most of us interact with every day. If you use your computer for writing and research, stream your favorite songs or videos on your tablet, or use chat apps on your phone to stay in touch with friends and family, you'll probably find studying online feels familiar. If you can handle email, spreadsheets and presentations too, you're likely good to go.
Can I Use My Current Computer or Will I Need A New One?
Technology advances can sometimes be rapid and catch you off guard even if you've bought your computer in the last few years. Updating to the latest version of the applications you'll use for online study will help, and often that's all you'll need to do to prepare. If any part of your tech setup is more than five years old, an assist from a new tablet or an operating system upgrade can help ensure that your online courses run smoothly when you access them.
Each university's learning management system is different, so pay attention to any technology guidelines your school provides as well. A-State courses run on Blackboard, one of the most popular platforms for online courses. It offers a number of helpful tools for students, as well as online support.
Do Online Professors Have the Same Qualifications As Professors On Campus?
Yes. Professors who teach in accredited online school counseling graduate programs hold a master's or doctoral degree and have extensive professional experience in counseling. In other words, they have the high-level skills and qualifications you will be seeking to achieve as a graduate student.
Professors in A-State's online MSE in School Counseling are accomplished educators. Their courses reflect a deep knowledge of the counseling field and broad experience working with diverse student populations. They also provide close guidance during the practicum and internship periods, as master's students prepare to meet state licensing requirements after graduation.
I enjoy seeing my students develop in their professional identities and become prepared to help [K-12] students from all backgrounds.
The education system and the people in it gave me hope and changed my life. I want to be an inspiration to others and help them open their eyes — and hearts — to possibilities they never thought imaginable. I want to instill knowledge, hope and skills into my students.
Will I Meet the Other Students in My Master's Program?
Yes, and you'll also work directly with many of them in your courses. Online graduate students often get to know each other through discussion board conversations and group projects. It's easy to form study groups over webchat or work on assignments using shared web documents. You may even find yourself hanging out with your peers on social media or keeping up with them by phone or text.
If you prefer a little more solitude as you study, that's okay too. You can interact with the other students in your graduate cohort as much or as little as you please.
Are Student Services Available Online? Can I Use the Library or Get Tech Support?
Most universities provide a range of support for their online students. At A-State, many services for students on campus are also provided online, including remote library access, one-to-one research assistance, and tech support.
Can I Attend Graduation If I Earn My Degree Online?
Graduating online master's students often attend ceremonies on campus and receive their diploma in person. A-State welcomes online MSE in School Counseling students to share the stage with their peers and professors at graduation. You can even bring your loved ones to cheer you on.
Learn more about our MSE in School Counseling online program!
American Counseling Association:
Future School Counselors Award
State School Counselor Certification/Licensure Agencies
American School Counselor Association:
School Counselor Professional Standards & Competencies
State Certification Requirements
State School Counseling Mandates and Legislation
The Role of the School Counselor
Educational Testing Service:
Professional School Counselor (5421)
Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades K-6 (5622)
Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades 5-9 (5623)
Principles of Learning and Teaching: Grades 7-12 (5624)
Spring Branch Independent School District:
2019-2020 Elementary Counselors and Diagnosticians
2019-2020 Secondary Counselors
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs:
Education and Training: Education Programs
Education and Training: Transfer Post-911 GI Bill to Spouse and Dependents
VA Education and Training Benefits