A step-by-step guide on how to become a career counselor.
Is being a career counselor for me?
The first step to choosing a career is to make sure you are actually willing to commit to pursing the career. You don’t want to waste your time doing something you don’t want to do. If you’re new here, you should read about:
Still unsure if becoming a career counselor is the right career path? Take the free CareerExplorer test to find out if this career is in your top matches. Perhaps you are well-suited to become a career counselor or another similar career!
Described by our users as being “shockingly accurate”, you might discover careers you haven’t thought of before.
Regardless of the kind of counselor they wish to become, students are advised to seek out an education program that is accredited. State specifications vary, but many jurisdictions require that counselors hold a degree accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). In general, accreditations focus on Master’s and Doctoral programs. However, aspiring counselors may also choose to earn their undergraduate degree at an institution with CACREP-accredited graduate programs.
Many schools do not offer specific undergraduate degrees in counseling. A psychology major is a typical entry point to the study of counseling. Other popular concentrations are sociology, anthropology, and social work. Some universities offer a Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with emphasis on topics such as child and family welfare, gerontology, and human services administration. Examples of courses in such curricula include:
• Interpersonal Communications – communication in professional and personal situations
• Human Behavior and the Environment – the influence of family structures, institutions, and communities on human behavior
• Survey of Social Problems – the effects of social problems on individuals and society; potential solutions
• Prevention and Crisis Intervention – ethical prevention and intervention strategies in crisis situations involving youth, families, and the elderly in various settings
• Human Services and Social Policy – the relationships between social policies, government, and human services agencies
• Case Management in Human Services – approaches to planning and evaluating the services delivered to clients
• Statistics – collecting, organizing, summarizing, analyzing data using statistical software
• Introduction to Psychology – insights into human thought and behavior; ethical decisions; problem solving; theories on memory, learning, intelligence, and personality
When selecting a graduate degree program, it is essential to ensure that both the school and the specific program are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). CACREP is recognized as an accrediting body by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Here is a sample listing of Master’s Degrees in counseling:
• Master of Science in Counseling Studies
• Master of Science in Professional Counseling
• Master of Arts in Community Counseling
• Master of Arts in Rehabilitation Counseling
• Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology: Art Therapy
• Master of Science in Career Counseling
• Master of Science in Marriage and Family Counseling
Naturally, coursework varies from one degree program to another, but the following list provides insight into some core and major courses:
• Introduction to Addictions and Substance Use Disorders
• Professional Counseling Orientation and Ethics
• Counseling Theories
• Group Counseling Theory and Practice
• Social and Cultural Diversity Issues in Counseling
• Human Sexuality
• Aging and Long-Term Care
• Marriage and Family Therapy
• Spousal and Child Abuse
• Crisis and Trauma Counseling
• Tests and Appraisal in Counseling
• Career Development and Counseling
• Research Methods
• Diagnostics, Assessment and Treatment
• Psychopathology and Counseling
Master’s programs also have a practicum component, during which students observe and document how working professionals perform their job responsibilities. The practicum also provides them with opportunities to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in a supervised clinical setting.
Supervised Clinical Experience
Per each state’s requirements, future professional counselors must work a minimum number of hours in a clinical setting under board-approved supervision before they can sit for the licensing exam.
As a rule, students should expect to perform 3,000 hours of post-Master’s counseling before taking the exam. Occasionally, a state will allow clinical hours to be completed during a Master’s program, but this is not typical.
Licensure & Continuing Education
Generally, states require program graduates to take and pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) and/or the National Clinical Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). Licensure for mental health counseling, for instance, entails both exams. Other requirements may also vary based on the counseling specialization.
To find counselor licensing requirements by state visit the Counselor License website.
Every state also has regulations regarding license maintenance and renewal. In general, the primary requirement is completion of accumulation of a specified number of education credits, obtained through formal classes, attendance at professional conferences, curriculum development, publication of books and/or journal articles related to the counseling field, and participation in other professional development activities.
Some counseling roles call for a Doctoral Degree, specifically positions as psychologists, university-level instructors, and counseling researchers. Like Master’s programs, Doctorate programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). Those that also receive accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA) are among the most highly regarded in the country.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are Career Counselors happy?
Counselors rank highly among careers. Overall they rank in the 87th percentile of careers for satisfaction scores. Please note that this number is derived from the data we have collected from our Sokanu members only.
This high happiness quotient among counselors is a testament to the value, to the simple goodness of the work they do.
What are Career Counselors like?
Based on our pool of users, Counselors tend to be predominately enterprising people. This is a finding that is both expected and encouraging. The professionals entrusted with identifying human challenges and providing support and direction must surely be innovative and enterprising in identifying how to best communicate and engage with their clients.
Should I become a Career Counselor?
American attorney Laura Wasser wrote:
Sometimes, just the act of venting is helpful. Counseling provides a safe haven for precisely that kind of free-ranging release: You can say things in the therapist's office, with the therapist present, that would be incendiary or hurtful in your living room.
It takes a certain, special kind of person to step into the vocation of counselor. And counseling is indeed a vocation. It is more than a job. It is a calling, a bent, an urge – one that is best served by people with these very specific talents:
Interpersonal skills These skills characterize how you relate to other people in a supportive and positive environment – verbally, with body language, how you listen, how you collaborate, how you empathize, how you inquire, and how you lead.
Communication skills Communication is more than just listening and talking. Authentic communicators practise active listening. They are aware of body language cues like facial expressions and hand motions.
Flexibility Each client’s challenge, struggle, personality, and background are different. Counselors who always take the same approach are doomed to fail. Those who always see an individual and customize their approach are destined to make a significant difference in the life of every one of their clients.
Research skills Counselors who are genuinely committed to their work are curious. They seek out information; the latest data, theories, and summaries; and feedback on specific subjects, issues, behaviors, and disorders. In short, the best counselors are also accomplished researchers.
Critical thinking skills Accomplished counselors think analytically. They are able to compare and contrast treatment options, make inferences, reach conclusions, envision outcomes, and adapt along the way.
Steps to becoming a Career Counselor
Entering the counseling field entails earning both a Bachelor’s and a graduate degree; fulfilling significant clinical training requirements; passing a licensure exam; and remaining committed to continuing education.
How long does it take to become a Career Counselor?
Because of the breadth of the counseling field, it is difficult to give a definitive, comprehensive answer to this question. What can be said is that in the vast majority of counseling disciplines require practitioners to hold a Master’s Degree. This means that the minimum time needed to prepare to enter a professional counselor role is typically between five and six years:
• Bachelor’s Degree – four years • Master’s Degree – one or two years
In addition to this time to be dedicated to a formal education track, most disciplines require some level of clinical experience attained in an internship or voluntary capacity.
How to become a Career Counselor
There are, of course, unique elements that characterize the many specialties of the counseling field: addiction/drug/alcohol; school; family/marriage/child; mental health; spiritual; rehabilitation; domestic violence; grief; credit; vocational/career. However, all counseling education programs have a common core. Practitioners in the field typically hold a Master’s Degree, and depending on their specific role may require a Doctorate. At both levels, students should select a university program accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Relevant majors include psychology, sociology, and social work. Typical coursework includes statistics and research and counseling techniques.
Counselors need to be licensed in the jurisdiction of their practice. U.S. states most often require graduates to take and pass the National Counselor Examination (NCE) or the National Clinical Health Counseling Examination (NCMHCE). To enter the workforce they need to have a specific number of hours of clinical experience. To maintain licensure they must annually earn a specific number of continuing education credits.
Counselors often attain voluntary certifications as well, many of which are offered by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC).