Career opportunities for counselors are many and varied, but in order to become a counselor, students must often complete a rigorous course of study. Counseling degree requirements vary from program to program and state to state. A person seeking a degree in counseling will generally need appropriate undergraduate-level prerequisites, graduate-level coursework, internships or practicums, and research projects.
In a few states, drug and alcohol rehabilitation counselors only have to have an associate's or two-year degree. Other, less formal types of counseling, such as counseling through religious organizations, do not have set requirements. Under most circumstances, however, counselors are required to hold a master's degree in counseling from an accredited university. As of 2008, the largest field for counselors in the United States was that of educational or vocational counseling, which nearly always requires a master's degree. In fact, applicants with doctorate degrees have an even better chance for career advancement.
Prospective counseling students will need to complete some undergraduate prerequisites before starting their advanced counseling degree requirements. The most commonly required prerequisites include statistics, psychology research, and abnormal psychology. Applicants with undergraduate degrees in counseling will likely have taken all of these courses already, but students should check with the specific institutions where they are applying in order to be sure they complete all requirements.
After being accepted into a master's or PhD program in counseling, students will need to complete the counseling degree requirements of their specific program. These will include both theoretical and practical coursework, such as theories of personality, abnormal psychology, counseling ethics, and counseling research. Students may meet other requirements through courses in their particular areas of interest, such as marriage and family therapy, educational psychology, or child psychology.
In addition to classwork, counseling degree requirements will also include at least one or two practicum or internship courses. These requirements may be fulfilled through working, for example, in the university's counseling center or at a local rehabilitation facility. Programs will often assist students in being placed in internships that fulfill these requirements.
In some programs, master's degree students are required to complete a thesis. For other programs a the thesis is optional, but encouraged for students wanting to go into a PhD program. PhD students are almost universally required to write a dissertation.