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If you want to pursue a degree in counseling but can’t commit to a full-time, on-campus program, you can accomplish your goal through online learning. This resource guides you through how to get a counseling degree online, including information on accreditation, common coursework, and potential career paths.
The Advantages of Online Degrees
Taking counseling courses online instead of enrolling in a traditional on-campus program offers several advantages, especially for students with professional or personal obligations. For example, many students wonder, “What are the best counseling night courses near me?” Online programs provide added flexibility and accessibility that traditional programs do not. Many online schools for counseling offer asynchronous courses, which allow students to log on at their convenience.
Distance learners who care for kids, work full time, or simply do not live near a college benefit from this flexible format. Online programs also tend to cost less than on-campus programs and generally offer the same curriculum in their online and on-campus courses.
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
Accreditation for Online Counseling Programs
When searching for online schools for counseling, make sure to look for accredited programs. Accreditation essentially amounts to an evaluation process through which outside agencies assess schools and programs, ensuring they offer a valuable education and sufficiently prepare students for their careers. Graduate programs and employers prefer candidates with accredited degrees.
Online schools for counseling can also possess either national or regional accreditation. Regional accreditation agencies, like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, evaluate schools within a specific area. National accreditation agencies, on the other hand, generally focus on vocational and religious schools. Regional accreditation agencies tend to possess a better reputation.
Academic programs can also hold programmatic accreditation. Look for counseling programs with accreditation from the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs. You can search for schools and their accreditation status on this U.S. Department of Education site.
Courses in an Online Counseling Program
Taking counseling courses online does not significantly differ from taking those same courses on campus. The curriculum usually starts with foundational courses covering theory and techniques related to counseling, psychotherapy, and mental health. Students may take more specialized courses if they choose concentrations, such as marriage and family or addiction counseling.
Counseling programs also usually involve a research element. Distance learners generally need to take research methods courses that help them develop their analytical skills. Students dedicate some course credits to using those research skills with an independent master’s thesis or project to culminate their degree.
Career and Salary Outlook for Counselors
Counseling can lead to several different specialties. Counselors can work with many types of clients, including small children in elementary schools and the elderly in long-term care facilities. The following list outlines common types of counselors, and the table below provides their median salary and projected job growth rates. Some states require different types of licensure for these various roles, so make sure to verify your state requirements.
School and Career Counselors: School counselors may help children balancing difficult home lives with their schoolwork or advise high school students on what college to choose. College counselors help students deal with the pressures of higher education and guide them in determining their post-college roadmap. Career counselors may aid professionals in assessing their strengths to decide on a career path.
Rehabilitation Counselors: People with certain developmental or physical disabilities may need a bit of extra help in learning how to live independent lives. Rehabilitation counselors guide these individuals by locating resources and establishing treatment plans. These professionals may also work with veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder who need help readjusting to civilian life.
Counselors: Many counselors work in roles that do not necessarily fit any of the previous descriptions. They may work for the government, religious organizations, food and housing relief services, or residential care facilities. These counselors help people who need guidance in many different settings.
The Top 10 Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Graduate Program in Counseling
Your graduate education is an investment of your time, energy, and money. Sometimes it can feel hard to know what to look for in an online graduate program. Students often choose a college or university to attend based on location, what the surrounding city or community has to offer with culture or recreation, or what the campus has to offer in terms of facilities, equipment, organizations, clubs, or sports. When choosing an online program these previous points of consideration do not apply.
So how do you know what to look for and how to judge if an online graduate program will be right for you? Taking into consideration these top 10 points will help you make an informed and educated decision about the best online graduate program in counseling for you.
1. Identify Your Career Goals
It is critical that you take time to sit down and determine what it is exactly that you want to use your degree for. Within the field of counseling and therapy there is a broad range of specialties and areas of practice. To get started in this process ask yourself the following three questions.
What type of setting would I like to work in? Examples include: private practice; community mental health clinics; schools; hospitals; and residential treatment centers.
What population would I like to work with? Examples include: children; teenagers; college students; adults; individuals; couples; and families.
What issues would I like to specialize in? Examples include: treating anxiety and depression; trauma focused work; addiction; teaching in a college or university.
Answering these questions will help you know what to look for in a program. Most counseling programs offer a type of specialization or area of interest and seeing that a school offers your specific area of focus will help you give it more weight in your decision.
2. Determine the Specific Degree That is Right for You
Once you know what your career goals are you will be able to determine which degree will help you reach those goals. This will help you narrow down the counseling degree that will be the best fit for you. There are a number of degrees available to chose from. Take the time to research the degrees that are of interest for you. Only you can know which area of specialty specifically meets your professional interests.
Degrees options include:
Marriage and Family Therapy
Clinical Mental Health Counseling
3. Understand the State Licensing Requirements of the State in Which you Plan to Practice
When looking for an online graduate school in counseling one of the main things you want to think about is will this degree make it possible for me to pursue state licensure?
In order to practice as a therapist or counselor in most states you need to be licensed or actively working towards licensure under jurisdiction of your home state’s licensing board. The state licensing board allows you to identify yourself as a counselor or therapist. Having your license also allows you to apply to be on insurance boards which makes it possible for you to be reimbursed for services by your client’s insurance company. Being licensed shows the community you serve, the insurance companies, your colleagues, and most importantly your clients that you have met and continue to meet specific educational and ethical standards for professional practice.
4. Determine your Professional Licensure and Certification Goals
Professional licensure and certification is available at the state and national level. Each professional board has different educational, supervised clinical hours, and testing requirements to meet the standards for that licensure or certification. Knowing what licensure or certification you plan to pursue will inform your decision as to what type of degree to earn.
For example, to be licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) you must have completed coursework in family systems theory and have supervised couple and family clinical hours as well as pass a national exam approved by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). Accredited marriage and family therapy programs will make sure that they are preparing their students to meet these requirements by including the appropriate coursework, clinical hours, and critical competencies necessary to pass national examinations in their programming in order to support their graduates in successfully becoming licensed.
Checking on the accreditation of the school you are interested in is very important especially with online education. You want to make sure that the degree you earn will have value in the workforce and be respected and accepted by graduate programs.
The Council for Higher Education (CHEA) provides quality assurance to the U.S. Department of Education as well as the general public. CHEA is governed by a board of educational professionals and the public with the purpose of providing advocacy, service, and recognition on issues of accreditation.
Attending an accredited college or university is important for many reasons including:
It allows students to know they are receiving a quality education.
The federal government will only provide federal funding through grants and loans to students attending an accredited school.
Many state licensure boards will only allow students with degrees from accredited institutions to apply for professional licensure in various fields such as counseling.
6. Evaluate Technology Support
Most schools that have a well established online program will offer 24/7 technology support. This support can be critical when all of your engagement with the program is online. Make sure to check out what is offered and how accessible support is. Also, make sure you have access and can obtain the technology you will need to engage effectively with your online program.
7. Decide if the Synchronous or Asynchronous Study Format is Best for You
This is a big one. Some online programs offer students the opportunity to participate in live classroom discussions (synchronous format) with peers and faculty while other programs allow students to study at their own pace (asynchronous format). Some programs offer a combination of both formats of study. Think about what would work best for you. Take into consideration how you learn best and what format you would prefer. Some students will find that work or family commitments may prevent them from being able to consistently attend in the synchronous format. Some students would prefer to participate over live video conferencing or chat rooms where questions can be answered instantly. Others would prefer to work more independently at their own time and pace. One is not better than the other; it is about knowing what is the right fit for you.
8. Understand Residency Requirements
A residency is when you go to the campus of the college or university for an on campus intensive learning experience.
Residency requirements vary from school to school. Some programs don’t have any residency requirements. However, with the profession of counseling, interpersonal skills are critical so it is our belief that the resources required to attend a residency are well worth it.
Residencies often focus on strengthening peer and student/faculty partnerships while also teaching clinical skills. Many students report that the residency experience was the highlight of their graduate education. Typically, residencies are offered once or twice a year for about a week. Some require less of a commitment than this and some are more extensive. Most schools clearly state the residency requirements and are able to tell potential students exactly when and where residencies will take place, while they are in the program, as well as the overall anticipated cost.
9. Explore Local Support for Internship/Practicum Placement and Supervision
Most programs require the completion of supervised clinical internship/practicum hours that students are able to complete in their home town. It would be a good idea to talk with the school and get a sense of if there are local practicum placements and supervisors available in your focused area of study. Most schools have developed networks in communities across the country to allow them to easily match students with a local clinical placement and supervisor. Circumstances where it might be harder, or require students to travel further to find a placement or a supervisor, would generally be present when the student lives in a rural area. In rural areas the populations are generally under served and so finding a clinical placement to support a current service shouldn’t be hard. Finding a qualified supervisor may be challenging in a rural setting,c but in this case long distance supervision via phone or video conferencing may also be an option.
10. Look at the Overall Anticipated Cost and Decide if That Will Work for Your Budget
The cost of the program can vary significantly from school to school. Look closely at the cost per credit or the annual tuition to determine your cost. An additional expense that you may need to consider is the cost of any potential travel to residencies. This cost will include travel expenses such as airfare, car rental, hotel, meals, and additional course materials. Financial aid is usually available to qualified students enrolled in online programming at accredited colleges and universities to support you in financing your education.
How Online Degrees Are Viewed By Employers
As interest and participation in online degree programs has risen, many experts have done research to determine how these degrees are viewed by employers. Much of this research has indicated that while many employers are still skeptical about the value of online degrees, they are oftentimes considered to be just as substantive as degrees earned in traditional learning settings. In commenting on the issue, Drexel notes that there are three factors that employees examinewhen determining the value of an online degree. Those three things include:
Of the executives who stated that online degrees were equivalent to traditional degrees, they all reported that accreditation was a critical factor which made the online degree more credible. Interestingly, the US News & World Report will only include programs that are regionally accredited in its annual list of Best Online Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree Programs.
2. Traditional Campus
Yet another factor that executives consider when determining the value of an online degree is whether the educational institution has a traditional campus. It is worth mentioning that each of the top 10 online learning institutions named by U.S. News has a traditional campus.
3. Established Brand
Whether an online learning program is being offered by an educational institution with an established brand is important in the minds of hiring executives. Additionally, of the top five online bachelor’s programs, all of them had a traditional campus which had been in operation for 107 years or more.
When the aforementioned three criteria are met, employers view online degrees and traditional degrees equally. Thus if you are thinking about obtaining an online counseling degree, you should seriously consider selecting a learning institution that possesses all three of these characteristics.
Some rankings of online degrees you might be interested in are:
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