Counseling Degrees Overview: What Counseling Degree Is Right for Me?

It requires an advanced degree, such as a master’s or doctorate, to counsel patients. However, there are many other fulfilling and rewarding careers you can pursue in the counseling industry by earning your associate’s or bachelor’s degree. Here is a comparison of your counseling degree program options:

Associate’s DegreeUndergraduate degree in counseling2 yearsIntroductory courses in counseling theories and techniques, mental health assessment, human development, diversity, and ethics
Bachelor’s Degree Undergraduate degree in counseling4 yearsCounseling theories and techniques, mental health assessment, human development, diversity, and ethics
Master’s Degree Graduate degree in counseling1-3 yearsAdvanced counseling skills, research methods, assessment and diagnosis, psychopathology, multicultural counseling, and ethics
Graduate CertificatePost-master’s program in counseling6-12 monthsFocused study in a specific area of counseling, such as addiction counseling, marriage and family therapy, or trauma counseling
Ph.D.Doctoral degree in counseling3-5 yearsIn-depth research training, advanced counseling theory and practice, supervision and training of counselors, and preparation for academia or advanced research roles

Associate’s Degree in Counseling

Typically, it takes two years, or between 60 and 65 college credits, to earn an associate in arts (AA) degree in counseling. This is an entry-level degree if you wish to pursue a career in the industry. As the graduate of an AA program at an accredited college, you may be qualified to step into many roles, including:

  • Paraprofessional at an elementary school
  • Home health care aide
  • Youth counselor in a church or camp program
  • Psychiatric technician in a rehabilitation facility
  • Mental health technician

An associate’s degree is a good starting point. It will allow you to work in the industry, using the skills and knowledge you have of mental health counseling and psychology, as you continue your education.

Bachelor’s Degree in Counseling

If you hold a bachelor’s degree in counseling, this means you have the equivalent of four years of college after high school. Graduates who hold bachelor’s degrees are well suited to work as career counselors, probation officers, teachers, or case managers.

A bachelor’s degree is a good choice for graduates who want to enter the industry in more than an entry-level position. It requires the completion of 120 credit hours, which is typically the equivalent of two additional years of schooling beyond an associate’s degree.

Master’s Degree in Counseling

With a master’s degree in counseling or a related field, you may begin working as a therapist who sees patients. In this role, you’ll need a license to practice in your state. Your master’s degree can also be helpful in a variety of other industries, including education. Sample careers that may open up to you with a master’s degree in counseling include:

  • School counselor
  • Social worker
  • Academic advisor
  • Mental health counselor
  • Substance abuse counselor

Completion of a master’s degree requires an additional 30 to 40 college credits beyond the bachelor’s degree level.

Graduate Certificate in Counseling

Some graduates who hold master’s degrees in psychology or related fields go on to pursue their graduate certificate in a counseling area to gain more specialized skills. This usually requires the completion of around 30 additional college credits in counseling and/or clinical supervision, as well as an internship.

If you’ve earned your master’s degree in a related field and need additional training in counseling, the graduate certificate may be right for you.

Doctorate Degree in Counseling

A doctoral degree in counseling will leave you with either a Doctor of Philosophy Degree (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology Degree (PsyD). The former is research-based, while the latter is intended for graduates who plan to pursue a clinical career. Most programs require a minimum of 70 credits.

In counseling, a doctorate is a terminal degree. This means it’s as far as you can go, academically. It denotes you as an expert in your area of expertise, and most students who reach this pinnacle have narrowed their field to a specialty such as school counseling, marriage and family therapy, clinical counseling, or mental health counseling.

Popular Counseling Specialties

Counseling careers are available in a range of specializations, whether you are interested in working with groups, individuals, couples, and more. The following are some popular specialties - visit our Counseling Careers page for more.

School Counselor

School Counselors provide academic, career, and personal counseling services to students in elementary, middle, and high schools. They also collaborate with teachers, parents, and administrators to promote student success and support their emotional and social well-being.

Couples Counselor

Couples Counselors help partners through difficult life periods such as infidelity, separation, divorce, and other relationship strains.

Substance Abuse Counselor

Those needing help with addictions to alcohol, drugs, and more can find help and support by working with a Substance Abuse/Addictions Counselor.


Discover Online Counseling Programs

A counseling education is a snap with online programs. Learn more about online and hybrid counseling degree programs to find out if this flexible option is right for you.

Online Counseling Programs

Share This: