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Question: How Long Does it Take to Complete a Master’s in Counseling Program?

Answer: Master’s in counseling programs are generally designed to be completed in four academic semester, or roughly two years of full-time enrollment. Students who enroll part-time in a counseling program may take three or more years to complete the degree. However, the time to graduate for full-time and part-time students varies depending on several factors: the number of courses taken per semester; whether or not students can attend a summer term between the first and second year; and how the program incorporates required clinical internship hours. Students who can attend a summer session between the first and second year of the program may be able to graduate in 18 months. However, most master’s in counseling programs incorporate at least 700 hours of supervised clinical experience, which can add to the time it takes to complete program requirements.

The Components of a Master’s in Counseling Program

A master’s degree in counseling is considered to the benchmark for professional training in the field of clinical and mental health counseling, as well as in specialized fields such as school counseling, rehabilitation counseling, and marriage and family therapy. Holding a master’s in counseling is also a requirement for state licensure, which is required for all clinical, mental health, rehabilitation, and school counselors, as well as for those practicing marriage and family therapy (MFT).

Training and instruction in counseling at the master’s level has three essential components. There is a core instructional curriculum in general counseling theories and practices, which encompasses methods for the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions and guidelines for the ethical professional practice of counseling and psychotherapy. In addition, there are specialized courses in different types of counseling, including school counseling, trauma and grief counseling, vocational counseling, and substance abuse counseling. Finally, most master’s in counseling programs require students to complete at least 700 hours of supervised clinical internships and/or practicums, and all programs accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) must provide for a minimum of 700 supervised clinical hours.

Time to Completion for Master’s in Counseling Programs

The time it takes to complete a master’s in counseling program can depend greatly on the structure and flexibility of the program and the number of hours per week a student is able to devote to coursework. A traditional, campus-based master’s in counseling program generally encompasses 60 credits, a portion of which (often nine) come from clinical internship experiences rather than classroom instruction. Depending on how the program is structured, students may be required to take between 12 and 20 courses, which can equate to between three and five courses per traditional academic semester for four semesters in a full-time program. Students who opt for part-time enrollment typically reduce their course load to one, two, or three courses per semester, which extends the time to graduation by another several semesters. Thus, full-time enrollment in a master’s in counseling program generally equates to between 18 and 24 months of coursework, while students enrolled part-time can take 30 or more months to graduate. The table below offers and overview of enrollment options, course loads, and time to completion for a master’s in counseling program.

Full-Time EnrollmentPart-Time Enrollment
Courses Per SemesterThree to five coursesOne to three courses
Number of SemestersFour semestersFive or more semesters
Time to Completion18 to 24 months30 or more months

Clinical internship hours are typically completed during the second year of a master’s in counseling program, although some programs allow students to accrue clinical hours during summer months, which can help reduce the time to graduation. It should also be noted that some master’s in counseling programs, particularly those that are offered online, may not adhere to the traditional academic semester system and instead utilize shortened eight-week terms, during which students may take one or two courses. A program structured in this way may have six or more terms per year, which allows full-time students to graduate in 18 to 24 months, while part-time students can take two or more years to complete the program. Many programs cap the number of years a student can take to finish the program, usually at five or six years.

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