Online Counseling Degrees
Online programs are a great way to acquire a college degree in counseling at just about any level. Not everyone has the opportunity to pursue a bachelor's degree or graduate program in counseling in a conventional way; work, family obligations, and distance from the nearest campus can make traditional counseling degree programs feel out of reach. That’s why most colleges and universities in the United States, and some independent providers, offer online counseling degrees to facilitate greater engagement with higher education.
Online degree programs come in many shapes and sizes. If you are interested in counseling as a career, there are several online degree options you can consider.
Online Associate's Degree in Counseling
An associate's degree in counseling or psychology is the first type of degree you might consider after high school. They consist of 60 credits and typically take two years to complete at a full-time pace. Online flexibility means an associate's degree in counseling can be completed in as little as one year (where summer classes are available) or up to five years – the main benefit of online study.
While an associate’s degree in counseling is a great first step, keep in mind that most students will need to continue their education to the bachelor’s and often graduate degree level to be eligible for most jobs in the field.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Counseling
A bachelor's degree is the main type of degree most students pursue when entering college. Naturally, it is also the most common type of online undergraduate degree. A bachelor's degree in counseling on-campus will take the standard four years. Online, you have a great benefit of flexibility: you can accelerate the program or spread it out – taking anywhere between two and six years to complete, though the traditional 4-year timeline is also available. Counseling bachelor’s degrees require the completion of 120 credits.
Not all elements will be online. A bachelor’s degree in counseling may have a capstone project or internship requirement, which may require some in-person attendance.
Online Master's Degree in Counseling
A master's degree in counseling is a graduate program that many students pursue upon completion of a bachelor's degree. Typically, it takes two years to complete at a full-time pace, comprising 40 credit hours. However, where accelerated programs are available, students can finish in as little as 18 months. This is typical for both online and campus-based study. Most schools will allow you to study flexibly online over four years if the student wishes. Students will complete a dissertation or capstone project at the end of the program, and some internship hours may also be required.
As with other types of programs, students may be required to attend a clinic or the college for in-person contact and for counseling training.
Online Graduate Certificates in Counseling
A graduate certificate in counseling is a short program designed for bachelor's and master's graduates that does not result in a degree. This type of program is ideal for those who wish to advance their education without committing to a lengthy and expensive full degree program. Another reason is to upskill in a niche area of counseling. Graduate certificates take anywhere from one to two years to complete at a full-time pace and are ideally suited to online study. They comprise between 12 and 24 credits.
Online Doctorate Degree in Counseling
A doctorate or Ph.D. in counseling is a terminal degree, meaning it’s the highest degree level available. Typically, a doctorate takes five years to complete. Though it can sometimes take longer, it is extremely rare to complete in less time. Due to the student-led research nature of this type of program, it is more than possible to complete via online learning, although some in-person attendance at the college or university may be required for certain lectures, discussion groups, etc.
There are pros and cons to each type of counseling program delivery method. Find out more about each with this comparison table.
|Aspect||Online Counseling Programs||On-Campus Counseling Programs|
|Flexibility||Online programs offer greater flexibility in terms of course scheduling, pacing, and location. Students can study from anywhere with an internet connection and can balance their coursework with other commitments.||On-campus programs require students to attend classes and participate in campus activities at specific times. The schedule may not be as flexible as online programs.|
|Interactions with peers and instructors||Online programs often use discussion forums, video conferencing, and chat rooms to facilitate interactions between students and instructors. While students have the opportunity to connect with peers and instructors, it may not be as personal as on-campus programs.||On-campus programs provide students with face-to-face interactions with peers and instructors, which can foster a sense of community and enhance learning. Students can engage in class discussions, ask questions in person, and build relationships with their peers and instructors.|
|Resources and Support||Online programs provide a range of digital resources such as eBooks, online libraries, and webinars. Students can access academic support, tutoring, and counseling services online.||On-campus programs provide students with access to campus resources, including libraries, academic advisors, career centers, and other support services.|
|Accreditation||Accreditation for online programs is the same as on-campus programs. Online programs are required to meet the same standards for accreditation as on-campus programs.||Accreditation for on-campus programs is the same as online programs. Both types of programs are required to meet the same standards for accreditation.|
|Cost||Online programs may have lower tuition and fees than on-campus programs. Students can save money on housing, transportation, and other expenses by studying from home.||On-campus programs may have higher tuition and fees than online programs. Students may need to pay for housing, transportation, and other expenses associated with attending classes on campus.|
|Career Opportunities||Both online and on-campus programs can lead to the same career opportunities in counseling. Employers typically do not distinguish between degrees earned online or on-campus.||Both online and on-campus programs can provide students with opportunities to participate in internships, research projects, and other experiential learning opportunities that can enhance their career prospects.|
If you've chosen to enroll in a counseling degree program – either as a new student or as a grad student after some years away from education, there are many elements to consider. It's essential to choose the right program for you, not just in terms of the subject matter, but also one that works for your individual circumstances.
The first thing to check is whether the online program you're considering is properly accredited. For careers that require licensure, certification, or membership in a professional body, it is mandatory that you complete an accredited counseling degree program. This means the program adheres to minimum standards for teaching and research. The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) is the accrediting body for most higher-level counseling degree programs.
Regardless of the degree level you are looking at, the next major consideration for your counseling degree are the available specialty areas. While specializing is not mandatory, it’s a good idea to consider what type of counseling career you see yourself in. For most associate's and bachelor's degrees, your only option is to study general counseling. However, no two programs are the same. Undergraduate counseling programs are directed by the school's history, faculty experience, research areas, and professional partnerships (for example, with hospitals).
The graduate level is where you start to see specialty areas, so taking the time to ensure that your intended online counseling degree program covers your intended career path is a wise idea. For example, you'll find graduate certificates in concentrations such as substance abuse counseling, marriage and family therapy, and grief counseling. Master's and doctorate degrees also allow for numerous specialization areas but are far more comprehensive.
Most online programs permit both full-time and part-time study and are, in fact, designed with the part-time student in mind.
Along with traditional offline learning and online study, you may also find that some schools permit hybrid learning. This means the program mixes the best of both worlds – online coursework with in-person lectures/seminars and face-to-face interaction with faculty and fellow students.
Online coursework comes in two types: "synchronous" learning – where you join a formal online environment such as a scheduled lecture (essentially a traditional learning environment but entirely online), and "asynchronous" – which allows students to work through coursework alone at their own time and pace.
Tuition and Costs
Multiple factors impact how much you will pay for a counseling degree. The type of school, degree level, program concentration, and even your location will all impact tuition rates.
Luckily, tuition assistance is available for those who qualify. FAFSA means "Free Application for Federal Student Aid”; it’s a system for assessing your financial circumstances and providing funding choices. This is a popular route for those looking for help paying for school. Students can also look at Federal Direct Loans (subsidized loans) and PLUS Loans (more for parents to help support the student). Perkins Loans are available for students with considerable financial difficulties. Most colleges have financial aid departments that can help students sort out these assistance options.
Scholarships are another option to help offset the cost of a counseling degree. A number of database sites will help you find options, from well-known scholarships to the obscure, often from sources you may not know exist.
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