What is the Difference Between a MS and a MA in Counseling?

Updated November 18, 2022 · 2 Min Read

Learn about the difference between a MS and a MA in counseling, and decide which path is right for you.

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Are you interested in pursuing a master's degree in counseling? If you like to help people, you enjoy meeting new people, and you are looking for a challenging and fulfilling career, pursuing a degree in counseling may get you the educational background that you need to start a position in the field.

As you are selecting a degree program with a focus on counseling, you will find that schools offer both a master of science and a master of arts program on the subject. While an MS and a MA program both cover one subject, each program covers the subject in a different way, and each program will prepare you for a difference variety of careers. Here is a basic guide to deciding which path may be right for you:

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Choosing the Program Based on your Educational Background

If you already hold a Bachelor's degree, the type of bachelor's degree you hold will help determine which master's degree program that you should enroll in. A master of arts will have a focus in liberal arts and is geared towards individuals who possess a bachelor's degree in English, arts, or some other general bachelor's degree with no focus in science. When you choose a master of art degree, you will not choose a specialization or a focus. You will take general courses, and once you have completed all of the general counseling courses required, you will be required to turn in a thesis to graduate.

If you have a bachelor's degree with a focus in psychology or any other related field, it may be in your interest to pursue a master of science degree in counseling. An MS in counseling offers students who want to choose a specialty while in school an advantage. If you want to work in a specific setting, you can take classes with the appropriate subject matter and start working on your specialty before you even complete your MS degree program. Only after you complete either program can you fulfill the requirements to earn your counseling degree.

Is an MS or an MA the Right Degree for your Career of Choice?

Graduates of an MS degree program with a focus on counseling will generally move on to complete the clinical hours necessary to earn their license. Most MS graduates in counseling will look for positions in areas of their specialization. Graduates with an MA in counseling will generally not pursue licensing. While they can apply for a counseling license with their degree, many graduates with an MA in counseling will teach counseling or get involved in research. Those who want to research different types of counseling tend to pursue a doctorate without ever earning their license.

The job outlook for counseling professionals varies significantly depending on your specialization. If you want to become a school counselor, you can expect a good job outlook with growth of about 19% by 2020. If you prefer to work in mental health, the need for counselors is predicted to grow by 37% in the next 7 years. Determine which career will satisfy you, decide which path you would like to take, and live a fulfilling life doing what you love to do.


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