Getting Into a Mental Health Counseling Graduate Program

Becoming a counselorAre you interested in behavior and emotions? Are you fascinated by peoples’ stories, and by exploring what motivates them? Are you driven to help others learn to lead more balanced and productive lives? If so, a master’s or Ph.D. in counseling might be the right path for you. The best counseling programs can be competitive, so you want to stand out as an applicant. If you want to work on becoming a counselor, be sure to check out our tips below.

Choose Your Undergraduate Major Wisely 

Most graduate programs in counseling, as well as overlapping fields like psychology and social work, don’t require an undergraduate major in psychology. With that being said, admissions officers at these programs do look for a solid background in the social sciences. In addition to your counseling courses, taking undergraduate classes in psychology and the related disciplines of sociology, social work and anthropology may look good on your resume, and help you narrow your focus and identify what exactly about counseling interests you. Be particular about which counseling courses you choose to take.

Find Volunteer Opportunities

It can be difficult to obtain a psychology-related job with only a bachelor’s degree and counseling courses under your belt. That’s why counseling volunteer opportunities can be so helpful. Volunteering is a perfect opportunity to explore working with populations that interest you, from at-risk youth to incarcerated mothers to recent immigrants. Volunteering can also enable you to experience a variety of settings, from homeless shelters to afterschool programs. Your college likely has volunteer-oriented groups and/or a staff member in student affairs that can help you identify the right volunteer opportunities for you. If you’re not currently in college, a simple Google search may point you in the right direction. Volunteer organizations are often stretched thin and welcome those who can commit to offering time and support for a few hours per week or month.

Find Counseling Employment

Some psychology-oriented jobs only require a bachelor’s degree. They are excellent ways to see whether this field is a match for you. A job as a “psych tech”, also known as a mental health worker or aide, involves direct patient care and requires a bachelor’s degree or less. Psych techs are employed in a variety of settings, such as psychiatric hospitals, residential and sub-acute units, and long-term care facilities. The work can be difficult, but it’s a good way to observe how individuals with major mental health issues function and to learn how best to assist them. In addition, some social work jobs such as case management require only a bachelor’s degree.

Conduct Informational Interviews

With any type of career planning, it’s a good idea to speak to people who currently hold the job you think you want someday. Don’t hesitate to send an email or make a phone call requesting a fifteen minute conversation. This is a particularly good idea if the career you’d ultimately like is not one that you can experience through volunteer work. Speaking with individuals who are currently engaged in a counseling career can help bust myths you may hold about what the future looks like, and provide a dose of reality. In a best-case scenario, these conversations have the potential to confirm that the particular path seems right for you. Don’t forget to include this aspect of your research on your graduate school application, as it’s yet another indication that you’re taking this process seriously. These informational interviews may be a great way to start your path towards becoming a counselor.

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