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How Long Does it Take to Become a Counselor?

Becoming a counselor is a choice that only the most empathetic and compassionate people make. With more people seeking therapy, particularly those who are highly successful, the need for counselors continues to grow in this country. But how long does the process take? Find out below.

Type of Education – Online or Traditional?

A student who wants to become a counselor has a choice; they can begin their education online or take on a traditional program, which requires on-campus attendance. The choices have their advantages and disadvantages: traditional programs can be completed in less time with full-time study and can help students network with professionals in their community while online programs may take longer, but allow a student to study and work at the same time. The choice is up to the student, but it is advised that they take the time to research the time requirements for each avenue.

Related: The 50 Best Low-Cost Online Master's in Counseling Programs 2016-2017

Practicum Requirements

Those who want to become a counselor will have to take on practicum requirements, no matter what type of specialty degree they take on. The practicum, which is also known as supervised clinical hours, gives students the chance to work in real-world environments with a mentor. This provides them with on-the-job training and provides them with the opportunity to experience the counseling relationship with patients prior to graduating and continuing on with the degree. The practicum, which can range from 500 to 1,000 hours, depending on the program, may lengthen the time in college because the practicum might require an extra semester in order to complete the required hours.

Undergraduate and Graduate Education

While there are several career options a counseling student can pursue with just an undergraduate degree, in order to practice as a licensed counselor, one must gain a master's degree; the degree must be in counseling, psychology, or sociology. This means that at a minimum, anyone who wants to become a counselor will spend five years in a college or university setting in order to satisfy the educational requirements for this career path.


Some master's programs will require an internship as part of the process towards becoming a counselor. This can stretch out the length of the program to two years, rather than the traditional year it generally takes, which means counseling students will have to wait longer to become a counselor. However, the internship has its advantages: because a student will work in a real-world environment, they will gain work experience, network in the community, and even be offered a job at the end of the internship, allowing them the chance to move straight from school to a career.

Licensing Matters

All counselors in the United States must be licensed to practice in the country. The requirements for sub-field and state can vary widely, but most licenses do require between 2,000 to 4,000 hours of supervised clinical practicums as well as accredited degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. If a candidate meets those requirements, they must sit for the exam as well as commit to yearly continuing education programs as part of their professional obligations as a counselor.

Taking steps to work in this incredible field means investing time; not only into education but also yourself. By becoming a counselor, you are bringing the idea that investing in yourself is something that all people should do for a happier life, and that makes you a success right out of the gate.

For more on this topic, see: What is the Fastest Way to Become a Licensed Counselor or Therapist?