Considering a Degree in Counseling Psychology

motiveIndividuals choose to peruse a career in counseling for a variety of reasons. It is common for people to value the counseling profession, because of their own previous experiences as clients. They recognize the impact counselors can make in helping to improve others’ lives. Next, those considering this career area may have been told they are good listeners, and should become a counselor. Individuals interested in counseling also tend to have a strong desire to interact with people. However, the most common and important characteristic of an aspiring counselor is a sincere yearning to help others to overcome life’s challenges. These are all great examples of why people might find being a counselor an extremely rewarding career choice.

Those still trying to decide about pursuing a counseling career may also want to explore the following links. These sites provide excellent sources for additional professional information.

Educational Pathways

Counselors must be prepared on the graduate level to be eligible for professional certification. These counseling psychology programs are offered on both the master’s and doctoral level. It is essential that potential students examine their individual goals to determine if a master’s or doctoral degree program fits them best.

Master’s Degrees

Currently, the majority of practicing counselors have obtained a master’s degree from an accredited university. These counselors are commonly found providing a variety of clients counseling services in both private and public employment settings. Employment opportunities also exist for master’s level professionals in the areas of research and education. However, many employers in the research and education fields prefer to hire applicants with doctoral degrees. Review the options for Master's degrees in Counseling Psychology.

Doctoral Degrees

Those who wish to attend a doctoral program in counseling psychology can select from a few degree types. The oldest degree option is the Ph.D., which has traditionally been considered a research degree. However, modern Ph.D. programs often tend to integrate a mixture of research and applied practice training. Another popular choice for doctoral training is the Psy.D. This type of degree places its emphasis on professional practice training with less extensive research training. A final option and uncommon option in counseling psychology is the Ed.D. This degree type is normally chosen by those interested in working as school psychologists or school counselors. Review the options for PhD & PsyD degrees in Counseling Psychology.

Curious about the specific path to your Counseling Psychology education? Master's versus Doctorate.

Required Time and Commitment for Graduate Programs

The average time of full-time study required to complete a master’s degree program is approximately 1-2 years. Typically, doctoral degrees can be obtained with 5-6 years of full-time attendance. There are a small number of doctoral programs with only 4 years of study required for completion. Also, additional post-graduate internship training might be required depending on your particular specialization and each state’s licensing guidelines.

Students should be prepared to dedicate a substantial amount of time and energy to be successful in graduate level coursework.  Next, students must be committed to maintaining a balance between family, personal, work, and educational demands.  Luckily, many programs have developed part-time, evening, weekend, hybrid and online programs to assist in meeting the diverse needs of graduate students.

Factors to Consider in Selecting a Program

It is essential a future student take into consideration a number of factors when selecting a counseling psychology program. This will help to ensure the program meets the individual’s unique needs, interests, and goals. A few of the most important factors for students to examine include: reputation, accreditation, license capacity, costs and location.


A university’s reputation should be one of the first topics researched by potential students.  It might be helpful to ask established professionals which universities are the most respected for offering quality master’s or doctorate degrees in counseling psychology. A degree earned from a highly respected program can serve as an advantage for both individuals seeking employment or acceptance into doctoral programs.


accreditedAccreditation is perhaps the most vital characteristic for potential students to consider before selecting to enroll in any university. Accredited universities have meta strict set of educational quality insurance standards. These standards are established and regulated by regional accreditation granting institutions.

Licensure Information

Another key factor in selecting a program is the student’s ability to obtain a professional license after graduation. The requirements for counselor licensure may vary depending on the applicant’s state. Students are risking not meeting these requirements unless they choose a program approved by The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP) or The American Psychology Association (APA).  Additional information and a list of accredited programs can be found by visiting CACREP’s website at or the APA’s website at


The cost of graduate school can greatly differ based on a number of variables. Therefore, it is recommended for students to compile a list of all potential programs’ estimated tuition costs, living expenses, and amount of financial aid offered. This information can be compared to the individual’s budget to determine which program is the best financial fit. The US News and World Report also offers a directory of the best graduate schools including costs and sources of financial assistance.


Counseling psychology degrees are offered at locations throughout the world and some are even available online.  Potential students must determine which traits they find most important in a program’s location. Students should decide if they are willing to move or if they would prefer a program within driving distance. Another factor to consider is personal preference related to attending a program located in an urban or rural environment.

Educational and Experience Requirements

Graduate students must have earned a minimum of an undergraduate degree with prerequisite courses in psychology, statics and research. However, universities usually prefer applicants with bachelor degrees in psychology or a closely related area. Doctoral programs may also require students hold a master’s degree in psychology.  Other common requirements include a 3.0 grade point average and GRE test score of at least 700.  The majority of graduate schools do not require previous work experience, but students are expected to complete internship experiences as part of the degree program.

How to Prepare After Acceptance

Being accepted into a counseling psychology graduate program is a big step towards a career in counseling psychology. This transitional time can be an excellent opportunity to explore your university. You can become comfortable with getting around the campus, so you’ll already know the location of your classes. This time can also be great for connecting with other students. You may even find others already enrolled in your future program. Talking to peers can help you to gain valuable advice, and increase your chances of success. These steps will likely make you feel more confident about starting graduate school.

Public Conduct

Students will need to quickly get accustomed to separating one’s personal and professional life. Students must remember that conducting yourself in a professional manner requires a level of formality and discretion. The early establishment of professional appearance and behavior could serve as a great networking tool to gain future employment.

Social Network Discretion

social media 2

One area of future professionals’ life where discretion is absolutely essential is that of social network accounts. It comes heavily recommended that graduate students filter all posts on social media accounts. There have been numerous cases of people who have lost their jobs as a result of personal posts that were not hidden via privacy settings. It is also suggested that accounts be set so personal information is only viewable by a select group of close friends and family. A counseling student should not risk the possibility of future patients finding certain personal information on any social media profile. This would breach the separation of the counselor’s personal and professional life, and could also be potentially dangerous.

Next Guides: Counseling Psychologist Work > Master's vs PhD

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