- In order to work as a professional counselor, you must hold at least a Masters in Arts (M.A.) degree in counseling or psychology.
- You may be able to gain an internship or part-time counseling position if you have just finished a four-year degree or have just begun a master's program.
What you study:
While studying for a degree in counseling, you will learn about all of the following:
- Behavioral Psychology
- Clinical Diagnosis and Treatment
- Counseling Methods
- Professional Ethics
A Day in the Life
When you work as a counselor, you may be known by many different titles. You might be a career, school or occupational counselor. You can work for both public government-run agencies and for private counseling and mental health facilities. No matter what path you choose, you will be an advocate for your clients and will help them negotiate the situations that arise in their lives. Employment in schools and colleges is one of the most promising fields for a professional counselor.
As a career counselor, you arrive at the community college where you work right before the school's counseling office opens. You work on a part-time contract, meaning that you also work with private clients from your own office. When you arrive at the school office, you look over new scholarship announcements so that you can advise qualified students of good opportunities. Before you see your first client, you check in with your boss.
Your first client of the day is a first-year student who is interested in pursuing a career in engineering. She is having a hard time figuring out how to finance her education and is concerned that she won't be able to continue to a four-year college. You explain the student's federal student aid options and look up any scholarships available to women who are interested in studying engineering. You refer her to the school's financial aid office for further information about how she can use grants and loans to continue her education.
After updating student files, you head to your private office to work with several clients who need assistance in finding a new path in life. The first client you see is a recovering alcoholic who comes to you on a bi-weekly basis to learn new coping techniques and to talk about her career opportunities. You help the client deal with a tough issue involving her family and set an appointment for her to come in the following week as you are concerned about her situation.
Your second client is a single mother who wants to go back to work part-time. Today, she wants to talk to you about child care options and how her return to work might affect her toddler. You provide her with information about child care centers and programs in your area. You also spend time talking about her child and how he might adjust to her new career. Before you head home for the evening, you lock up all of your client files. You review your appointments for the following day before heading home to relax.
Certifications and Licensing
Most states require that counselors obtain a license to practice. In order to obtain a license, you must complete an M.A. program in the field, complete a set number of internship hours and pass a background check. In some states, you may need to pass an ethics exam.
Full-time versus part-time:
The majority of counselors work full-time schedules. You may be able to work a part-time schedule if you run your own practice or are new to the field.
As a counselor, you will have freedom to work in many different settings. You may choose to work as a career counselor for part of your career before opening your own private practice.
- American Counseling Association: The ACA's website provides a wealth of educational resources for professionals in the field of counseling. Information on careers and continuing education is of particular value to those students who are considering becoming counselors.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook for School and Career Counselors: This handbook, which is targeted at school and career counselors, provides a wealth of useful information for those interested in working in both the public and private sectors. Prospective counseling students will find information about employment outlooks and salaries in the field of counseling on this site.
- American Mental Health Counselors Association: AMHCA's website provides updates about legislative changes that impact this field and offers a comprehensive listing of mental health counselors practicing in the U.S. New counselors will find the site's career center and job boards particularly helpful.
Salaries by City
See typical salaries and ranges for this career below*. Shift click to sort by more than one column -- for example first shift-click on state and then shift-click on salary to find best and worst salaries in each state.
|State||City / Region||Typical Salary||Salary Range||Job Count||% of All Jobs|
|AZ||Phoenix - Mesa - Glendale||$52,430||120||0.01%|
|CA||Los Angeles - Long Beach - Glendale (Metro Area)||$39,340||1,130||0.03%|
|CA||Oakland - Fremont - Hayward (Metro Area)||$38,450||350||0.04%|
|CA||Riverside - San Bernardino - Ontario||$36,150||80||0.01%|
|CA||Sacramento - Arden - Arcade - Roseville||$66,600||180||0.02%|
|CA||San Diego - Carlsbad - San Marcos||$40,820||140||0.01%|
|CA||San Francisco - San Mateo - Redwood City (Metro Area)||$51,510||520||0.05%|
|CA||Santa Ana - Anaheim - Irvine (Metro Area)||$45,910||260||0.02%|
|CA||Santa Rosa - Petaluma||$45,190||N/A||N/A|
|CA||Visalia - Porterville||$42,340||N/A||N/A|
|CO||Denver - Aurora - Broomfield||$83,930||N/A||N/A|
|CT||Bridgeport - Stamford - Norwalk||$28,810||N/A||N/A|
|CT||Hartford - West Hartford - East Hartford||$45,560||90||0.02%|
|DC||Washington - Arlington - Alexandria (Metro Area)||$42,020||320||0.01%|
|FL||Cape Coral - Fort Myers||$26,190||50||0.02%|
|FL||Deltona - Daytona Beach - Ormond Beach||$30,460||130||0.09%|
|FL||Fort Lauderdale - Pompano Beach - Deerfield Beach (Metro Area)||$27,750||410||0.06%|
|FL||Lakeland - Winter Haven||$36,490||80||0.04%|
|FL||Miami - Miami Beach - Kendall (Metro Area)||$48,950||430||0.04%|
|FL||North Port - Bradenton - Sarasota||$42,910||60||0.02%|
|FL||Orlando - Kissimmee - Sanford||$35,590||140||0.01%|
|FL||Palm Bay - Melbourne - Titusville||$55,800||90||0.05%|
|FL||Panama City - Lynn Haven - Panama City Beach||$26,370||N/A||N/A|
|FL||Pensacola - Ferry Pass - Brent||$26,150||80||0.05%|
|FL||Port St. Lucie||$29,070||50||0.04%|
|FL||Tampa - St. Petersburg - Clearwater||$36,160||300||0.03%|
|FL||West Palm Beach - Boca Raton - Boynton Beach (Metro Area)||$36,140||130||0.03%|
|IA||Davenport - Moline - Rock Island||$45,710||50||0.03%|
|IL||Champaign - Urbana||$56,490||60||0.07%|
|IL||Chicago - Joliet - Naperville (Metro Area)||$43,370||1,250||0.03%|
|IL||Lake County - Kenosha County (Metro Area)||$46,820||170||0.04%|
|IN||Indianapolis - Carmel||$34,790||50||0.01%|
|KY||Louisville - Jefferson County||$47,980||N/A||N/A|
|LA||New Orleans - Metairie - Kenner||$23,790||310||0.06%|
|LA||Shreveport - Bossier City||$40,420||30||0.02%|
|MA||Boston - Cambridge - Quincy (Metro Area)||$33,000||210||0.01%|
|MD||Baltimore - Towson||$28,410||370||0.03%|
|MD||Bethesda - Rockville - Frederick (Metro Area)||$42,490||120||0.02%|
|MI||Detroit - Livonia - Dearborn (Metro Area)||$44,570||50||0.01%|
|MI||Warren - Troy - Farmington Hills (Metro Area)||$60,800||90||0.01%|
|MN||Minneapolis - St. Paul - Bloomington||$38,260||100||0.01%|
|NH||Nashua (Metro Area)||$31,420||50||0.04%|
|NH||Rochester - Dover||$39,710||40||0.07%|
|NJ||Atlantic City - Hammonton||$42,960||40||0.03%|
|NJ||Camden (Metro Area)||$44,130||310||0.06%|
|NJ||Edison - New Brunswick (Metro Area)||$54,590||160||0.02%|
|NJ||Newark - Union (Metro Area)||$47,020||290||0.03%|
|NJ||Trenton - Ewing||$57,090||60||0.03%|
|NV||Las Vegas - Paradise||$52,650||40||0.00%|
|NY||Albany - Schenectady - Troy||$40,840||120||0.03%|
|NY||Buffalo - Niagara Falls||$52,500||40||0.01%|
|NY||Nassau - Suffolk (Metro Area)||$35,610||210||0.02%|
|NY||New York - White Plains - Wayne (Metro Area)||$47,130||810||0.02%|
|NY||Poughkeepsie - Newburgh - Middletown||$34,420||180||0.07%|
|OH||Cleveland - Elyria - Mentor||$44,180||70||0.01%|
|OR||Portland - Vancouver - Hillsboro||$39,220||330||0.03%|
|PA||Allentown - Bethlehem - Easton||$42,980||50||0.02%|
|PA||Harrisburg - Carlisle||$50,450||N/A||N/A|
|PA||Philadelphia (Metro Area)||$49,160||270||0.01%|
|PA||Scranton - Wilkes - Barre||$50,460||70||0.03%|
|PR||San Juan - Caguas - Guaynabo||$24,670||330||0.05%|
|TN||Nashville - Davidson - Murfreesboro - Franklin||$38,150||140||0.02%|
|TX||Austin - Round Rock - San Marcos||$51,060||480||0.06%|
|TX||Beaumont - Port Arthur||$55,760||70||0.05%|
|TX||College Station - Bryan||$49,420||70||0.08%|
|TX||Dallas - Plano - Irving (Metro Area)||$61,060||1,070||0.05%|
|TX||Fort Worth - Arlington (Metro Area)||$64,040||470||0.05%|
|TX||Houston - Sugar Land - Baytown||$58,360||1,450||0.06%|
|TX||Killeen - Temple - Fort Hood||$51,040||110||0.09%|
|TX||McAllen - Edinburg - Mission||$58,360||150||0.07%|
|TX||San Antonio - New Braunfels||$50,870||290||0.03%|
|VA||Virginia Beach - Norfolk - Newport News||$36,720||200||0.03%|
|WA||Seattle - Bellevue - Everett (Metro Area)||$46,480||50||0.00%|
|WI||Milwaukee - Waukesha - West Allis||$39,380||100||0.01%|