Is a Master’s in Counseling Worth It?

If you are passionate about helping people and have an interest in mental health, a career in counseling might be a good fit for you. The American Counseling Association defines counselors as mental health professionals who are trained to work with individuals, groups and families to treat emotional, behavioral and mental health problems and disorders.

Counselors work in a variety of settings with diverse populations. Counselors may work in fields including:

All states and the District of Columbia typically require that counselors have a master of counseling degree. With master of counseling online programs, aspiring counselors have more options than ever to pursue their dream to become a counselor.

Of course, going to school for a counseling master’s requires time, energy and a financial commitment. You may be wondering, is a master of counseling worth it? Learn about the career opportunities you have as a counselor and counseling degree alternatives if you’re unsure a counseling master’s degree is right for you.

How to Decide Whether a Master’s in Counseling is Right for You

Maybe you feel stuck in your career and want to find more meaningful work. Or, you want to grow your career by getting your master’s degree, and counseling interests you. You may have always been interested in a career as a counselor, but you don’t want to attend school on campus full-time. Read ahead to discover if there are counseling programs that fit your particular needs.

Here are three reasons why you might want to pursue a master’s in counseling.

1. You want to be a counselor.

Most types of counselors must have a master’s degree in order to work professionally. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these counselor positions require a master’s degree:

The BLS reports a master’s degree is also typically required to become a mental health counselor, substance abuse counselor or behavioral disorder counselor. A master’s degree is the first step toward beginning a counseling career in most environments.

2. You have an interest in psychology.

Counselors learn how the human brain works, what motivates people and how to shape behavior. They learn research-backed techniques to help individuals reach their goals and change their habits and actions to do so. Counselors learn a variety of talk therapy methods to help their clients, as well as practical suggestions to put into practice to move toward change.

Counseling is tied closely to psychology. If you’re fascinated by what makes humans tick, you’ll likely enjoy work as a counselor.

3. You’re caring and have a passion for helping people.

Counselors make a meaningful impact on those they work with. They must be empathetic, have strong interpersonal and communication skills, be excellent listeners and be able to show compassion in all types of situations. Counselors work with the best interest of their clients in mind.

Every day in your work as a counselor, you have the opportunity to make a positive difference in the lives of other people. If you thrive on working with people and enjoy relationship building, you might enjoy work as a counselor.

Financial Return on Investment for a Counseling Master’s

The financial return on investment you’ll make with a counseling master’s will depend on a variety of factors. These include how much more you may make in a counseling job and how many years you plan to work. Because counselor work can be intrinsically rewarding, some professionals leave higher-paying jobs to take a pay cut and work as a counselor.

The environment you work in will also influence your salary as a counselor. For example, the BLS indicates that 2018 median pay for school and career counselors was $56,310 per year, while, counselors in elementary and secondary schools (state, local and private) earned a median salary of $63,280 per year. The 2018 median pay for marriage and family therapists working for state government, excluding education and hospitals, was $69,900, according to the BLS.

Some master of counseling students are able to get part or all of their school paid for through financial aid and counseling scholarships. If you go this route, you may be able to increase your salary while needing to pay less for school.

Likewise, if you choose a part-time or online master of counseling program, you may be able to work while earning your graduate degree, and this in turn can help fund your tuition.

How much could a master of counseling increase your salary on average?

Again, that will depend on a variety of factors, including where you work geographically, what industry you work in and how many years of experience you have. If you don’t yet have a master’s degree, your earning potential can increase compared to if you continued to work with just a bachelor’s degree.

According to a BLS report on unemployment rates and earnings by educational attainment, the median usual weekly earnings for those with a master’s degree were $1,434 in 2018, while they were $1,198 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Over 20 years, that’s a difference of $245,440.

Find more information related to salary and career outlook for school counselors and mental health counselors.

Which Counseling Specialties Are in Demand?

A benefit of working as a counselor is that the number of counseling jobs is increasing across all industries. The BLS indicates the following on job outlook growth between 2018 and 2028 for various counseling industries:

There are currently more than 804,000 people working in these counseling fields in the United States, according to the BLS. Counselors work in every state across the country and are in demand at schools, at rehab facilities, in private practice and in other environments.

How Does Life Change After a Counseling Master’s?

After you get your counseling master’s, you can work toward getting licensed for your field of choice. Then, you can apply for counseling jobs and move into a new industry or new role in counseling. As a counselor, you’ll help your clients create plans to achieve their goals, discuss their progress and obstacles, and motivate them to make positive changes in their lives.

Most counselors work full-time, sometimes on nights and weekends depending on their work environment, according to the BLS and other sources. Make sure you choose a setting that best fits your lifestyle. For example, a school counselor will likely not work as many nights and weekends.

Several counseling jobs rank among U.S. News & World Report 100 best jobs rankings in 2020. Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor ranked #35, marriage and family therapist ranked #51, mental health counselor ranked #71 and school counselor ranked #81.

Counseling Degree Alternatives

If counseling sounds interesting but you’re not sure a master of counseling is the right degree for you, then consider these counseling degree alternatives:

Master’s in Psychology

If you’re interested in human behavior but don’t want to counsel people, a master’s in psychology teaches you more about psychology, which you can apply to other diverse roles. With this degree, you might pursue a career in research, health care, human resources or education.

Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy

If you know marriage and family therapy is your desired field of choice, a master’s in marriage and family therapy (MFT) program may fast-track your career growth. This program focuses on family and couple dynamics and how to counsel these specific populations.

Master’s in Social Work

If you love helping people, you might be interested in a career in social work. A master’s in social work teaches students how to work with at-risk individuals and be welfare advocates.

Learn More About Online Counseling Master’s Programs

Whatever type of population you want to help, there are online master’s programs designed to enable you to pursue your career goals. With online master’s in counseling programs, you can learn the skills you need to become a counselor, all from a location and online device that’s convenient for you.