Looking for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others? If so, working as a counselor could be the career path for you. Not only is the work meaningful, but the field could also see strong demand for qualified professionals in the coming years.
The nonprofit organization Mental Health America estimates one in five Americans have a mental health condition. What's more, the group notes there is a serious shortage of counselors and other mental health workers to treat these people. Of course, not all counselors work in the field of mental illness. Some provide school counseling, genetic counseling, career counseling or family counseling instead.
However, you'll need the right education before you can fill any of these positions. Counseling degree programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Keep reading to learn more about the top schools for counseling as well as the jobs you can get after graduation.
Best Colleges for Counseling Degree Programs
To determine the best colleges for counseling degree programs, Schools.com used a methodology that considered the accessibility, affordability and prominence of a school's counseling program. Here are the institutions that came out on top.
The University of Central Arkansas is the number one school for counseling degree programs. With a campus in Conway, the school offers more advanced counseling degree options than most other institutions on this list.
Within the Department of Psychology and Counseling, students can earn either a master's degree or doctoral degree in the field. Options include a Master of Science in school psychology, a Master of Science in mental health counseling and doctoral training in either school psychology or counseling psychology. The school's programs are accredited by the National Association of School Psychologists and the American Psychological Association.
UCA is a public institution and was founded in 1906. It is located 30 miles north of Little Rock.
Taking the number two spot on this list of top schools for counseling is University of Holy Cross. With a campus in New Orleans, the university prides itself on providing personalized education and small class sizes.
At the University of Holy Cross, students can earn either an associate degree or a bachelor's degree in counseling. They may choose from one of the following programs: addictions counseling, applied behavioral science, juvenile counseling or social counseling. There is also a master's degree in counseling that will allow students to earn their undergraduate and graduate degrees concurrently.
The University of Holy Cross is a private school. It was founded in 1916 as a ministry of the Marianite Sisters of the Holy Cross.
Students interested in a degree in Christian counseling may find the program they want at South Florida Bible College and Theological Seminary. The school was founded in 1985 as a nondenominational institution. It ranks third for the prominence of its counseling program and first for its graduation rate among surveyed schools.
Although South Florida Bible College doesn't have any fully online counseling degrees, students may be able to take up to half their classes via distance education. The remaining courses must be completed at the school's Deerfield Beach campus.
Its bachelor's degree in Christian counseling seeks to integrate Christian and secular approaches to psychology. Graduates should be prepared to enter the workforce with the knowledge of counseling strategies and psychological techniques.
The Mid-Atlantic Christian University was founded in 1948 as Roanoke Bible College. Originally conceived as a school to train ministers, the university continues to have a special focus on Christian studies.
The counseling and psychology program at Mid-Atlantic Christian University results in a bachelor's degree. The curriculum includes a double major in Biblical studies and counseling and psychology. Upon graduation, students should have a good understanding of counseling techniques and how they can be used within a Christian worldview.
The university ranks high for its admission policy and the support services it offers. In addition to academic advising, career placement services may be available to graduates.
Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rutland, Vermont, the College of St. Joseph got its start in 1956. Today, it offers more than 30 majors through its undergraduate and graduate degree programs.
The College of St. Joseph offers several degrees that may be of interest to those pursuing a career in counseling. These include bachelor's degrees in community service and counseling, alcohol and substance abuse services, and child and family services. At the graduate level, there are master's degrees in alcohol and substance abuse services, school counseling, clinical mental health counseling and community counseling.
With a 9-1 student-faculty ratio, the university is well-equipped to provide a personalized experience. The college also ranks ninth for the prominence of its counseling program.
Arizona Christian University provides a number of support services to help its students succeed. There is career counseling, academic advising and even placement services for graduates. To help busy adults take the classes they need, courses are offered on nights, weekends and online.
Although ACU doesn't have any online degrees for counseling specifically, its online bachelor's degree in family studies may be appropriate for those interested in the field. Meanwhile students at its Phoenix campus can earn a bachelor's degree in either behavioral health or family studies.
Founded in 1960, Arizona Christian University is a private, non-denominational institution. It ranks seventh for the prominence of its counseling-related programs.
Sharing a name with the city of Prescott, Arizona, this college was founded with the vision of being the "Harvard of the West." The educational institution prides itself on diversity, inclusiveness and developing new models of learning. Its students have access to collaborative learning, experiential education and student-designed programs.
For counseling students, Prescott College offers a number of options. The school's undergraduate psychology, human development and counselor education program is available in five different concentrations. Students interested in online degrees for counseling may be interested in Prescott College's online degree in human development. Meanwhile, there are also online counseling degrees at the graduate level, where the school offers nine master's degrees in the field.
In addition to its range of degree options, Prescott College ranks high for its 9-1 student-faculty ratio.
Outside the contiguous states, Alaska Pacific University ranks highest. While students may have to travel far to study at this school, they get access to an institution with one of the highest graduation rates and the smallest student-faculty ratios of the colleges and universities on this list.
Counseling psychology degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. The bachelor's and master's degree programs at Alaska Pacific University include a hands-on component to provide students with real-world experience prior to graduation. Meanwhile, the doctoral program blends online learning with face-to-face weekend intensives.
Alaska Pacific University is a private, liberal arts institution affiliated with the Methodist Church. It was founded in 1960 and has its campus in Anchorage.
Located in Dallas, Criswell College gets high marks for providing a personalized education experience. At 9-1, its student-faculty ratio is among the lowest of the schools on this list. Established in 1970 and named for its founder W.A. Criswell, the college is affiliated with the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
Criswell College offers a master's degree in counseling that is available in two tracks. One option allows graduates to sit for the National Counselor Exam and the Texas Jurisprudence Exam. The other is a non-licensure track that provides knowledge and proficiency in the field but does not meet the exam requirements.
While Criswell College doesn't offer any fully online counseling degrees, students may be able to take up to a quarter of their classes via distance education.
Counseling Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Four-year degrees in counseling – bachelor’s degrees -- cover the major theories of human behavior. Students should graduate with the knowledge needed to evaluate client needs and develop effective treatment plans. This knowledge can also make them valuable to public and community health organizations. Master's degree programs typically take two years to complete and provide a more intensive look into the topic of human behavior and behavior modification techniques.
For additional insight into selecting a counseling career, read about how to become a career guidance counselor.
Career Outlook for Counseling Majors
There are many occupations within the field of counseling and not all are expected to grow at the same rate. Here's a look at the career outlook for some of the positions commonly pursued by graduates from counseling degree programs.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors||$49,950||283,540||22.5%|
|Marriage and Family Therapists||$54,590||59,050||22.3%|
|Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists||$87,450||113,270||14.7%|
|Counselors, Social Workers, and Other Community and Social Service Specialists||$50,410||2,159,870||12.4%|
|Psychologists, All Other||$98,230||14,220||11.6%|
|Educational, Guidance, and Career Counselors and Advisors||$61,000||296,460||8.4%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships for Counseling Degree Programs
Students enrolled in both on-campus and online counseling degree programs may be eligible for government and private financial assistance. In addition to applying for federal loans and grants, students should explore private scholarships. Many programs are available, particular for those studying at the graduate level. These include awards from the National Board for Certified Counselors Foundation, the Future Counselors of America Scholarship and others.
Fellowship is awarded for three years; continued support is based upon recipient's progress.
Q&A with an expert
Is it necessary to study psychology as an undergraduate to get the most out of a master's in counseling?
It's ideal to study psychology in undergrad if you plan on going on for a master's degree in counseling; however, it's not required. Most master's programs in counseling require at least 18 credit hours of psychology at the undergrad level. Other undergraduate programs that can be helpful include philosophy and communications.
What are some reasons that a counselor might choose to go on and earn a Ph.D.?
The main reasons are more opportunities. Only with a doctorate can one teach at the university level, conduct research, and provide psychological testing.
What's some advice you would give to a student who's thinking about enrolling in a counseling degree program?
Definitely apply to one that's CACREP approved which will make later licensing and first jobs easier to obtain.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015