School counseling is a profession that has many similarities with other areas of clinical and mental health counseling, and some major differences. Like others in the counseling profession, school counselors are licensed by state, and the requirements to take the licensure exam are largely the same: a master’s degree in counseling, plus a certain number of supervised clinical practicum/internship hours. However, some states also require counselors who work in public schools to have some teaching experience, which is something that is not required of counselors in other specializations. It is also more typical for school counseling programs to be offered through education departments and schools of education, rather than through counseling or psychology departments. In part, this is because school counselors are integrated into the education system, which makes it important to be familiar with school administrative procedures and teaching protocols.
School counseling encompasses the broad range of counseling services that are provided to students in grades K-12, and in two- and four-year colleges and universities. This can include everything from mental health crisis interventions and substance abuse therapy, to academic and career guidance, to assistance with anxiety and depression. School counselors receive much of the same core training as clinical and mental health counselors. But the training in school counseling programs centers around emotional and behavioral issues and concerns that are specific to school age children and college students. For example, a primary goal in school counseling is to equip students with the social and behavioral skills to succeed academically. Often, this consists of meeting with students and talking them through everyday social and personal issues that may be affecting their performance at school – family problems, switching schools, balancing schoolwork and other activities. It may also includes helping students who have learning disabilities and other medical and psychological diagnoses cope with those problems. In more extreme cases, school counselors are called upon to address cases of severe trauma and to manage crises involving mental health issues.
Master’s in school counseling programs provide students with the knowledge and skills necessary to become licensed school counselors. These programs are designed to prepare students to work as professional school counselors. Online master’s programs in school counseling use distance learning and online instruction instead of traditional campus-based classes to achieve this outcome. An online master’s in school counseling should offer all or most of its instruction online. However, these programs are not 100% online because they require supervised practicums/internships that must be completed on site at a local school or other educational facility approved by the program. In addition to practicums/internships, some online programs require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions. OnlineEducation.com classifies programs as online or hybrid based on the number of times a student is required to visit the campus per year. In order for a program to be classified as online, it must require two or fewer campus visits per year. Programs that require more than two visits per year are classified as hybrid programs and are not include on the site.
Online master’s programs in school counseling offer a curriculum that includes training in individual, group, and family counseling, the professional and ethical practice of counseling, and other core areas of clinical counseling. In addition, they stress areas pertinent to school counseling, like human growth and development; childhood emotional and behavioral disorders, and academic and career counseling. School counseling programs may voluntarily seek and receive accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling & Related Educational Programs (CACREP), which mandates at least 700 hours of internship and formal practicum experience as part of a master’s in counseling program. Even programs without CACREP accreditation typically include an internship and/or practicum because states require a substantial number of supervised clinical hours for licensure in school counseling.
While many school counseling programs can be identified by the name of the degree, there is some variation in what these programs are called. Below is a list of common designations for master’s in school counseling programs.
OnlineEducation.com conducts independent research into the curricula of online master’s programs, and classifies each program based on its curriculum. For a program to be classified as an online master’s in school counseling, it must be offered by an accredited non-profit college or university, and it must offer coursework that covers core counseling proficiencies, as well as specialized coursework in the area of education and school counseling. In addition, these programs must provide supervised practicum/internship experiences in order to prepare students for eventual licensure.
The specific curricular criteria OnlineEducation.com uses to classify online master’s in school counseling programs include the following:
The two main areas of training in an online master’s in school counseling are general counseling theories and practices, and counseling theories and practices that are specific to school counseling. The first area includes coursework in psychological assessment and the professional delivery of individual, group, and family therapy in a clinical setting. It may also include courses in cultural diversity concerns in the counseling profession, grief and trauma counseling, and substance abuse counseling. The specialized curriculum for school counselors encompasses coursework in areas like family dynamics, instructional design, and counseling at different levels in the K-12 system, and in college. It also includes supervised internship experience in a school setting.
The chart below includes sample courses from actual online master’s in school counseling programs:
|Course Title||Course Description|
|Applied Childhood and Adolescent Development||An overview of theories of learning and personality development as they are applied in school counseling.|
|Societal Issues in Schools||An examination of social issues and concerns in schools that impact academic achievement, student safety, and social development.|
|Special Education Law||An introduction to the legal issues that concern school counselors, including the provisions of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act.|
|Grief and Trauma Counseling||An exploration of the theories of grief and trauma counseling.|
|Multicultural Counseling||An overview of cultural factors in school counseling, cross-cultural counseling techniques, and gender, race, and personal identity issues in children and adolescents.|
|Consultation in Schools||An introduction to collaborative counseling models and effective modes of communication within the school system.|
|Educational Research||A survey of how research is conducted in an education setting, and how school counselors consult and participate in educational research.|
Admission requirements for online master’s in school counseling vary by program. Prospective students are advised to refer to program websites for specific admissions criteria. An undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university is the main requirement for admissions to most school counseling master’s programs. But there are other factors that individual programs may take into consideration, including a candidate’s undergraduate GPA (many programs have a minimum GPA requirement) and scores from a standardized test like the GRE. Candidates who have completed undergraduate coursework in psychology, counseling, education, or a related field may be preferred by some programs.
Online counseling programs are designed to offer flexibility to students who may have significant family or work obligations outside of school. In general, online instruction is more accommodating than traditional campus-based instruction in that it does not require regular travel to a campus for lectures and discussion sessions. However, not all online programs are structured the same and these structural differences directly impact how students access information and complete assignments. There are three distinct variables that students considering online programs in school counseling should be aware of: synchronous vs. asynchronous instruction; part-time vs. full-time enrollment; and any campus visits that may be required as part of an online program.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: How and when coursework is made available to students in an online program can be an important factor for students who may have scheduling concerns. Synchronous and asynchronous instruction are the two primary delivery methods for online instruction, and understanding the differences between the two can be helpful for those weighing different program options.
Part-time vs. Full-time Enrollment: Just as there are campus-based programs that allow students to enroll part-time and/or full-time, online master’s in school counseling programs vary in the enrollment options they may offer. Students in part-time online programs typically have more flexibility regarding the number of credits they take each semester or term (although some part-time programs still have fixed curricula that students must complete in a set period of time). This can be helpful to students who prefer to vary the number courses they are enrolled in at one time. Students who enroll in online master’s in school counseling programs part-time typically take three to four years to graduate. Students in full-time programs have less flexibility regarding the number of courses they take per semester, but they are more likely to graduate in a set period of time, which is typically between 18 and 24 months. Some full-time programs may also use a sequential plan of study, which can be helpful to students who prefer more structure and a defined curriculum.
Practicums, Internships, and Campus Visits: Online school counseling programs include formal practicums and internships that provide supervised experiential learning on-site at local schools and counseling facilities. This supervised work experience is a necessary component of preparing for a career in school counseling. Students should be aware that while some programs have placement services, other programs require students to find their own placements, but help with the process. In addition, some online counseling programs find it advantageous to have online students visit the campus for on-site instruction. These sessions, sometimes called intensives or immersions, may take the form of orientation sessions, workshops, demonstrations, and/or other instructional activities. They also typically involve networking events, which gives students an opportunity to meet with instructors and classmates. Students should note that travel expenses for mandatory visits may not be factored into tuition costs and program fees. For students who cannot attend campus-based session for personal or financial reason, this can be an important consideration.