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8 Career Paths for a Master’s in Counseling Graduate

Are you ready to find your fit?

Are you interested in helping others resolve their issues and hurdles through talk therapy? You may want to consider a career in the counseling field. Counseling is a field that’s in high demand, and is expected to grow over the next decade. In fact, some counseling jobs, like substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counseling jobs, are expected to grow by a whopping 25% through 2029, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And, not only is the counseling field growing rapidly, but there are also a surprising number of career paths you can take in the field. If you have a master’s degree in counseling, there may be even more options to pursue. Without at least a master’s degree in this field, your options may be limited.

Before you take the leap, though, it’s important to understand just exactly what a counselor does, how to become a counselor, and what some of the most sought-after career paths are for a graduate with a master’s degree in counseling.

What Does a Counselor Do?

Counseling is a broad field. There are a wide range of job opportunities for counselors — and a wide range of specializations under the counseling umbrella. In general, though, counselors work with individuals and communities to help improve their clients’ mental health and help those they work with both identify and meet specific goals. Counselors provide emotional and psychological support to those they work with, either on an ongoing basis or as they work toward a particular goal.

Common types of counseling include individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling, and group counseling, which is used in a wide range of clinical settings. Counselors that help individuals to meet a particular goal might specialize in an area such as academics, career, or substance abuse — or another area completely.

8 Career Paths for a Master’s in Counseling Graduate

Counseling is a fairly broad field, meaning graduates with a master’s degree in counseling have plenty of options to find a role that really suits their interests and expertise. While there are far more than eight career paths available to those with master’s degrees in counseling, some of the most popular include:

  1. School counselor

School counselors work in elementary, middle, and high schools with students and parents. The exact role these counselors fill depends on the age of the children. Counselors in a high school often help students make college and career plans, while counselors for younger children help them to develop their social and academic skills while identifying strengths and special needs. 

At all ages, school counselors can meet with students one-on-one to discuss challenges they’re facing at home or in school and help address any behavioral issues that may be present. School counselors are usually required to have at least a master’s degree in psychology and must be licensed by their state.

  1. Mental health counselor

A mental health counselor works with individuals to help them address and treat mental health challenges they face. Mental health counselors often work with individuals who struggle with depression or anxiety. They may also work with patients going through a particularly difficult time in their lives to offer support and help them develop coping mechanisms. While the requirements vary, substance abuse counselors may be required to hold a master’s degree or licensure from their state.

  1. Substance abuse counselor

Substance abuse counselors work with individuals suffering from addictions to alcohol and drugs. Counselors who work in this capacity help patients to set specific treatment goals for themselves and help them adopt coping mechanisms to help them overcome their addiction. Depending on the state, substance abuse counselors may be required to hold a master’s degree or licensure from their state.

  1. Behavioral disorder counselor

A behavioral disorder counselor works with clients in either an individual or group setting and helps them to address behavioral disorders, including DHD, impulsive behavior, OCD, and other disorders. Clients’ behavioral disorders can be the result of both physical and mental health challenges. Depending on the state, substance abuse counselors may be required to hold a master’s degree or licensure from their state.

  1. Marriage and family counselor

Marriage and family counselors help both individuals and families to improve their relationships and the way they interact within a family unit. Marriage and family counselors may work with individuals to focus on their relationships or may work with a couple or an entire family unit. To become a marriage and family counselor, you’ll need a master’s degree and licensure through your state’s board.

  1. Career counselor

A career counselor is someone who works with individuals to help them find the right career paths and the right jobs in their chosen field. The work of a career counselor often starts before the job search itself, as they help clients explore their skills and interests to identify the right profession to pursue. Then, the counselor helps the client to find a job in that field. A master’s degree isn’t usually required in order for you to work as a career counselor, but it could certainly be helpful. 

  1. College counselor

A college counselor works with a college or university’s students to help them meet their educational and professional goals. Counselors may work as advisors, helping them to plan their class schedules or seek out jobs and internships. They also may work in a school’s financial aid office, counseling families on their financing options. College counselors often need a master’s degree, but that’s not always the case. 

  1. Social and community service manager

Rather than working with individuals, social and community service managers are focused on the community in which they work. They help identify the need for special support and help to create public programs that address a particular need. They often focus on working with a particular demographic, such as the elderly, children, or homeless individuals. A master’s degree isn’t always necessary for all social and community service manager roles but could be for some.

Salary and Job Outlook for Counseling Career Paths

Career PathJob OutlookAverage Salary
School counselor8%$64,960
Mental health counselor25%$47,660
Substance abuse counselor25%$47,660
Behavioral disorder counselor25%$47,660
Marriage and family counselor22%$51,340
Career counselor8%$58,120
College counselor8%$51,660
Social and community service manager17%$69,600

How to Become a Counselor

No matter what type of counselor you hope to be, the first step in the process is earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university, preferably in counseling or a related field.

Once you’ve earned your bachelor’s degree, you can pursue a master’s degree in counseling. Be sure to research which program would be the best fit, since many are designed to train counselors in a particular specialty, such as school counseling or substance abuse counseling. Many programs offer master’s degrees in counseling online or on a part-time basis, meaning you can easily fit them into your schedule.

After you’ve earned your master’s degree, you’ll need to learn the requirements to enter your desired role in your state. Some career paths require specific licensures. For example, those who wish to become marriage and family therapists or school counselors will have to take specific career paths and obtain specific licensure for their fields. Your state may require that you pass an exam or earn a certain number of practicum or internship hours to obtain licensure.

Once you’ve met all of the requirements for your state and field, you can pursue employment opportunities in your niche. Throughout your career, there will be plenty of opportunities to grow through continuing education. You may also decide to pursue your doctorate in counseling, which can also be done online.

Who Should Pursue a Master’s in Counseling?

Before you pursue your master’s degree in counseling, make sure it’s the right field for you. Counseling can be very fulfilling, but it’s also challenging and doesn’t necessarily offer salaries commensurate with the amount of education and work required.

Pursuing a master’s degree in counseling may be right for you if you have a specific career goal that requires that degree. It may also be the right fit if you know you want to work in the mental health field or with clients to help them through challenging situations, but aren’t entirely sure what job you might want to pursue. Luckily, a master’s in counseling can prepare you for many different jobs, so you aren’t necessarily locking yourself into just one.

That said, a master’s degree in counseling isn’t the right choice for everyone. You should probably not pursue this type of degree for reasons such as increased pay or because you aren’t sure what you want to do with your life and want to dip your toe into a new field.

Have Questions About What It Takes to Become a Counselor? We Have the Answers.

  • What qualifications do you need to be a counselor?

    Some psychology jobs may be done with just a bachelor’s degree in a related subject, but when it comes to counseling, most require a master’s degree. You will also likely need to get licensed in your state, which requires you to meet fieldwork or internship hours and other requirements as dictated by your state’s licensing board.

  • How much can you earn with a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology?

    As with any job, your earning potential will depend on what position and part of the field you choose to go into. A psychologist can expect to earn more than $80,000 on average, though the actual earning potential you have will rely heavily on your level of education, experience, and position. If you use your degree to work in another area of criminal justice, you may earn less money, but again, it will depend on a number of factors.

  • How long does it take to earn a master’s degree in counseling?

    The time it takes for you to complete a master’s degree depends heavily on whether you attend school full- or part-time. In general, though, master’s programs in counseling and related fields can usually be completed within two years.

  • How long does it take to become a counselor?

    After earning your bachelor’s degree, it can take between three and five years to become a counselor when you account for the graduate school and work experience requirements. You also need to take into account the time it will take to become licensed, which varies by state.

  • Can you earn a master’s degree in counseling online?


    Yes, there are plenty of master’s programs in counseling that can be done either entirely online or as a hybrid between online and in-person learning. These degrees are as respected as degrees from brick and mortar schools, but allow you to earn your degree around other work and life obligations.

  • How much can you earn with a master’s degree in counseling?

    According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned a median annual wage of about $47,660 per year as of 2020, while school and career counselors earned roughly $58,120 per year as of 2020.

Erin Gobler picture

Erin Gobler

CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Erin Gobler is a freelance writer who covers education topics for Best Value Schools, Graduate School Hub, and Criminal Justice Degree Schools, among others. Her work has been published on sites like Fox Business, Rocket Mortgage, and The Balance.

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Angelica Leicht

SCHOOLS EDITOR

Angelica Leicht is the schools editor at Best Value Schools who oversees our college rankings, school profiles, and other higher education coverage. She previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.

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