What is an Online School Counseling Program?
Though some people use the terms “guidance counseling” and “school counseling” interchangeably, often, a school counselor has much broader duties. This includes evaluating students’ educational abilities, assessing students for mental disorders, training teachers in the latest educational theory, working with parents to create a home environment that supports education, and many other academic, social, and emotionally-based activities.
In some situations, guidance counseling is simply that – helping students create their class schedule, meet graduation requirements, and determine what their next step in life will be, be that trade school, college, the military, and so forth.
Given that school counselors have so many duties, online school counseling programs are very broad-based. Students in these programs explore topics that range from educational research to psychology, interpersonal communication to psychological assessment, ethics to child development, and many topics in between. Many programs have also devised coursework that trains school counselors to manage crisis situations as well.
Furthermore, since school counselors work not just with students, but also with parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, and other stakeholders, school counseling programs often include learning opportunities that develop students’ abilities to communicate effectively with different groups, improve empathy, and focus on organizational skills as well.
What is an Online School Counseling Program that Does Not Require a GRE?
There are online school counseling master’s degree programs from universities all around the country that do not require a GRE score for admission. Few well-known programs are:
New York University Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance
New York University’s online master’s degree in counseling and guidance prepares students to be school counselors in pre-K through high school settings. With a focus on social justice and equity, this program is especially geared toward preparing students to work with children from diverse backgrounds. The program requires completion of 48 credit hours of study, a 100-hour practicum experience, and a 600-hour internship experience. There are three start dates throughout the year, and students can complete the program in as little as 18 months.
University of Southern California Master of Education in School Counseling
The master’s degree program in school counseling at the University of Southern California explores the many different challenges that affect schools in the 21st-century and prepares prospective counselors to be the change-makers that children need. The program includes coursework in three major realms: college and career readiness, restorative justice, and trauma informed practice. Both full-time and part-time pathways are available, both of which require completion of 49 units of study. Full-time students can complete the program in two years; part-time students can complete the program in three years.
Vanderbilt University Master of Education in Human Development and Counseling
Vanderbilt University offers a master’s program in human development and counseling with a specialization in school counseling that prepares students to become competent K-12 counselors. With a focus on humanistic methods, students learn how to consider the social, emotional, and environmental factors that influence a child’s development. Coursework includes human development, social and cultural diversity, and explores how to develop rapport with children in order to establish a helping relationship. This program includes weekly online classes, two on-campus immersion experiences, and hands-on field experiences as well.
University of Missouri-Columbia Master of Education in Educational, School, and Counseling Psychology
The 34-credit-hour online master’s degree in school counseling from the University of Missouri is offered 100 percent online. Coursework focuses on developing the skills required to be an effective mental health practitioner, particularly as it pertains to promoting sound mental health and building the capacity for resiliency in children. Typically, students can complete this program in two years, provided they complete classes during the summer semester in addition to the typical fall and spring semesters. Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree, a minimum 3.0 GPA in the last 60 undergraduate courses, and satisfactory TOEFL scores if English is not one’s native language.
Capella University Master of Science in School Counseling
The master of science program at Capella University involves a mixture of online and in-person learning. Students take seven core courses in school counseling as well as five specialty courses. This program also requires students to complete a practicum, two internships, and two residences in order to maximize the ability of students to get real-world experience as school counselors before graduation. Studies are undertaken on the quarter system, with one to three courses per ten-week quarter.
Do All Online School Counseling Programs Require a GRE?
Though many online graduate programs in school counseling require students to have a satisfactory GRE score for admission, many others do not. For institutions that do not require the GRE, admissions officials instead rely on other criteria to judge a prospective student’s fit for the program.
Typically, non-GRE requirements revolve around the applicant’s undergraduate performance. That means that students must usually submit transcripts that show graduation from an accredited institution with satisfactory grades (i.e., a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale). Many colleges and universities also require applicants to submit letters of recommendation from undergraduate faculty members to help build a more complete picture of the student’s academic capabilities.
Do Employers Differentiate Between GRE and Non-GRE School Counseling Programs?
Employers are much more interested in a student’s academic performance, course selection, and internship experiences than whether or not the applicant took the GRE. In fact, many employers don’t even ask applicants if they took the GRE or not.
What’s far more indicative of an applicant’s preparation for a career as a school counselor is their academic performance. When applying for a position as a school counselor, applicants are typically required to submit undergraduate and graduate transcripts as well as letters of recommendation from graduate faculty members. Many employers also place importance on an applicant’s internship experience, particularly the type of internship in which they participated, the grade levels at which they worked, and the duties that were assigned to them during their internship experience.
Likewise, employers will be more interested in the applicant’s educational and work history as outlined on their resume. Applicants that have a solid academic record with experience working in an educational setting will often be given preference for school counseling positions regardless of the presence or absence of a GRE score.
What Do You Learn in a School Counseling Master’s Program?
Master’s degree programs in this field cover a wide range of topics in order to develop graduates that have the competencies needed to address complex issues in a school environment. The following list – though not a complete list of what students learn in these programs – outlines a number of common learning targets for graduate students in school counseling:
- Identification of abnormal behaviors – Students learn the hallmark characteristics of abnormal behavior (i.e., symptomology of personality disorders) that commonly presents itself during childhood.
- Treatment of psychological disorders – Graduate students in school counseling learn many different treatment methods and interventions that will aid them in providing support services to students with mental health needs.
- Educational design – Since school counselors work closely with teachers and administrators to develop age-appropriate learning opportunities for students, it’s necessary for them to learn the essentials of educational theory and design in graduate school.
- Diversity issues – K-12 schools are becoming increasingly more socially, ethnically, racially, and religiously diverse. As such, school counseling graduate students must learn how to communicate with and develop relationships with students from all walks of life.
- Evidence-based practice – School counseling graduate students learn how to conduct scientific research and how to implement and evaluate evidence-based programs that benefit students.
- Psychological statistics – School counseling graduate programs often require at least one or two semesters of psychological statistics courses in which students learn how to analyze both descriptive and inferential statistics.
- Ethics – A critical component of all graduate programs in this field is a study of ethics. These courses help students understand how to conduct themselves in a manner that is supportive of students and their needs while also maintaining healthy boundaries and adhering ethical requirements for standards of practice.
- Counseling theory – Students explore many different kinds of counseling theory, from psychoanalysis to cognitive-behavioral therapy to Gestalt therapy.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online School Counseling Master’s Program?
The length of time it takes to complete an online school counseling master’s program varies widely from one institution to the next. Some universities offer programs that are around 30-36 credit hours for graduation, which can be completed in two years if a student is full-time. Other programs require a few more credits – in the 48-credit range – that would add another ½ year or full year to the timeline.
However, many school counseling master’s programs require over 60 credit hours to complete the degree. In such cases, students can expect to spend at least 3-4 years completing their degree requirements.
In addition to credit requirements, the number of practicum, internship, and residency requirements of the program will determine how long it takes to graduate. For example, a graduate program that requires one semester-length internship, the program length will be shorter than one that requires a year-long internship and a year-long residency.
What Skills You Need to Complete a School Counseling Program?
School counseling students must have a varied skill set that not only helps them be excellent students but also prepares them to be competent school counselors after graduation. Though it would be impossible to list all the skills that a student needs to be successful in school counseling program, the following list outlines some of the most crucial skills to have:
- Problem-solving skills – Many of the issues that school counselors address in their career revolve around academic, social, emotional, and behavioral problems of students. Identifying these issues and addressing them effectively requires students to develop excellent problem-solving skills in graduate school.
- Emotional intelligence – Graduate students in school counseling programs must be in touch with their own feelings, be able to control and direct their own feelings, and recognize and respect the feelings and emotions of others.
- Empathy – School counselors often encounter very difficult situations with their students, from children that are abused or neglected to kids that have very serious mental or emotional disorders. As a result, students in school counseling graduate programs must have a very strong sense of empathy and be able to see and experience the world from other people’s perspective.
- Communication skills – Students in these programs should already have excellent communication skills before starting graduate school. During their graduate studies, students will further develop their ability to communicate in written and verbal form while also developing strong active listening skills.
- Patience – Working within a school system requires school counselors to operate within very strict guidelines, consider the needs of the student, the wishes of parents, and the demands of administrators. As such, school counseling graduate students should possess a tremendous amount of patience and the ability to work under pressure.
- Ability to build rapport – Students in graduate programs in school counseling should have excellent rapport-building skills. That is, to be an effective school counselor, one must be able to speak with, connect with, and work closely with children and adults from all sorts of walks of life.
- Capacity for self-reflection – A primary goal of master’s degree programs in this field is to help students learn how their own opinions, thoughts, feelings, and biases might impact their work with others. As a result, students need to have a strong capacity for self-reflection and self-understanding.
How Much Can You Earn With a School Counseling Master’s Program?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), school counselors with a master’s degree earned a median annual wage of $55,410 in 2017. The pay range for this position is quite wide, however, with the lowest ten percent of earners making an average yearly salary of just $32,660 and the highest ten percent of workers making an average annual wage of $91,960.
One of the largest factors that determines the salary of a school counselor is their years of experience. Just like teachers, school counselors can move up the pay scale with each additional year in their position. In public school systems, this might mean an increase in wages of several hundreds of dollars each year.
Additionally, school counselors can increase their wages by pursuing further educational opportunities. For example, many public and private school systems set a specific salary for workers with a master’s degree, and then offer a higher wage for workers with a master’s degree plus 15 additional graduate credits, 30 additional graduate credits, and 45 additional graduate credits. Combining additional education with years of experience is often the key to earning more money as a school counselor.