There are several factors to think about when you are trying to find the best masters degree in counseling for you. Like anything in life, the one-size-fits-all graduate school does not exist, and it's important to consider the path you will take to pursue becoming a counselor. There are several factors you should consider as you explore your options.
Cost: Determining how much money you want to invest in a counseling graduate program is an important part of the decision making process. You should consider your potential return on investment, keeping in mind that Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the 2012 median annual salary for mental health counselors was $40,080 . Carefully consider how much money you are willing to spend to earn your degree in counseling when you take into account your future earnings potential.
Accreditation: Many states require mental health counselors to meet minimum licensure requirements in order for the individual to be qualified to treat clients. One of the most common requirements is a master’s degree from an accredited graduate program. Check with the licensing authority in the state in which you wish to practice to ensure the program you attend is recognized by the licensing body.
Format: As opportunities for earning a graduate degree online become more and more common, making decisions about how you will earn your degree becomes an important part of your decision making process. Online programs provide students with added flexibility, but have limited opportunities for face to face interaction, while campus based programs require students to adhere to a strict schedule, but provide valuable in person instruction. Think about the type of learner that you are, and how important it is to you to have face time with your professors and classmates.
Duration: Carefully review the course requirements of the programs you are interested in. Figure out how long it will take you to earn your degree. Is there a mandatory internship or practicum required by the program? Will you have to complete a thesis or major research project to earn your degree? Will you be able to enroll on a full-time basis or will you have to be a part time student? All of these factors will affect the amount of time you spend earning your graduate degree in counseling.
Internships: If you are interested in participating in an internship as part of your studies and would like assistance in finding placement you might want to consider a program that requires an internship as part of your course of study. Participating in an internship may be a valuable experience for mental health counselors because you are able to work with real clients under the supervision of a qualified and experienced practitioner. Internships may also help you determine your specialized area of interest, and open doors to future employment opportunities.
Licensure: As a future mental health counselor or therapist ensuring that the program you earn your graduate degree from is recognized by the licensing body of the state in which you wish to practice is of paramount importance. Many states require mental health counselors and therapists to obtain licensure in order to practice.
Class Size: The size of your classes may dictate the amount of individual attention you receive from your professors. The smaller the class size the more likely you are to be able to develop strong bonds with your professors, advisors, and classmates. Class size is important in both online and on campus program formats.
Faculty: Faculty is important. Your professors are the people who will shape your education, if you know you are interested in a particular field of research or specialization within the mental health field finding faculty whose research and interest match your own may help to enrich your academic experience.
Specialization: For students who know that they want to specialize in a particular type of mental health career it may be useful to identify programs that offer courses that help them to achieve a level of specialization. For example, if a student wants to specialize in drug counseling they might want to select a program that offers a variety of elective courses or research opportunities in the subject.
Deciding on the best counseling program for you is the first step in pursuing a career as a mental health counselor. Consider your options carefully and take the time to speak with trusted friends or family members, advisors, practitioners, and representatives from state licensing bodies.