Fact Checked

How do I Choose the Best Counseling Master's Programs?

Ken Black
Ken Black

To choose among the best counseling Master's programs, the undergraduate must look carefully at what he or she wants to get out of his or her career. The student may want to narrow down his or her preferred area of specialty and focus a search for counseling Master's programs catering to that specialty. Other factors or concerns, shared by all students such as convenience, location and faculty, also play a role when looking at graduate programs for counseling.

Not all counseling areas are the same. Some may focus more on practical applications, whereas others may take a more spiritually based approach. Specific counseling Master's programs are often designed in a way to take advantage of these things. Those who are interested in Christian-based counseling, or counseling based in some other religion, for example, may need to seek out a religious college for that type of instruction. Often, these colleges are accredited as well, meaning the degree will still be accepted over a wide range of disciplines. Therefore, choosing religious-based instruction does not mean one cannot become a certified counselor.

Counseling Master's programs may include pastoral or Christian counseling.
Counseling Master's programs may include pastoral or Christian counseling.

In addition to the philosophy, choosing from counseling Master's programs that focus on the setting a student in which one is interested is also important. Some may be interested in school-based counseling or social work. Others may prefer family counseling or substance abuse counseling. No matter what the field of interest, some schools may do better at teaching counseling for specific types of settings. The faculty may have better training or technical knowledge one area or another. For this reason, it is best to seek out programs that place an emphasis on the kind of setting in which one wishes to practice.

Some master's programs in counseling focus on a speciality, such as grief and bereavement therapy.
Some master's programs in counseling focus on a speciality, such as grief and bereavement therapy.

Counseling Master's programs may not offer classes at the same time as programs for undergraduate offerings. This is because those with an undergraduate degree are often working a full-time job during the day. Therefore, it is important to make sure the program the student is considering has classes at a time convenient for the student. In some cases, schools may only offer classes during the day, or only at night for graduate students. Additionally, there are usually not as many graduate classes to choose from. Each student must be careful to make sure they enroll in a program where he or she will be available for class times.

There are many other factors that must also be considered. The availability of quality internships is often a key, especially for graduate students who need the practical experience. The time faculty can devote to each individual is something many students also want to know about before making a choice. Some counseling Master's programs may also offer online courses. This may be a convenience some students will want to take advantage of. Overall, the right program for any individual has a great deal to do with personal preference and life circumstances.

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Discussion Comments


If you ever want to work for the federal government as a licensed counselor, select a program with CACREP accreditation. The federal government will not hire Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors who did not graduate from CACREP accredited programs. No exceptions are made to this rule.


@Anon48727: It can be difficult, but there are some objective criteria to help you narrow down your search. First, if you'd like to become a licensed counselor (LPC), meaning you have a license to practice for a given state, then you need to enroll in a program that states explicitly that their curriculum provides you with the courses required for a person to be qualified to even take the state licensure exam. Not all masters in psychology or counseling do this.

Also, it's important to remember that the course requirements vary from state to state. So if you get your masters in one state, but you move afterward and want to get your license in another state, they may tell you that you are still missing certain credits and until you get them, you cannot take the test for licensure.

A good starting point is the CACREP website. This is a council that accredits providers who apply for accreditation. Meaning, if you go to one of these schools, the curriculum is guaranteed to be what is required for taking the state exam. Although this is a great starting point, there are still many good programs which aren't accredited, which may not be because they are inefficient or lacking, but simply because they didn't apply for accreditation.

However, lots of these non-accredited schools still provide the necessary curriculum needed for taking the state license exam. These schools will typically tell you this on their website about their program. These schools are often just as good as the CACREP accredited ones. To find those schools, you really need to narrow down by location- where you want to be doing your masters. If it's in South Carolina, then look up "south carolina universities" and go to each school's web page and see what masters programs they offer.

Also, note that the "counseling" degrees vary in their title, and which department they are located in, depending on the university. Some may be in the psychology department, while many are in the education department and under "counselor education." Some are titled as M.A.'s or M.S.'s in mental health counseling, while some are called community counseling, while some are called clinical psychology. So if you don't find the program right away, make sure to look in other departments. Also, look at the curriculum and make sure that the classes sound interesting to you. Do they require a thesis? If so, do you want to do a thesis? Consider those things as well.

If you want to specialize in something other than mental health or community counseling, such as addictions or marriage and family therapy, you do the same process as I described above. Also, CACREP accredits programs in marriage and family counseling and i believe substance abuse, so you can use that website as a starting point as well.

I know it feels stressful and like looking for a needle in haystack, but I hope those points help you out. Also, although it's nice to have the CACREP accreditation, its not nearly as necessary or meaningful as it is for doctoral programs to be accredited by APA. Just as long as the program gives you the necessary curriculum, the CACREP isn't needed. If you're unsure, just contact someone from the department and ask them flat out. They will be honest with you! Good luck! --Danielle


This is all but useless. Yes, obviously one needs to decide what one wants to get out of a graduate program. But having decided that, how do you find programs that can provide it? How do you even figure out where to start looking? This is what nobody seems to know.

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    • Counseling Master's programs may include pastoral or Christian counseling.
      By: georgemuresan
      Counseling Master's programs may include pastoral or Christian counseling.
    • Some master's programs in counseling focus on a speciality, such as grief and bereavement therapy.
      By: Rob
      Some master's programs in counseling focus on a speciality, such as grief and bereavement therapy.