How to Become a Counselor
Counseling is a broad umbrella term regarding the use of psychology to help and guide people through complex decisions or life events. Becoming a counselor is a rewarding process. If you’re considering pursuing a college program to become a counselor, our handy guide will show you what you need to do to enter this fulfilling and stable career.
There are many study programs to pursue based on your potential future career path. As counseling is such a broad career pathway, narrowing in on the area of counseling you are interested in will help you select the proper program and degree type to help you reach your goals. In other words, choose your counseling specialty carefully, because it will largely determine the direction of your studies and the areas in which you may operate. It’s important to note that you aren’t required to specialize; obtaining a degree in general counseling is perfectly fine and will still open the door to many career opportunities.
In your search for counseling degrees, you may find both accredited and unaccredited options. Always choose accredited degree programs. This means the school or college adheres to certain educational standards to maintain quality. Without accreditation, you are unlikely to be able to practice as a licensed counselor. Your available career pathways will be reduced, and the number of places where you can work will be extremely limited. Also, you won't be eligible for government funding.
Accreditation can be regional or national (for distance learning and vocational programs). If in doubt, the U.S. Department of Education will highlight accredited programs in your area. Specialty accreditation related specifically to counseling (such as the options listed below) are typically relevant at the master’s and/or doctoral degree levels.
Some of the accrediting agencies for counseling programs include:
The study programs above are not the end of the process. Once you graduate, you will need to apply for licensure in your state of residence to be able to practice as a counselor. In some states, you will need a minimum of a master's degree to be eligible for licensure. A license is renewed every few years and comes at a nominal cost. It’s important to know the rules and regulations for practicing as a counselor in your state.
Getting licensed and certified as a counselor in your state is a snap with our handy guide. Learn about exams, fees, certification options and more.